Friday, June 15, 2007

Where do Priests come from?


Where do priests come from? In the not so distant paste there seemed to be more than enough priests to go around. Those who are old enough to recall immediate post World War II America can remember dioceses building more and bigger seminaries to accommodate the seemingly vast number of men seeking the priesthood. It seemed to diocesan authorities at the time that the swelling river would never run dry. We entered the 60’s and the bountiful vocational rains ended. The river dried up. The Church in the United States began to experience a prolonged drought, and a vocational dust bowl. The great harvest of vocations failed. Is this the beginning of the end of the Church in the USA or is there hope?

What is the eternal fountainhead for the inspiration and nurturing of priestly vocations?

The latest statistical study by CARA concerning the sources of priestly vocations provides us with valuable statistical information. CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate based at Georgetown University, Washington DC, has produced a “2007Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood A Report to the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.” This survey concerns Ordinands of the USA only; the study was initially developed in 1998 by the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation.

The following highly significant statistics concerning the ordination class of 2007 in the USA are harvested form this survey. The statistics are not age specific unless otherwise indicated. 282 Ordinands responded to the survey. This represents a response rate of approximately 60 percent of the 475 potential Ordinands reported by theologates and houses of formation. These 282 Ordinands include 221 Ordinands to the diocesan priesthood and 60 to the religious priesthood.

80% of all those ordained were encouraged to consider the priesthood by a priest.

76% had been Altar Servers

78% had attended some type of vocation programs (offered by their diocese or religious orders)

70% received encouragement from one or more parent

20% were discouraged by family members (mother, father, or other)

7% were discouraged by priest or other clergy

77% reported they were Caucasian (of some European descent)

77% were United State citizens by birth

94% were Roman Catholic since infant Baptism

83% had parents who were both Roman Catholic

35% entered the Seminary from High School

64% entered the Seminary after some College

19% entered the Seminary with post Graduate Degrees

89% achieved Academic Honors in High School

37% achieved Academic Honors in College

35% graduated form College with honors (Magna or Summa Cum Laude)

51% attended Catholic Elementary School

36% attended Catholic High School (64% Public or other private schools)

44% attended Catholic College

68% had some full time work experience before seminary

20% had some Military Experience in the US armed forces.

72% listed Reading as a hobby or extra-curricular activity

57% listed Music as a hobby or extra-curricular activity

50% listed Exercise as a hobby or extra-curricular activity

44% listed Sports as a hobby or extra-curricular activity

It would be fair, given this report and other previous surveys, to conclude that the parents of most diocesan priests in the USA are both practicing Roman Catholics. The ordained mostly received Baptism as infants, attended Catholic School at some point in their education, were Altar Servers, and were involved in several other parish ministries or programs. They were encouraged to become priests by some significant person in their lives especially by priests and family members. They are intelligent and enjoy reading, music, and some sport. They also had some sort of work experience before entering the seminary. They are likely to have entered the seminary after some college education, while about a third entered immediately after high school.
(1% attended High School Seminaries).

Catholics throughout the United States are presently experiencing the shortage of priests at the parish level. They observe fewer and fewer priests are available to provide the services to which they have become accustomed. Parents and grandparents know that fewer young men are entering the seminary than when they were young. Some worry about the future of their local parish, because of the perceived priest shortage. They wonder where the priests they need come from will. Some hope older men that are more experienced will fill the void.

What about “delayed vocations” or second career vocations, will single men either widowed or never married answer the call? Will they perhaps retire from one profession or leave a profession to follow the call to priesthood they hear in the later hours? Certainly, there are such men, these vocations are to be sought out and encouraged. Blessed John XXIII National Seminary (BJNS), in Weston MA, is dedicated to the formation and education of these men leading to priestly ordination. The above survey includes these Ordinands as it includes all Ordinands in the USA in 2007. They are not an alternate source of priestly vocations beyond the scope of this survey. Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston founded this seminary in 1964, today 526 alumni priests serve in 94 dioceses across the United States. There are approximately 46,000 Catholic Priests in the USA. The active alumni of BJNS comprise about .011% of the total number of Priests serving in the USA.

In 2007, 476 priests were ordained in the USA. For example, seven priests were ordained for the Archdiocese of Boston in May 2007 one of these attended BJNS. The total ordination class of 2007 for BJNS was 16 priests for 13 dioceses and 1 religious congregation. These 16 Ordinands are .034% of the class of 2007. It is clear that the priests provided by “delayed vocations” are important for those dioceses and that religious congregation. Although, the number of priests ordained from this source for the United States is statistically tiny. Presently, “delayed vocations” do not provide large numbers of priests for the USA, nor are they likely to in the future, however this source deserves the full support of the Church.

The statistics of this survey do provide some useful information, that assists us to answer our question “where do priest come form” and what is the fountainhead for priestly vocations. We find priestly vocations among the Altar Servers of our parishes. They are among the intelligent active boys who are involved in this ministry. They are among those attending mass regularly, and having at least one supportive Catholic parent. The richest mine for vocations is where it has always been, among the Catholic families of our parishes whose sons are Altar Servers. Unfortunately, it is increasingly more difficult to mine for these vocations among fewer and fewer male Altar Servers.

Vocation directors and those interested in fostering priestly vocations have known for a very longtime that most priests were former Altar Servers. However, some current factors have almost closed this mine. The sexual abuse scandal and crisis in our church in the USA has created particular problems for the promotion of vocations. Reportedly, parish priests no longer feel free to mentor a promising young man in his vocational discernment.

Encouraging the participation of boys in the life of the church certainly remains possible, but it requires a specific charism. Not all parents, priests, teachers, coaches, and activity directors, have an ability to work with or understand the unique needs of young males. William Pollack, PhD in his New York Times bestseller, Real Boys (RB), and Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, PhDs in their book Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys argue that boys have their own particular emotional and spiritual challenges and needs. They convincingly demonstrate that not all educators or systems are conducive to their healthy psychological, spiritual, emotional, and educational development. In light of these needs and realities, it appears the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has made some decisions with the best of intentions that already and will continue to affect the number of young men entering the seminary.

US Catholic Bishops prior to the sexual abuse crisis had for years acted very much like all other institutional administrators, when faced with members, or employees, who were accused of sexually abusing young in their care. They minimized the effects the abuse would have on the victimized youth and maximized their efforts to protect the institution. This is exactly how one would expect bureaucracies to respond. The Church bureaucracies reacted like other bureaucracies. However, the Church holds itself to a different standard of perfection based on humility and truth incarnated in Jesus Christ the Lord, which it failed here to achieve.

The result of the sex abuse scandal, significant for a bountiful harvest of priestly vocations, is that parents are far less willingly to encourage their sons to become Altar Servers. They are less likely to entrust the spiritual growth and development of their boys to priests. The Cara Survey leads us to anticipate greater challenges promoting and developing vocations to the priesthood. This is of course compounded by the culture milieu in the USA with its exaggerated materialism and moral relativism already affecting the spiritual and religious lives of the young and their families.

To recapitulate, statistics confirm that the fountainhead of vocations to the priesthood is the Catholic family, which actively participates in the faith community, and which encourages the involvement of their sons in the ministries and activities of the parish especially the ministry of Altar Server. Fewer Catholic families are attending the Lord’s Day Eucharist and participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and fewer of these are encouraging their sons to be Altar Servers. Therefore, there are fewer Altar Servers. Unfortunately, this means fewer priests.

