Ah Philippines

I've just returned from a month in the Philippines. My primary purpose was to give three retreats to the Divine Word Missionaries who are working thoughout the many islands of the country. I first traveled north of Manila to the town of Bagio. I was surprised to find that this mountain town was chilly most of the time. I had expected nothing but perspiration and humidity. The climate was delightful. I spoke to 72 missionaries for five days. What an honor and what a joy.

Then I traveled south of Manila to the town of Tagaytay. This picturesque city is placed on the edge of a volcano lake. The view was breathtaking. At the retreat center I spoke to 62 missionaries for five days. This place is the major seminary of Divine Word Missionaries working in the Philippines. It is a center for other communities.

During the third week a crew from our studio flew to Manila to tape a series of programs on the work of two Divine Word Missionaries who are working with the people living on and around the garbage dump of Manila. Ah, the pain of the poverty and suffering of people who are living with so much less than we. I know you will be touched by the programs. My fond hope is that we'll be able to gather much financial support to help these hurting people.

The fourth and final week in the Philippines was on the island of Cebu. This is an hour's plane ride south of Manila. Divine Word Missionaries conduct a university in this town called San Carlos. There are about 20,000 students. My retreat was with 35 men this time.

Some of my strong impressions are 1. the deep spirituality of the Filippino people. 2. they have a strong bond of family 3. there is great poverty which seems to be due to poor government administration. 4, Because of the poor economic conditions in the country, millions have sought work in other countries. In many ways, these Catholics are one of the most effective missionary forces in places in the Mid-East, Europe and Asia.

I left the islands with a reluctance. The work of the missionaries is very admirable. The people are loving and kind. Ah, yes, and the food is delicious.

Join me in prayer for God's blessing on the Filippino people.

Isn't the Scourge of Aids a punishment from God?

A statement making the rounds in many Christian circles runs something like this: "Those homosexuals are finally getting what they deserve. A person can abuse God's law for only so long. The Lord will eventually catch up with him. AIDS is God's way of bringing back sanity to sexual behavior. AIDS is God's way of wreaking vengeance on sinners."

The AIDS epidemic does seem to be a natural result of people's not following God's direction, and the sickness has awakened a strong need to abstain from illicit sex. Yet there's something foul smelling about the self-righteous judgments contained in the comment above. The image of God is so vengeful; it just doesn't sit well with me.

We Christians must distance ourselves from any judgment about people suffering from AIDS. Statements about their sinfulness or lack of it are not for us to make. When we sit in judgment on a person, we are falling into the same original sin of Adam and Eve in their attempt to be like God. It is not for the Christian to make paternalistic judgments but to be a person of service, forgiveness, and mercy.

As for my struggle with the idea of a vengeful God, I know that you can quote me book and verse from the Bible that show where God as wrathful from the flood of Noah's time to the destruction of Sodom during Abraham's life. But I honestly can't reconcile the God of my experience with a God who acts cruelly.

Further I cannot envision God rubbing His hands in sadistic joy as He sees a young man racked with pain in the last stages of the dread disease AIDS. To allow that would be to deny Christ's abrogation of the command "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." The God of my life is the God Isaiah describes as a loving mother unable to forget the child of her womb and the father of the prodigal son. That father is God patiently waiting for his prodigal son to return after the son had wished him dead and then squandered his inheritance.

In present-day society, many people have subtly developed a "hierarchy of sin" according to which sexual sins are the most abhorrent. Although I in no way condone sexual immorality, I find that the stress on this sin allows sins of perhaps greater gravity to be considered as not all that important. As long as there is no sexual impropriety, many people think they can supply bullets to friends who kill people we don't like, stockpile nuclear bombs, ignore a dehumanizing farming problem, and shrug off racism as an issue of secondary importance. We must reach out to people with AIDS as Jesus reached out to lepers with the tenderness of love that is neither judgmental nor condescending. Like Him we must join our touch with prayers for healing. And added to our prayers should be support for the research that will bring a medical cure for AIDS.

Is there any value in suffering?

We all know suffering. Sometimes the suffering comes from our own mistakes and choices. We don’t turn on the light when we entered a room and thus fell and broke a leg. We smoked too much and now have a bad case of emphysema. Sometimes we suffer persecution when we discipline our children or stand up to a person at work who’s doing wrong.

Sometimes we suffer as innocent victims. As we grow old our body causes us many aches and pains. A drunk driver might cripple us. We might contract cancer despite a good diet and healthy exercise.

Yes, we all know suffering whether we choose it or not.

In today’s readings we are reminded that Christ entered into our world of suffering. In his desire to show his love for us, he wanted to make sure that he was a part of our life. He wanted to relate to us in all things. He is with us when we suffer.

Christ’s suffering also is the path to our salvation. Christ suffers and dies. And in this he pays the price for our being able to have our sins forgiven and we can attain heaven and eternal life with God.

In a marvelous way, we believe that we can unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ. In a way that transcends time, our sufferings today, both the suffering we choose and not choose, are united with the suffering of Jesus. Our suffering becomes part of the suffering of Christ for the salvation of all people and of the world.

This means that when you are suffering and wondering what value your pain has, our faith tells us that we can unite our suffering with the salvific suffering of Christ. Our suffering becomes part of Christ’s suffering for the salvation of all people in the world.

St. Paul gives us an insight into this when we wrote in his letter to the Colossians, "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church." Colossians 1.24 That means that Christ is relying on us to be part of his suffering and cross. He values our suffering. That means that if we are in bed and all alone with our pain, we are doing something powerful with God. Our suffering is bringing salvation to people. We are bringing to competition the sufferings of Jesus. Our suffering has a mighty value.

As we look to a positive value in our suffering, we must be careful not to fall into inflicting suffering on ourselves merely for the sake of suffering. We read of some Christians who do harm to their bodies, they whip and scourge themselves. I don’t think this is proper. We can inflict enough suffering on ourselves merely by trying to live the Christian life and bearing the persecution that’s involved.

Today’s message is encouraging. Our suffering is not meaningless. We can unite our pain with that of Christ and be part of saving the world.

Why do Catholics give so much attention to Mary? Aren't they taking away from Jesus?

Mary is nothing without Jesus. She has no power of her own. Still, when we read the Bible, we find that she has a key role in bringing Christ and His salvation to the world. The angel asks her permission to allow the Word to become flesh.

Especially in the Gospel of Luke, we see a significant place of Mary in the story of Jesus. She is a good and faithful follower of Jesus. She is with him under the cross and in the Gospel of John Jesus tells John she is his mother.

Catholics believe that when a person in the state of grace, full of the Holy Spirit, dies, they continue to live through the power of that life of the Holy Spirit. The souls of the just in heaven intercede with Jesus for loved ones. Mary is alive and caring for us as a mother. We believe that she is a gift of God that enhances our love for Jesus and in no way takes away from the honor he deserves. God has asked us to come to Him as a family. And so we are praising and communicating with God in union with those on earth as well as the faithful in heaven.

Jesus is a God of the living, not of the dead.

are you bearing fruit?

The kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to a people that will produce its fruit.Matthew 21, 43.

God is anxious that we bear fruit in our lives. We have all been entrusted with gifts from God.God wants us to cultivate trim, water and let the fruit of our talents to affect the world in which we live. God has made an investment in us.He’s empowered us. He expects results.

So many of us are satisfied with just getting by in our lives. We don’t strive for excellence.
Developing our talents means a big expenditure of time and energy. We’re lazy. On top of that, we run the risk of being rejected, misunderstood and laughed at as we develop our talents.
Perhaps it’s easier to just get by in life without causing too many waves.

Also we can claim to develop our talents but be doing so for the wrong reasons. I might have a talent for leadership but use that talents to dominate and enslave others. I might have a talent for healing but use that talent mainly to gain money. The development of talents that I’m talking about is aimed to enhancing and enriching the lives of others.

If we sincerely want to follow Christ, we can’t be satisfied with the mediocre. His call is a tireless call to strive for perfection in the use of our talents to care for the needs of others.

We can get a handle on how effective we are in cultivating our talents by looking at four different situations in our lives:

1. In evaluating the fruits of my talents, I first look at my
personal response to the development of my talents. Am I
willing to grow? Do I risk using my talents? Do I strive to
discover talents I didn’t know I had? Do I see the fruits of my

2. Are my talents affecting my family, the people with whom
I live? Is there more peace, honesty and joy in my family
because of the talents I’ve brought to fruit?

3. Are my talents affecting in a good way the lives of the people of my parish? Am I a person who attends Mass each Sunday and passes on my weekly donation? Is that the extent of the fruit of my talents? How is the parish affected by me? Is it better because of me? Are people growing because of me?

4. Jesus had a definite world vision. He didn’t restrict his mission to people who attended synagogue. He taught and ministered to lepers, sick, alienated and forgotten. He reached out to Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor, holy and unholy. We must use our talents not only to affect our family and church, we should also strive to touch the lives of people outside of our comfort zone. We should allow the fruit of our talents to touch the lives of the vast majority of people who don’t go to church. We do this by allowing the fruit of our talents to be tasted by people in schools we attend, businesses where we work, and the stores where be shop. We are expected to bring the fruit of our talents to all the people who are so close to us around the world through telephone, email, radio and television.

