When Are Our Actions Bad and Sinful?

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

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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Renew My Church Groupings

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

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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Using Latin (Greek and Hebrew) at Holy Mass

Some, especially new Catholics, struggle with the use of Latin in the Sunday Mass, in particular, with the singing of the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. As active participation is encouraged, some find it hard and a bit put off by the loss of understanding that comes with Latin.

Actually, the liturgy uses other languages besides Latin. For example, when the early Church sought to celebrate the Holy Mass in the language of the common people, i.e. Latin, she chose to leave some prayers in New Testament Greek. So even today, the Latin Mass retains the Kyrie in Greek, although it is permitted to use the vernacular, Lord have mercy. We get other prayers from Hebrew, such as the Alleluia, Hosanna and Amen.

So, why doesn’t the Church just translate these words into English, Spanish, Polish, or other vernacular languages when she translates the Mass?

Sense of mystery

The word Alleluia could be translated into other expressions of joy and praise, such as Praise God or Praise the Lord, yet we would lose some of the meaning and sacredness that we find in the Hebrew word. Alleluia conveys a sense of mystery and awe not found in the other expressions. Retaining the Hebrew acknowledges that there is some expressions of the heart and mind that are exclusively associated with love and adoration of God.

Likewise, Amen could be translated as I believe, I do, or I agree, but in doing so we lose the sacred sense of the covenant faith that we reaffirm. These other expressions are too narrow, which is why multiple expressions are needed. Amen does all that (and more!) in one word, as it connects us to all the covenants made between God and his People throughout the centuries. Amen sacredly commits us to all that God has revealed and commanded us.

So, using Hebrew also unites us to the Old and New Testament people of God, as we praise God and enter into a covenant of love with our Lord.

The Greek Kyrie manifests the early Christian awe and fascination with the idea of God’s great mercy, that the almighty and eternal God would chose to love weak and mortal mankind, even with all our selfishness, pride, and perversity. He does this, even before we do anything to merit that love and mercy. That is truly amazing!

The Kyrie is both a statement—the Lord does have mercy on us—and a petition—Lord, please do have mercy on us—acknowledging our ongoing need for God’s great love and mercy, even after receiving forgiveness of our sins.

In this same line, the Church encourages us to sing or recite the Gloria and the Sanctus in Latin. This too manifests our sense of wonder and awe as we praise God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that human words (vernacular expressions) are somehow inadequate to express the full truth of what God has revealed and the sense of awe and mystery we have in our heart and mind; using a language we don’t fully understand allows us to do this.

Liturgical Prayer: Personal and Universal

We must make the Holy Mass our own—a truly personal prayer through which each one of us actively enters into dialogue with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, as liturgy, the Mass is the public prayer of the whole Church, the one Bride in dialogue with her one Lord and Bridegroom. Using sacred languages manifests this universality. When we attend the Mass in Africa, Japan, Europe, or in South America we are entering into the universal prayer of love of the whole Church throughout the centuries, both past and future.

What better way to express the unified love of the Church for Christ than through these common words of love and praise? May we deepen our appreciation of the mystery of God’s love through our common language.


Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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Happiness, the True Goal of Christian Morality

Often our society portrays Christian morality as something negative, a series of don’ts: Don’t kill… don’t miss Mass on Sunday… don’t lie or steal… In other words, don’t have any fun…

When morality is perceived as a list of arbitrary rules that only serve to restrict and control our lives then it is not very attractive… in fact, it is quite repulsive. In reality, Christian morality is a positive affirmation of love. It is the map that guides us to our goal, which is to know, love, and serve God in this life, and to enjoy a deep, happy, intimate relationship with Him forever in heaven.

Why Be Moral?

Morality is a way of living and not just a set of rules. True morality manifests what it means to be human, what fulfills our life and gives it meaning. Morality is our life’s goal: to be happy.

For Christians Christ is that way, the way of love, the way of blessed happiness, the way to be holy even as God is holy.

Happiness then should be everyone’s goal—we have a right to pursue it. But happiness seems so elusive, perhaps because we pursue it in the wrong ways.

