Saturday, December 14, 2013

From the Rev. Ronald Check: Catechesis on Indulgences

Q. What exactly is an indulgence and could you provide some examples of how to obtain one?

A. The Compendium of the Current Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Indulgences are the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.  The faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains the indulgence under prescribed conditions for either himself or the departed.  Indulgences are granted through the ministry of the Church which, as the dispenser of the grace of redemption, distributes the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints.” (No. 312).  An indulgence can be either partial, which remits only some of the temporal punishment due to sin, or plenary, which remits all temporal punishment due to sin.  The usual conditions for obtaining a partial indulgence are: (1) be in a state of grace (free of mortal sin); (2) intend to receive the indulgence; (3) perform the prescribed action of the indulgence.  The usual conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence are: (1) have the intention of gaining the indulgence; (2) be free from all attachment to venial sin; The following must be completed within a few days before or after the prescribed action of the indulgence, though the same day is best, if possible: (1) Receive the Sacrament of Penance; (2) Receive the Eucharist; (3) Pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.

The Norms guiding the obtaining of indulgences can be found in the Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina.

Some examples of partial indulgences are: recitation of certain prayers, saying the Creed, praying the rosary in private, teaching or studying Christian doctrine, the praying of litanies, the Magnificat, reading of Sacred Scripture, among others.

Some examples of plenary indulgences are: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hour.  Making the Way of the Cross or, if unable to get to a church, the pious meditation and reading on the Passion and Death of Our Lord for a half an hour.  Public recitation of five decades of the Rosary (this must be done vocally, continuously, and with the Mysteries announced out loud and meditated on).  A plenary indulgence is granted on each Friday of Lent to the faithful who after Communion piously recite before an image of Christ crucified the prayer: “Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,” (on the other days of the year the indulgence is partial).  A plenary indulgence is gained when an Act of Consecration is publicly recited on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  A plenary indulgence is received by those who publicly make the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart on the Feast of Christ the King (last Sunday in October per the traditional calendar).  A pious visit to a church, a public or chapel on All Souls' Day (November 2) with the prayers of one Our Father and the Creed; this indulgence is applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.  A devout visit to a cemetery with a prayer, even if only mental, for the departed souls, from the first to the eighth day of November.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

From the Rev. Ronald Check: Catechesis on the Immaculate Conception

The solemn definition of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as an independent dogma by Blessed Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution “Ineffabilis Deus” (December 8, 1854).  Though the Holy Father was highlighting a privilege given to Blessed Mother, in fact he was also stressing the particular dignity and holiness that was required to become “Mother of God.”  Since Christ Himself is sinless, so also this privilege was according to His Mother so that the human nature, which Christ received from her would not be tainted by original sin.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception states “that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege from Almighty God and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, was kept free of every stain of original sin.”  This teaching stresses that Mary’s freedom from original sin was a privilege afforded to her prior to the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, and yet this freedom was still dependent upon it. Christ suffered and died for the redemption of our sins.  This dogma says that Mary shared in the graces of the Paschal Mystery in an anticipated or retroactive way.

Although difficult to explain, original sin brings about disorder in thought and behavior.  While original sin is taken away with Baptism, the effects of this sin remain.  Our Lady was preserved from Original Sin and hence also from its effects.  Her human nature was preserved from any disorder or disintegration caused by sin. In declaring Our Lady “immaculately conceived," the Church sees in Mary one who never denied God the least sign of love.  Thus, the dogma declares that from her very beginning Mary was exceptionally holy and in constant union with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us, that we may love the Lord as you have loved Him.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

From the Rev. Ronald Check: Catechesis on St. Nicholas

This coming Friday, December 6, is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, Bishop and Confessor.  There are many wonderful family traditions that surround this wonderful feast day, so I wanted to speak about them in today’s catechesis.  Saint Nicholas is a wonderful character from the early centuries of the Church and for a variety of reasons has become a favorite saint of little children. This devotion is easily explained, because he was, and still is, a special patron saint of children.  In many parts of Europe, children are still visited by Saint Nicholas on the eve of his feast day.  His feast day comes at the beginning of Advent because he desires to teach us how to prepare our hearts to celebrate a holy Christmas.  In some countries, his main duty is to examine children to see if they know their prayers and catechism, and after teaching them to be good, he distributes fruit and candy and departs with a kindly farewell, leaving the little ones filled with holy awe.  This feast is a wonderful opportunity to meditate on the blessings and joys that God will give us at the intercession of St. Nicholas, through His Son, Jesus Christ, during this holy season of Advent.  St. Nicholas was a holy bishop when he lived on earth and he intercedes for us now in heaven.

Some Ideas to Help Keep this Feast of St. Nicholas in Catholic Homes:

1. On the night before his feast, the Saint has been known to leave bags or shoes filled with gifts and treats for the children as a small foretaste of the graces God desires to give His children while they are in this world to help them attain Heaven.

2. In the morning, after morning prayers, the family could read aloud an account of the life and works of St. Nicholas.

3. Copy the little prayer from the Collect of the Mass of St. Nicholas on to the top half of a 3x5 card.  Fold the card in half and stand one next to each person’s place at the meal table to be read with the grace before meals.

4. To keep the spirit of this feast in a special way, the evening meal could be a festive one.  The table can be covered with a beautiful white table cloth to coincide with the white vestments worn today at Mass.  The meal could be eaten by candlelight.

5. Fashion a pretty centerpiece of evergreen boughs symbolizing everlasting life.  Place a statue or picture of St. Nicholas in the center.  Adorn each side of this centerpiece with 2 red candles to be lit during the festive evening meal.  Note: be careful not to mistake statues and pictures of “Father Christmas” for St. Nicholas.

6. Say this prayer with your children or for children: “God our Father, we pray that through the intercession of St. Nicholas, you will protect our children.  Keep them safe from harm and help them grow and become worthy in Your sight.  Give them strength to keep their Faith in You; and keep alive their joy in your creation.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

7. Cook the Traditional St. Nicholas Day Dinner:  4-6 lb. pork shoulder roast -stuffed with: 1/2 cup diced fresh cranberries, 1 apple, diced, 2/3 cup prunes cut into bits, 1/2 -2/3 cup raisins.  Bake in oven for about 3 -3/12 hours at 350 degrees. Or cook in crock pot all day slowly. (Serves 8) Accompany with mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetable, dinner rolls. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Catechesis on Predestination, Creation, and Freedom, Part 3 -- By Fr. Ronald Check

I received this wonderful, but very deep question: “Since God knows the wonderful and yet, somewhat deep question, “Since God know the future, why does He create souls that he knows will spend eternity in Hell?”  This is part three of the response. I have quoted for you from a priest author who has responded to this question by building on the teaching of Saint Francis DeSales who personally struggled with this issue as a young man, and who later fought vigorously against this Calvinist heresy as a Priest and Bishop.