5. We are called to feed ourselves, our family, our parish and our world with our talents. We are called by Christ to help usher in the Kingdom of God with the use of these talents.

We have the best lawyer on our side

When I awake each morning, I turn my thoughts to the Holy Spirit and say a prayer to Him. It's an ancient prayer called "Come, O Creator, blest." I came to know of the prayer when I started high school. Through the prayer, I've developed a deep love and friendship with God the Holy Spirit. I've included parts of the prayer in the little "Pocket Prayers" that I'll be glad to send you free of charge. Look for the free offers on the "home page." Recently I was encouraged by a title for the Holy Spirit I found in the prayer. The prayer calls the Holy Spirit the "Paraclete." Now that certainly is a strange word. The instant image is that of the bird, the parakeet. But no, that's not the meaning. A paraclete is an ancient word for an advocate, a helper or a lawyer. Right away my mind jumped to Johnny Cochrane and the unbelievable job he did in defending O.J. Simpson. Although I didn't like his tactics, I couldn't help fantasizing that if I ever needed a good lawyer, I'd love to have the likes of Johnny Cochrane in my corner. From this I got to thinking that we call the Holy Spirit our "lawyer." Now that's fine isn't it. We have God the Holy Spirit as our lawyer pleasing for us even if our sins and failings would surely be enough to have us condemned. I can't help smiling when I think about the loving friend, the Holy Spirit, I have on my side now and when I come for the time of judgement at the end of my life. Oh, I know this doesn't mean that I have a license to sin. No I must work to fulfill the Lord's will. Still, the Lord Holy Spirit is with me. I have a confidence and security much more than O.J. had.

I'm Better than you

I think that the most dangerous and destructive words we can say to another person are, "I'm better than you are." These words whether spoken or implied cause division, racism, prejudice and war. I can either succumb to the words and be defeated or I can begin to fight to prove that I'm better than the speaker.

Whether we succumb or fight back we awaken in our hearts a deep insecurity. We are terribly frightened that the world will know of our fearful failure.

This situation arises because we are living in a world where being number one is the goal of all relationships: sports, business, education and even marriage. Men and women, rich and poor, educated and not educated, country between country and especially religion between religion. Striving to be number one is deeply ingrained in our way of being.

The only way to get out of this battle with peace is to surrender to God's love for us. Once we surrender and know that God loves us, we have the strength and courage to let go of the contention and divisiveness. We can relax in God's love and know that that is all that we need for peace. We don't have to prove ourselves to anybody. With God on our side, we can do all.

The problem is that we find a surrender to God's love very difficult. We know of our sinfulness and failures. Sometimes God's love is so difficult to accept. But if we can let go and believe in God's love for us, we have the confidence to let go of the threat of "I'm better than you are." and not react negatively.

Rather than react negatively to the "I'm better than you" threat and we can relax. We can even be foolish enough to support the purported greatness of the other. With God's love for us as a foundation, we can build up others who threaten us.

I believe that God is reaching out to each of us at this moment with His love. All we have to do is say "Yes" to it and then let the contention of the "I'm better than you." world slip away.

Why isn't Bible reading and Bible study stressed more for Catholics?

Regretfully, many Catholics like me were not raised with love and appreciation for reading the Bible. In my own home we didn't read the Bible, and in grade school I had only a cursory exposure to the sacred Book. When I went to Mass, the Scriptures were read in Latin, and I followed along with a book that had an English translation.

In the 1940s Pope Pius XII opened the Bible to study by Catholic scholars in a new way. He asked them not always to interpret the Bible literally. He wanted them to ask some very basic questions as they read God's word: who wrote what, under what circumstances, when, where, and why? He thought that scientific inquiry into the cultural background of the Bible would help to plumb the depths of the Bible's true meaning.

This opened a floodgate of interest among Catholics in the study of the Bible. Twenty years later, when the Catholic bishops from all over the world met in Rome for what is called the Second Vatican Council, they put a new stress on individual reading of the Bible and group study.

With the Mass now in English, the readings for daily and Sunday Masses were organized so that over three year cycles, Catholics can hear most of the Bible read at Mass. Priests were called on to preach each Sunday on the Scriptures and to offer at daily Mass a homily based on the Scripture readings.

When I was in the seminary, I studied the books of the Hebrew Bible and then read the New Testament many, many times. In my last years of seminary, I had four years of intense Bible study.

Today a Catholic parish that doesn't have a Bible study group is more and more an exception.

How did the Catholic reluctance to read the Bible begin?

Prior to the Reformation, Catholics were not reluctant to read the Bible. Those Catholics who were educated were able to center their spirituality around the Bible. I am thinking of outstanding Scripture scholars like Origin, Jerome, and Augustine. Thomas Aquinas based his theology on a deep understanding of the Bible. Until the printing press was invented, education of the masses was at a very low level in comparison to today. Handwritten copies of the Bible were difficult to produce. Because these copies were so few and precious, they were often chained to the lectern in a church to make sure they were not stolen. At this time, a style of Christian living arose in many places in the church that didn't seem to be in agreement with the Scriptures: clericalism was rife, there were the money-making indulgences, avarice, papal military power, good works more important than faith; and an impersonal ecclesiastical bureaucracy often stifled the freedom of the Spirit.

The reformers revolted against all this and based their actions on various verses of the Bible. Once the Bible was translated into the vernacular and Mass produced by the newly invented printing press, education of the masses improved, and people could read firsthand the arguments of Luther and the other reformers. Christianity was divided into two camps: the Protestant camp, those who thought the Bible was the sole authority in religious matters; and the Catholic camp, those who thought the Pope together with Tradition and Scripture was the sole authority.

Catholics moved to the defensive. Catholic authorities greatly feared "private interpretations of the Bible." Although the Bible had been and was still the Word of God, the free reading and private interpretation of the Scriptures by Catholics were restricted. The interpretation of the Bible was kept in the hands of clerics. The laity were told to be cautious lest they misread the Bible as the reformers had done. Fortunately, today, Catholics are encouraged to read and study the Bible.

Do Catholics feel they have to work out their Salvation?

Catholics believe that salvation is a free gift from God. When Jesus died and rose He paid the price for our sins. That salvation is a wonderful gift. I receive that gift by an act of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This gift is not something that I can earn. It's outright free. But now the question arises, "Do I have to do anything once I have that gift?" Well, of course. The gift from the Lord requires a response. We must love and worship the Lord. We must care for His people. The parable in Matthew 25 speaks of works of love for the poor as a key to attaining salvation.
Back in the 1500's Luther got very upset with the Roman Church over the issue of Indulgences. Catholic leaders were selling indulgences that gave the buyer a guarantee that he or those for whom he bought the indulgences, living and dead, would be freed from the punishment their sins had incurred. In many ways

Luther was correct to object to the practice of selling indulgences as it was carried out in his time. Indulgences in themselves are really quite beautiful. They come from the store of loving acts of Christ and members of His Body. For example, if someone you love is suffering right now with arthritis or cancer, for a Christian, that suffering is not wasted or meaningless. It is united with the sufferings of Christ in a way that transcends time. That suffering can now be applied to help a struggling person perhaps on the other side of the planet. The help comes in the form of grace.

One of the clearest explanations of this power of human suffering comes from the words of St. Paul to the Colossians 1.24: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church." Indulgences speak of the power of our suffering being united to the suffering of Christ. The Father unites our suffering with those of Christ and brings the grace of salvation to people around our world today. Indulgences speak of the value that God places in our suffering. What a beautiful gift.

The granting of indulgences sometimes lost its deep spiritual significance and was merely a means of manipulation and a way of gaining money. The impression for some was that the Church was saying that salvation could be bought or worked out by prayer or mere human effort. We can never do anything that would merit our salvation. Still, given this gift, we must strive with all our power to be as worthy of this love by loving God and our neighbor as we love ourselves.


Jesus is born. He lives today.

Ø I’ve seen him born in the young prostitute that came to confession in my parish. "I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Ø I've seen him born in the widow whose life has been struck an awesome blow by the death of her beloved husband of 40 years. Christ said, "I promise life for your husband. I promise his love and life will continue with you."

Ø I see Christ born in the eyes of the father who told me that his daughter just committed suicide. She hung herself at the age of 14. "Father, is my daughter in hell?" I responded, "no. I believe in God’s love. Your daughter was sick. Jesus loved and healed the sick. Your daughter is with Jesus." "Thank you, father. That was my greatest worry."

My life as a priest is rich in experiences of watching Christ be born in people right before my eyes.

The television ministry allows me to be the midwife of his birth in hundreds of thousands of people across the country. People call, they write and they tell me in person how our program brought them new life.

Christmas has been happening through the program for over 30 years.

Thank you for being a vital part of this birthing. Through your prayers and support of the TV program, we’ve been able to help Jesus come into the lives of people. What a Christmas gift you’ve given.