Although the numbers of priests being ordained seemed to have bottomed out and even in some places begun a slow but steady recovery, it is far from replacement levels. Fewer priests are being stretched further and further. This has unfortunately led to the clericalization of the laity as necessity forces them to fill in the gaps created by the lack of available priests, impacting negatively on the lives and mission of the laity.

Vatican II identified the proper role of the laity in the life of the Church. The church calls on her people to bear the light of Christ in those places and areas of responsibility that are not properly that of the clergy, such as within the family, civic community, work place, the realms of arts and sciences, and the athletic field. As St Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer would say, it is the vocation of the laity to preach the gospel in the “street.” The involvement of the laity in appropriate apostolates for their particular call to holiness is essential to the mission of the Church as the introduction to Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA) states “In this decree the Council seeks to describe the nature, character, and diversity of the lay apostolate, to state its basic principles, and to give pastoral directives for its more effective exercise. All these should be regarded as norms when the canon law, as it pertains to the lay apostolate, is revised.” In chapter, 1 the document quickly defines the apostolate of the ordained and the laity in its diversity and origins.
#2, c-d, “In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but an oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. However, the laity likewise shares in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore has their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.
They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, lives in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.”
Consequently, the assumption of those roles proper to the ordained by the laity is not a desirable outcome, such as presiding at “Communion Service” in the absence of priests. This has the undesirable effect of providing a false witness, that priests are not essential to the Celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Nor should the ordained assume roles, proper to the laity, distracting priests form their apostolate “the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power.” (AA, 2, c) It results in a confusion not only of the roles of the laity and ordained, but provides a disincentive for young men of generous hearts to offer themselves to the Lord in the priesthood. The priest shortage appropriately calls the local community to pray, work for, and encourage priestly vocations in their midst.

Now arises another serious difficulty, one that never before existed prior to 1995 in the Catholic Church. Its nature is different from the response of the Church to the sexual abuse of its children. However, it is a real disincentive to participation of boys in the ministry of Altar Server a spiritual and vocational gold mine. Introducing girls into this ministry, an exclusively male ministry predating the third century martyrdom of the boy Acolyte St. Tarsicius, has curtailed the number of boys willing or able to serve at the Lord’s Altar. Although this is not a zero sum problem, this reality requires a delicate balance, between the participation of girls in this ministry and the needs of the Church.

Some believe that the boys should be firmly corrected for their hesitancy or discomfiture. They should be encouraged to accept the participation of their sisters as Altar Servers. Yes, they should. Yet, there are very real reasons for these feelings among the boys and for loss of boys to this ministry.

The practical problem of numbers of Altar Servers is limited only by the organizational skills of the adults in charge. Therefore, the number of girls participating in the ministry does not necessarily mean that fewer boys can participate unless an artificial number is imposed on the program. There are deeper and more difficult obstacles for the boys to overcome.

Most males perceive religion and participation in church as feminine. They have a very deep spirituality, it is however, more difficult to get at than that of females who generally tend to be more openly spiritual. Boys require more encouragement and support in the habits of religion. They thrive on affirmation and wither on shame. It follows from Real Boys by William Pollack, PhD that the “Boy Code” of the USA and Western Culture in general is in part responsible. They are encouraged by this code to be tough and not to show their sensitive side. Pollack writes that pre-adolescent or adolescent “boys begin to harden themselves and to avoid any person or situation that might bring them shame. Perhaps an adolescent boy suffers the greatest humiliation when he violates the ‘Boy Code.’” (RB p.158) The same dynamics would apply to boys participating and competing with girls as Altar Servers.

As long as the ministry of Altar Server was a male prerogative, it was easier for a boy to participate in this ministry. It was a boy thing. This provided them with the necessary protection from their less religious peers. Altar Servers programs were developed by some priest to stress the sacrifice and service that this ministry required. Priests could even encourage the boys with titles such as Knights of the Altar or Knights of Christ. As demonstrated by the Boy Scouts boys love titles, visible signs of rank and reward. It became far more difficult to do this for the boys with the advent of girls as Altar Servers. Now their less religious peers who already doubted how masculine it was to attend church could harass them and shame them for being, shall we say, less than masculine. The language of their peers would be far more graphic and designed to cut deep. The temperature in the “peer pressure cooker” as Pollack refers to it could be turned way up. He writes, “Peers will (also) reproach or reject them if boys act in ways that appear feminine or that could possibly suggest homosexuality.” (RB p.158)

It is true that these harassments were hurled at boys before the scandal and before girl Altar Servers. However, some boys withstood the onslaught because the ministry of Altar Servers was something that they could do for God in a safe boys’ only club, similar to the Boy Scouts, but only church related. They had the support of their fellow Altar Servers. As an Altar Server, they could climb the ranks to positions of leadership and responsibility among their peers.

In addition, the findings of these psychological experts verify these observations.
Doctors Pollack, Kindlon, and Thompson all point out that the lower academic achievement of many boys of this age is due in part to their fear of competing for academic honors with or against girls. If they succeed, their peers will immediately ridicule them for being “girly boys.” It is not cool for boys in co-educational settings to try too hard to excel academically. All three doctors maintain that the co-educational public school system sets boys up for academic failure. They agree that boys perform academically better in an all boy educational environment. Many parents and teachers fail to consider this, when wondering why their intelligent son or student will not give school his best effort. It is safer for him to stay below the radar academically in middle school and high school. “’Once you’re thirteen or older, you can’t be the same person at school as you are at home. It’s not considered cool’” (RB p.158) There is a less shameful price to pay at the hands of disappointed parents and teachers than form the cruel enforcers of the “Boy Code.”

The result of all this is very predictable and understandable. There are fewer and fewer boy Altar Servers and hence a statistically shrinking pool of candidates for the seminary and the priesthood. Here is an illustrative example. Recently, an extremely fine priest celebrated a mass of thanksgiving for his sixtieth anniversary of ordination. Nearly seventy priests, two bishops and perhaps one thousand parishioners, family, and friends packed the church. The worthy Monsignor at the end of his homily told the assembly that he had hoped for three things during his 26 years as pastor. He hoped the Red Sox would win the World Series. Monsignor is a life long fan. They did win in 2004. He hoped to pay off the $3,300,000.00 debt on the new church. They still owed $900,000.00. Finally, he hoped that some young man from the parish would enter the seminary. In the long history of the parish no one had entered the seminary or been ordained form that parish. There still is none. Not one young man from that parish entered the Seminary during the 26 years of his pastorate. As Monsignor related this sad truth, the 5 Altar Servers sat and politely listened, four girls, and one boy.

Meanwhile, in another parish, with very similar demographics, during the recent six-year term of that pastor, two Altar Servers answered the call. One is already in seminary and one who will enter in September. They are from a parish that had not had a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Boston in its existence since 1855. Remember that the two Altar Servers who entered the seminary from this parish did so after and despite the “scandal” and the introduction of girl Altar Servers. Which indicates it can still be achieved. What made the difference? The Altar Servers’ program at this parish played an essential role in the development and discernment of the vocations of these two young men. It was a well-structured, disciplined, uniformed, spit and polish organization and the boys relished and thrived in it.

The task for priests and others interested in promoting vocations have been greatly compromised by the “scandal” and complicated by the introduction of girl Altar Servers. Girls began serving in the mid-nineties after the US bishops had received “permission” form Rome. The bishops, however, did not consider the affect it would have on the boys and the future of the priesthood. It was in their eyes a matter of fairness. It was un-American to discriminate against the girls. There were unintended effects.