Father Most synthesizes Saint Francis DeSales’ teaching in the following way:

276. Synthesis of the teaching of St. Francis: St. Francis insists that God wills the salvation of all “with a genuine will”. He does this “even after the sin of Adam.” Therefore, there is no reprobation on account of original sin. Nor is there desertion before consideration of 6 demerits, for “it would be the part of impious boldness to wish to attribute the lack of love in an ungrateful man to the lack of heavenly help and grace,” because even though “the gift of being God’s belongs to God, yet it is a gift which God denies to no one, but offers to all, and gives to those who freely consent to receive it.” But so that we may not misunderstand these words about the consent, St. Francis adds that the very consent or acceptance of grace is the effect of grace: “you have even received the acceptance . . . and the consent.” Hence: “Is it not the part of most insane impiety to think that you gave effective and holy activity to the divine inspiration because you did not take it away by resisting? We can hinder the efficacy of the inspiration, but we cannot give efficacy to it.”

Father Check’s personal observation: God intends all to be saved and gives all the possibility of salvation. He gives us the graces and the all the necessary means for salvation. But some, sadly, misuse their free will and choose that which is evil. The Good God respects the gift of our free will and continually offers us the possibility of salvation. When God creates souls, at the moment of conception, while He has foreknowledge of the future, He always creates with the intention that each soul should possess the greatest possible happiness in heaven. So creation of a soul necessarily comes with the Divine Intention for our eternal happiness in Heaven. This shows the goodness of God. But sadly, some souls are led astray by temptation and some choose to reject God and His holy will. God does not create souls to spend an eternity in hell. He creates always with the intention that we will spend an eternity in heaven. If any souls are in hell (obviously, evidence of this is difficult to discern) they have sadly chosen to be there of their own accord. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance". (CCC, no. 1037)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Catechesis on Predestination, Creation, and Freedom -- Part 2, by Fr. Ronald Check

The following question was submitted: “Since God knows the future, why does He create souls that he knows will spend eternity in Hell?”  This is part two of the response.  Below are exact quotes from Saint Francis DeSales.  Next week we will look at Father Most’s synthesis of the Saint’s teaching.

275. The teaching of St. Francis himself: We shall read his views from three passages of his Treatise on the Love of God, and then, collect the principal points.

1)      Treatise 3.5: St. Francis is speaking about the gift of final perseverance: 4 "First he willed, with a genuine will that even after the sin of Adam all should be saved, but in a way and with means suited to the condition of our nature; that is, He willed the salvation of all who would give consent to the graces and favours which He would prepare, offer, and distribute for this purpose.  Now among those favours, He willed that the call be first, and that it be so tempered to our freedom that we at our good pleasure could accept or reject it.  And to those whom He foresaw would accept, He willed to give the sacred movements of repentance; and to those who would follow those movements, He decreed to give holy love; and to those who would have love He planned to give the means needed to persevere; and to those who would use these divine helps, He decreed to give final perseverance and the glorious happiness of His eternal love....Without doubt, God prepared heaven only for those whom He foresaw would be His... But it is in our power to be His: for although the gift of being God’s belongs to God, yet this is a gift which God denies to no one, but offers to all, and gives to those who freely consent to receive it.

2)   Treatise 4.6: In this chapter St. Francis is concerned principally with explaining that we owe it to God that we are able to love God: 5 "So tell me, miserable man, what you have done, in all these things, of which you could boast?  You have consented, I know it well: the movement of your will freely followed the movement of heavenly grace.  But all that-what else is it but to receive the divine working and not to resist? And what do you have in this that you have not received?  Yes, even, poor man, you have even received the acceptance of which you boast, and the consent, which you brag about... Is it not the part of most insane impiety to think that you gave effective and holy activity to the divine inspiration because you did not take it away by resisting?  We can hinder the efficacy of inspiration, but we cannot give efficacy to it....

3)   Treatise 4.5: In this chapter St. Francis vigorously insists that the sole cause of the lack of love is in us: 6 ”Just as it would be the part of impious boldness to attribute to the powers of our will the works of holy love that the Holy Spirit does in us and with us, so also it would be the part of impious boldness to wish to attribute the lack of love in an ungrateful man to the lack of heavenly help and grace.  For the Holy Spirit cries out everywhere, on the contrary, that our destruction comes from us . . . that divine Goodness wills that no one perish, but wills that all come to the knowledge of the truth: He wills that all men be saved. ” 

Notes (As Fr. Most Records Them):
4 Treatise on the Love of God 3.5
5 Ibid., 4.6
6 Ibid., 4.5

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Catechesis on Predestination, Creation, and Freedom -- Part 1, by Fr. Ronald Check

The following question was submitted: “Since God knows the future, why does He create souls that he knows will spend eternity in Hell?”  This is a great question!  It’s also a very theological question.  Because of the theological complexity of this question and the need for a pastoral and somewhat clear explanation, I am turning to Father William Most, who has explained the answer based upon the teaching of Saint Francis DeSales, a Doctor of the Church.  It is important for any theology to rely heavily on Saint Francis DeSales because of his theological authority on this subject.  Saint Farncis DeSales spent much time and energy fighting against the Calvinists, who believed in predestination.  He also had a personal spiritual struggle with this theory.  He is both an intellectual as well as a spiritual authority.  Predestination basically asserts that God, because of his fore knowledge of all future events, has already pre-destined certain souls to heaven or to hell.  This contradicts Catholic Teaching on the subject.  The next few weeks, we will see why this is the case.  This answer is coming from: “The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions” (Pt. 2: Predestination and reprobation - Ch. 16: The teaching of St. Francis de Sales).  This answer will be done in several parts.  And so, Part 1…

273. The special importance of teaching of St. Francis de Sales:The thought of this Doctor of the Church is of special importance since the Pope himself followed the advice of St. Francis in putting an end to the debates De Auxiliis. Pope Pius IX reports it as follows: (1)“...our Predecessor of holy memory, Paul V, when the famous debate De Auxiliis was being held at Rome decided to ask the opinion of this Bishop on the matter and, following his advice, judged that this most subtle question, full of danger, and agitated long and keenly, should be laid to rest, and that silence should be imposed on the parties.” The special importance of his teaching is even clearer from the words of Pius XI: (2)“But taking the opportunity, he lucidly explained the most difficult questions, such as efficacious grace, predestination, and the call to the faith.”

Notes (As Father Most records them):
Note in Context: Dives in misericordia Deus, AAS 10, 411-12.
Note in Context: Rerum omnium perturbationem. AAS 15.56.

Look next week for what St. Francis de Sales actually says…

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Catechesis on the Scapular by Fr. Ronald Check

Last week, someone submitted a question about the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  "Is it not a superstitious custom to wear the scapular, believing it a sure charm against evil?"  This is a great question.  The Scapular is a Sacramental.  We should be careful to avoid attaching any superstitious sentiments to religious objects.  All salvation comes not through objects, but through Christ.  As Catholics we do not consider the scapular to be a charm against evil.  It is rather an external manifestation of an internal desire to be a faithful disciple of Christ and a faithful son or daughter of the Blessed Mother.  The wearing of the scapular reflects either a formal or informal association with the Carmelite Order.   Other orders also have different versions of the Scapular, such as the Mercedarians, the Trinitarians, the Dominicans and others.  Those formal members of these Orders wear a monastic scapular, which is very long in the front and back and has both practical and spiritual elements.  The faithful who wear the Brown Scapular and share in the good works of the Carmelite Order gain special indulgences, and pledge themselves to be faithful disciples of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints.  The Scapular promise is based on the two elements of Mary’s spiritual maternity and her mediation of grace, that she is our "spiritual" mother, and also the "channel" through which all grace comes to us, understood in the sense that she too is dependent on the sole mediation of Christ, her son.  Our Lady’s promise: "Those who die wearing the Scapular will not suffer eternal fire."  In this Month of the Holy Rosary, may God grant is a life devoted to our Spiritual Mother.


Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Honor of Blessed Karl of Austria with Conference and Veneration of Relic

On Wednesday, October 23, 2013, Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic Church, in Berlin, NJ, is honored to host a special evening of prayer and devotion dedicated to Blessed Karl of Austria.  Bishop Emeritus of Funchal, Portugal, His Excellency Don Teodoro de Faria, will celebrate a Pontifical Low Mass at 7:00PM.

The Mass will be followed by veneration of the relics of Blessed Karl and then a conference will be held in the parish hall.  The main speakers will be:

--His Excellency, Bishop Don Teodoro de Faria

--Ricardo Dumont dos Santos, leader of the Emperor Karl Prayer League

--Raymond de Souza, EWTN host, Director of New Evangelization & Apologetics for the Diocese of Winona, MN, and special missions coordinator for Human Life International.

This special conference is made possible due to a joint effort between the Knights of Columbus Councils: 12833 (Mater Ecclesiae, Berlin, NJ), 2161 (Woodlawn, Aliquippa, PA), 12361 (Agnus Dei, New York, NY, 423 (Regina Coeli, New York, NY), and 433 (Potomac, Washington, DC).

Click here to read more about this upcoming event.

Mater Ecclesiae Roman Catholic Church | 261 Cross Keys Road | Berlin, NJ | 08009

Call 856-753-3408 or visit for directions or additional information.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Catechesis on Sacramentals by Fr. Ronald Check

What is the difference between a Sacrament and a sacramental?

The Seven Sacraments have been instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, and the Church is essentially powerless to change them.  Their matter and form has been determined by Christ himself. When they are worthily received, they actually confer the grace that they signify.  In theology we say that the Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace.  Sacramentals differ from the Sacraments, but are related to them.  Sacramentals are instituted by the Church and they can be modified.  Sacraments confer Sanctifying grace.  Sacramentals do not confer sanctifying grace of themselves, but depend for their efficacy on the personal devotion of the faithful using them, and on the intention of the Church.

Sacramentals assist the faithful in living a sacramental life outside the official and public worship of the Church.  Although, some sacramental are used during the Church’s official celebrations, such as Holy Water.  Sacramentals help us along the way and help the Lord to see that we stand in need of actual graces in our lives.  Actual graces help us to live a good Christian life, whether we are in the married state, the celibate state, or the clerical state.  Here are some examples of Sacramentals:  blessings, exorcisms, holy oil, holy water, recitation of certain prayers, blessed objects such as crucifixes, statues, and pictures.  In addition to assisting us in living the Christian life well, the purpose of these actions and objects is to protect the soul from Satan and to drive away evil spirits, to dedicate a thing to the service of God, they incline the soul to penance and to the Love of God.  We should surround ourselves with Sacramentals to protect us and keep us close to God and help us to be faithful along “The Way”.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Catechesis on the Rosary, by Fr. Ronald Check

The Blessed Virgin Mary has an important, and some say, necessary role in our salvation. She holds a unique place in the Church. Saint Augustine notes, “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head." Saint Robert Bellarmine explains Our Lady’s Role in this way, “The Head of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ, and Mary is the neck which joins the Head to its Body.” One does not need to be a scholar in order to understand the great connection that exists between a Mother and her children. The Blessed Mother stands very close to her Son. She is united to Him in an eternal bond, which a communion so deep between humanity and divinity that it touches on the very communion (hypostatic union) that exists in the person of Christ Himself. The Book of Judith relates, ““Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth.” (Judith 13:18) and Saint Luke Himself records the words of Saint Elizabeth
to her Cousin, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42)

Our Lady, Our Blessed Mother has promised many things to those who pray the Rosary. May we be faithful sons and daughters of so good and so loving a Mother.

1. To all those who shall pray my Rosary devoutly, I promise my special protection and great graces.

2. Those who shall persevere in the recitation of my Rosary will receive some special grace.

3. The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy.

4. The rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies. It will draw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.

5. Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary will not perish.

6. Whoever recites my Rosary devoutly reflecting on the mysteries, shall never be overwhelmed by misfortune. He will not experience the anger of God nor will he perish by an unprovided death. The sinner will be converted; the just will persevere in grace and merit eternal life.

7. Those truly devoted to my Rosary shall not die without the sacraments of the Church.

8. Those who are faithful to recite my Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenitude of His graces and will share in the merits of the blessed.

9. I will deliver promptly from purgatory souls devoted to my Rosary.

10. True children of my Rosary will enjoy great glory in heaven.

11. What you shall ask through my Rosary you shall obtain.

12. To those who propagate my Rosary I promise aid in all their necessities.

13. I have obtained from my Son that all the members of the Rosary Confraternity shall have as their intercessors, in life and in death, the entire celestial court.

14. Those who recite my Rosary faithfully are my beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

15. Devotion to my Rosary is a special sign of predestination.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel

The devotion to St. Michael the Archangel is a very old one. St. Michael, from the Hebrew "Who is like God?", is one of God's 'chief' angels, as revealed in the book of the prophet Daniel. St. Michael's name is a battle cry; both shield and weapon in the struggle, and an eternal trophy of victory.

St. Michael appears by name in the Scriptures four times:

1. Daniel 10:13: Gabriel says to Daniel, when he asks God to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem: "The Angel [or "prince" in the Douay-Rheims translation] of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me . . . and, behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me . . . and none is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince."

2. Daniel 12: The Angel speaking of the end of the world and the Antichrist says, "At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people."

3. Jude: "When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses...,"

4. Revelation 12:7: "And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon."

The early Church fathers also believed and have passed down to us through Sacred Tradition that St. Michael, while not mentioned by name in these Scripture passages, guarded the entrance to the gate of Paradise, with his flaming sword, "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24), and that he was the angel through whom God published the Decalogue to his chosen people, the angel who stood in the way against Balaam (Numbers 22:22), and the very angel who routed the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35).

Christian Tradition teaches us to call on St. Michael to:
--To fight against Satan.
--To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.
--To be the champion of God's people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore he was the patron of the Church, and of many orders of knights during the Middle Ages.
--To call away from earth and bring men's souls to judgment

O glorious prince St. Michael,
 chief and commander of the heavenly hosts,
 guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits,
servant in the house of the Divine King
and our admirable conductor,
 you who shine with excellence
and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil, 

who turn to you with confidence
and enable us by your gracious protection
 to serve God more and more faithfully every day.