Developing our Talents

Jesus told a story about a man giving his servants some money. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand and to a third a thousand. The man left on a journey and returned. He was happy to learn that the ones with five and two thousand doubled their money. The one with the thousand played it safe. He didn't risk passing the money into the hands of an investor who might lose the whole thing.

The man giving out the money was upset with the one who played it safe. He favored the riskers.

We can take the lesson that the Lord wants us to develop our talents: playing the piano, singing, speaking, studying, building... All these talents are good to increase. I was thinking of another talent we should make grow- the people with whom we live. Husbands should consider themselves responsible for fostering the grow of their wives in their many talents. Wives should do the same work with their husbands. Parents should do this fostering of grow with their children. And children should work on fostering growth in their parents and brothers and sisters.

What are some of the things we can do to foster this growth in those who are close to us? Listening is vital. Encouraging dreams, praise, giving direction and offering a milieu of freedom.
What a key to a successful marriage and family if each member strove to help develop the talents of others. That's a powerful challenge from the story of Jesus.

Whats the difference between Catholic and Protestant Bibles?

Catholics and Protestants share the same New Testament. For a while Luther considered Hebrew, James, Jude and Revelation as inferior and put them at the end of his New Testament translation. Calvin seems to have had reservations about 2 and 3 John. Eventually all differences were reconciled and the Protestants and Catholics agreed with the fourth-century church councils which established the approved listing of books of the New Testament as we have them today.

The Catholic version of the Old Testament differs from the Protestants. The Catholics have a Greek version called the Septuagint which was used by Hellenistic Jews in Alexandria in North Africa before the time of Christ. This was the version used by the early Church. Luther chose another version, the Hebrew version, which was used by Jews in Palestine.

The Protestant version does not include the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and that part of Daniel called the book of Susannah. Certain editions of the Bible will include these books under the title "Aprocryphical books of the Bible." Catholics consider these books as part of the inspired word of God.

How can I keep from feeling discouraged?

The worst way to react to discouragement is to pretend that it isn't there, that it isn't bothering us. We need honestly to accept discouragement with all its attendant fear and heartache. Denial can turn discouragement into a big, ugly, long-lasting monster.

For a Christian, the frailty of discouragement can be a doorway to greatness. Paul said, "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9). Also, the suffering and discouragement of the cross remind us that Jesus has gone before us down the road of discouragement. We are not alone.

Discouragement usually shows that we are dependent on others. Facing this need and then reaching out to others for help can become the ingredients of excellence.

Besides meditation on these spiritual truths, we need to reach out in our discouragement to a friend who will listen to us and just be with us. Discouragement usually comes when we have experienced failure. We need to swallow our pride and honestly share our weakness with someone who will handle us with tenderness and understanding.

Soon after being ordained a priest I was assigned to teach high school religion in the Los Angeles ghetto of Watts. Despite initial enthusiasm for the assignment, I soon learned that I lacked the discipline skills to deal with teenagers in the classroom. After two years, I had to leave the school. I had failed as a high school teacher.

The failure was devastating to me. I visited with my mom and dad, who lived near Los Angeles. One afternoon I shared with them my inability to handle the role of high school teacher. I remember their tender love and understanding.

I also turned to the Gospel of Mark. I found Jesus understood my failure. He knew failure in His dealings with His family, His disciples, the religious leaders, and the Gentiles. From reading of these discouraging experiences of Christ, I gained a strength to deal better with future struggles.

Our Faith after September 11

What do we pray for at this time when personally and nationally our souls feel an emptiness after the tragedy of September 11? I've thought of the importance of praying for a change of heart for the people who want to do us harm. God is more powerful than the bombs. God is more powerful than the fear.

I believe that God can turn the hearts of those who want to do us harm. He can touch our hearts also with a new awareness of the sufferings and injustice that is going around in the world.

I believe that prayer for the terrorists is an important ingredient of the war we are in.

Because my Father was an Alchohalic, Im having problems as an adult. Should I just pray or can i do something else?

By all means, pray. God's power is the key to the coming together of your life. When I was in a similar situation, God responded to my prayer in this way: two friends, quite independently of each other, introduced me to a fast growing organization called, Adult Children of Alcoholics. Both my friends had parents who were alcoholics.

When I mentioned that there were drinking problems in my family, my friends treated me with all solicitude and lent me the latest books by psychologists working with the adult children of alcoholics.

I have found the reading material on ACA very helpful. And as I share in my sermons and talks some of the fears and obsessions that I have developed because of the alcoholic situation in
my childhood, I find that significant numbers of Americans share my struggles. Certain common characteristics are found in children brought up in households where there is an alcoholic or chemical dependency.

We have come to feel isolated, uneasy with other people, especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we become people pleasers, sometimes losing our identity in the process. We either become alcoholics ourselves or marry them - or both. Failing that, we find another compulsive personality, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need to be abandoned. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. We prefer to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We somehow get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves rather than give in to others. Thus we become reactors rather than actors, letting others take the initiative.

We are dependent, terrified of the very abandonment we have sought. We are willing to do almost anything to hold onto a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. Yet we keep choosing insecure relationships because they match our childhood relationship with alcoholic parents. We learned to suppress our feelings as children, and as adults we keep them buried, confusing love and pity, tending to love those we can rescue. Because of the prevalence of anger in our family of origin, we have a hard time expressing anger and dealing with it in others. Even more self-defeating, we become addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable relationships. The road to recovery is a spiritual road similar to that of the twelve recovery steps for Alcoholics Anonymous. If you find that I have struck a nerve or two, I hope that you will do further reading on the subject and then perhaps join a weekly support group.

As a Catholic priest I sometimes wonder why...

As a Catholic priest, I sometimes wonder why so few people go to Church on Sundays and then I wonder why so many other Catholics are going to Protestant Evangelical Church.
Once I asked a leader of the Assembly of God for the Spanish speaking in Southern California just why so many Catholics were joining his denomination. In a very polite and quick way he responded.

He said that he experienced four reasons why people come over:

1. Our churches have leaders who arise out of the community.

2. The people feel that this is their community and church.

3. We offer a freedom to be able to express emotions during our services.

4. We offer an easy access to Jesus.

Interesting. Looking at those points from a Catholic perspective I can see why people might not want to join the Church.

1. With our shortage of vocation, leaders are not always arising out of the community where they serve. Many priests from over seas are serving in our parishes. I, for example, a gringo say the Spanish Mass at a local parish on Sundays.

2. Often the Spanish Mass or the Vietnamese Mass in a parish is relegated to an unpopular afternoon time on Sundays. Often minorities are considered intruders rather than part of the parish.

3. There is much to be said for the ritual and formalism and the tradition of the Catholic Church. But this can often hinder the excitement that comes from spontaneous expression of the voice or body. Without that freedom, things can be inhibited.

4. If you want to become a member of the Catholic Church you ordinarily have to join the R.C.I.A. This rite of initiation can last for over a year. This is good to be well founded in the faith. Still the impression can be discouraging. I can't help feeling that we need a better balance with the possibility of being spontaneous and the need the start with formal programs.

I think that we should be open to listening to the success of other who love the Lord in order to bring our love of the Lord to more and more people.

God is generous.

God is generous. Jesus explains this in his story about the owner of the vineyard who gives the same salary to the men who worked one hour as to those who worked eight hours. This kind of generosity is more than we can comprehend. Today if the owner of a store gave the same pay to the person who worked one hour as to the person who worked eight hours, there would be a strike.

To grasp the force of God's generosity, we need to apply Jesus’ story to our own lives, today. We need to get into the sandals of the people standing round. Are we in any way like them? Are we spinning our wheels in life? Are we waiting for a call to do more with our lives? Have we worked ourselves into a mode of self-satisfaction that makes us blind and deaf to the possibility of change?

I’m curious about where people are waiting? In front of the Home Depot? Even here in church? At home watching TV? At work? In a nursing home? In a bar? In Christ’s story, the owner of the vineyard calls the people standing around to work. I’m wondering, how does God call us today? The bible, the church, our family, our work, popular music, sickness, failure, blessings, a friend, or an enemy? What does God ask us to? Oops, you mean I might have to change?

Why are we afraid to hear the call of God? I suppose that when we are confronted with the generous and loving call of God, our natural reaction is "I’m not worthy. What about my sins, especially those I confess time and again and I continually fall into again? The habits of sin: sex, pornography, masturbation, unfaithfulness. Then there are the things I do to escape the pain of my life: drugs, drink, work, TV, food, laziness. I hurt the people I live and work with by my anger, insensitivity and lack of patience."I suppose that when we are confronted with the generous and loving call of God, our natural reaction is "I’m not worthy. What about my sins, especially those I confess time and again and I continually fall into again? The habits of sin: sex, pornography, masturbation, unfaithfulness. Then there are the things I do to escape the pain of my life: drugs, drink, work, TV, food, laziness. I hurt the people I live and work with by my anger, insensitivity and lack of patience."

We can use all these quite valid reasons for not responding to God's generous call. But today we’re being challenged to drop all our excuses and fall into the generous, loving arms of God who loves us.

The big question is, are we willing to be loved by this Tremendous lover? I think I will say, "Yes".

How can i find God's will for me?