In the USA, it is becoming ever more common to see only girls serving mass. Perhaps anecdotally, but also illustrative, St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican has only boy Altar Servers, in Italian Chierechetti or Piccolo Clero, both meaning “little cleric.” As they have for centuries, some of these boys will one day become priests. (Inside the Vatican, by Bart McDowell, National Geographic Society, Book Division, 1991, pages 18-21) No doubt, well intentioned bishops and chanceries wanted to include girls in this important ministry. Many Americans saw their exclusion as another example of the insensitivity of the Catholic Church towards girls and women. Traditions become such because over time they are seen to be meaningful and effective. They stand the test of time and experience. At least some traditions are in place for very good reasons. The tradition of male Altar Servers in the church grew out of its proximity to the priesthood. Boys and young men for centuries served mass for the ordained and frequently they were later ordained. Long before there were seminaries to educate and prepare young men for ordination, there were priests and altar servers. This rich vocational source is now seriously compromised.

The argument could be made that although there are fewer boy Altar Servers it does not necessarily follow that there will be fewer priests, because there will remain other points of contact with the boys and young men for vocation directors and the promoters of priestly vocations. For example, about 43% of all diocesan priests surveyed had some Catholic education on some level. This is true. However, it is made clear by the report that the respondents had multiple contacts with the church via family, mass attendance, serving mass, parish priest, and school. There is one place where multiple statistics intersect. That is at church. If a family faithfully attends Sunday Eucharist, and their son serves the liturgy the parish priest is much more likely to know him and his family. The priest is more able to recognize the possibility of a priestly vocation in that young man. This is certainly the experience of many priests as priests and as servers. Interestingly, young men who enter religious congregations and are ordained probably did so because that particular religious congregation taught at one of his schools. He would become familiar with it and with the Brothers and/or Priests teaching and administering the school. The statistics support this, 13% more Religious priests report having attended Catholic high school. However, 12% fewer attended Catholic colleges. The overall percentages are a statistical dead heat.

Attendance at Catholic School*
All Priests Diocesan Priests Religious Priests
Elementary 50% 51% 50%
High School 36 33 46
College 42 44 32
*Percentages sum to more that 100 because respondents could select more than one category.

It remains fair to say that the statistics support the conclusion that the real locus for vocational development and nurture remains the family and the local parish, and particularly the interaction of the Altar Servers with their priests. Conclusion, the advent of girl Altar Servers and the sexual abuse scandal- admittedly in very different ways- leaves the Roman Catholic Church in the USA vocationally challenged. The fewer families attending mass results in fewer boy Altar Servers and logically leads to fewer priests. While, girl Altar Servers tends to depress the number of boy Altar Servers and makes it more difficult for priests to encourage priestly vocations among them.

What are we the Church to do? In regards to girl Altar Servers, returning to the status quo ante is “politically” volatile. A few pockets of resistance exist here in the USA. (Two dioceses in the USA maintain the tradition of male only Altar Servers.) Those interested in promoting vocations to the priesthood will have to develop parish based Altar Server programs that take the nature, spirituality, and reality of the life of boys into consideration. At the same time, ministering to the spiritual needs of the girls and assisting them to find roles in the Church that take into consideration their femininity and their particular gifts and individual abilities.
“In the name of liberation from male "domination,” women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine "originality.” There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not "reach fulfillment,” but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness. In the biblical description, the words of the first man at the sight of the woman who had been created are words of admiration and enchantment, words which fill the whole history of man on earth.” (Emphasis in original)
Thus writes the great John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, (MD) chapter IV, section 10. What might this look like? What might a program that will encourage priestly vocations among the boys and at the same time include girls according to “their essential richness” look like?

Borrowing form the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts there would be a definite course of advancement in rank and responsibilities. An Altar Server might first be taught how to be crucifer (Cross bearer), then acolyte (candle bearer), book bearer, how to set the altar and how to assist the priest or deacon with the water and wine and the hand washing ritual. As the Altar Servers learned these elements of ministry, they would be recognized and given appropriate rank and title, e.g. Crucifer, Acolyte, Second Server, First Server. The servers in consultation with the priest or other adult coordinator could have input in choosing the head Altar Server, usually titled the Master of Ceremonies, or as at the Vatican the Dean of the Altar Servers. The girls would be included in this, which will cause some boys to hang back. However, structures like these appeal to boys and may assist them in overcoming their hesitancy. They will require constant and intentional affirmation by adult males. The priest and other involved laymen can provide this effectively for the boys. Older boys who have achieved the higher ranks and honors can in turn encourage and teach the younger ones. This is exactly what Baden Powell the founder of the Boy Scouts intended and how St John Bosco organized his “boys’ town” in Turin, Italy, which he referred to as the “Oratory,” a place for prayer.

The role of Dean or Master of Ceremonies could be reserved for one of the older boys. The vesture of the girl and boy Altar Server could be distinctive. The cassock (and surplice for liturgy) the traditional vesture for clerics and by extension of Altar Servers (Chierechetti, little clerics) could be retained as the church intends. The girls could be vested in albs or other vesture that they themselves would find more appealing and of similar appropriateness and quality.

All of this would be very much in line with the ancient traditions of the Church.
Redemptionis Sacramentum states the following:
“[44.] Apart from the duly instituted ministries of acolyte and lector, the most important of these ministries are those of acolyte and lector by temporary deputation.”
“47.] It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension. Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these. Associations for them, including also the participation and assistance of their parents, should be established or promoted, and in such a way, greater pastoral care will be provided for the ministers. (Emphasis mine) Whenever such associations are international in nature, it pertains to the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to establish them or to approve and revise their statutes. Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in observance of the established norms.”
“This Instruction, prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II in collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was approved by the same Pontiff on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, 19 March 2004, and he ordered it to be published and to be observed immediately by all concerned. From the offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Rome, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, 25 March 2004.” (Emphasis mine)
Remptionis Sacramentum encourages the preservation of the tradition of boys or young men serving at the altar and it recognizes the “acolytes” or “servers” as an ancient source of priestly vocations.
Let us reiterate what we are attempting to achieve, the promotion of priestly vocations among the boys of our parishes, while including girls in the ministry of Altar Server. The chief concern of those wishing to cultivate vocations to the priesthood should be both natural and supernatural solicitude for the human growth and development of the boys, among whom vocations to the priesthood will be found. Care for their human well-being precedes and is the foundation for the development of their universal call to holiness.
Remember as St Thomas Aquinas teaches grace builds on nature. Assisting the youth, male, and female, of our parishes to recognize and live out their universal call to holiness is one of the major responsibilities of the pastor and his collaborators. A fortiori how eager should the parish be in fostering priestly vocations among its boys and young men? Those among them who recognize their universal call to holiness will become the good soil in which the seeds of a priestly vocation can germinate. These can in turn be transplanted to the seminary, literally a place for seedlings.
The parish priests and their collaborators for the good of the Church will also be sensitive to the special needs of the girls and encourage them to follow their particular vocations. Encouraging them to be faithful to the teaching Magisterium of Church, which will lead them to find their proper roles in the Church, modeled on the indispensable role of Mary the mother of God. We can do no better than consider the words of the late great John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem.

