God created man to be free, putting us into the hands of our own counsel (cf. Sirach 15:14), so that he might freely seek his perfection by loving his creator. As the Second Vatican Council explains:
“God willed that man “of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him. Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint” (Gaudium et Spes 17).
Eternal beatitude requires love, and we can only love if we are free.
But freedom does not mean the right or ability to do or say anything we want to (see CCC 1747). Freedom is the ability to love, which means to seek the good of one’s beloved and to unite oneself to him. The more one does what is good the freer one becomes. To disobey, to be unfaithful, and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin” (see CCC 1733).
Actions can only be evil if they are free. We wouldn’t think of punishing an asteroid for slamming into the earth and killing someone. Nor would we punish a man-eating shark, although we may kill it to prevent future attacks. We punish murderers and hold them responsible because they are free human beings.
“The morality of acts is defined by the relationship of man’s freedom with the authentic good. This good is established, as the eternal law, by Divine Wisdom which orders every being towards its end…. Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man’s true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness…. Only the act in conformity with the good can be a path that leads to life” (St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 72).
Actions that are pure impulsive or reflex reactions can only be evil if the impulse or reflex was freely chosen, as when we deliberately give in to a habit that we know will lead to sin. For example, if we know that when we drink it leads to surfing the Internet and to falling into to compulsive pornography then choosing to drink would be the sin. Likewise, if we know that watching football will lead to angry outbursts and violent reactions, then to turn on the football game is the sin. Having a sinful dream in the middle of our nighttime sleep is not freely willed and therefore is not a sin.
Cultivating virtues—habitual acts of doing good—and overcoming vices increases our freedom to love and to do good.
Freedom and Responsibility, Grace and Law
Each of us is responsible for his acts to the extent that those actions are voluntary (see CCC 1734). Ignorance (of a child, for example), duress and manipulation, fear and other psychological or social factors can reduce or even eliminate our ability to make free decisions (see CCC 1746). Such factors coerce us into doing what we do know want to do (see Romans 7), thus reduce our responsibility. So to overcome ignorance, manipulation, and fear increase our freedom to love and our responsibility to pursue the good of the one we love.
God’s grace also increases our freedom because it gives us an ability to love. Grace is God’s love for us—“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Knowing that we are loved by God—grace—gives us an opportunity to love God the Father and God the Son in return. This is “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Through the grace of the Holy Spirit working in our life through faith in Jesus Christ helps us to grow in our inner freedom, giving us the strength and confidence to endure periods of trial (see CCC 1742).
As God’s law is a gift—a grace—that guide the use of our freedom by directing our actions in ways that lead to union with God and the pursuit of the good of our beloved. That is why Pope St. John Paul II tells us:
“God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom: rather, it protects and promotes that freedom” (Veritatis Splendor 35).
So, let’s embrace a life of grace, law, and freedom that we can truly be free to love as God so created us.
Fr. John R. Waiss
We have come again to that time of the year when we make our pledge for the Annual Catholic Appeal. Your wonderful generosity in past years has eliminated the debt we incurred in “Saving the Dome,” operating the parish, and helping our school reach sustainable excellence. Last year’s campaign helped us add substantially to our building fund for future restoration of the façade and north tower, which will include new bathrooms. Thank you for your sacrifices—great and small—and may God reward your generosity.
Now it is time to give back. This year we wish to direct the parish portion of the Annual Catholic Appeal to the Fr. Hilary Mahaney Scholarship Fund. This will help large or financially struggling families give their children an excellent Catholic education.
Each one of us needs to grow in our own relationship with God. This not only means growing in our life of prayer and self-denial, but in orienting our whole being and all that we have toward God. This is why stewardship is so important. As we, out of love for God, generously sacrifice our time in prayer and service, our comfort and pleasure in self-denial, and our possession in sacrificial giving we not only show God that he is first in our lives, we also grow in our love for and union with God, which confers both a great inner joy and peace that is priceless.
So, God wants each of us to cooperate with his mission. Objectively he doesn’t need us. God could “snap his fingers” and give us all the resources we need. But he doesn’t do so. He wants our cooperation. Think of our Lord’s reaction to the widow who brought her two pennies to donate to the Temple: the Temple authorities laughed at her for he objectively insignificance of her gift, but Christ blesses her for her generosity. Likewise, our Lord asks for food to feed the crowds, and the apostles gave him all they have—five loaves of bread and two fish. Yet it is enough to feed the multitudes.