How NOT To Be Happy

In an interview,[1] Pope Francis identifies behaviors that really undermines happiness: some think they will be happy by controlling or trying to please others; some by withdrawing from others so as to not be hurt by them; some anxiously fill their lives with activity, rushing around in pursuit of fun or accomplishments; some seek happiness in possessions and consumerism; some fill their lives with news and entertainment, killing precious time and communication with family and friends; some are so down on themselves that they seek relief by cutting down others; some try to overcome their insecurities by manipulating others to their own beliefs, instead of trying to attract them to the truth.

One may try to pursue happiness by engaging in these behaviors, but they only cause angst and sadness instead. So the Pope encourages us:

  • “Live and let live,” in other words, “Move forward and let others do the same.”
  • Give of yourself to others, with generosity and openness, sharing your possessions with those in need.
  • Live life calmly—like a pool of water, not a rushing river—moving with kindness and humility that exudes calmness.
  • Enjoy the pleasures of art and literature, and of playing and singing with children. Turn off the TV.
  • Make Sunday a holiday, because it is for God and family.
  • Find meaningful and dignified work for all, especially young people. People don’t just need food, but also the dignity that comes from bringing home food from one’s own labor.
  • Enjoy, respect and take care of God’s gift of nature, human life, and sexuality.
  • Be positive.
  • Attract others to the truth of Faith, respecting others and their freedom of conscience.
  • Work for peace, which is always proactive and dynamic, making society into a warm family environment.
Our Lord summarizes these suggestions in this: “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest [and happiest] in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). A child is happy, because he knows he is not in control; a child pleases his parent simply by smiling, not by doing or following rules; a child is trusting and fears no one; a child doesn’t rush but enjoys the moment, especially in playing with parents and siblings…

If we strive to love like a little child—like the child Jesus—then our lives will share his happiness… the happiness of Christmas… of the first Christmas. We will also discover that morality is not about following rules but a way to a relationship that will fill and fulfill our lives.

[1] Viva (July 27, 2014).


Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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Blessed Martyrdom

Christmas is followed by a number of great feasts, such as Mary’s Divine Maternity, the Holy Family, and the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents. It reminds us what Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The peace of Christmas is followed by Herod slaughtering the little boys, “two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16), trying to kill the newborn Prince of Peace.

Love Is Generous

Marriages and families are founded on this sacrificial love: “Love does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:4), because love does not seek itself. As Pope Francis reminds:

“Paul’s hymn to love… states that love ‘does not seek its own interest,’ nor ‘seek what is its own.’ This same idea is expressed in another text: ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ The Bible makes it clear that generously serving others is far more noble than loving ourselves” (Amoris Lætitia 101, quoting Philippians 2:4).
Love means setting aside our own wants and desires in order to seek what is good for others, what fulfills their needs. Sure we all want to be loved, but true love overflows in self-sacrificing self-giving. As the Pope goes on to say:
“St. Thomas Aquinas explains that ‘it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be loved;’ indeed, ‘mothers, who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved.’ Consequently, love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, ‘expecting nothing in return,’ and the greatest of loves can lead to ‘laying down one’s life’ for another. Can such generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully, really be possible? Yes, because it is demanded by the Gospel: ‘You received without pay, give without pay’” (Amoris Lætitia 102, quoting Luke 6:35, John 15:13, Matthew 10:8).

Good spouses have the kind of love that moves them to be so generous that they are ready to die for their beloved. True love helps us to “endure all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7) with the generosity of laying down our lives in martyrdom. Pope Francis continues:

Panta hypoménei. This means that love bears every trial with a positive attitude. It stands firm in hostile surroundings. This ‘endurance’ involves not only the ability to tolerate certain aggravations, but something greater: a constant readiness to confront any challenge. It is a love that never gives up, even in the darkest hour. It shows a certain dogged heroism, a power to resist every negative current, an irrepressible commitment to goodness (Amoris Lætitia 118).

Marriage and family life must be ready to endure difficulties, both from without as well as from within, to put up with external challenges and the quirks and defects of the other members of the family. We never give up on people, especially on family. And we do this for love.

“In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up. I am sometimes amazed to see men or women who have had to separate from their spouse for their own protection, yet, because of their enduring conjugal love, still try to help them, even by enlisting others, in their moments of illness, suffering or trial. Here too we see a love that never gives up” (Amoris Lætitia 119).

May all spouses and families embrace their share of the cross, which is the ultimate expression of love, knowing that they are never alone… that God has loved them first and that he will give us the strength we need to endure it all.

Fr. John R. Waiss

Online: http://sma-church.org/motherofpurelove

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