Discerning God's will is often difficult, but He has given us several means to do it. The first way is devout prayer, which includes listening. We often ask God in prayer to guide us, but we don't wait in silence for an answer! Another problem is that if we do listen, God's answer may be something we prefer not to hear.

Our prayer to find God's will should be combined with the reading of Scripture. Find a Bible that has a topic reference, and then read the various passages that pertain to your struggle. Look to the example of good people you know or have read about. There are others, just like you, who have wrestled with the same dilemma. Talk with people in your praying community. Seek their direction and their prayers. Once you believe you have discerned God's will, move in that direction with conviction.

You will know you are doing God's will when His signs of peace, love, and joy accompany your actions. At other times you will not be completely confident that you should act one way or the other. Given such confusion, many people stagnate in indecision. Sometimes we have to act without the security of complete certitude. Throughout history God has called people to step out in faith in spite of questions and doubts

Why should i have to go to Church? I can experience God so much better on a trip to the mountains or the beach or even looking at an exquisite flower

Why should I have to go to Church? I can experience God so much better on a trip to the mountains or the beach or even looking at an exquisite flower. When I come to Church, all I seem to get are distractions.There's something in my that wants to agree with you. When you want to think holy thoughts, Church seems to be filled with crying babies, and bored people. Let me strike a balance by saying that we need both the isolation from people and closeness to nature as well as the hassle and bustle and distractions involved with a Church experience.

I like to go to Church because the faith of my fellow parishioners gives me a shot in the arm to be able to continue the struggle of living a Christian life during the week. I also get blest by listening to the reading from the Bible and then the reflection by the priest.

As a priest, I often thank people for coming to Mass. Along with the blessings they receive, I remind them that they also help me and others by their very presence.

Coming to Church each Sunday is a way of expressing and communicating our love for God. Without this visible expression, even when we don't feel like we're on fire, love can dry up. You who are married know how important regular communication and expressions of love are.

Try to worship in public along with your quiet, isolated prayer. You need people and people need you.

My Faith seems to be stagnating. How can i grow spiritualy?

To grow spiritually, we need to think spiritually. That may involve reading the Bible frequently, listening to "Christian tapes," reading spiritual books, attending seminars, sharing ourexperiences of God with others, and spending time quietly listening to Him. In our fast-paced society, we often feel we should be doing something all the time, but God often calls us to be still and listen, allowing His power to change and mature us. A danger in growing spiritually is that when we reach a comfortable stage in our relationship with the Lord, we decide to rest there. But the Lord is continually calling us to deepen our commitment to Him. Only through a strong commitment to Jesus will we be able to grow spiritually. Remember: whatever stagnates, dies.

What is an indulgence?

Today indulgences do not have a prominent place in the spirituality of most Catholics. As Catholics strive to be more united with Protestants, the church's abuse of indulgences at the time of the Reformation is an embarrassment to many Catholics. Unfortunately, the wholesome applying of Christ's merits to ourselves and others was tarnished in the past by selling of indulgences.

In 1967 Pope Paul VI made a statement about indulgences that helped to clarify the part they should play in a Catholic's spirituality. The pope linked the doctrine of indulgences with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, that the church on earth is united with the church in heaven and in purgatory. The church has access to the infinite and inexhaustible value which the merits of Christ have in the sight of God. An indulgence, he declares, is "the remission in the sight of God of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been blotted out as far as guilt is concerned."

A Catholic can say prayers, do acts of penance, and care for the needs of others and thereby gain the remission of punishment for personal sins and the sins of others living and dead.

Is it a sin to feel inferior?

Feeling inferior is not a sin. Feelings are not wrong. They are neither good nor bad. Our concern should be with what we do with our feelings. Do feelings lead us to good or bad actions? Feeling inferior is wrong when we use the feeling to excuse ourselves from not developing our God-given talents. As long as we say, "I can't do that because I feel inferior" or "I'm afraid to go there because I feel inferior," we don't have to grow into the fullness to which God has called us - that abundant life.

We need to recognize the talents God has given us, then use them to give Him glory. My own struggle with feeling inferior is frequently tied into the comparisons I make between myself and others. If I try to write a book, I can always find someone else who could do it better. If I take up racquet ball or playing the piano or try to start a business or learn a new language - the list is endless - I can always find someone who can do better. Our national psyche is so imbued with the ideal of being number one that we don't risk beginnings because we fear we'll never be the best.

God has made each of us unique. Whatever we do will be special in and of itself. We can use comparisons to improve ourselves but not to hinder risking the use of our talents. One of the most practical ways of overcoming a sense of inferiority is to reach out and build up those who have similar negative feelings. When we do this, wonderful things happen to improve our self-images.

Is Jesus really present in Eucharist?

Catholics believe the words of Scripture, "This is my body...this is my blood" (Mark 14:22-23). The bread and wine become Jesus Christ. This amazes me. When Jesus wants to love, He acts in ways that are greater than our wildest imaginings. What an overwhelming gift! His very self! Eucharist is a common Catholic word. It means gratitude or thanks. In this sacrament we see the desire of a lover to be with us in that which seems common and vulnerable - a piece of bread and a sip of wine. These signs now, in a way we don't understand, become the reality of Jesus' body and blood. Around the Middle Ages a belief developed that Christ was present in the bread and wine only in a spiritual way. In meetings of Catholic bishops at special councils in 1215 and 1415 and finally at the Council of Trent in 1551, the church defined the change that happens to the bread and wine at Mass to be a complete change into the body and blood of Christ. The substances of the bread and the wine are changed. Because of Christ's stark and unequivocal words, they are no longer bread and wine. They are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ.

That's very nice and even inspiring. But don't Catholics get so involved in Holy Communion that they fail to see Christ in others?

As Catholics look at this awesome presence of Christ in the Eucharist, they must be careful not to let it become an end in itself. The reception of communion is a personal experience of the Lord, but it must move us to a deeper commitment to the people with whom we share the Lord. Since food gives energy, we must use the energy to love others, especially those we don't like. Frequently those who are not Catholic find fault with an understanding of the Eucharist that is too individualistic. Catholics should head off this objection by emphasizing also the social aspects of the Eucharist.

Do Catholics "Know" Jesus?

To know Jesus is a process similar to knowing your husband or wife, child, or friend. The question "Do you know Jesus?" can imply you've reached a plateau where you know all. That's unrealistic. You never know a person fully. Knowledge of a person is an unending quest. An infant knows his or her mother, a child knows a friend, a teenager knows the girl he feels undying love for, newlyweds profess deep knowledge of each other, a couple celebrating fifty years of marriage say they know each other. Each of these people does know the other person, yet in an incomplete way. Experience and time allow relationships to grow deeper.

So it is with our knowledge of Jesus. Yes, we may know Him and experience Him at one stage in our lives, but we must always be open to a more profound knowledge.

Certainly, Catholics know Jesus. The challenge is to know Him more and more. Be careful when you quiz people about their knowledge of Jesus. I have learned to be nonjudgmental when I evaluate another person's relationship with God.

How do you personally respond to the question, "Do you know Jesus?" I am peeved. Initially I become very defensive and want to prove how I have totally surrendered myself to Jesus through my prayer life, my daily celebration of the Lord's Word and Sacrament at the Eucharist, my vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, and . . . Then I relax and thank the Lord that I'm ultimately answerable to Him and to no human being.

For me, and I believe most Catholics, the question, "Do you know Jesus?" is usually painfully arrogant and alienating.

Lonliness and Lent

Sometimes we feel alone. There might be a whole bunch of people around us but we still feel alone. These moments are very painful. We don't know where to turn. All seems lost.
There are to ways to react to this loneliness. We can throw up our hands in despair. We can give in to a deep depression. We can move to suicide.

There's another way of reacting. We can face our emptiness and consciously turn to God and admit to Him that we need Him.

This recourse to God is the key to a successful Lent, to a successful life. We let go of our worry. We admit that God is in control and that He loves us deeply. In this surrender we gain strength and courage to continue.

Try the surrender to the loving embrace of the Lord. It takes no more than a few seconds. This is the solution to being alone, to being lonely. We turn to God our Creator and embrace security and peace.

Why am I not happy?

God wants me to be happy by relaxing in His power. But I have often responded by choosing anxiety or even despair rather than "letting go and letting God." I have preferred to deal with the tangible rather than with God's power. I will be happy when I praise God with my mouth, study Him with my mind and submit to His will in my everyday actions.

I will not be happy when I am concerned primarily with my own pleasure. Selfishness, pride, and my need to control other people don't really make me happy. Happiness, according to God's plan, comes when I serve the needs of others with the same intensity that I care for my own needs and desires. This is fine when it makes us feel good, as at Christmas. I am not too bad at loving people I love. But God stretches me when He asks me to love those I don't like, even those who are my enemies.

Why is patience important?

Patience furthers peace of mind and soul. If we are patient, we release from our shoulders an unnecessary burden of anxiety and control. To choose patience is to have wisdom. My model for patience is the way God deals with me and my sins. Instead of coming down hard with punishment for my failings, God patiently urges me to change my ways.