Additional Reading on the Angels

Monday, September 23, 2013

Saint in Focus -- Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

Padre Pio was born May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, a small country town located in southern Italy. His parents were Grazio Mario Forgione (1860-1946) and Maria Guiseppa de Nunzio Forgione (1859-1929). He was baptized the next day, in the nearby Castle Church, with the name of his brother, Francesco, who died in early infancy, and after St. Francis of Assisi. Other children in the family were an older brother, Michele; three younger sisters: Felicita, Pellegrina and Grazia; and two other children who died as infants. 
Image courtesy of the Holy See

Religion was the center of life for both Pietrelcina and the Forgione family. The town had many celebrations throughout the year in honor of different saints and the bell in the Castle Church was used not for ringing the hour, but for daily devotional time. The Forgione family attended Daily Mass, prayed the Rosary nightly and fasted three days a week from meat in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Although Padre Pio’s grandparents and parents could not read and write, they memorized Sacred Scripture and told the children Bible stories. It was in this lovely family setting that the seeds of Faith were nurtured within Padre Pio.

From his early childhood, it was evident that Padre Pio had a deep piety. When he was five years old, he solemnly consecrated himself to Jesus. He liked to sing hymns, play church and preferred to be by himself where he could read and pray. As an adult, Padre Pio commented that in his younger years he had conversed with Jesus, the Madonna, his guardian angel, and had suffered attacks by the devil.

Padre Pio’s parents first learned of his desire to become a priest in 1897. A young Capuchin friar was canvassing the countryside seeking donations. Padre Pio was drawn to this spiritual man and told his parents, "I want to be a friar… with a beard." His parents traveled to Morcone, a community thirteen miles north of Pietrelcina, to investigate if the friars would be interested in having their son. The Capuchins were interested, but Padre Pio would need more education than his three years of public schooling.

In order to finance the private tutor needed to educate Padre Pio, his father went to America to find additional work.  Grazio Forgione ended up in Flushing, NY, for some time.  During this period, his son was confirmed (September 27, 1899), studied with tutors and completed the requirements for entrance into the Capuchin order. At age 15, he took the Habit of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin on January 22, 1903. On the day of his investiture, he took the name of Pio in honor of Saint Pius V, the patron saint of Pietrelcina, and was called Fra, for brother, until his priestly ordination.

A year later, on January 22, 1904, Fra Pio knelt before the altar and made his First Profession of the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Then, he traveled by oxcart to the seventeenth-century friary of St. Francis of Assisi and began six years of study for the priesthood and continued his development in community life toward the profession of his solemn vows. After three years of temporary profession, Padre Pio took his final vows in 1907.

Then on August 10, 1910, the much-anticipated day finally arrived. The twenty-three year old Fra Pio was ordained a priest by Archbishop Paolo Schinosi at the Cathedral of Benevento. Four days later, he celebrated his first Mass at the parish church of Our Lady of the Angels.

Within a month of his ordination, (September 7, 1910), as Padre Pio was praying in the Piana Romana, Jesus and Mary appeared to him and gave him the wounds of Christ, the Stigmata. For Padre Pio’s doctors, the wounds created much confusion. He asked Jesus to take away "the annoyance," adding, " I do want to suffer, even to die of suffering, but all in secret." The wounds went away and the supernatural life of Padre Pio remained a secret...for a while.

On November 28, 1911, Padre Agostino, who was a contemporary, friend, and confidant, was advised that Padre Pio was ill. He rushed into Padre Pio’s room to care for him. Padre Agostino observed what he thought was a dying man and rushed to the chapel to pray. When he finished praying, he returned to Padre Pio’s room and found his friend alert and full of joy.

This was the beginning of Padre Pio’s documented ecstasies – all of which were "edifying, theologically correct and expressed a deep love for God. "

Due to Padre Pio’s on-going ill health, he was sent home to recuperate and was separated from his religious community from the end of 1911 – 1916. During this time, the Capuchin Constitution required a friar who was sent home because of illness had to maintain his friar life as much as possible. Padre Pio did this. He said Mass and taught school.

On September 4, 1916, Padre Pio was ordered to return to his community life and was assigned to San Giovanni Rotondo, an agricultural community, located in the Gargano Mountains. Our Lady Of Grace Capuchin Friary was approximately a mile from town and was not easy to reach. The Capuchins had a reputation for their holiness and simple life. When Padre Pio became a part of the community at Our Lady of Grace, there were seven friars.

With the outbreak of the First World War, only three friars stayed at Our Lady of Grace; the others were selected for military service. At the beginning, his responsibilities included teaching at the seminary and being the spiritual director of the students. He spent his free time reading the Bible and handling correspondence. When another friar was called into service, Padre Pio became in charge of the college.

In August 1917 Padre Pio was inducted into the service and assigned to the 4th Platoon of the 100th Company of the Italian Medical Corps. During this time he was very unhappy. By mid-October he was in the hospital, but was not discharged. Finally, in March 1918, he was dismissed and returned to San Giovanni Rotondo.

Upon his return, Padre Pio became a spiritual director and had many spiritual daughters and sons. He had five rules for spiritual growth: weekly confession, daily Communion, spiritual reading, meditation and examination of conscience. In explaining his spiritual growth rules, Padre Pio compared dusting a room, used or unused on a weekly basis, to weekly confession. He suggested two times of daily meditation and self-examination: in the morning to "prepare for battle" and in the evening to "purify your soul." Padre Pio’s motto, "Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry" is the synopsis of his application of theology into daily life. A Christian should recognize God in everything, offering everything to Him saying, "Thy will be done". In addition, all should aspire to heaven and put their trust in Him and not worry about what he is doing, as long as it is done with a desire to please God.

In July 1918, Pope Benedict XV urged all Christians to pray for an end to the World War. On July 27, Padre Pio offered himself as a victim for the end of the war. Days later between August 5 -7, Padre Pio had a vision in which Christ appeared and pierced his side. As a result of this experience, Padre Pio had a physical wound in his side. The experience has been identified as a "transverberation" or piercing of the heart indicating the union of love with God.

A few weeks later, on September 20, 1918, Padre Pio was praying in the choir loft in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, when the same Being who appeared to him on August 5, appeared again. It was the wounded Christ. When the ecstasy ended, Padre Pio had received the Visible Stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, which would stay with him for his remaining 50 years.

By early 1919, word about the stigmata began to spread to the outside world. Over the years countless people, including physicians, examined Padre Pio’s wounds. Padre Pio was not interested in the physicians’ attempts to explain his stigmata. He accepted it as a gift from God, though he would have preferred to suffer the pains of Christ’s Passion without the world knowing. The blood from the stigmata had an odor described by many as similar to that of perfume or flowers.

God used Padre Pio – especially the news of his stigmata – to give people hope as they began to rebuild their life after the war. Padre Pio and his spiritual gifts of the stigmata, perfume, prophecy and bilocation was a sign of God in their midst and led people back to their Faith. So life at the friary and the Church of Our Lady of Grace began to revolve around Padre Pio’s ministry. A room and priests were designated to handle the correspondence and the remaining friars heard confessions. San Giovanni Rotondo began to be filled with pilgrims. Since there were no hotels, people slept outdoors. A normal day for Padre Pio was a busy nineteen hours – Mass, hearing confessions and handling correspondence. He usually had less than two hours to sleep.  Padre Pio had the ability to read the hearts of those penitents who flocked to him for Confession, and could tell them their sins.

As his spiritual influence increased, so did the voices of his detractors. Accusations against Padre Pio poured in to the Holy Office (today the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith). By June 1922, restrictions were placed on the public’s access to Padre Pio. His daily Mass time varied each day, without announcement to diminish the crowds, and he was ordered not to answer correspondence from people seeking spiritual direction. It was also rumored that plans were being developed to transfer Padre Pio. However, both local and Church authorities were afraid of public riots and decided that a more remote and isolated place than San Giovanni Rotondo could not be found.

