The Synod is assisting Pope Francis with a pastoral plan to evangelize the world through the family. Let us support him with our prayers and keep faith that the Holy Spirit will actively guide the whole Church through these turbulent waters.
Sins Against the Spirit
Sin has been the subject of recent notes. What many find disturbing is our Lord’s mention of a sin that will not be forgiven:
“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven… whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).
The thought of an unforgivable sin is scary. Have I committed such a sin? Am I doomed?
So what is “blasphemy against the Spirit”? First consider the context. Jesus had just exorcised a man possessed by a demon that made him blind and dumb (Matthew 12:22ss); this amazed the people. The Scribes and Pharisees reacted differently, accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan (Beelzebul) to cast out demons. After showing them the absurdity of their position, Jesus condemns them for their “blasphemy against the Spirit.”
You see, after being instructed in the Scriptures, God ordained the Scribes and Pharisees with a special authority to teach the people and “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). By this authority the Holy Spirit guided them to know that Jesus fulfilled the Scripture foretelling the great Prophet and Messiah. But Jesus fulfilled those Scriptures in a way they neither expected nor wanted.
Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit and acknowledging Jesus’ messiahship, the Scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of being from the devil. They rejected the Spirit’s inspiration and blasphemed against him by saying the opposite. Later, when they ask Jesus by what authority he works the miracles he works, he agrees to tell them on the condition that they would answer one question: “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” They argued: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,” we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered: “We do not know.” (Matthew 21:23-27). Thus they chose not to acknowledge the Spirit’s inspiration; so our Lord refuses to respond to their question. They are not open.
In this context, then, to blaspheme against the Spirit is to reject and speak contrary to a truth that one has the God-given authority to discern. This would especially true for bishops and priests, but could apply to others in authority. Consider those who speak against Pope Francis, such as calling him a Marxist: they almost seem to be calling him, Beelzebul. Perhaps they do so in ignorance, so let’s let God judge this one.
The Church expands its understanding of sins against the Holy Spirit to include sins against hope, such as refusing God’s mercy:
“There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864).
Also those who think they need no mercy sin against hope: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Let us humbly trust in our Lord’s mercy and always be attentive to those quiet little inspirations of the Holy Spirit to pray, serve others, and follow Christ’s example of self-giving.
We are looking for volunteers to help with the planning of the Restoration of St. Mary of the Angels Church. Especially needed are those with architectural, engineering, and construction experience to help with recommendations. Please email or call the parish if you are interested.
Fr. John R. Waiss
October 6, 2015
Thank you for your ongoing support of St. Mary of the Angels. Our Christmas in June campaign caught us up on our bills, helping us start of the new fiscal year in the black. We also raised more than $105,000 last year for the Fr. Hilary Scholarship Fund, supporting large and financially challenged families in educating their children with a Catholic education.
Then on July 18th we had a little surprise. Shortly after the people had left the church from the 5 pm Saturday Mass and the parking lot emptied, a piece of the church came crashing down—a large corner section of terra cotta dropped 50 feet and shattered as it hit the ground. Fortunately no person or car was nearby. Only a large flowerpot was destroyed.
The following Monday we got up close with a lift, cleaned up the site where the piece had broken away, and founded out that water, ice, and rust had pushed the cornice away from the brick wall, allowing the piece to break away under its own weight. We used this opportunity to see whether there were other pieces in similar conditions that could pose a potential hazard to people and property. Not only did we discover other such terra cotta pieces that could do the same, but we found other damage and potential hazards that need addressing.
We have identified three types of repairs:
1. Emergency Life-Safety Repairs;
2. Other Temporary Repairs to Prevent Further Damage;
3. Long-Term Maintenance Plan Repairs to put the church structure in tip-top condition.
0. Engineering Survey of the Church Building: $10,000
1. Emergency Life-Safety Repairs:
Use of lifts for 2 month and fuel: $16,800
Repair terra cotta Cornices similar to the one that fell—$7,500
Pin terra cotta Cornices with dangerous cracks—$6,000
Pin other cracked terra cotta units—$7,000
Stabilize bowing terra cotta between Entrance Columns with mesh —$15,500
Stabilize bulging North Tower Parapet with steel mesh—$12,000
2. Other Temporary Repairs to Prevent Further Damage:
Stabilize cracked Cupolas due to rust in interior steel members—$10,000
Stabilize cracked Window terra cotta tracery—$12,000
Seal horizontal terra cotta to prevent water seepage into bricks beneath—$20,000
Roofing repairs to prevent further water damage—$8,000
3. Long-Term Maintenance Plan Repairs (very rough estimates):
Full Roof replacement—$250,000
Full Repair of Entrance terra cotta—$250,000
Replace front Parapet Wall (removed in 1992 for safety reasons)—$250,000
Rebuild North Tower including its parapet and tuck point—$1,000,000
Tuck point exterior of the whole church—$1,000,000
The costs of the long-term repairs are very rough estimates. We will be developing a plan for that soon. We think that now is the time to start fundraising for the long-term integrity of St. Mary of the Angels Church.