Tests of patience can be found in

1) being patient with our weaknesses and failings;

2) being patient with others and understanding that they may be at different levels of development than we are; and

3) being patient with God, knowing that His plans are deeper and more secure than our fleeting wishes and desires.

Good things come with patience.Unfortunately, my prayer for patience goes something like this: "Lord, please, give me patience, but give it to me NOW!"

Why don't Catholic priests get married?

Great question. As a priest, I must admit I wrestle with that question a lot. On one level, I deeply enjoy being a priest. I love the chance to talk about God. I love the study of Scripture that I have to do to prepare for sermons and talks. I love celebrating the Mass. I am in touch with the sacred, the most sacred things in life. I also love the chance to minister to people during important times in their lives: marriage, sickness, fear, sin, joy, and death.

On one level, not being married frees me to be able to work wholeheartedly and single-mindedly in the service of God's people. I can imagine that my time would be practically drawn away either from my wife and children or the people of my parish. Celibacy allows me to concentrate on the needs of the people to whom I'm called to minister.

On another level, there is a definite loneliness in my life without a wife and children. At times I feel this lacking in my life in a strong way. I'm a member of a religious community, Divine Word Missionaries. We live in community. There are about 12 of us living together here in Riverside, CA. This fellowship is vitally important for me and helps to overcome some of the loneliness. Still, especially at times of failure and misunderstanding, it's difficult not to have a female intimate. At times I feel hesitant to share with my female friends because I don't want to compromise a sexual boundary that I feel I need to maintain.

So, why doesn't a Catholic priest have the option to marry? Well, the truth is that there is only a changeable law that restricts a married clergy. It could change. As a matter of fact, Eastern Rite Catholic priests are married. And some former Anglican Priests who became Catholic are married. So why am I not married? Two reasons stand out. One is that I have experienced a Call from God to this way of life. The call is real but hard to explain. When I was 28 I took a vow to live the life of a celibate.

The second reason is that I want to imitate Jesus. He wasn't married.
His life as a celibate was an urgent rush to be concerned with calling people to the imminence of the coming of God's Kingdom. This urgency of Jesus didn't leave time for the work of caring for a wife and children.

We know after two centuries, that the urgency of Jesus doesn't seem to be so urgent. Still, in a way that doesn't make a lot of logical sense, our love for God calls us to that urgency, to work at an almost frantic pace, to usher in the Kingdom of God using our talents and love.

Prepare for Advent

Once again we prepare for Christmas. With so many distraction from buying, writing, visiting and partying, having a profound experience of Jesus this year can be difficult. We need a bit of quiet time to pray and set a direction for the coming weeks. Reading the Bible is important. The Gospel accounts in Luke and Mathew are good. Fortified with the Word of God, we then can search out ways to allow Christ to be born in the people we meet. One of the best ways of doing this is forgiving someone who has hurt us. Then we can look for people in our lives that are lonely, lost and forgotten. We can spend time with them to find their goodness and value. These people can be homeless, the check out lady at the grocery story, your wife or the priest in your parish.

Christmas is more than a memorial of Christ's coming. Christmas is a challenge to be like midwives and allow Christ to be born in the lives of the people in our lives. We do that by loving and empowering them.

Preparing for Christmas

When I think of Advent I think of the word "prepare." We are preparing for the coming of Our Lord into our lives at Christmas. When I think of preparing I think of what a young person goes through as they prepare to join a team. There person has to prepare in three ways: physical, mental and spiritual.

Physical: they have to discipline their bodies with running and other exercises.

they have to discipline their bodies with running and other exercises.

Mental: they have to study plays.

they have to study plays.

Spiritual: they have to develop a bond with the other members of the team so that they will interact well. They have to be on fire to work together to win the games.

they have to develop a bond with the other members of the team so that they will interact well. They have to be on fire to work together to win the games.

Our preparation for advent involves a similar preparation. We must discipline our bodies with fasting and doing things we don't naturally do. Mentally we must study the Bible and read or listen to inspirational people. Finally we must develop the spiritual level by prayer and meditation.

Think of these practical preparations as you get ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus into your life. God will bless the work you do with a deepening of your relationship with him. Happy Advent!

Why are priests called "Father"?

I marvel at many Protestants who greet me with the title: "Father". They do so very much against their principles but out of a loving desire not to cause further division. In the backs of their minds I think they are confounded as to how a Christian could take on such a title in direct violation of Christ's words, "Call no man Father" (Matthew 23, 2-10).

Let me explain. In His life as a servant, Jesus gave us an example of how to be leaders. At the Last Supper, He got down and washed the feet of His apostles. He was opposed to any leader taking on a haughty or superior attitude. Right in line with His actions and His teachings, He told us in Matthew not to call anyone "Father," "Rabbi," or "Teacher."

I think one would do an injustice to Christ to think He was opposed to calling the father of five children a father or the leader of a synagogue a "rabbi" or the young woman who is instructing thirty-five first graders a "teacher." Jesus is not opposed to using words to describe what a person is doing. Christ is opposed to titles that persons use to "Lord it over" (Luke 22:25) others. If a person uses a title to be exempted from service of others or to feel better than others, the titles should not be used.

As a priest who uses the title "Father" before my name, I must listen closely to Christ's words. Am I using the title to consider myself better than others? If so I should not use it.

For me, the title "Father" is closely connected to the vow I have taken to live a life of celibacy. I have chosen not to marry a woman and generate children. That denial for the kingdom of God of what is very natural doesn't eliminate my responsibility to be a father. I must use my love and creativity to serve the needs of others to whom I am committed through the church.
When people call me "Father" they challenge me and remind me to love the people of the kingdom and not shirk my responsibilities of fatherhood,

St. Paul was a celibate. He wrote of his spiritual fatherhood in his letter to the slave owner Philemon about the slave Onesimus, "I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment" (Phil. 10). He writes to the Corinthians, "Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1Cor. 4,15).

And if you ever find me using the title "Father" to imply I'm better than you or if I am not loving you in service, call me Mike.

Why do priests wear such elaborate vestments when Jesus wore such simple clothes

Vestments are an attempt on our part to be in touch with a sacredness beyond our wildest imagining. They take on a new meaning in the context of Jesus' transfiguration. Jesus, in humble human form, was suddenly transformed in the midst of a world that was ready to crucify Him and bring Him down; the apostles saw Him in His glory and power. When we wear vestments and clothes of celebration we are in touch with the Christ who lifts our hope to things above.

There is a variety of colors in vestments. Each color has a significance:

1. White or gold is for major celebrations like Easter and Christmas.

2. Purple is worn in times of penance during Advent and Lent.

3. Red recalls the blood of martyrs and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

4. Green is the symbol of growth and is worn on most Sundays of the year.

The style of the vestments at Mass reminds us of our oneness with those who have worshiped God down the centuries.

A beautiful church, a chalice, and fine vestments serve to remind us that when we celebrate sacraments we are actually in the presence of the Godhead. Although we don't always dress and act in this solemn and mysterious way (any more than the Transfiguration was a continual experience), we still need to try periodically to approach with awe God's transcending power through churches, sacred vessels, vestments, and rituals

Recently I've heard about some Catholic priests...

Recently I've heard about some Catholic priests going to jail for molesting children or getting girls pregnant. What's going on?

In recent years the media have exposed the crimes of some Catholic priests. For example, a few years ago seven priests in Los Angeles were said to have had sexual relations with one woman. The other night a network newscast told of the indictment of a priest who was charged with over thirty counts of sexual abuse of young boys.

As a priest, I am saddened by these cases and I can under stand the anger of people who feel they have had their esteem for these priests dashed.

I value the Catholic priesthood.I don't like to see my ideal of it tarnished. I have the unrealistic wish that priests will never do wrong. A Catholic priest is a man trying to respond to a very serious call to follow Jesus. He is chosen by God, through the church community, to be a special leader in prayer and the sacraments. A priest is set aside, in the hearts of most of the faithful, to be a person who has a close relationship with God.

The vows of a priest often run prophetically counter to many values that society incorrectly holds to be acceptable. Celibacy speaks of a love that is opposed to the distorted values regarding love and sex advocated in so many movies, magazines, records and TV shows.

Some priests take the vow of poverty, which implies a life-style that seems a far cry from media advertising that promises security and meaning in life to those who amass material possessions. "At death, the one with the most toys wins," as the bumper sticker says.

A priest's obedience to a bishop's difficult order catches our attention when we find ourselves enmeshed in an overly selfish understanding of freedom. The prophetic call of the priesthood speaks of an ideal. It is an attempt to imitate Christ in a radical way. Still, scandals do arise. They have been present throughout the history of the church. But they cause us to feel letdown.
Although I aspire to the ideals of the priesthood, I know that I am human. I am a sinner. Being a religious leader makes me no less vulnerable to the seductions of evil than any other person inside or outside the church.

Jesus' strongest words of anger were directed not to the struggling people but mainly to the religious leaders: the scribes and pharisees: "You Hypocrites!" (Matt.15:7). Jesus spent a great deal of time training and challenging his leaders to be people of service. We who are leaders have a big responsibility to carry on that service.