Despite the restrictions and controversies, Padre Pio’s ministry continued. From 1924 – 1931 various statements were made by the Holy See that denied the supernaturality of Padre Pio’s phenomena. On June 9, 1931, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy See to desist from all activities except the celebration of the Mass, which was to be in private. By early 1933, Pope Pius XI ordered the Holy See to reverse its ban on Padre Pio’s public celebration of Mass, saying, "I have not been badly disposed toward Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed."

Padre Pio’s faculties were progressively restored. First, the confessions of men were allowed (March 25, 1934) and then women (May 12, 1934). Although he had never been examined for a preaching license, the Capuchin Minister General granted him permission to preach, honoris cuasa, and he preached several times a year. In 1939 when Pope Pius XII was elected pope, he began to encourage
people to visit Padre Pio. More and more people began to make pilgrimages.

In 1940, Padre Pio convinced three doctors to move to San Giovanni Rotondo and he announced plans to build a Home to Relieve Suffering. As Padre Pio expressed to Pope Pius, " …a place that the patient might be led to recognize those working for his cure as God's helpers, engaged in preparing the way for the intervention of grace." The doctors were excited about the building, but were fearful that this was not the time to begin such a project with Europe being on the brink of another world war.

These fears did not stop Padre Pio and the project began. After the war, Barbara Ward, a British humanitarian, came to Italy to write an article on postwar reconstruction. She attended Padre Pio’s Mass and met one of the physicians who came to San Giovanni Rotondo to work with the Home to Relieve Suffering. Upon learning of the project, she asked that the Home to Relieve Suffering receive a part of the funds designated for reconstruction. Consequently, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) gave a grant of $325,000 for the project. The building opened its doors on May 5,1956. A year later, Padre Pio announced plans for a medical and religious center where doctors and interns could further their medical studies and Christian formation.

With the opening of the hospital, Padre Pio was truly now an international figure and his followers greatly increased. To accommodate all the pilgrims, a new, large church was constructed.

In the mid-1960s, Padre Pio’s health began to deteriorate, but he continued to say Daily Mass and hear fifty confessions a day. By July of 1968, he was almost bedridden. On the fiftieth anniversary of the stigmata (September 20,1968), Padre Pio celebrated Mass, attended the public recitation of the Rosary and Benediction. On the next day, he was too tired to say Mass or hear confessions. On September 22, he managed to say Mass and the attendees had to struggle to hear him. Just after midnight, in the early morning hours of September 23, Padre Pio called his superior and asked to make his confession. He then renewed his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. At 2:30 am, Padre Pio died in his cell. As he foretold, Padre Pio lived sick but died healthy, with the stigmata healed.  In fact, there was no scaring and the skin was completely renewed. He had predicted 50 years earlier that upon his death these wounds would heal.

On September 26, 1968, over a hundred thousand people gathered at San Giovanni Rotondo to pay their respects to this holy man. He was buried in the crypt prepared for him in the Church of Our Lady of Grace.  By 1990, his cause for canonization was opened, and after reviewing the miracles attributed to him both during and after his earthly life, on June 16, 2002, over 500,000 faithful gathered in Rome as Bl. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. 
 Padre Pio's relatively well-reserved remains were exhumed from his crypt on March 3, 2008, and were placed on public display for many months in a crystal, marble, and silver sepulcher in the crypt of San Giovanni Rotondo monastery, where thousands came to see him.  Pope John Paul had dedicated a church next door named after Padre Pio, and so in April 2010 the body was reinterred in that church's crypt.

Pio is the patron saint of unborn children and civil defense volunteers.

Visit the YouTube link to watch Padre Pio celebrate his last public Mass, the day before he died.

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Dear God, You generously blessed Your servant,
   St. Pio of Pietrelcina, with the gifts of the Spirit.
   You marked his body with the five wounds
   of Christ Crucified, as a powerful witness
   to the saving Passion and Death of Your Son.
   Endowed with the gift of discernment,
   St. Pio labored endlessly in the confessional
   for the salvation of souls.
   With reverence and intense devotion
   in the celebration of Mass,
   he invited countless men and women
   to a greater union with Jesus Christ
   in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Through the intercession of St. Pio of Pietrelcina,
   I confidently beseech You to grant me
   the grace of (here state your petition).    Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be, world without end. 
Amen  (3x)

Compiled from the Vatican, EWTN, CatholicKey.Org, and Catholic.Org

Friday, August 30, 2013

From the Philly TLM Blog: St. Therese Coming to Philadelphia

From the Philly TLM blog:

Traditional Latin Mass in Philadelphia: Transfer of Relics of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, Parents of St. Therese of Lisieux:

Dear Friends of Carmel, on Saturday, November 16, the relics of the parents of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, will be transferred in a solemn procession escorted by the Philadelphia Police Department from the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to the Carmelite Monastery at 66th Avenue and Old York Road.  The solemn transfer is scheduled to begin at 2:30PM and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will be offered in the Holy Spirit Chapel of the Monastery at 5 PM.

The relics will be available for veneration at the Carmel on Sunday, November 17 from 10AM to 4PM.  Thereafter, they will be available for veneration during those same hours on every first Sunday of the month, commencing December 1.

St. Therese, pray for us!

Blessed Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grace, Courage Sufficient for Life’s Trials

By Father Ronald Check

Picture courtesy of Traditional Latin Mass Philadelphia Blog,
God loves us infinitely. He knows our strengths and our gifts. He knows our weaknesses and our failures. He knows what makes us happy and what brings us sadness. He knows what lifts up our spirits and He knows what humbles us. He knows everything that there is to know and with such great love. He has even numbered the hairs of our heads (cf. Matt. 10:30).

Knowing sufficiently who we are, He calls us and wants us to follow Him and to walk with Him. And yet so often we are afraid to trust Him. There is an old saying, “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

He knows what we need and He is always there to provide exactly what is necessary. One day St. Paul, after many hardships, was praying to the Lord and asking him to take away his suffering, but the Lord’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Last weekend [then November 2010]  the Holy Father [now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI] created 24 new cardinals. One of the new cardinals addressed his Holiness saying, “We recognize with trepidation our limitations, and in the face of the awareness of the great dignity with which we are covered, but that we are called to witness with our lives.” They recognize that they have limitations and weaknesses, but then they move forward, continuing to trust in God’s grace.

The Lord knows their limitations and He knows ours as well. What does all of this mean? We all have our different vocations and no matter what place we hold the Lord Jesus has called each one of us personally to fulfill the duties of our specific vocation and for a specific purpose. He calls us to be faithful no matter what. This is not just the case for priests and religious. Everyone is called to be faithful.

One of the reasons we honor the saints is that they trusted, even when things looked impossible, they turned to the Lord and entrusted themselves into His hands, knowing that He would provide for them. We may sometimes feel as if we do not have what it takes or that our limitations make things impossible to accomplish, but the Lord Jesus says, “Take courage.” (John 16:33)

God has called us to a specific vocation, knowing everything there is to know about us. May we always trust His loving providence. May we always trust His wisdom, He who not only gives us what we need to accomplish His will, but who also promises to remain with us always (cf. Matt. 28:20).

