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July 13, 2014

Below is the next installment of my summer series from Our Sunday Visitor’s “Top Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked” (Click here to read Part I or Part II).

OSV offers a regular pamphlet series on various Catholic issues/teachings. Check out their website for more info.

Summer blessings, Fr. Brian


We Catholics are often asked tough questions about our Catholic faith and its relationship to the Bible. Here are the ten most-asked questions, and the answers that should help you satisfy both your questioner and yourself.

6. Why do you pray to idols (statues)?

No Catholic who knows anything about the Catholic faith has ever worshiped a statue (as in pagan idolatry). If we cherish the memory of mere political heroes with statues, and that of war heroes with monuments, then there can be no objection to honoring saints and righteous men and women: “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17 — see also Rom 12:22 23). Statues are simply a visual reminder of great saints and heroes of the faith (Heb 11), who are more alive than we are (2 Cor 3:18), as is evident by their praying: “O Sovereign Lord…how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” (Rev 6:10 — see also Ps 35:17). The saints in heaven were never intended by God to be cut off from the Body of Christ on earth. They are involved in intercession, just as the saints on earth are, and they are described as “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

5. Why do you confess yours sins to a priest?

Jesus Christ gave his disciples — and by extension, priests — the power not only to “loose” sins (that is, forgive in God’s name), but also to “bind” (that is impose penances): “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18 — see also Mt 16:19). “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:23). The priest serves as the representative of God and of His mercy. Confession gives new courage, confidence, and a fresh start. One learns humility by this practice, receives additional grace in order to avoid sin, and attains a certainty of forgiveness that is superior to mere feelings. Confession is also indicated in Matthew (3:5-6), Acts (19:18), and 1 John (1:9).

(Click here to read Part IV)

Jun 29, 2014

Summer has officially arrived. I hope everyone is able to take some time for recreation and vacation. We all need an opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation.

In this spirit, I am going to step away from writing for the next few weeks. Instead, my column will offer teachings from the Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) pamphlet “Top Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked.” By the way, OSV offers a regular pamphlet series on various Catholic issues/teachings. Check out their website for more info.

Summer blessings, Fr. Brian


We Catholics are often asked tough questions about our Catholic faith and its relationship to the Bible. Here are the ten most-asked questions, and the answers that should help you satisfy both your questioner and yourself.

10. Are your beliefs found in the Bible?

All Catholic beliefs can be found in the Bible in some form, whether plainly or by an indirect indication. It is not necessary for everything to be absolutely clear in Scripture alone, because that is not a teaching of Scripture itself. Scripture also points to an authoritative Church and Tradition, as St. Paul says in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians: “Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15 — see also 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 3:6; 2 Tim 1:13 14, 2:2). When the first Christians had a significant disagreement, they didn’t simply open their Bibles (which didn’t even exist at that point) to decide who was right; they held a council, which made binding decrees (Acts 15: 1-29). The very books of the Bible had to be determined by the Church, and that didn’t happen until the late fourth century. Therefore, Sacred Tradition and authority were necessary for us to even have a Bible today.

9. Why do you obey the Pope?

Catholics believe that Jesus commissioned St. Peter as the first leader of the Church. Matthew’s Gospel has the most direct biblical indication of the papacy: “And I tell you, you are Peter (meaning literally “Rock”), and on this rock I will build my church…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16: 18-19). Based on this statement of Jesus himself, Peter is clearly portrayed in the New Testament as the leader of the disciples. A pope can make infallible, binding pronouncements under certain conditions. Infallibility doesn’t mean that absolutely everything a pope says is free from error. All Christians believe that God protected Holy Scripture from error by means of inspiration, even though sinful, fallible men wrote it. We Catholics also believe that God the Holy Spirit protects His Church and its head from error (Jn 14:16) by means of infallibility, even though sinful, imperfect men are involved in it.

(Click here to read Part II)

September 1, 2013

Here is Part II of Archbishop Nienstedt’s recent column on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. View last week’s post for Part I or go to TheCatholicSpirit.com for the full column.

Summer blessings, Fr. Brian

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Sacrament of Reconciliation: Why confess to a priest? (Part II)

confessional.stockvaultWhy would forgiveness be the first thing Jesus willed for his Church? Well, first of all, as we read in the curing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12, forgiving sins is reserved to God alone. To say that a human being forgives his own sins or those of another is blasphemy. Secondly, Jesus’ whole ministry was about forgiveness, about healing, about making people whole again. So, if that was the primary concern for Jesus, it has to be the first priority for his Church.

A priest is ordained to stand “in the person of Jesus Christ, the Church’s Head.” I personally was attracted to the priesthood because I believed it would be the best way I could help others to know God, to resolve their spiritual conflicts and to get to heaven. I always thought that the image of Jesus as the “Divine Physician” or “Healer of Souls” provided an incentive for my priestly service. As doctors use medicine to cure physical ills, a priest employs the Holy Spirit to cure spiritual ills. In the sacrament of confession, the priest is not there to scold or admonish, nor is he there out of curiosity to learn about your “dark side.” No, the priest is there as “Another Christ” to offer comfort, counsel and, above all, forgiveness and healing.