“7. We must (now) focus our meditation on virginity and motherhood as two particular dimensions of the fulfillment of the female personality. In the light of the Gospel, they acquire their full meaning and value in Mary, who as a Virgin became the Mother of the Son of God. These two dimensions of the female vocation were united in her in an exceptional manner, in such a way that one did not exclude the other but wonderfully complemented it…
“Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self… Motherhood… brings about - on the woman's part - a special "gift of self “
“20. In the teaching of Christ, motherhood is connected with virginity, but also distinct from it… On the basis of the Gospel, the meaning of virginity was developed and better understood as a vocation for women too, one in which their dignity, like that of the Virgin of Nazareth, finds confirmation. The Gospel puts forward the ideal of the consecration of the person, that is, the person's exclusive dedication to God by virtue of the evangelical counsels: in particular, chastity, poverty, and obedience.”

It would be of incalculable value to families, civil society, and the Church, for girls and young women to receive catechesis, concerning their singular and necessary vocation as future mothers or consecrated religious. Integrating their lives into the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church will also open up for them the rich possibilities of lay apostolate. Religious Education, Youth Ministry, along with Sacramental preparation, for First Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmation all have a place in the spiritual development of the youth of the parish, therefore also in the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Boys need encouragement, form older males, and their peers who are already Altar Servers, to dare to serve the Lord at His Altar. If they are convinced, they are being brave and are fighting a spiritual battle against evil they will respond. Boys love uniforms, pomp, and circumstance the church has plenty to offer them in this regard. St John Bosco always stressed frequent Holy Communion and Confession with his boys, we should not be afraid to do the same. Catechizing the all Altar Servers concerning the Eucharist and Liturgy will enhance their understanding and participation. The encouragement and good example of frequent confession will enrich their lives of grace, assist them in developing a Catholic conscience, and is essential for their vocational discernment and salvation.
Although the promotion of priestly vocations is far more difficult today for all the reasons argued above, it is still by God’s grace possible. It is needed now as much as at anytime in the history of the Church. Some parishes are producing good vocational fruit; they are the branches vitally connected to Christ the vine. These faith communities pray constantly for priestly and religious vocations, at liturgy and in private devotions.
There is an opportunity here to reestablish the dignity and reverence that were once important characteristics of the ministry of Altar Servers. This in itself will benefit all of the young people involved. It will also produce the harvest of vocations promised by our Lord himself, who has asked us to pray to the master of the harvest, to send workers into His vineyard. There is reason to hope, God will not abandon His church.
Where do priest come from? They come from good Catholic families and especially from their sons who are dedicated Altar Servers, involved in faithful and prayerful parish communities. Although statistics demonstrate that most Altar Servers will not enter Seminary College, the spiritual and religious formation provided for them during the years of ministry will enable them to navigate more successfully their college years. It will assist them in the discernment of God’s loving plan for them and prepare them to accept the grace of a priestly or religious vocation if it has been placed on their hearts by the Lord. Let us continually entreat the Lord of the harvest to provide us all with the grace to achieve His will. The Lord continues to call generous young men to follow Him as priests. Let us do what we can to support and encourage them. As Don Bosco would say to his boys “Corragio,” take courage.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hell on Earth:

A second look at the events at Virginia Tech


We Americans are problem solvers and fixers. We are pragmatic and practical. Our technologies afford us an unprecedented standard of living that nearly stretches to he outer margins of our society. It is true that poverty stubbornly exists in our nation; however, it traps a smaller proportion of our neighbors than at anytime in history. We are among the wealthiest nations. By classic military reckoning, we are the most powerful nation in history. We have seldom been afraid to tackle big problems. Our success has been phenomenal, our development in historical terms, rapid. Yes, these are generalities, but generally, they are true.

We are however an impatient people, this is a result of our sudden successes. We expect to do everything quickly and efficiently. We complain when we have to wait in line for anything. Our lightening victory in the Gulf War led us to believe that we could achieve similar victory in the Gulf War II. Our military actually completed its mission, despite communication difficulties, confusing and problematic ROE (Rules of Engagement), troop, and equipment shortages, preparation for conventional tank warfare with the Republican Guard, while having to fight asymmetrical warfare with the Fedeyen of Saddam Hussein.
Unfortunately, the nation builders it seems made disastrous decisions after the rapid fall of Baghdad, such as total demobilization and dissolution of the Iraqi army and antiseptic de-Bathification of the civil service. These decisions are painfully pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.

Presently, our collective impatience is on display in the aftermath of the hellacious slaughter of 32 Virginia Tech (VTech) students with their professors and the wounding of 15 others. Commencing only hours after this hellacious event, we rushed to explain why or how something like this could happen in Blacksburg, Virginia. How could this happen on a college campus? How could this happen in the USA? The day following this heinous act, news commentators were already reporting our desire to put this hellacious historical moment behind and move on. Grieving is a process, healthiest when neither rushed nor prolonged.

Immediately and collectively, we looked for someone or “someone’s” to blame. The State of Virginia failed us; it does not have tough enough gun laws. The VTech administration failed us; it waited too long to alert the campus. The courts failed us; they did not commit the subject to a psychiatric hospital. The perpetrator’s parents failed us; they did a lousy job raising him. America failed us; it is a violent fascist society. This approach is neither helpful nor healing. None of these answers is even close to satisfactory. Worse, they lead us in the wrong direction. Assessing blame does not solve the problem. Society’s eagerness to place blame on someone, to punish someone, is its attempt to regain the illusion of control over its environment. Will this somehow give us closure and make us safe? Will it bring healing and peace?

No, it will not. It is humanly impossible to provide the degree of safety that we are presently demanding from whomever we consider responsible for such arrangements. For example, the security protocols that are now in place intended to make our air flights safe from terrorists are little more than placebos. Build a better mousetrap and you educate the mice. United Flight 93 did more to make flying safe than all of the ground security and technology, which was impotent to prevent airliners from flying into the intended targets of suicidal terrorists. Do any of us believe that the locks we place on the doors of our homes really make us safe? They give us a feeling of security but it is an illusion. Such things do not deter the determined thief. Locks help keep honest people honest. True, we should not rush to dismiss their anxiety relieving properties. They enable us to function in a world that seems so randomly dangerous. However, our pursuit of perfect safety is problematic when we engage in pathological hunts for scapegoats. We need understanding not blame. Blame is not a healing balm.

There is only one person responsible for the hellacious murders at VTech. Cho Seung –Hui pulled the trigger he is responsible. The question we need to answer is how did this young man become the greatest mass murderer in the history of our nation? The pursuit of greater understanding and the answer to this question requires a very different approach and a very different analytical tool. Theology is that tool. This is essentially a theological and anthropological question.

We live in an increasingly secularized culture. Let us define the term “secularized” as a set of values, mores, and behaviors biased against any public role for theology, religion, or God. Western culture, the putative culture of Europe, the United States, Canada, and Mexico increasingly marginalizes and decreasingly refers to its Christian roots for determining its mores and values. (I do not believe this is so in other South American countries.) As a people, we in the USA find it evermore difficult to acknowledge the historical reality that our nation once had a moral consensus based on the Judeo-Christian tradition; it was actually a bible-based ethic. This cultural disintegration is even further along in the nations of the European Union.