In considering your pledge for the coming year—how much should I give?—think about God and our commitment to him. Should I spend more money on myself and on non-necessities than on my Love? How much money will I spend on entertainment (movies, cable or satellite TV programming, etc.) and non-essentials (vacations, new car, etc.) in this coming year? Perhaps I can I give an equivalent amount to God (or a little bit more) rather than spend so much on myself.
This kind of giving will certainly “hurt” and it takes faith. If family members or colleagues hear of this they will probably consider us “crazy.” But we should live our lives to please God, not our family members or colleague—“He who loves father or mother… son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). In fact, we should live our lives for Christ and not for ourselves. In doing so, we gain HIM! Isn’t that a bargain?
No one can decide for you what amount to pledge. Reflect on this in your prayer. If you are married—as your resources are in common—discuss this with your spouse and encourage him or her to pray about it. Perhaps you wish to encourage generosity in your children, they as them what sacrifices we can offer our Lord as a sign of our love.
In this way our parish, our families, and our parishioners will grow spiritually and we will accomplish better the mission God’s is sharing with us.
Fr. John R. Waiss
In today’s Gospel our Lord warns us: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees for relaxing the commandments (see Matthew 5:19) and for appearing to be good and “holy:” “outwardly [you] appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:28), “full of extortion and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). We have to do better than that. What God really wants is our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul.
To truly love God, we need to fulfill all the Commandments. We also need to use our gifts and talents to serve the one we love. The kind of righteousness that God wants from us is the loving generosity of a total gift of self, to love him as Christ has loved us by dying on the Cross.
In the Old Testament, God commanded the people through Moses to set aside one tenth of all the produce of their land or of the animals of their flocks as holy, dedicated to the worship of God (see Leviticus 27:30-34). This tithe was entrusted to the Levite priests (see Numbers 18:24), who would in turn sacrifice a “tithe of the tithe” (Numbers 18:26) as their collective worship of God.
But the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees entailed tithing (give 10 percent) on silly, little things: “But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42).
Jesus wants us to do more than this. He gives us an example to follow when he praises the Widow who gives everything—little compared to the gifts of the rich, but big in the eyes of God: “[Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had’” (Luke 21:1-4).
As God has been good to us at St. Mary of the Angels, the Priest Council has decided to use the Annual Catholic Appeal as our collective worship to God, sacrificing the parish rebate for works of mercy. This will be our parish’s “tithe of the tithe.” The first $30,000 of our parish’s donation to Annual Catholic Appeal will be used to support poorer parishes and schools—locally and abroad—(give alms to the poor), formation of laity and priests (instruct the ignorant) and for prison ministry (visit the sick and imprisoned). Donations beyond this $30,000 will go to the Fr. Hilary Mahaney Scholarship Fund, providing education to children of our parishioners who have large families or who can’t afford the full costs of Catholic education (more instructing the ignorant).
As we prepare to make our commitment to financially support works of mercy through this years Annual Catholic Appeal—as you discuss your family’s contribution—consider the many good things you have received from God is the past year: What has God given me? What do I have that I have not received? (1 Corinthians 4:7). Let us not be like the Scribes and Pharisees, but make a gift that shows God real righteousness, true holiness, a generosity that gives itself away for love.
We ask our Blessed Mother, St. Mary of the Angels, to inspire each of our parishioners to respond with generosity.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Not everything bad or unlawful is a sin. Jesus makes this clear when speaking about Kosher laws, such as eating with unwashed hands or eating non-Kosher foods.
“And [Jesus] called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man…’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ And he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man’” (Matthew 15:10-11, 15-20)
For an action to be immoral or sinful, it must be a human action, one that “proceeds from the [human] heart.” Digestion and other biological actions of the body do not arise from our heart nor from our knowledge (from a judgment of our conscience) and our freewill. For any action to be good or evil—a moral act—it must be known and freely chosen (cf. CCC 1749).
Evil actions arise from our heart when we selfishly chose something that opposes our relationship with God: when a child disobeys a parent he disobeys God, putting his videogame or TV over his relationship with God. Likewise, when a woman is unfaithful to her husband she is unfaithful to Christ, selfishly putting her emotional “needs” over her relationship with Christ.
