March 2004

Tugging on the robe

Recent history has seen a number of interesting discussions on the question of the possibility of Catholic-Jewish theological dialogue. I never saw this as a problem myself, given that as long as Catholics and Jews speak the same language (say, for example, English), they are able to dialogue -- just keep it friendly, of course!

Spring has sprung!

There may still be snow on the ground, but today was a beautiful sunny warm day, so I got out my bike for the first bike ride of the new year. 25 kilometers later (about 15 miles, I think) I’m pretty tired and sore, but I feel terrific. I even got a chance to stop by the nearby Holy Cross convent, where the sisters warmly welcomed me and offered me a glass of a local springtime delicacy….maple water, straight from their grove of maple trees!


I’ve been thinking about today’s gospel, about the almost-stoning of the adulterous woman (John 8: 1-11, RSV):

The Alpha Weekend

Not ever having been on an Alpha Weekend, I really was not sure what to expect. I enjoyed Saturday’s experience very much, especially the prayer for the release of the Holy Spirit. A colleague of mine, Fr. Mike Shaw, led this prayer, and I got a chance to share on my own experience of the “ecstasy of God”. We then pray for and with the people for the release of the Spirit in their lives, and what do you know… happened! One woman, in particular, lived a tremendous experience of God’s presence, and what seemed to take her off guard was how she wasn’t frightened by it.

Supreme Court of Canada rules….sort of….on the nature….or lack thereof….of the Roman Catholic Church

Confused? I don’t blame you. Read this article to get some background, and then let me explain:

Here in Canada the various Protestant denominations, while having a very decentralized official ecclesiology, actually have a very centralized national church structure in law. It *is* possible to sue the “Anglican Church in Canada,” for example. The same for the United Church, and others.

What makes a mortal sin?

"Bless me Father for I have sinned," the person began, "I've committed a mortal sin."

I've heard this phrase several times when hearing confessions, and it always grabs my attention. Mortal sin is something notoriously difficult to determine in specific cases, even for ourselves. There have even been times when a person has come to me, for example, absolutely convinced that they committed a mortal sin, but I have serious doubts that it is the case.

Why is it so hard to determine the existence of mortal sin? Because mortal sin has two components:

The essence of Christian theology: salvation

I got together with my buddy Benoit today, and our discussion turned to the conversation I had in the bar last week, a lot of which touched on the question of salvation. Ben himself is especially interested in the problem of religious pluralism — after all, many people say: if non-Christians can be saved, what advantage is it to preach the Gospel?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I was invited a few weeks ago to give a talk at a special luncheon being held for St. Patrick‘s Day. I thought I might share with you my speech:

When John Fitzgerald originally asked me to give this speech, I asked him “What subject do you want me talk about?” He replied:


Don't worry John, I'm not taking that as a commentary on my style of giving a sermon….

So I’m going to do my best, but I figure I’ve got two advantages:

What is happiness?

While teaching I had a sudden thought on the difference between the Christian concept of happiness versus the secular humanist concept of happiness.

In essence, the secular concept is that “happiness = contentment”. In other words, the highest goal of happiness is satisfaction, which is derived from the Latin words “satis” and “facio” — literally, “to make sated”. It’s as though the ideal is for life to be like an all-you-can-eat buffet… consume until you are full, and then you sleep until it is time to consume some more.

When the pastor’s away, the curate’s not at play, he’s workin’ his butt off

My pastor is away for a week, taking some well-deserved time of rest. Heck, I got to go to Florida in January, so it’s only fair. But still, it was quite a grind this Sunday morning. Three masses, preaching all of them, and hearing confessions after each one….it was non-stop emotional and spiritual intensity from 8:45 am to 2 pm. When it was all over I was so tired I even forgot to eat lunch! (Fortunately my friends Daren and Mimi invited me to their place for a dinner that turned out to be a real feast, so it was all good.)

Beer and Theology

So I’m out this evening at the local Kelsey’s, sitting at the bar and sipping a Sleeman’s Honey Brown, and having a conversation with the guy next to me about Aristotle’s understanding of the 4 interior senses, as well as the difference between venial and mortal sin, the manner of diabolical action regarding temptation, vincible vs. invincible ignorance, and to top it all off, the relationship between grace and free will. Yes, it was quite an evening.

Kids say the darndest things

So today the leader of the altar server group decided to do a different activity with the kids. Because these kids are more familiar than usual with the various “Mass supplies” (like hosts, chalices, patens, etc.), she decided to show them the religious significance of one of them: the unleavened bread. So the activity with the kids was to bake some unleavened bread together, and I was asked to show up to explain the origins of the use of unleavened bread while they made it.

The kids were fairly excited, mind you, and the conversation wound up going off track a little bit….

Health vs. healing

Classic "health" ministry is like the pastoral care provided in hospitals. The doctors take care of tending to the body, while the pastoral care people take care of tending to the soul. We listen, we journey with people as they suffer. We let them know they are not alone, and that God has not abandoned them either. We help them find meaning, if possible, in their suffering. These are all good things.

Why Catholic priests can’t offer sacramental absolution to non-Catholics

So here it is, my take on why Catholic priests can’t offer sacramental absolution to non-Catholics. As it turns out, there are nuances to the question that need to be addressed.

Preliminary point #1: There are times when a priest can’t offer absolution to Catholics!

In order for a sacramental confession to be valid, a person has to come offering both contrition and conversion.

Confession and non-Catholics

I once had a Protestant woman become quite upset when she was told by a Catholic priest that, while he would be very happy to hear her sins and to pray with her, he could not offer her absolution. A number of her Catholic friends, while less upset, did wonder why this was so. As it turns out, there are nuances to the question that need to be addressed.

Preliminary point #1: There are times when a priest can't offer absolution to Catholics!

In order for a sacramental confession to be valid, a person has to come offering both contrition and conversion.

How to turn people off from the Catholic Church

So I presided the funeral for Shawn Bourget today, at a small church (not my own) in the East end of Montreal. It was heartbreaking to see his two little daughters, aged 8 and 4, kissing the casket to say goodbye to Papa. Of course everyone was quite upset, which is normal. But what made some people even more upset was the behaviour of an employee of the parish, who was responsible to handle the administrative end of things.

The wedding feast of the Lamb

I’ve been meditating recently on the book of Revelation (always a fun read), and I had a sudden “aha” moment regarding the entrance procession to the Mass.

Now I’m a priest, which means I have been configured by the Holy Spirit to act in persona Christi capitis, that is to say, to represent Christ as the Head of his Body.

The people, gathered together in church, represent (nay, *are*) the New Jerusalem, i.e. the Bride of Christ awaiting the Bridegroom for the wedding feast.

Reaping spiritual fruits

“You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) How very true, especially when it comes to proposed changes to the liturgy. For myself, I am very allergic to any proposed changes that are designed to somehow make the liturgy more “relevant” to post-modern man. The last time I checked, we are the ones who are supposed to be conformed to the Gospel, not the Gospel (embodied in the liturgy, for example) conformed to us.