We have started working right away on the emergency and some preventative repairs, although we don’t have enough money to finish that. Please consider an extraordinary donation to help us
Let us all pray and work together to preserve and pass on the treasure of St. Mary of the Angels for future generations.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. John R. Waiss
PS: We are looking for volunteers to help with the planning of the Restoration of St. Mary of the Angels Church. Especially needed are those with architectural, engineering, and construction experience to help with recommendations. Please email or call the parish if you are interested.
As Pope Francis visits the United States and Cuba, we want to take full advantage of his presence to listen as he inspires the frontline soldiers—that is, you and me—who are called to fight this war against worldliness and hatred by sowing love and peace in the midst of the world.
Pope Francis has said that the Church is like a field hospital, where the fallen soldiers are brought for immediate treatment:
“What the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds… I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later” (Interview with Antonio Spadaro, 2013).
This is especially true in the sacrament of Reconciliation. When the priest hears confessions, he can’t be worried about the cholesterol level in the blood, but the first thing he must do is to stop the bleeding or revive the person who has stop breathing. That is why the Church has developed the distinction between mortal and venial sin.
“There is sin which is mortal” (1 John 5:16), which is a sin that “kills” our relationship with God. On the other hand, venial sins detract from our relationship with God and others but do not kill it, such as neglecting prayers or not sharing a toy with a sibling. Being unfaithful to a spouse would be mortal because it would kill one’s relationship with one’s spouse and with God who should be at the center of that relationship. The church teaches us that:
“One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. This sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of hell. It can be forgiven in the ordinary way by means of the sacraments of Baptism and of Penance or Reconciliation” (CCCC 395).
When we have committed a mortal sin, we should go to the sacrament of Penance right away so that our Lord can “stop the bleeding” or revive us. This is why the priest may ask us a few questions: to try to find the full extent of the wound that needs healing, just as the doctor may poke around a bit to see whether a bone or spleen is broken and needs immediate intervention.
We should also confess our venial sins too.
“One commits a venial sin, which is essentially different from a mortal sin, when the matter involved is less serious or, even if it is grave, when full knowledge or complete consent are absent. Venial sin does not break the covenant with God but it weakens charity and manifests a disordered affection for created goods. It impedes the progress of a soul in the exercise of the virtues and in the practice of moral good. It merits temporal punishment which purifies” (CCCC 396)
Whereas mortal sin kills our relationship with God, venial sin weakens that relationship and disorients our emotional disposition to prefer immediate, created pleasures over a permanent relationship with God and over the everlasting happiness that awaits us in heaven.
When we think about sins, we normally think about exterior actions, but interior sins—thoughts, desires, gloating over a sin—can be mortal too. Looking at pornography or fantasizing over a possible affair, for example, may stay on the inside but have dire consequences in relationships. As our Lord said: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:21-22).
Let’s take advantage of the Pope’s visit to make a good confession and thus make ourselves ready to return to the battle field as apostles of peace and joy.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Sin is a rupture in our relationship with Christ, who is the source of our eternal beatitude. God offers us a relationship with him as a freely given gift. That is why this relationship is called grace. It is also why sin is the principal obstacle to grace and beatitude, as it distances us from relationships key to our happiness.
Recent popes have identified another obstacle to grace: “The greatest sin today is that men have lost the sense of sin.” Pope Pius XII said this in the wake of the horrors of World War II and John Paul II, Benedict and Francis have all repeated it. It express what is now common to think: “How can something be a sin if doesn’t hurt anybody?” Or: “How can it be a sin if it is done in the privacy of my own bedroom?” Or: “Everybody is doing it.”
So, instead of admitting our sins—that have damaged or killed our relationship with God and others—and then confessing them and reconciling ourselves with God, people now-a-days go to therapy instead. A therapist can be good to help heal emotional wounds and reactions—especially those produced by trauma, such as uncontrollable anger, fear of commitment, etc.—but we can also use this as a therapeutic crutch to escape the personal responsibility for our actions.