It was on the strength of this traditional ethic that Thomas Jefferson claimed the unalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence. It is on this traditional ethic that the founding fathers constructed our republican form of government enshrined in the US Constitution. It was to this ethic the abolitionist movement appealed. It was on this ethic that Martin Luther King, Jr. based his claims for civil rights “for all God’s Children.” It is on this ethic that anti-abortion pro-life voices base their hope. Certainly, our moral consensus is now shattered. As Alasdair Mac Intyre points out in After Virtue, the West has experienced a cultural cataclysm that somehow went unnoticed. We now live on the shattered remains of Western Christian culture. Does this biblical Judeo-Christian tradition, preserved by the remnant, still have anything to offer us in these morally desperate times? Can it assist us in our attempts to understand the significance of the hellacious murders at VTech on the morning of April 16, 2007? It most certainly can.
Purposely and continually, we have referred here to the murders of that day as “hellacious.” For that is exactly what they are. They are a manifestation of Hell on earth. For those 32 people who faced the muzzle of a gun in the last moments of their lives, for the 15 others who were wounded, and could have been murdered, for the parents, siblings, extended families, friends, and fellow students of those who were slaughtered and wounded and for the nation it was and is hellacious.

“Hellacious” how was it so? Metaphorically, yes but far more than that. What is hell? Does hell exist? Yes, Hell exists if there is a God. However, there is a God. Therefore, hell exists. Those who are in absolute union with God are “in heaven.” More precisely, they are in the “state of being” in union with infinite love, which is God. Those absolutely separated from God are “in hell.” More precisely, they are in the “state of being” absolutely separated from infinite love, which is God. We can experience heaven and hell on earth. We are not only rational beings. We are also relational beings. God fashioned us in His image. According to Christian theology, God is an infinite Trinitarian relationship of love among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created us in his own image for loving relationships with one another and Him. Christ commanded us to live in this love.

The secular authorities seek to lay blame. Who was responsible? How many were involved? What should they have done? All of this is accomplished with 20/20 hindsight. What was unpredictable is infallibly explained. Secular experts rely on sociological and psychological sciences to provide rational answers. They point out that the perpetrator acted irrationally. They declare he who acts in this manner as mentally ill. They affix an appropriately label and prescribe a course of treatment. The professionals may attempt an explanation of the etiology of this particular pathology, pointing to genetics or environment, the old nature versus nurture debate is restated. However, they cannot tell us exactly why other similarly afflicted folks do not act out in a similar fashion. They cannot answer this question accurately, because mental illness is not the ultimate cause of this hellacious behavior.

There are other factors involved that secular scholars cannot address. These factors belong to the spiritual realm. They lie just beyond the grasp of sociological and psychological analysis. Theology alone is capable of examining these spiritual factors and providing answers to the ultimate question, why. Theology provides the possibility of a deeper more satisfactory explanation. The examination of the reality of Sin in creation, which God declared “good,” is beyond the scope of social science. The theological concept of Original Sin is capable of making evil intelligible and providing a remedial diagnosis. Original Sin is a perfectly rational theological explanation for the presence of evil in the world. We have the ability under the rubric of Original Sin to understand the presence of evil in our hearts and in a world created by a loving God. Original Sin, the original willful disobedience of Adam and Eve separated them and their progeny from God. Sin is a separator. We have been separated from God by Original Sin and our personal sins. Therefore, the entire world and we stand in need of Salvation. We need a Savior. God Himself promised that He would send one. Christians believe that Jesus Christ, the son of God is that Savior.

The founding fathers of our national independence and our constitution at a minimum were sympathetic to this theology, if not believers themselves. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were fashioned by men who understood both the strength and weaknesses of their fellow citizens. The Declaration of Independence pointed out the abuses of power and the violation of their rights by the British Crown. The Constitution was an inspired attempt to establish ordered liberty, in which freedom of religion could flourish. This right was so important that it was specifically enumerated in the first of ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. However, even this noble document was infected. Although, many founding fathers understood the inherit evil, they felt the need to compromise for the sake of the commonweal. It would take a bitter bloody civil war to right this wrong of constitutionally sanctioned slavery.

Even with a Savior, we are still able by our own choices to separate ourselves form God and to do so absolutely. This is the definition of Hell. Total separation form love, which is God. God does not condemn us to Hell, everlasting separation from Him; we sentence ourselves by our own choices.

Cho Seung-Hui was an example of a human being who was already in hell on earth in as much as he had separated himself from all relationships with God and with humanity. He had separated himself from love. Sources consistently described him as completely isolated. High school classmates of Cho, whose name they did not know, never observed him speaking to anyone nor acknowledging the presence of others around him. Reportedly, he associated with no one during his high school years. Those who saw him in high school and later at VTech saw him as a young man without any friends whatsoever. Not even the three students who shared the dormitory quad with him at VTech knew his name. He signed into class with a question mark (?). The little he participated in his classes frightened and disturbed others.

It is difficult for us to imagine the torment in which Cho lived. We all know how it feels to loose a friend due to a misunderstanding or an offence perceived or real. We have all felt isolated or unloved at times. Have we ever been alone without any relationships? Cho lived in this void for most of his life, if the facts related are accurate. He was utterly alone. He experienced hell on earth. He was in a hellacious state of being. His choices put him there long before he pulled the triggers of his semi-automatic pistols. He had literally excommunicated himself from the company of God and man. Was he irredeemable? It is too late to know. However, it seems that he was on an irreversible course for several years.

His total isolation tormented him. Cho blamed those around him for this excruciating spiritual pain. Eventually this agony became insufferable. He had to end it. His pain had reached critical mass. He desired self-annihilation. He planed his death. Some theologians reason that the greatest suffering for the devil is its being. The evil one sees in its being the image of being itself, which is God. The devil would self annihilate if it could, in order to destroy the image of God in its own being. As a spiritual being, it cannot. Therefore, the evil one seeks to destroy the image of God in creation, in us. Cho desired to destroy himself and to take with him his perceived tormentors.

He left us a record of his “justification” that accused his fellow students as self-centered debauchers, the cause of his pain, and the reason for his actions. It was their fault. He accused them before God. They would pay.
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.’” Rev 12:10 NAB

Cho Seung-Hui purchased his weapons, planned the day, and with complete detachment and inexorable determination executed 32, wounded 15 then he calmly turned the weapon on himself. It is highly unlikely that anyone could have anticipated exactly what form this young man’s self-destructive behavior would take. However, if we can make room for theological thought and analysis in the public forum, as once our founding fathers did, we will (I believe) be better able to recognize in others and ourselves the signs of the spiritual darkness that surrounded and separated this young man from God and his fellow human beings. It provides us with a vocabulary that will enable us to describe, discuss, and understand the otherwise indescribable and incomprehensible. Why are there suffering, tragedy, and death in the world? Why did these young people suffer such a horrible death?

Suffering and death entered the world with Sin, not as a punishment but consequently. God did not create us to suffer and die, but to live with one another and with Him in love forever. Sin disrupted God’s plan for us and for all creation. Suffering became necessary for our salvation.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. “ 2Cor 5:21

Bad things happen to good people, because Sin has entered the world. People do not always treat one another with love as Christ taught. Sin is corrupting. It does not destroy our nature, but it greatly affects it. Sin isolates us form our true self, form one another and from God. Ultimately, all suffering is due to Sin, often because of sinful men, at other times due to disharmony in nature. Original Sin has affected all creation and all creation was redeemed in Christ.
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Rom 8:19-23

The corruption of Sin also has entered creation. It is no longer a harmonious whole subject to the spirit of God. A disconnect exists as in man qua man with God. Man is part of nature; therefore, nature as well is disconnected from God. In man, body wars against intellect and intellect against man’s will and his will against God. The proper harmony and hierarchy can only be restored by grace through Christ, who is God’s son become man and thus part of creation as well. What has been assumed by the incarnation has been redeemed.