In His parable about the tax collector and the Pharisee, Jesus tells a story about how easily a religious leader can fail in the service of God.The of Pharisee was a prominent religious leader. In the parable the Pharisee prayed, "I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or immoral, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector." The tax collector stood at a distance and would not even raise his face to heaven, but beat on his breast and said, "God, have pity on me, a sinner!" And Jesus says that the tax collector, not the haughty religious leader, was in the right with God when he went home.

Christ's message in this parable of the repentant sinner, coupled with the scandal caused by some of my fellow priests, calls me to humility and to forgiveness. May I ask you to forgive us priests when we go wrong. Demand redress for the evil we have caused. But above all, when we strive to be the prophets God has called us to be, give us your love.

What is Purgatory

The Catholic Church defined the existence of purgatory at the Council of Florence in 1439 and also the Council of Trent. However, many Catholics believed in the reality of purgatory long before these councils convened. The practice of praying for the dead can be found in liturgies in the early centuries.

The Council of Trent taught, in accordance with Scripture (Num. 20,12; 2 Macc. 12:44) that God does not always remove all of the punishment for our sins, even though the sins have been forgiven. Nothing defiled can enter heaven (Wisd. Solo. 7:25; Isa. 25:8; Heb. 1:13; Rev. 21:7). In their freedom some people have failed to respond fully to Jesus. All those who die in sin or with punishment unpaid therefore must atone in purgatory.

We believe in Jesus' power to wash away our sins. We know we are completely forgiven through His blood. But to be forgiven and justified doesn't mean we can ignore our responsibility for what our sins have inflicted on others. The evil consequences of our sin live on in others while we are alive and after our death. This responsibility to atone for our sins is fulfilled by us in purgatory and through the prayers and acts of reparation of those still on earth. This is why we pray for the dead at Mass.

Purgatory is not inevitable for everyone. Peter tells us that our responsibility for evil done can be overcome by prayer and action while we are still living on the earth, for "love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8)

The Quest for Values

The BMW, the cell phone and the tailored suit said he was rich. He was out of place among the sorted, disheveled street people huddled around the storyteller.

The crowd of homeless was spellbound as the storyteller crafted a joke. When he suddenly stopped speaking, the heads of the crowd collectively tilted forward in anticipation. And then the storyteller cried, "I already painted her feet." and, suddenly, the whole gathering broke into uninhibited laughter.

The rich man was short on time. He had to get back to the office. Rudely, he shouted to get the storyteller's attention over the rolling laughter. "Pardon me. I'm sorry to interrupt."

The storyteller, his eyes sparkling with tears of glee, turned to the rich man, "Yes?"

"May I ask you a question?"

Trying valiantly to shift gears, the storyteller swept a look over the crowd's faces and then looked into the eyes of the rich man, "Yes, certainly."

"What do I have to do to gain eternal life?"

" God with everything you have and love others like you want them to love you. Obey the 10 commandments. Do this and you will live forever."

"I've done all that since I was a kid," replied the rich man. "I'm looking for more."

The storyteller paused. He observed the man with a great deal of affection. He reached out and took him gently by the arm. "If you want to live life to the hilt, sell the cars and the houses. Give your clothes to Good Will and join me as I walk the streets of Los Angeles. We'll work with run-away kids living as prostitutes. We'll spend time in nursing homes, hospitals, and jails. We'll work to bring together Jews, Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and atheists."

An anger rose in the rich man's gut. He didn't expect that answer. I can't surrender control, he thought. "I can't do that." He waited for a word of agreement from the storyteller. But the storyteller didn't speak. Finally the rich man jerked his arm free, lowered his head and moved to his car.

"You are welcome here any time. I care for you very much." Unfortunately, the storyteller's words weren't heard; the rich man had closed the doors on his sound proof BMW.

"Tell us another one," smiled a toothless lady. The creases in her face were caked with dirt.
The story is an adaptation from the Christian Gospels. It offers values for our lives. The plan is to acknowledge God as our loving Father. We are to follow His commandments: faithfulness in marriage, care for the elderly, honesty, and satisfaction with our family.

The renewed acknowledgment of these sign posts is needed if we are to escape the mire of so much pain in our world: alienated children in broken marriages, unwanted babies conceived and rejected, neglected elderly, racism, sexism, genocide, violence, nuclear threat, and escape from responsibility through addiction to drugs, pornography, drink, and work. We need a dedication to God and the commitment to follow His will to overcome the forces of selfishness, fear, anger and ignorance.

God's way is difficult. There's a war waging within and without us against doing things His way. Often the war is subtle. I believe that God has created us inherently good. He's set us up so that every decision we make needs a "good" as it's goal. We can't do anything unless we believe there is "good" in the action. Unfortunately this "good" can be watered down to be only a "seeming good." Here enters our talent for rationalization. We can find a "good" in the musty corners of just about everything from adultery to lying from theft to murder. Adultery is okay because intimacy is "good." Lying is "good" because I save myself from embarrassment. Stealing is "good" because I make up for the injustice of my low salary. And murder? Well, what can be bad about saving a person from pain?

Improper understanding of freedom frequently clouds our grasp of true good. A freedom that's based primarily on me and not on a facility to serve others is not true freedom. We often tout the infallible goodness of freedom without the balance of responsibility. And so the force of God's call to do good is watered down.

Only with a special help from God are we able to recognize our falling short of true good. We Christians call this grace.

Back to our story. The storyteller challenges the rich man not to be satisfied with doing the good of loving God and keeping the commandments. He offers another value: Fall completely into the arms of God. Let go of everything you possess and care for the world's forgotten. Wow. That's an overwhelming invitation beyond the good to the excellent.

I have a love/hate relationship with this call to excellence. There's something in me that is satisfied with just "getting by". What's the minimum good I have to do to get to heaven? But, in my heart of hearts, I know there is so much more fulfillment and excitement by accepting the challenge of moral excellence over doing just the good.

This surrender to God and others isn't the prerogative of a monk. The storyteller's call to excellence can be lived in marriage, politics, waiting on tables and suffering on a respirator in a nursing home.

In my life, good intentions aren't enough to call me beyond the good to the excellent. Only with the experience of God's acceptance, forgiveness and love for me can I risk the surrender. Strengthened with this relationship, I am not overwhelmed with the enormity of the pending change. I know that excellence is as close and as simple as a "yes" to the next person who seeks my help. And is the effort worth it? For me it is. And for the world? Yes again. I believe the grasping of moral excellence, even with an unseen gentle touch, indelibly influences the world for good.

As a Catholic i have not read the Bible much. Can you make this book less intimidating to me?

God is a great talker. He has spoken to us at many times and in many places. Much of what He has said has been written down by those who loved to listen to Him. What He's said has been put into a collection of books which, today, we call, the Bible.

What kind of books are in this collection? Stories, poems, histories, songs, wise sayings, promises of love, prophecies, and advice on how to live and how to die.Some sections you will not be able to stop reading because of the sheer excitement the stories engender. You will meet all kinds of people: heroes, villains, saints, sinners, cowards, beauties, and hags. You will find the clever and the stupid, the powerful and the weak. You will read about the devil himself. But most of all you will come to know and love the Father and His beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

When were the books written? The first books appeared about 900 B.C. and the last one was written around a.d.100.Where were they written? In many places: Israel, Egypt, Syria, Greece, Turkey, and Rome.

Why were they written? Because God wanted to express in writing how much He loves us.

Is a relationship wirh Jesus a private affair?

I sometimes wish that my love for Jesus could be a private affair. Often I would like to be a Christian who goes alone to some mountaintop and reads Scripture and other spiritual readings. In this secluded world, I could experience God in meditation on streams, clouds, and the stirs in my heart. Sounds idyllic.

The problem with Jesus is that He says that to love Him properly, I must also love others. Ah, there's the rub! As I seek communion with and love of God in personal study and meditation, I must come down from the mountaintop and love the repulsive woman who smells bad and talks too much. I must find God in the AIDS patient and even in the person who hates me. Impossible task? Certainly seems so.

To help me in this difficult task, Jesus formed a community of followers. Jesus' plan wasn't just that we make a personal commitment to Him - although this is necessary. Integral to our commitment to Jesus is a commitment to the Christian community.

It is important that we belong to a church because in the struggle with and support of fellow Christians we find Jesus. This community of fellow believers will help us to address the difficult task of loving others. These people will share our love for the Lord. They will understand our striving to live up to the challenge of Jesus by worshiping with us, laughing with us, crying with us and sometimes giving us a swift kick in the pants when we go haywire. This collection of people is a gift from God.

Salvation of non-Christians

Here's an email I received after appearing on the Larry King Live program. My response follows.