We may also look to science to excuse our behavior: if there is any evidence of a genetic component to alcoholism, homosexuality, or even violent crime, then a person wouldn’t be responsible for decisions he makes that are detrimental to his family or to others… so they think: How can there be any sin where biology has predetermined our fate?
These ways of thinking change our way of speaking about sin. Instead of talking admitting to having an adulterous affair, we learned to say that s/he is no longer “in love” with her/his spouse and is now “in love” with someone else: how can s/he be responsible for the pain and hurt inflicted on her/his spouse and children (and extended family)—as well as for breaking his covenant commitment with God!—if morality is only about “chemistry” in one’s relationships? Concupinage is now just called “living together” and homosexual activity is now called “an alternative lifestyle”; neither are considered sinful because “we are not hurting anybody” or because “we were born that way” or because “everybody is doing it.”
Sin is real. Choices we make do impact our relationships. If you make a lifetime commitment to another person before God then you are committed to avoid any situations—“occasions of sin”—contrary to that commitment, whether or not you still feel “in love.” Infidelity to this commitment is a sin and “kills” our relationship with God and with others.
Likewise, we may have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. But that does not excuse our personal responsibility to avoid situations with alcohol if they would lead to drunkenness and physical or verbal abuse of a spouse, children, or others. We make a choice when we walk down that street with the bar on the corner although the ability to choose disappears when we walked in the door. Our choices impact our relationships and thus have moral implications.
So, just because all one’s peers are having sex, doing drugs, using birth control, or have had an abortion doesn’t mean that these things are OK and not sins. Such thoughts may ease feelings of guilt but they don’t take away our moral responsibility for the choices we have made. We will have to answer to God for them. Our consciences need to recover the “sense of sin” so that we can take responsibility for our moral decisions, seeking God’s mercy now in the confessional rather than having to face his justice before the Judgment Seat.
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we were considering, Christian morality consists in positively cultivating our relationship with God in Jesus Christ; this relationship is grace. Our relationship with God will naturally flow into building good relationships with others too, because everything we do to others, whom God loves as his children, we do to God (cf. Matthew 25:40,45).
Any thing that hurts or interferes with our relationship with God is called sin. Sin is often described as disobeying God’s rules or Commandments. This makes God appear to be a tyrant who just wants to control our lives with rules that limit our freedom or our fun. No! Sin is really slavery, which arises from any action that offends God and hurts relationship with him.
How is sin disobedience? If obedience (ob + audience = to be near + hearing) means to get close to someone so as to hear, disobedience is to distance ourselves from the other person in order not to hear, not to respond to his/her needs or wishes. A child often does this with his/her parent, not listening to mom or dad by focusing on a TV show or on an electronic devise, perhaps when asked to do homework or some chore. This hurts the relationship between them because the child’s not listening says to the parent: “What you are saying is not important, because you are not important to me.” Ouch!
Parents can do the same with each other and with their children by ignoring them and their needs. Perhaps a child asks a parent for some help or needs some attention while the parent is absorbed in a phone conversation or on Facebook. The child feels hurt because his/her parent’s action tells the child: “What you are saying to me is not important, because you are not important.” Perhaps one spouse does this with the other, using TV to distance him-/herself from the other who wants and needs to talk.
Sin does this with God. It disobeys by not listening to God, aversio a Deo et conversio ad creaturas—a turning toward creatures so as to turn away from God (St. Thomas Aquinas). Instead we need to get close to God so as to hear his Word—all that he reveals to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, not just the Commandments. When we don’t listen or when we don’t follow one of the Commandments, it is an indicator that we don’t care what God says, that we don’t love him, that our relationship with him is not important.
Consider this: a newlywed bride goes to her best friend to tell her how happy being married makes her and how much she loves her bridegroom. Then she asks a friend: “How far can I go with my boss before it would be infidelity? Can I let him invite me out to lunch alone? Can I let him hold my hand? Kiss me? How far is going too far… what are the rules of fidelity?” What would you think of such a bride? Would she really be in love? No, of course not! A person in love doesn’t think about the rules and how far you can go before hurting another; she doesn’t need rules. A person in love is focused on how to express her love in positive deeds; the rules exist just to point out when one has lost the correct focus of love.
Fulfilling the “letter of the law” doesn’t imply love—it is not enough. Yet true love does imply obedience, getting close to God to hear him. As Mary, the sister of Martha, shows us:
[Mary] sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:39-42).
Let us learn true obedience, by listening to Jesus Christ and obeying his word who obeyed the Word of his Father, usque ad mortem, even to “death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Then our relationship with God will be true and fulfilling.
Fr. John R. Waiss