May no temptation ever pull us away. May no doubt keep us from believing that when we give everything to Christ we find true happiness. We all have our struggles along the way, but let us remember that His grace is sufficient. Amen.

Originally Posted November 24, 2010, on

Saturday, August 17, 2013


By Father Clifford Stevens

The Assumption is the oldest feast day of Our Lady, but we don't know how it first came to be celebrated. Its origin is lost in those days when Jerusalem was restored as a sacred city, at the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 285-337). By then it had been a pagan city for two centuries, ever since Emperor Hadrian (76-138) had leveled it around the year 135 and rebuilt it as Aelia Capitolina in honor of Jupiter. For 200 years, every memory of Jesus was obliterated from the city, and the sites made holy by His life, death and Resurrection became pagan temples.

After the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 336, the sacred sites began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem. One of the memories about his mother centered around the "Tomb of Mary," close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived.  

On the hill itself was the "Place of Dormition," the spot of Mary's "falling asleep," where she had died. The "Tomb of Mary" was where she was buried. At this time, the "Memory of Mary" was being celebrated. Later it was to become our feast of the Assumption. For a time, the "Memory of Mary" was marked only in Palestine, but then it was extended by the emperor to all the churches of the East. In the seventh century, it began to be celebrated in Rome under the title of the "Falling Asleep" ("Dormitio") of the Mother of God. Soon the name was changed to the "Assumption of Mary," since there was more to the feast than her dying. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven.

That belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. What was clear from the beginning was that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated, and that an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. That location also soon became a place of pilgrimage. (Today, the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition of Mary stands on the spot.)

At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when bishops from throughout the Mediterranean world gathered in Constantinople, Emperor Marcian asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol. The patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that "Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later . . . was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven."

In the eighth century, St. John Damascene was known for giving sermons at the holy places in Jerusalem. At the Tomb of Mary, he expressed the belief of the Church on the meaning of the feast: "Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay. . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth."

All the feast days of Mary mark the great mysteries of her life and her part in the work of redemption. The central mystery of her life and person is her divine motherhood, celebrated both at Christmas and a week later (Jan. 1) on the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) marks the preparation for that motherhood, so that she had the fullness of grace from the first moment of her existence, completely untouched by sin. Her whole being throbbed with divine life from the very beginning, readying her for the exalted role of mother of the Savior.

The Assumption completes God's work in her since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God himself should ever undergo corruption. The Assumption is God's crowning of His work as Mary ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we will follow when our earthly life is over.

The feast days of the Church are not just the commemoration of historical events; they do not look only to the past. They look to the present and to the future and give us an insight into our own relationship with God. The Assumption looks to eternity and gives us hope that we, too, will follow Our Lady when our life is ended.

The prayer for the feast reads: "All-powerful and ever-living God: You raised the sinless Virgin Mary, mother of your Son, body and soul, to the glory of heaven. May we see heaven as our final goal and come to share her glory."

In 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary a dogma of the Catholic Church in these words: "The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven." With that, an ancient belief became Catholic doctrine and the Assumption was declared a truth revealed by God.

Father Clifford Stevens writes from Tintern Monastery in Oakdale, Neb. — Article Reprinted from the EWTN Website

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Human Life, by His Excellency Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia

His Excellency Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia, wrote the following pastoral letter to his flock during his time serving the Church in Denver.  

A pastoral letter to the people of God of northern Colorado
on the truth and meaning of married love

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

1.  Thirty years ago this week, Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), which reaffirmed the Church's constant teaching on the regulation of births.  It is certainly the most misunderstood papal intervention of this century.  It was the spark which led to three decades of doubt and dissent among many Catholics, especially in the developed countries.  With the passage of time, however, it has also proven prophetic.  It teaches the truth.  My purpose in this pastoral letter, therefore, is simple.  I believe the message of Humanae Vitae is not a burden but a joy.  I believe this encyclical offers a key to deeper, richer marriages.  And so what I seek from the family of our local Church is not just a respectful nod toward a document which critics dismiss as irrelevant, but an active and sustained effort to study Humanae Vitae; to teach it faithfully in our parishes; and to encourage our married couples to live it. 


2.  Sooner or later, every pastor counsels someone struggling with an addiction.  Usually the problem is alcohol or drugs.  And usually the scenario is the same.  The addict will acknowledge the problem but claim to be powerless against it.  Or, alternately, the addict will deny having any problem at all, even if the addiction is destroying his or her health and wrecking job and family.  No matter how much sense the pastor makes; no matter how true and persuasive his arguments; and no matter how life-threatening the situation, the addict simply cannot understand -- or cannot act on -- the counsel.  The addiction, like a thick pane of glass, divides the addict from anything or anyone that might help.

3.  One way to understand the history of Humanae Vitae is to examine the past three decades through this metaphor of addiction.  I believe the developed world finds this encyclical so hard to accept not because of any defect in Paul VI's reasoning, but because of the addictions and contradictions it has inflicted upon itself, exactly as the Holy Father warned.

4.  In presenting his encyclical, Paul VI cautioned against four main problems (HV 17) that would arise if Church teaching on the regulation of births was ignored.  First, he warned that the widespread use of contraception would lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality."  Exactly this has happened.  Few would deny that the rates of abortion, divorce, family breakdown, wife and child abuse, venereal disease and out of wedlock births have all massively increased since the mid-1960s. 
Obviously, the birth control pill has not been the only factor in this unraveling.  But it has played a major role.  In fact, the cultural revolution since 1968, driven at least in part by transformed attitudes toward sex, would not have been possible or sustainable without easy access to reliable contraception.  In this, Paul VI was right.

5.  Second, he also warned that man would lose respect for woman and "no longer [care] for her physical and psychological equilibrium," to the point that he would consider her "as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion."  In other words, according to the Pope, contraception might be marketed as liberating for women, but the real "beneficiaries" of birth control pills and devices would be men.  Three decades later, exactly as Paul VI suggested, contraception has released males -- to a historically unprecedented degree -- from responsibility for their sexual aggression.  In the process, one of the stranger ironies of the contraception debate of the past generation has been this: Many feminists have attacked the Catholic Church for her alleged disregard of women, but the Church in Humanae Vitae identified and rejected sexual exploitation of women years before that message entered the cultural mainstream.  Again, Paul VI was right.

6.  Third, the Holy Father also warned that widespread use of contraception would place a "dangerous weapon . . . in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies."  As we have since discovered, eugenics didn't disappear with Nazi racial theories in 1945. Population control policies are now an accepted part of nearly every foreign aid discussion.  The massive export of contraceptives, abortion and sterilization by the developed world to developing countries -- frequently as a prerequisite for aid dollars and often in direct contradiction to local moral traditions -- is a thinly disguised form of population warfare and cultural re-engineering.  Again, Paul VI was right.