The consequences of Sin appear in the headlines of our daily paper and are now visible 24 hours a day on cable news stations. We usually fail to recognize the underlying evil and sinfulness until an event of monstrous proportions such as this one wrenches us from our spiritual unconsciousness. Theological analysis of culture and current events has the potential also to facilitate constructive engagement with adversaries. As it, assisted Gandhi and the cause of independence for India, and as it assisted Martin Luther King Jr. in his righteous civil rights movement.

Obviously, we live in a culture that rejects too readily the things of the spirit as having no relevance to our civic lives. Our nation’s history and hellacious events such as these make the opposite claim in a terrifyingly powerful way.

Why Confess?

A Reflection on the Sacrament of Reconciliation


In the original spiritual saga, “The Quest for the Holy Grail” 150 knights set out from King Author’s court in search of the Holy Grail. Only three succeeded, only three achieved the “Grail.” Why was this? Before all these marvelous knights set out on this highest of all quests, the “white monk” addressed all the knights with these words.

“Hear my words, my lord knights of the Round Table, who have vowed to seek the Holy Grail! Nascien the hermit sends you word by me that none may take maid or lady with him on this Quest without falling into mortal sin; nor shall anyone set out unless he be shriven or seek confession, for no man may enter so high a service until he is cleansed of grievous sin and purged of every wickedness. For this is no search for earthly things but a seeking out of the mysteries and hidden sweets of Our Lord and the divine secrets which the most high Master will disclose to that blessed knight whom He has chosen for His servant from among the ranks of chivalry: He to whom He will show the marvels of the Holy grail, and reveal that which the heart of man could not conceive nor tongue relate.”

The three knights who achieved the Holy Grail were sirs Galahad, Percival, and Bors. They among all their peers were successful because they heeded the instructions of “Nascien” from the lips of the “white monk.” They confessed their sins before beginning their quest and kept themselves pure and chaste throughout their Quest for the Holy Grail. They took every opportunity during their journeys and adventures to receive absolution, confessing their sins and to receive the Holy Eucharist from the hands of every priest that God placed along their path. This enabled them to resist all temptations to act impurely or unchastely, and to act honorably in all their adventures. Sir Galahad was considered the most holy of all the knights because he never sinned against purity or chastity, neither before nor during his quest. He was the most honorable of knights in every situation. He was seen as a reflection of the perfection of Jesus Christ the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Percival and Bors confessed their sins against purity and chastity and conquered all temptations against all holy virtues during their quest and for the remainders of their lives.

The lessons here are very powerful especially if we consider the other 147 knights who failed in their Quest for the Holy Grail. Most perished in their attempts or returned to court in shame. Each of us is actually on the same quest as the knights of the Arthur’s Court. Baptism was our first commissioning sending us forth in life to seek holiness all the days of our lives. We were strengthened in our Quest by the anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. The best of spiritual guides urge us to receive frequent and regular absolution for our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and at least weekly the Sacrament of the Eucharist on the Lords Day. In this way, we imitate Sirs Galahad, Percival, and Bors. All Catholics have an obligation to seek holiness. They are encouraged by the church to confess their sins regularly and to confess all serious sins as soon as possible to be “worthy” to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Our individual quests though different are at the deepest level the same. Essentially, we seek perfection in the particular call we have received from God be it as layman or priest, which is the quest for the grail, the quest for holiness.

It is very difficult for us at times to confess our sins. The reasons are common to all. We are generally afraid to confess our sins because we are ashamed. This is a trick of the evil one to keep us from God’s forgiveness. The evil one tempts us to think that our sins are too awful to confess to a priest. He sometimes tempts us to rationalize our sins away, to excuse our failings, or to believe that our sins are not sins at all, because so many others do the same things. Remember that the evil one is the father of lies. Satan and his minions both human and fallen angelic are not dedicated to the truth. They are committed to convincing us that there is no truth. Therefore, we can decide for ourselves what is good and evil. “The serpent,” which tempted Adam and Eve, has tempted all men and women born in original sin, in this same manner. Adam and Eve committed the primal offence against the majesty of God the only author of Truth. We have inherited this sin in our damaged nature. We repeat this sin whenever we refuse to confess our sins or deny their very existence.

Here are some reasons that may keep us from the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
1. Fear and shame, keep us away from this healing sacrament because we are afraid of what the priest might say or how he may react to our sins. We some how have convinced ourselves that the priest will be angry with us or scold us for our sins. We are ashamed of our weakness manifested by our sins. Truly, anger is a rare response of any priest. It is actually a good idea for this reason to confess our sins to a priest who knows us; he will realize that we are more than our sins.

2. We have convinced our selves that our sins are not sins. We rationalize them away and try to convince ourselves that the church, which has 2000 years of knowledge and experience concerning human nature, is wrong and some how “I” am correct. This is very much in the evil spirit of the Original Sin that we are tempted to commit repeatedly. In this way, the evil one keeps us from the forgiveness of God and His healing grace. We can combat this with humility, which enables our consciences to reveal the truth to us and enable us to humble our selves before the priest who in Persona Christi lovingly and mercifully waits to absolve our sins.

3. We have been away from confession for so many months and even years that we cannot bring ourselves to overcome the inertia or the accumulative resistance of our shame and guilt. It is time for us to remember that shame and guilt does not come form God but from ourselves and the evil one who scripture says stands before God day and night (always) accusing us. The evil one wants us to be in this petrified condition for as long as possible even unto death, so that we will never ask for forgiveness for our sins and thus be his forever, separated form God by our sins for eternity.

All of the above are related and intertwined. The remedy as always is the grace of God. Relying on His grace, we can overcome all these obstacles to the forgiveness of our sins. We need only ask for that grace. The Lord will indeed hear and answer our prayers for the strength and humility to confess our sins. The priest will certainly be impressed with the courage we exhibit in confessing our sins completely and sincerely not holding anything back from the light and forgiveness of Christ.

Let us pray for one another that we will have the grace to confess our sins allowing no place in our hearts and souls for sin to hide or evil take root. Let us shine the light of Christ into the hidden corners of our souls and allow no darkness to remain. We will then experience the joy of forgiveness and the healing of our souls, just as the prodigal son who returned to His loving Father. Our Father in heaven stands waiting, and watching for our return home with arms wide open to embrace us with His love and forgiveness.

Romans 13:9-14

For your Reflection, the foundational scripture for the Equiets Lux Sacra

Romans 13: 9 - 14

9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, (namely) "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
In addition, do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
The night is advanced the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness.
Let us put on the armor of light.
Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

A Reflection on the Seven Deadly Sins


The Church entreats us for the well-being of our souls and selves to “turn from sin and cling to the Gospel.” In the secularized world in which we live and act, it is very difficult for us even to know when we sin. The world frequently encourages us to “sin,” pointing out the alleged benefits of this or that “sin.” It does not of course call it sin. Very little is forbidden. Although our secularized culture is not monolithic, if it were, it would be totalitarian in nature. Most morality is legalistic. What is not prohibited by law is generally acceptable or approved. Nothing is malum in se. Some things are malum prohibitum. For public ethics, God is largely discounted. For the individual some personal notion of God is relevant; however, the individualized notion of God, a designer God, does not result in a moral consensus for the culture at large. God is what “I” believe he/she/it is. In effect, the individual creates God. Genesis has been inverted. The result is an individualized notion of good and evil. Man is now the measure of all things the promise of Original Sin moral kaos is fulfilled.