But these actions can only be evil if they were free. We wouldn’t think of punishing an asteroid for slamming into the earth and killing someone. Nor would we punish a man-eating shark, although we may kill it to prevent future attacks. We punish murderers and hold them responsible because they are free human beings.
“The morality of acts is defined by the relationship of man’s freedom with the authentic good. This good is established, as the eternal law, by Divine Wisdom which orders every being towards its end…. Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man’s true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness…. Only the act in conformity with the good can be a path that leads to life” (St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 72.1).
Actions that are pure impulsive or reflex reactions can only be evil if the impulse or reflex was freely chosen, which happens when we deliberately foster or give in to a habit that we know will lead to sin. For example, if we know that when we drink it leads to surfing the Internet and to falling into to compulsive pornography then choosing to drink would be the sin. Likewise, if we know that watching football will lead to angry outbursts and violent reaction, then to turn on the football game is the sin. Having a sinful dream in the middle of our nighttime sleep is not freely willed and therefore is not a sin.
Cultivating virtues—habitual acts of doing good—and overcoming vices will only increase our freedom to love and to do good. We all need to overcome our slavery to sin, as our Lord told us:
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free… Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin… So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-32,34,36).
Fr. John R. Waiss
As you know, many churches and Catholic schools have been struggling to adapt to changes that have occurred in our church and society in recent years, including severe demographic changes and fewer priests. To meet these challenges, Cardinal Cupich has launched the Renew My Church initiative to ensure the future and sustainability of our parishes and schools. It seeks to inspire more vibrant Catholic disciples and communities who can carry on the mission for which Christ came into the world.
Some History of St. Mary of the Angels Church
In our almost 120-year history, St. Mary of the Angels has seen many such changes: in 1960 the Kennedy Expressway wiped out a third of the parish households. This was followed by a decline in the neighborhood, when the majority of the Polish families had moved out. This led to the decline of attendance and income; with the loss of sustainability, St. Mary of the Angels church buildings went into disrepair and the parish almost closed 29 years ago.
New vibrancy came to St. Mary of the Angels when in 1991the parish was entrusted to the priests of Opus Dei, who had the charism of encouraging ordinary Catholics to seek holiness and to evangelize their world through their ordinary life. This brought new parishioners from outside the parish boundaries. Loyal parishioners welcomed this and worked together repaired, reopened, and restored the church. In these last 26 years, our school and parish programs have increased in number and effectiveness.
Every Catholic Parish
In more recent years, the whole Archdiocese has experience this demographic challenge, as there are not enough church-goers to sustain all our churches. In addition, many parishes lack resources to carry out their evangelizing mission effectively. That is why Cardinal Cupich has asked every Catholic parish and school in the Archdiocese to participate in Renew My Church.
This process begins by bringing parishes together in discernment groupings. Much thought, study, and discussion went into formulate the parish groupings over the last year. Of the 24 Catholic churches within a 2.1 mile radius of St. Mary of the Angels, our parish and school has been grouped with 5 others: St. Aloysius, Holy Trinity Polish Mission, St. Hedwig, St. John Cantius, and St. Stanislaus Kostka (parish and school).
The active process of discerning the needs of our parishioners and the evangelization possibilities won’t begin until some later date—to be determined. An archdiocesan team will facilitate this discernment process. They have already begun with two pilot groupings to make sure that the Archdiocese has the proper resources for the success of this initiative.
What Will This Mean for St. Mary of the Angels?
The quick answer to this question is: we don’t know. It really is not the right question. We need to think of: What will this mean for the Catholic Church in Chicago? Renew My Church means that all parishes will be more vibrant and effective in their mission. It also means that all parishes will have the resources and priests needed to be sustainable.
Just as St. Mary of the Angels successfully faced the challenges of the new Bucktown demographics and changes in our society and church 25 years ago, now we are called to do the same for the broader Catholic community. Not only do we have much experience to share with other parishes, we can offer them hope of a successful outcome of an uncertain process.
Please continue to pray for St. Mary of the Angels and for the welfare of all Catholics and Catholic institutions as we support one another during this time of renewal and growth.
Fr. John R. Waiss