7.  Fourth, Pope Paul warned that contraception would mislead human beings into thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, relentlessly turning the human person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.  Herein lies another irony: In fleeing into the false freedom provided by contraception and abortion, an exaggerated feminism has actively colluded in women's dehumanization.  A man and a woman participate uniquely in the glory of God by their ability to co-create new life with Him.  At the heart of contraception, however, is the assumption that fertility is an infection which must be attacked and controlled, exactly as antibiotics attack bacteria.  In this attitude, one can also see the organic link between contraception and abortion.  If fertility can be misrepresented as an infection to be attacked, so too can new life. In either case, a defining element of woman's identity -- her potential for bearing new life -- is recast as a weakness requiring vigilant distrust and "treatment."  Woman becomes the object of the tools she relies on to ensure her own liberation and defense, while man takes no share of the burden.  Once again, Paul VI was right.

8.  From the Holy Father's final point, much more has flowed:  In vitro fertilization, cloning, genetic manipulation and embryo experimentation are all descendants of contraceptive technology.  In fact, we have drastically and naively underestimated the effects of technology not only on external society, but on our own interior human identity.  As author Neil Postman has observed, technological change is not additive but ecological.  A significant new technology does not "add" something to a society; it changes everything -- just as a drop of red dye does not remain discrete in a glass of water, but colors and changes every single molecule of the liquid.
Contraceptive technology, precisely because of its impact on sexual intimacy, has subverted our understanding of the purpose of sexuality, fertility and marriage itself. It has detached them from the natural, organic identity of the human person and disrupted the ecology of human relationships.  It has scrambled our vocabulary of love, just as pride scrambled the vocabulary of Babel.

9.  Now we deal daily with the consequences.  I am writing these thoughts during a July week when, within days of each other, news media have informed us that nearly 14 percent of Coloradans are or have been involved in drug or alcohol dependency; a governor's commission has praised marriage while simultaneously recommending steps that would subvert it in Colorado by extending parallel rights and responsibilities to persons in "committed relationships,"  including same-sex relationships; and a young east coast couple have been sentenced for brutally slaying their newborn baby.  According to news reports, one or both of the young unmarried parents "bashed in [the baby's] skull while he was still alive, and then left his battered body in a dumpster to die."  These are the headlines of a culture in serious distress.  U.S. society is wracked with sexual identity and behavior dysfunctions, family collapse and a general coarsening of attitudes toward the sanctity of human life.  It's obvious to everyone but an addict: We have a problem.

It's killing us as a people.  So what are we going to do about it?  What I want to suggest is that if Paul VI was right about so many of the consequences deriving from contraception, it is because he was right about contraception itself.  In seeking to become whole again as persons and as a people of faith, we need to begin by revisiting Humanae Vitae with open hearts.  Jesus said the truth would make us free.  Humanae Vitae is filled with truth.  It is therefore a key to our freedom. 


10.  Perhaps one of the flaws in communicating the message of Humanae Vitae over the last 30 years has been the language used in teaching it.  The duties and responsibilities of married life are numerous.  They're also serious.  They need to be considered carefully, and prayerfully, in advance.  But few couples understand their love in terms of academic theology.   Rather, they fall in love.  That's the vocabulary they use. It's that simple and revealing.  They surrender to each other.  They give themselves to each other.  They fall into each other in order to fully possess, and be possessed by, each other. And rightly so.  In married love, God intends that spouses should find joy and delight, hope and abundant life, in and through each other -- all ordered in a way which draws husband and wife, their children, and all who know them, deeper into God's embrace.

11.  As a result, in presenting the nature of Christian marriage to a new generation, we need to articulate its fulfilling satisfactions at least as well as its duties. The Catholic attitude toward sexuality is anything but puritanical, repressive or anti-carnal.  God created the world and fashioned the human person in His own image.  Therefore the body is good.  In fact, it's often been a source of great humor for me to listen incognito as people simultaneously complain about the alleged "bottled-up sexuality" of Catholic moral doctrine, and the size of many good Catholic families.  (From where, one might ask, do they think the babies come?)  Catholic marriage -- exactly like Jesus Himself -- is not about scarcity but abundance.  It's not about sterility, but rather the fruitfulness which flows from unitive, procreative love.  Catholic married  love always implies the possibility of new life; and because it does, it drives out loneliness and affirms the future.  And because it affirms the future, it becomes a furnace of hope in a world prone to despair.  In effect, Catholic marriage is attractive because it is true. It's designed for the creatures we are: persons meant for communion.  Spouses complete each other.  When God joins a woman and man together in marriage, they create with Him a new wholeness; a "belonging" which is so real, so concrete, that a new life, a child, is its natural expression and seal.  This is what the Church means when she teaches that Catholic married love is by its nature both unitive and procreative -- not either/or.

12.  But why can't a married couple simply choose the unitive aspect of marriage and temporarily block or even permanently prevent its procreative nature?  The answer is as simple and radical as the Gospel itself.  When spouses give themselves honestly and entirely to each other, as the nature of married love implies and even demands, that must include their whole selves -- and the most intimate, powerful part of each person is his or her fertility.  Contraception not only denies this fertility and attacks procreation; in doing so, it necessarily damages unity as well.  It is the equivalent of spouses saying: "I'll give you all I am -- except my fertility; I'll accept all you are -- except your fertility."  This withholding of self inevitably works to isolate and divide the spouses, and unravel the holy friendship between them . . . maybe not immediately and overtly, but deeply, and in the long run often fatally for the marriage.

13.  This is why the Church is not against "artificial" contraception.  She is against all contraception.  The notion of "artificial" has nothing to do with the issue.  In fact, it tends to confuse discussion by implying that the debate is about a mechanical intrusion into the body's organic system. It is not.  The Church has no problem with science appropriately intervening to heal or enhance bodily health.  Rather, the Church teaches that all contraception is morally wrong; and not only wrong, but seriously wrong.  The covenant which husband and wife enter at marriage requires that all intercourse remain open to the transmission of new life.  This is what becoming "one flesh" implies: complete self-giving, without reservation or exception, just as Christ withheld nothing of Himself from His bride, the Church, by dying for her on the cross.  Any intentional interference with the procreative nature of intercourse necessarily involves spouses' withholding themselves from each other and from God, who is their partner in sacramental love.  In effect, they steal something infinitely precious -- themselves -- from each other and from their Creator.

14.  And this is why natural family planning (NFP) differs not merely in style but in moral substance from contraception as a means of regulating family size.  NFP is not contraception.  Rather, it is a method of fertility awareness and appreciation.  It is an entirely different approach to regulating birth.  NFP does nothing to attack fertility, withhold the gift of oneself from one's spouse, or block the procreative nature of intercourse.   The marriage covenant requires that each act of intercourse be fully an act of self-giving, and therefore open to the possibility of new life. But when, for good reasons, a husband and wife limit their intercourse to the wife's natural periods of infertility during a month, they are simply observing a cycle which God Himself created in the woman. They are not subverting it.  And so they are living within the law of God's love.