Hi Fr.Mike, I was with a group of people in a bible study last night when the Larry King Show was aired. Our bible study group was talking, so I could not devote my full attention to what was being said, but I did notice that you were seated next to John Macarthur in the studio. Here are my observations and questions. John was very outspoken in his position that a person can attain eternal life only by believing in Jesus as his lord and savior. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through the Son." That is paraphrasing the Gospel of John. You seemed to equivocate and did not agree with John Macarthur's position on that passage of Scripture. I heard you and the Methodist bishop to be saying that God loves all people (no argument with that) and that it was not necessary for a person to believe that Jesus is the only Son of God and acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior in order to attain eternal salvation. (1) Is my observation a correct understanding of your position? (2) If you believe that Moslems, Jews, and others who deny that Jesus is the only Son of God whom the Father sent to redeem us can be saved and attain eternal life even though they openly reject Jesus' position and sovereign authority, what is your basis in Catholic theology for that belief? I am not talking about a situation where someone has not had the opportunity to learn about Jesus; I am referring to a situation where individuals knowingly reject Jesus and deny that he is the Son of God. To me, it sounded as though John Macarthur was stating correct mainline Catholic theology on that point. You and the Methodist bishop were equivocating and giving mushy answers when Larry was pressing the point as to whether a person can be saved (i.e., attain eternal life) if he or she denies that Jesus is the only means of salvation. If Jesus is not the only means of salvation, why would the Father have sent him to die such a horrible death for us sinners? I mean no disrespect to you as a priest, but I must be honest with you; I believe what John Macarthur stated so clearly and eloquently about Jesus. He is the only Son of God and, as Peter says, the only name by which men can be saved. I was longing for you to say that you agreed with that position, but you didn't. Instead, you agreed with the Methodist bishop and articulated some watered-down politically correct "anyone can be saved no matter if they reject Jesus" version of the truth. Personal opinion (tell me where I'm wrong) - Even though God loves all of us, not all people are destined to be saved. Those who knowingly and openly reject Jesus cannot be saved. I don't care how devout and sincere a person is in his or her Moslem or Jewish tradition; if that person knowingly rejects Jesus as the Son of God and the sole means of salvation, he or she is doomed to an eternal existence away from God. Another personal opinion - I want to see Catholic spokespersons speak strongly and boldly as the apostle Paul would speak if he were here today and as Bishop Fulton J. Sheen spoke on his television program. Don't be ashamed of the Gospel; don't be ashamed of saying Jesus is the only name under the heavens by which men can be saved. Instead, proclaim it as John Macarthur did last night. I would appreciate hearing from you so that I may I have a correct understanding of the Catholic faith on this point. If you could point out some passages from the new Catechism that address this issue, it would be most helpful. Thank you for letting me express my opinions. Let me reiterate - I am not trying to disrespect you by my comments. My comments are being made after having attended Mass today and after having prayed about sending this e-mail. Hopefully, they may help you see how like-minded Catholics react to what is being said on television. Sincerely, Chuck

Dear Chuck,

Thank you so much for your email. I appreciate your sharing. let me state my belief. I do believe at Jesus is God and is the source of salvation for all people. You made the distinction in your comments between the salvation of those who reject Jesus and those who will never even hear his name mentioned in their lives. I believe that the latter group are loved by God and will be given a chance to encounter Christ and make a choice for or against Him. I see Jesus reflection on this in Matthew 25... I feel confident that God loves these people and will reveal himself to them in powerful ways beyond my understanding. He wants to spend all eternity with them.
As for those who don't choose Jesus, like the Jews and the Moslems, I have a hard time easily sending them all to hell. In the first place, who is the Jesus that they are rejecting, not choosing? For most Jews and Moslems, the Jesus they reject is the Jesus they experience in us Christians. They are not examining the Bible but us. Why would they be attracted to Christ if all they know of him is anti-Semitism and persecution of Moslems? Most of them don't reject the real Christ but rather the Christ they see in the Crusades, the Inquisition, strong Catholic belittling of Jews and now a Christian nation wanting to drop bombs on their people.

If we are responsible for giving them this distorted image of Jesus, perhaps when they come to the time of judgment, the one's to be condemned will not be those who were given a false image of Jesus but those who presented the false image.

As I also mentioned on the program, when I study the gospels, especially Mark, I find that Jesus is calling people to love His Father. When we pray we are called to pray to Our Father. His goal in life is to get people to love and give their lives to the Father. We see this also in John 11.
If this passionate love of Christ for his Father is real, I have a difficult time finding Jesus becoming indignant when devout Jews and Moslems praise the Father. I think that God the Son rejoices when His Father is praised. I have a difficult time believing Jesus would want to condemn people who praise His Father.

Thanks for listening to me, Chuck. Blessings on your walk with the Lord.

In Him,

Father Michael Manning, SVD

San Bernardino Fire

I live in San Bernardino, California . I'm the pastor of a parish that was in the middle of the coming together of the Grand Prix and the Old fires. Some of our people have lost their homes. One man lost his lumber business. Many people had to leave their homes.

This week has been very difficult. I found myself spending much time in front of the TV trying to learn of the latest developments. In a few days we've moved from 100 degree weather to down right chilly weather.

I struggle with understanding how God permitted such suffering. My faith is strengthened by the faith of the people I met at the Airport in San Bernardino where I met with people who were forced to leave their homes. Some lost everything. They had faith. They helped me to find God's love when I wondered.

Thank you, God, for the faith you give to your people. They help me in my love for you.

Why do Catholics have so many rituals?

Actually "ritual" can seem like bad things until you realize that you can't very well get through your day without them. Think about the ritual of getting up, shaving, brushing your teeth, showering, dressing, eating breakfast and reading the newspaper. Quite a ritual. If someone breaks it, we feel a bit ill at ease. We find a security in rituals. They make living easier to get through.

We Catholics do have a lot of rituals, actions and words, that we are comfortable with. In the frame of the ritual, we can move along with others to love and trust the Lord more. They might be considered as a track that takes us to the Lord.

All that is well and good. The big problem comes when the ritual isn't alive and uplifting but becomes so boring that we lose heart and life.

Rituals are necessary but we can never become so dependent on them that we find an end in them rather than let them take us to a higher place of commitment and love of the Lord and each other.

Why do Catholics talk about Doctrine so much? Why not just talk about Jesus?

I have found myself thinking this way when I am with Protestant brothers and sisters. "Jesus is the source of all unity,"they say. "Let's keep our eyes on Him and not worry about doctrine."
Then I started to think about how inaccurate this line of thinking is. Most doctrines are centered on Jesus; they clarify the reality of the revelation we experience in Jesus. It's hard to ignore vital doctrines of faith such as that Jesus is divine and human or the resurrection.

Doctrines usually arise out of a need to clarify the difference between true and false revelation. Without the stability of doctrine, revelation can become unclear.

Doctrine becomes evil when it is a source of division in the church, used by insecure people to prove that one denomination is better than another. Doctrine should be a way to come to a greater understanding of the revelation of Jesus- not a means of division.

Thank you

We often say the words, "Thank you." We use the words in various levels of importance. If you open the door for me, I say "Thank you." If you say, "God bless you." when I sneeze, I say, "Thank you."

There's a deeper level of "Thank you." If you make a big sacrifice of your time or your money to help me out, my "Thank you" is more heartfelt and important.

There's a third level of thanks. This comes when I turn to a person who is a vital part of my life, a person who is an intimate friend. This person has been with me in the ups and downs of my life. He has laughed with me, cried with me and at time when I was making a fool of myself, he lovingly became angry with me. I sincerely turn to this person and say, "You are such a vital part of my life, I am who I am because of you. I can't imagine my life without you. Thank you for helping me be who I am."

We can apply the three levels of "Thank you" to our relationship with God. I say a prayer to find a parking place and one pops us.. "Thank you, God." I see a snow capped mountain and am filled with wonder and hope, "Thank you, God, for the mountain."

On a deeper level, I pray for a reconciliation with my child and low and behold, I get a phone call and we are able to clear up our differences. "Thank you, God, for helping to clear up the differences." Perhaps I pray for a healing of a back ache and it goes away. "Thank you, God, for taking care of my back."

There's a deeper level of "Thank you" that admits God as the source, presence and key to who I am. I look to God as my protection and vital key to forgiveness and peace. In a spirit of total surrender, I admit God is my all and say, "Thank you, God."

This "Thank you" is the key to having relationship that is less one of fear and obligation and habit to one of intimate surrender to intimacy. We can say this deepest, "Thank you" in a moment. It doesn't take long. All we need to do is stop and be quiet and say the words with all the sincerity we can muster. God is too magnanimous to not return our surrender with a powerful embrace of love.

Go ahead. Try it.

Why is Trust difficult for me?

Trust is necessary for us to get through life. We need to trust ourselves to reach for our dreams. We need to trust others to do the vitally important work of accepting our fragile, vulnerable selves. And we need others.

Trust is extremely difficult to hold onto. Perhaps because of personal failures in our past, we shy away from trusting ourselves. We know that nine times out of ten we are going to fall into a repetition of past sins. Because others have repeatedly failed us, we dread being foolish enough to trust others and so make ourselves vulnerable to hurt. We don't want to get burned again.

Unfortunately the result of this withdrawal is that we become isolated. Without the risk of trust, fear and misunderstanding of ourselves and others begin to rule our lives.


We spend a great deal of our lives waiting. When we're children we wait to be teenagers. When we're teenagers we wait to be grown ups. When we're grown up, we wait to be married. Then when we're married we to have children. Then when we have children we wait for them to move on. Then we wait to retire so we can do all the things we've been waiting to do all our lives.