Speaking the words

Thirdly, we have to confess our sins to a priest because, believe it or not, it is good for us. Those who have been successful in Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you that one cannot begin to be cured until one admits out loud to another, “I am an alcoholic.” There is a real difference between thinking something in our heads and speaking it in words. Once an idea is articulated (i.e. a word spoken in anger) in speech, it takes on a life of its own. Likewise, I may think I am sorry for an evil action, but until I ask for forgiveness in words, I really do not experience the effect of that sorrow. But, once I admit I’ve done wrong, then the admission becomes tangible and it can be absolved. Also, in admitting I am powerless to overcome my sin, I can turn to ask help from the One (i.e. God) who has the power to evoke a conversion.

Fourth, as Americans, we have been heavily influenced by the Protestant notion of “predestination” that was so heavily emphasized by Luther and Calvin. They taught that, as believers, we fall under the influence of God’s eternal judgment, which already knows who among us will inherit eternal glory and who will receive eternal damnation. In previous generations, people of faith worried over the “damnation” aspect. Today, most everyone feels he or she is already destined for salvation. Thus, they reason, “What difference does it make what I do or don’t do? I’m ultimately going to heaven, God won’t stop me.”

Sin is relational

What complicates this situation even further is a superficial understanding of “sin” as a violation of a rule or an external law. Sin rather is a failure to live up to my baptismal call to love God above all things and my neighbor as myself. Sin is hurting someone I love. Sin is relational. So when I wallow in self-pity or indulge in gratifying my senses, when I prefer to go shopping rather than participate in Sunday Mass, when I intentionally ignore the needs of the world’s or my neighborhood’s poor, when I invoke God’s name or his damnation on a colleague in a conflict situation, I sin. That is to say, by this act, I have harmed the baptismal covenant relationship I have with God as well as harmed my relationship with another and upturned my own sense of spiritual well-being.

So, the question, “Why do I have to tell my sins to a priest?” is a great question because its answer explains why we need the Church, why we have to admit our wrongs in words, why we cannot presume we are already saved or damned and why sin is not the same as breaking the speeding limit or running a stop sign. This sacrament over time has been called penance, reconciliation and confession. But whatever we all it, that encounter is a meeting in time with the Merciful Jesus, the Divine Physician. It offers such a powerful assistance to our spiritual growth, why not use it? Yes, why not indeed!

God bless you!

August 25, 2015

Originally posted August 25, 2013

I am regularly confronted with people who are lamenting the “decline” of the Catholic Church.

These concerned individuals point to people they know who have either become lax in their faith or simply left the Catholic Church to join another Christian church.

sacramentsI believe a huge factor here is our loss in the understanding of and appreciation for one of the greatest gifts of our faith, namely, the Sacraments.

For example, do we know the stark difference between how a Lutheran and a Catholic view the Eucharist? Confirmation? Reconciliation? Marriage? My personal research indicates that most Catholics do not.

In response to this growing concern our Adult Faith Formation (AFF) Committee will be offering a series on our Catholic Sacraments: The Doors to the Sacred – an Adult Perspective on Sacraments with Judy Foster Mon. evenings, Nov. 4, 11, 18, 25.

Watch for the AFF’s program booklet which will list the many wonderful offerings for the coming year or visit the Adult Faith Formation pages on Faith Series Offerings, One Time Events, Book Discussions, Second Sunday Speakers and Rediscover. A calendar for the full year of adult faith formation offerings is now available. Yes, all adult Catholics have a responsibility to know and embrace our faith, especially if we expect to be able to pass it on to our children.

With this in mind, I encourage you to check out Archbishop Nienstedt’s column in the most recent edition of The Catholic Spirit – pick up a copy at church or go to TheCatholicSpirit.com  – for he has offered a great reflection on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, I am going to share his teaching in my column over the next couple of bulletins. I hope everyone will take serious this important responsibility for their continuing education in our Catholic faith.

Summer blessings, Fr. Brian

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Sacrament of reconciliation: Why confess to a priest?

— by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive is “Why do I have to tell my sins to a priest?” Actually, it is a great question because the answer to it involves the whole reason behind why Jesus established a Church and therefore, why we are Catholics after all.

You recall the scene in Matthew 16:13-20 when Jesus asks the apostles at Caesarea Philippi what people are saying about him. That episode includes Jesus saying to Simon: “I for my part declare to you, you are ‘Rock’ (“petrus”), and on this rock I will build my church…” In Matthew 18:20, Jesus in discussing prayer with his disciples tells them: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” Notice he didn’t say that when we are off on a mountainside or sitting beside a tranquil lake or even meditating alone in our room he would be present. No, Jesus proclaims that the only authentically verifiable place where we can be absolutely certain he is present is: “Where two or three are gathered” in his name.

Establishing his Church

From these and other scriptural texts we can be assured that Jesus intended to establish a Church as his abiding presence in the world. And, to be sure that it was his presence, he breathed on that Church his Holy Spirit the very evening of his resurrection. Again, notice carefully where he places the priority as he imparts the Holy Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them: if you hold them bound, they are held bound.” – John 20:22-23

“Binding and loosing” implies an outsider’s judgment; it requires therefore, the context of the Church, Jesus’ presence in the world.

(Tune in next week for part II of Arch-bishop’s reflection on Reconciliation.)