15.  There are, of course, many wonderful benefits to the practice of NFP.  The wife preserves herself from intrusive chemicals or devices and remains true to her natural cycle.  The husband shares in the planning and responsibility for NFP.  Both learn a greater degree of self-mastery and a deeper respect for each other.  It's true that NFP  involves sacrifices and periodic abstinence from intercourse.  It can, at times, be a difficult road.  But so can any serious Christian life, whether ordained, consecrated, single or married.  Moreover, the experience of tens of thousands of couples has shown that, when lived prayerfully and unselfishly, NFP deepens and enriches marriage and results in greater intimacy -- and greater joy.  In the Old Testament, God told our first parents to be fruitful and multiply (Gn 1:28).  He told us to choose life (Dt 30:19).  He sent His son, Jesus, to bring us life abundantly (Jn 10:10) and to remind us that His yoke is light (Mt 11:30).  I suspect, therefore, that at the heart of Catholic ambivalence  toward Humanae Vitae is not a crisis of sexuality, Church authority or moral relevance, but rather a question of faith: Do we really believe in God's goodness?  The Church speaks for her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and believers naturally, eagerly listen.  She shows married couples the path to enduring love and a culture of life.  Thirty years of history record the consequences of choosing otherwise. 


16.  I want to express my gratitude to the many couples who already live the message of Humanae Vitae in their married lives.  Their fidelity to the truth sanctifies their own families and our entire community of faith.  I thank in a special way those couples who teach NFP and counsel others in responsible parenthood inspired by Church teaching.  Their work too often goes unnoticed or underappreciated -- but they are powerful advocates for life in an age of confusion.  I also want to offer my prayers and encouragement to those couples who bear the cross of infertility.  In a society often bent on avoiding children, they carry the burden of yearning for children but having none.  No prayers go unanswered, and all suffering given over to the Lord bears fruit in some form of new life.  I encourage them to consider adoption, and I appeal to them to remember that a good end can never justify a wrong means.  Whether to prevent a pregnancy or achieve one, all techniques which separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of marriage are always wrong.  Procreative techniques which turn embryos into objects and mechanically substitute for the loving embrace of husband and wife violate human dignity and treat life as a product.  No matter how positive their intentions, these techniques advance the dangerous tendency to reduce human life to material which can be manipulated.

17.  It's never too late to turn our hearts back toward God.  We are not powerless.  We can make a difference by witnessing the truth about married love and fidelity to the culture around us.   In December last year, in a pastoral letter entitled Good News of Great Joy, I spoke of the important vocation every Catholic has as an evangelizer.  We are all missionaries. America in the 1990s, with its culture of disordered sexuality, broken marriages and fragmented families, urgently needs the Gospel.  As Pope John Paul II writes in his apostolic exhortation On the Family (Familiaris Consortio), married couples and families have a critical role in witnessing Jesus Christ to each other and to the surrounding culture (49, 50).

18.  In that light, I ask married couples of the archdiocese to read, discuss and pray over Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio and other documents of the Church which outline Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality.  Many married couples, unaware of the valuable wisdom found in these materials, have deprived themselves of a beautiful source of support for their mutual love.  I especially encourage couples to examine their own consciences regarding contraception, and I ask them to remember that "conscience" is much more than a matter of personal preference.  It requires us to search out and understand Church teaching, and to honestly strive to conform our hearts to it.  I urge them to seek sacramental Reconciliation for the times they may have fallen into contraception. Disordered sexuality is the dominant addiction of American society in these closing years of the century.  It directly or indirectly impacts us all.  As a result, for many, this teaching may be a hard message to accept.  But do not lose heart.  Each of us is a sinner.  Each of us is loved by God. No matter how often we fail, God will deliver us if we repent and ask for the grace to do His will.

19.  I ask my brother priests to examine their own pastoral practices, to ensure that they faithfully and persuasively present the Church's teaching on these issues in all their parish work. Our people deserve the truth about human sexuality and the dignity of marriage.  To accomplish this, I ask pastors to read and implement the Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, and to study the Church's teaching on marriage and family planning.  I urge them to appoint parish coordinators to facilitate the presentation of Catholic teaching on married love and family planning -- especially NFP.  Contraception is a grave matter.  Married couples need the good counsel of the Church to make right decisions.  Most married Catholics welcome the guidance of their priests, and priests should never feel  intimidated by their personal commitment to celibacy, or embarrassed by the teaching of the Church.  To be embarrassed by Church teaching is to be embarrassed by Christ's teaching.  The pastoral experience and counsel of a priest are valuable on issues like contraception precisely because he brings new perspective to a couple and speaks for the whole Church. Moreover, the fidelity a priest shows to his own vocation strengthens married people to live their vocation more faithfully.

20.  As archbishop, I commit myself and my offices to supporting my brother priests, deacons and their lay collaborators in presenting the whole of the Church's teaching on married love and family planning.  I owe both the clergy of our local Church and their staffs -- especially the many dedicated parish catechists -- much gratitude for the good work they have already accomplished in this area.  It is my intention to ensure that courses on married love and family planning are available on a regular basis to more and more people of the archdiocese, and that our priests and deacons receive more extensive education in the theological and pastoral aspects of these issues.  I direct, in a particular way, our Offices of Evangelization and Catechetics; Marriage and Family Life; Catholic Schools; Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries; and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to develop concrete ways to better present Church teaching on married love to our people, and to require adequate instruction in NFP as part of all marriage preparation programs in the archdiocese.

21.  Two final points.  First, the issue of contraception is not peripheral, but central and serious in a Catholic's walk with God.  If knowingly and freely engaged in, contraception is a grave sin, because it distorts the essence of marriage: the self-giving love which, by its very nature, is life-giving.  It breaks apart what God created to be whole: the person-uniting meaning of sex (love) and the life-giving meaning of sex (procreation).  Quite apart from its cost to individual marriages, contraception has also inflicted massive damage on society at large: initially by driving a wedge between love and the procreation of children; and then between sex (i.e., recreational sex without permanent commitment) and love.  Nonetheless -- and this is my second point -- teaching the truth should always be done with patience and compassion, as well as firmness.  American society seems to swing peculiarly between puritanism and license.  The two generations -- my own and my teachers' -- which once led the dissent from Paul VI's encyclical in this country, are generations still reacting against the American Catholic rigorism of the 1950s. That rigorism, much of it a product of culture and not doctrine, has long since been demolished.  But the habit of skepticism remains.  In reaching these people, our task is to turn their distrust to where it belongs: toward the lies the world tells about the meaning of human sexuality, and the pathologies those lies conceal.

22.  In closing, we face an opportunity which comes only once in many decades.  Thirty years ago this week, Paul VI told the truth about married love.  In doing it, he triggered a struggle within the Church which continues to mark American Catholic life even today.  Selective dissent from Humanae Vitae soon fueled broad dissent from Church authority and attacks on the credibility of the Church herself.  The irony is that the people who dismissed Church teaching in the 1960s soon discovered that they had subverted their own ability to pass anything along to their children.

The result is that the Church now must evangelize a world of their children's children -- adolescents and young adults raised in moral confusion, often unaware of their own moral heritage, who hunger for meaning, community, and love with real substance.  For all its challenges, this a is tremendous new moment of possibility for the Church, and the good news is that the Church today, as in every age, has the answers to fill the God-shaped empty places in their hearts.  My prayer is therefore simple: May the Lord grant us the wisdom to recognize the great treasure which resides in our teaching about married love and human sexuality, the faith, joy and perseverance to live it in our own families  -- and the courage which Paul VI possessed to preach it anew.

+ Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Denver 
July 22, 1998
(Italicized emphasis added by Blog Administrator)