This moral kaos is reflected in the media saturated culture that is always selling more than is advertised. The world encourages us in almost every advertisement to pamper ourselves, to acquire this or that thing and to maximize our sexuality to attract the super model (or partner of our choice). If we purchase this car, these clothes, and this cologne, we will be so attractive that we will be “chick magnets.” Restaurants often advertise all you can eat specials and super portions. Television programs and movies often present “get even” plots. It seems at times that our entire socio-economic system is based on “get all I can for me and the He*& with everyone else.” While it encourages us to do only what we absolutely need to do as if idleness is the ultimate achievement, “oh to be able to do nothing.”

In reality, that is reality in relation to God, all these things are temptations leading to the Seven Deadly Sins, sins that truly have the potential to deaden our souls by separating us from our true selves and form God. It seems the Seven Deadly Sins no longer terrify us. They are so common that we may not even be aware of them. They have become so much of our “post Christian” culture that they present themselves as “virtues” rather than self-destructive vices. (We assume that Christianity no longer informs our culture. We now live in a secularized or “post Christian” culture.) Perhaps it would be well for us to review the Seven Deadly Sins and their contrary Virtues that will help us courageously confess them and combat them in our daily lives. This is no esoteric exercise. The Seven Deadly Sins are truly deadly to our spiritual lives. They are extremely self-destructive. We can observe this in the wasted lives of many young people who have been incarcerated or who wonder our streets homeless, addicted, and exploited by those who prosper from their misery.

We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ has by his death and resurrection conquered this world and the evil one. We are not afraid, because His grace is available to us powerfully in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. We are His by virtue of our Baptism, which makes us members of the body of Lord Jesus Christ. For the Christian the origin of morality is found in this membership. We are no longer our own, by Baptism we belong to Christ, our bodies are members of his body, and so we are called to act accordingly.

We are to live in the light and not the darkness. Yet, the darkness is alluring to our “fallen nature.” Something in us because of Original Sin makes us susceptible to its dark charms. To overcome the darkness we must name the darkness. To name the darkness is to have power over it. If we know sin for what it really is, we are empowered by God’s grace ultimately to conquer it in our own lives and to help one another to do the same. This is truly an adventure of faith, hope, and love worthy of the Christian.

Therefore, we name the darkness, the Seven Deadly Sins, without fear. They are Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, and Sloth.
The contrary virtues are Humility, Kindness, Abstinence, Chastity, Patience, Generosity, and Diligence.

The first of these is PRIDE. Pride is the root of all sin. In fact, it is the Original Sin of Adam and Eve; as such, it lurks behind every sin. Adam and Eve believed the serpent who told them that if they ate from the tree of knowledge they would be like God. They would know for themselves what is good and evil and therefore could decide for themselves what would be good and evil, without reference to God. This is the ultimate sin of PRIDE. All sin finds its purchase in our desire to decide for ourselves what is right or wrong, good or evil. Perhaps PRIDE is the sin that is most characteristic of our age. Our “post Christian” culture emphatically proclaims that there is no absolute truth, no absolute good, or evil. This renders God irrelevant. “I” will decide for me what is sinful and what is not. We claim this prerogative of God for ourselves. This has actually become a duty, a modern right of passage. Young people in their formative years are encouraged to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. They are not encouraged to discover the truth, which is to be found in the eternal verities, rather than in their fleeting emotions or passions. In Paradise Lost, Milton rightly characterizes the sin of Lucifer as pride. The formidable “Non Serviam” of Satan echoes from eternity through history and is found in the essence of all deadly sin.

Guided by faith reason comes to know the truth, which is Jesus Christ. Faith allows us to have a high degree of confidence in the Church founded by Christ on Peter and the Apostles, which teaches and proclaims an ethic based on His truth. Ps 34:2 “My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.”

HUMILITY is the antidote to pride. HUMILITY is the virtue that we can exercise little by little to overcome pride the root of all sin. What is HUMILITY? HUMILITY is truth. It is seeing ourselves as God sees us. It is not self-degradation; it is not a denial of our gifts and talents. It is recognizing that all the good in us is from God, to whom we are grateful and all evil in us is from us, which we pray God to assist us to defeat in the spiritual combat. HUMILITY grows like a muscle. The more it is exercised the stronger it becomes, if properly feed by prayer and the sacraments.

ENVY the Second Deadly Sin is closely allied to pride. ENVY finds its roots in pride, because it desires the status or abilities of others so that it may be greater then they. ENVY cannot stand the subordinate position. It cannot tolerate the achievements of others. ENVY is a zero sum vice; it views every success and achievement of others as an insufferable failure and loss for itself. It therefore harbors and nurtures resentment and revenge. The other must be minimized so that ENVY may be maximized. ENVY is never satiated. The other is always a potential threat.

KINDNESS and humility can overcome envy. A truly humble person rejoices in the accomplishment of others and looks for ways to assist others in their search for perfection. KINDNESS anticipates the needs of the other. A humble and kind person is free to enjoy their own successes and achievements as well those of the other without resentment or jealousy. A humble and KIND person is joyful. He knows who he is before God and rejoices in God’s kindness to him. He is thus empowered by grace to be KIND to others.

GLUTTONY in food and drink is the Third Deadly Sin. GLUTTONY has its stomach as its god. Those who are blessed with abundance can misuse and abuse it ruining their physical and spiritual health. There are countless examples in our over indulgent culture of addictions to food and drink. The GLUTTONOUS have lost their ability to manage the quantity and quality of the food and drink they consume. They have perverted what was intended to sustain life and make it pleasurable. The secular culture encourages us to indulge in all sorts of culinary and liquid delights. Food and drink is necessary for our physical wellbeing. Dinning with friends is socially beneficial and nearly sacramental. Jesus himself performed his first public miracle at a wedding reception turning water into fine wine. John 2:9-10” When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."
The abuse of the good characterizes many deadly sins.

ABSTINENCE is the virtue that can counter the abuse of food and drink that is gluttony. Temperance is an aspect of ABSTINENCE. From time to time for the good of the soul, abstaining from certain food or drink may strengthen the will, promote temperance, and enhance their proper and healthy enjoyment. There is a growing awareness in our culture that “gluttony” known by a gentler name “over eating” is a health risk. Many products come with warnings concerning their consumption. These changing attitudes in our secular cultural is neither the recognition of the vice of gluttony nor of the virtue of ABSTINENCE, but rather a result of our cultures “worship” of the physical body. It is a purely secular movement to improve our health and make us more attractive. It is not intended to assist growth in virtue or holiness. The goal of “body worship” for some is to become more desirable as objects of the Fourth Deadly Sin.

LUST according to Jesus himself is certainly a deadly sin. Mt 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
In our culture, this saying of Jesus has become a joke. However, Jesus was deadly serious. It is well to remember that according to Jewish Law in the time of Jesus adultery was a sin punishable by death. Jesus wants us to be aware that LUST leads to spiritual death. We can easily recall the story of the women caught in adultery who Jesus saved from being stoned to death, forgave her sins, and told her Jn 8:11 “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."
St Paul warned the Corinthians, 1Cor 6:9-11 do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Our secular culture deceives many into thinking that LUST is to be encouraged and gratified. Paul lists sins of gluttony and greed as cohabiters with LUST. Where there is LUST, the other Deadly Sins are not far behind. This vice has become a way of life in our culture. It is common to find “couples” living together and “enjoying” the privileges of marriage without being married. Fornication (pre-marital sex) has been discounted as sin. Euphemisms take the edge off sin. Couples are no longer “living in sin,” they are simply “living together.” To have a “boy friend” or a “girl friend” often means to have a willing sex partner. Virginity no longer means abstaining from sexual relations (for the sake of the kingdom of God), it means limiting sexual relations to oral sex, mutual masturbation, and all forms of sexual activity other than vaginal penetration. It is arguable that those who desire to live according to the teachings of Jesus in this age find it more challenging than in any previous age. One of the myriad reasons for this is the Internet. The internet has the potential for tremendous good and proportionally tremendous evil. The vicarious gratification of LUST is only a website way. The sites dedicated to enabling masturbatory activities are as numerous as the stars. What is a Christian to do in the midst of this world of “available” flesh?