On another level we wait in traffic, for doctors, for buses, for test results, for food to cook, and for our computer to function faster. We also wait for dreams to come about. We even wait for death. Stop to think about the waiting that you do in your life.

With so much of our lives taken up with waiting, the big question is, WHAT GOOD IS THERE IN WAITING?

Waiting calms me down. If I'm excited, waiting allows me to get another perspective. My emotions cool. I tend to see things with a better perspective. Waiting also heightens my by dependence on God. Waiting is a defenseless state. I need help. I can turn to God.

Jesus knew about waiting. Imagine, he waited 30 years in Nazareth before he began his public ministry. Thirty years. That's a long time for the Son of God to wait before he got around to doing his work. I think that it's good to look at Jesus' waiting to get some clarity on how we should deal with waiting.

Jesus moved from waiting to action through his cousin John. John the Baptist was a striking person. He had given up everything that others might consider important, to surrender to his total dedication to God. Food, cloths, housing, status, money were all put on an insignificant level. He wanted no temporal distractions to take him away from his love for God.

His life style touched the hearts of many people. His life called people to put God in a more significant place in their lives. Jesus heard about his cousin and traveled the 90 miles from Nazareth to where the Jordan flowed into the Dead Sea. As Jesus watched and listened to Jesus, he knew that his time of waiting was completed. He needed to begin his active ministry.

John was asking people to symbolize their desire to change by stepping into the water of the river and then submerge. The act was similar to entering in to the grave. It was a symbolic act of dying to one's old self to then come out of the water to a new life.

Jesus took the challenge. He went into the water. He went into the grave. When he came out, the Holy Spirit came on him and the voice of his Father proclaimed words of endorsement. Jesus knew that his time of waiting was over.

But, interestingly, there was more waiting. The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert where he waited another 40 days. Ah, more waiting. Finally he began his work of proclaiming repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom of God .

We should learn from the waiting and the call of Jesus. Yes, we wait. Like Jesus we should search for the call from waiting. We should listen for the call of a person in our lives who'll beckon us to a change, to action. The person might be a relative, a friend, an enemy or even a stranger. The call might come through a work of art: a painting, a play, a movie a dance. God might call us through a sickness or a lose or a failure.

Are we willing to listen, to respond, to act? That's the big question. May we learn from Christ. May we be patient in our waiting. May we courageously listen to God's call when it comes and move to the important work the Lord has asked us to do.

What about evolution?

I'm learning in school that everything in the world is evolving. As a Catholic can I believe that?

Yes, you can believe in evolution. Thanks to the discoveries of people like Charles Darwin, we understand that creation evolves. These modifications come about over a long time because of for example, weather changes and ways of gaining better self protection. So an animal might develop more fur or grow a horn to ward off enemies. This is a wonderful wisdom of science. The problem comes when you bring in your faith in God as the creator of all things.

We believe in faith that God created all things. We can also believe that the Lord allows the evolution of creation. Watch out for those who don't have faith. They might want to play down the creation and sustaining of creation by God.

What do you see?

One day Jesus came upon a young man who had been born blind. With his usual deep love and sensitivity, the Savior touched the man's eyes with some mud and spittle. The action allowed the man to see.

What a wonder- to be in darkness all of your life and then suddenly to be able to see. I can feebly try to understand the enormity of the miracle by closing my eyes for a few moments and then try to navigate without sight. Such a game doesn't come close to the overwhelming reality of sight from blindness.

For me the challenge isn't physical blindness. I'm blind in so many other ways. For example take a thing we look at often but perhaps don't even see, like the inside of your church. Close your eyes. What do you see. What is the color of the seats? And the rug. What's it's color? The pictures on the wall? Can you describe any one of them? The statue in the back of church? Who is it? What color vestment is the priest wearing?

Keep your eyes closed. Now let's move to the people in church with you now. Can you remember who's sitting right in front of you? What are their wearing? Often families sit in the same place in church each Sunday. In your mind's eye, locate where you think those families are. How many people are in the choir today? How many servers are helping at this Mass.

Now may I ask you to call to your mind's eye the image of someone you see every Sunday. Perhaps you don't even know their name even though you see them every Sunday. Pick one person: young, old, man or woman. Call them to your mind's eye.

So often, even though we have the gift of sight, we don't really see others. They pass in front of us. We might even greet them, but they often remain strangers. As you hold your person in your mind, wonder what are his or her fears... joys... worries...loves...hopes. failures...victories..
Of course thinking about people is nice, but the fruit of this little exercise has to be that we take the risk of getting to know that person outside of church. We need to reach out in loving care beyond our imagining.

Along with the young man, we too have been given sight by Jesus. That sight goes beyond what we see with out eyes. With the gift of sight that Jesus gives us we see with our hearts and souls. And as we look into the hearts and souls of others, we find Jesus

If the Church means anything, it has to mean that we open our eyes to see Christ in the Bible readings, the Eucharist and also in the people who whom we worship. The closer we can come to know and love one another, the closer we come to knowing and seeing Christ, our Light.

Why am I a Christian?

The Jewish host on a radio program you believe that Christianity is the true religion?" Now that is a basic question, isn't it? I answered, "Yes. Jesus is the Son of God, the revelation of the Father's love. Yes, Jesus is the key to everyone's salvation."

I have thought much about Jesus. I have asked the important questions about Him. Did He actually live some two thousand years ago? I have studied His life and teaching in Scripture to discover if He is divine. I have read the accounts of Chris tians, who, from the first century to the present and tried to understand the fullness of what Jesus revealed. My conclusion? Jesus was a real person who lived on this earth, and He spoke the truth. He is God.

After I consulted my head, I went to my heart. Jesus is much more than a historically verifiable person to me. I have experienced Him in my life. He is a real person who loves me. I experience this love when I read the Bible, when I see a sunset, and when I am loved by my friends. I experience Jesus' love profoundly through His forgiveness of my many sins.

Why do I feel guilty?

We must be careful not to disregard healthy feelings of guilt because they are often a signal from God that all is not well with our moral life. Guilt can be a sign that we are hurting ourselves and/or others, in addition to hurting our relationship with the God.

At other times we should disregard false guilt imposed on our good and wholesome actions. For example a person may have been told about the evils of sexual intercourse before marriage, then feel guilty on the wedding night. Since the person has done nothing wrong, such feelings of guilt are unhealthy.

The Word Humble is an important word in the Bible

God is continually requesting that we be humble. Humility is not a popular word in light of the struggle we all face to get ahead in our world. One has to be bigger and better and make sure that everyone else knows that you are bigger and better.

But humility is good. I don't mean the groveling that is an unhealthy humility. That kind of humility is really an escape from doing the things that I should be doing. I mean a humility that allows us to face the honesty of who we are and then move ahead. When I face who I am honestly, I then can use my talents and help with furthering the Kingdom of God. Without humility, I'm living in "la, la Land" and not being much good to anyone, myself included.
In light of the importance that God places on humility, I stopped to think of the ways that I can maintain humility in my life. Here are some thoughts on how to stay humble.

1. Risk using your talents. When we start using our talents, people inevitably laugh at us. Often, rather than face the scorn, we bury our talents. What a waste for the world that we don't use our talents. And we also lose the chance to be humble.

2. Admit your sins. Ah, this is tough. I don't know about you, but I wish people thought that I were St. Michael of Riverside. And so I often put on a lot of masks to impress people. Then when I'm honest with myself and with others, I have the foundation of the truth and the foundation of humility. For us Catholics, that's what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about. We are humble enough to admit our sinfulness and then move to the life and joy of forgiveness. We need to be humble to admit that sinfulness.

3. Go to school. The difficulty with school and learning is that we have to admit to ourselves and others that we don't know it all. We are ignorant. Now that's hitting a real nerve. But, oh, to have the humility to seek learning whether through a class, a book, a TV. show and good tape, ah, that's the key to being humble and growing.

4. Have the courage to praise God. Often times we find it hard to praise the people close to us. Sometimes husband and wives have a hard time praising each other. I guess we're afraid that we will lose something is we praise others. In church we are continually urged to praise and give thanks to God. It is kind of expected. But as with most things we do regularly, we can forget why we do them. Well, praising and thanking God is a good way to keep humble. We admit that God is in control and we are not. That makes a lot of sense.

Why do Catholics say that their worship, the Mass, is a sacrifice?

Why do Catholics say that their worship, the Mass, is a sacrifice. The sacrifices of the Hebrew Bible are ended. Christ was the last sacrifice. Do you think that you are sacrificing, killing, Jesus every time you celebrate your Mass?

Jesus is the last sacrifice. He has died once and for all. He will not die again. In the Mass we "represent" the death of Christ. In a way that transcends time, we make present the one sacrifice of Christ.

Again in a way that transcends time, through faith, we believe that we can unite all the sacrifices we make during the week with the sacrifice of Jesus. Our sacrifices are the struggle to resist sin, to strive to love our enemies, to have hope in the midst of fear and despair. We come to Mass to offer our sacrifices to the one sacrifice of Christ that is make present again in the Mass.