CHASTITY has become a discredited virtue. Some contemporary thinkers consider CHASTITY “unnatural.” They characterize it as a negation of our “natural” impulses, instincts, and desires. What has been forgotten is original sin, which disorders our desires. All sin flows from the effects of original sin, because our bodies created “good” by God are no longer properly ordered to our minds. Our minds are no longer properly ordered to our wills, and our wills are no longer properly ordered to the will and design of God. Remember pride is the original sin. Adam and Eve by this original sin of pride declared their independence from God. We now are likewise tempted to decide what is right and wrong, good and evil for us. There is perhaps nowhere that this decision is more evident than in our own self-designed individualized sexual morality. 2Tim 4: 3 “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” CHASTITY is properly understood as that virtue that empowers us to follow God’s design and will for our sexuality, and the sake of the kingdom of God, our spiritual growth, and development, and for the sanctification of husband, wife, and children in the CHASTITY of marital fidelity. This virtue grows like all virtues by exercise. Every time a lustful thought is resisted, every time a lustful temptation is restrained, we grow in CHASTITY and in grace. St Paul and many other saints such as St Augustine, St Francis, St Thomas Aquinas, St John Bosco, and the teenage St Dominic Savio, all understood that without CHASTITY there is no spiritual growth. Lust truly deadens the soul.

As St Paul wrote (1Cor 6:9-11 above) many deadly sins accompany lust, pride, envy, gluttony, and sloth are all fellow travelers. At times, they even prepare the way for lust. Abuse of drugs and alcohol often lead to lust in thought, word, and deed. Sometimes these other vices are the purposeful means to the lustful end.

Christians, however, are called to a different “Way.” Rom 13:12-14”The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh (NIV has “sinful nature”).”

In the medieval spiritual classic The Quest for the Holy Grail, the Knights of the Round Table are admonished and advised by the white monk that unless they live Chaste lives and receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist often that they will not achieve the Grail the object of their Quest.

In Rom 13:12-14, we again see St Paul associate other Deadly Sins with sexual immorality; one, “dissension” is related to ANGER the Fifth Deadly Sin. ANGER or WRATH is that vice that prefers fury to love and forgiveness. The emotion of ANGER or WRATH is not the sin. Rather the preference for fury or the acting out of this ANGER in a violent or destructive manner is. ANGER is capable of consuming and even destroying the one who is ANGRY as well as the object of the ANGER. All too many so-called reformers are actually proud, envious, and ANGRY people, who in their self-righteousness demand the pound of flesh of The Merchant of Venice. They will not be deterred from their revenge forgetting the word of the Lord. Rom 12:19 “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

We are familiar with the modern Star Wars saga. A reoccurring and unifying theme through out the episodes is the necessity to resist the “Dark Side,” the ANGER. Anakin Skywalker gives into the “Dark Side” and becomes the personification of evil, Darth Vader. While his son Luke Skywalker eventually resists the Anger, the “Dark Side” and by the virtuous use of the “force” saves himself and his father. The perfect example of not giving into ANGER, even when “justified” is Jesus Christ our Lord Himself who despite all of the ANGER and WRATH directed against him during his public ministry climaxing in his scourging and crucifixion refused to curse His enemies. Instead, He prays Lk 23:34 "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Jesus saves the world by not giving into ANGER. His infinite patience with his persecutors and with all of us sinners makes our salvation possible and gives us an example of the remedial virtue.

PATIENCE empowers us to withhold our anger and wrath. “Patience is a virtue,” says the oft-quoted proverb. Pr 19:11 “A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”
God does this for us always, so that we may do the same for each other. The parable of the impatient and greedy servant who had no patience with his fellow servant, although his master was patient and forgiving with him is instructive. Mt 18:28 "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.”
The consequence of his impatience and greed was his punishment by his master. We can also nurture PATIENCE by little steps. Thomas a Kempis the author of the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ counsels that the man who can control his tongue will have control over his whole body. PATIENCE begins with managing our tongues. Keeping quite when we would like to lash out at others is an excellent ascetical practice that can lead to growth in the virtue of PATIENCE. Note that the evil servant in the quote from Matthew above had no PATIENCE with his fellow servant because of his GREED the Sixth Deadly Sin.

GREED, AVARICE, or COVETOUSNESS puts material acquisition and consumption ahead of all spiritual considerations. A very common expression of GREED in our avaricious culture is the excuse “I do not have time to go to church on Sunday because I have to work.” There may be legitimate and necessary reasons to work on Sunday morning, but since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has made it increasingly easier to Worship by providing masses on the eve (Saturday) and the night (Sunday) of the Lord’s Day. Despite this fewer people attend Mass on a regular basis now than prior to the Second Vatican Council. This is not the fault of the Second Vatican Council, but rather the result of the overriding demands of our materialistic culture. The secular culture in the last fifty years has lead to “liberalized” laws permitting trade on Sunday. The secular culture is no longer, as it once was, interested in our spiritual welfare. Its laws now encourage us to be less attentive to Sunday as a day of rest set aside for God and family. This was the case for nearly two millennia. Our lack of historical and spiritual perspective has allowed revolutionary changes to occur in our culture with very little notice. There is a new priority; it is no longer the Kingdom of God, but rather the kingdom of man on earth. Wealth is pursued for the sake of wealth. GREED has become a part of our culture. We reward it, “The one who dies with the most toys wins,” reads an ironic bumper sticker. The one with the biggest house, the best cars, and the fattest wallet is now encouraged to think of himself as the best man. We are no longer judged as Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped by the content of our character but by our degree of wealth and celebrity status. However, there is still a noticeable cultural cross current. The best of secular culture promotes philanthropy, but in a non-biblical way. We all are encouraged to give form our surplus. Giving from our surplus is considered praise worthy and honorable. Jesus had a very different idea however of giving. He proclaimed a contrary virtue to GREED that demonstrates a dependence on God not on our wealth, but on our poverty.

GENEROSITY is the virtue that combats greed. Jesus taught that those who gave from their need, their poverty, were GENEROUS, while those who gave from their wealth, their surplus were barley fulfilling their duty. They were full of pride, because they believed themselves GENEROUS, when in fact they were stingy and miserly, because they had so much more to give. Mark 12:41-44 “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But, a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

Noblisse Oblige, nobility has its obligations. Wealth itself is not evil, but with wealth comes enormous responsibilities to those in need. It is here where vice and virtue wait. The wealthy man cannot feel himself justified before God because he has given from his surplus. Rich and poor are called by virtue of their Baptism to give in a sacrificial manner.

Maurice Keen in his significant book Chivalry names and explains five qualifications or characteristics of nobility or knighthood. A knight by definition is noble but not all nobles were knights. These in the order he presents them are 1) Princely Recognition, 2) Vocation, 3) Wealth and Life Style, 4) Virtue, 5) Descent of Blood, Lineage.

The third quality Wealth and Life Style of a medieval knight included “liberality” that is GENEROSITY to a self-sacrificing degree. Some noble knights were so GENEROUS as to drive themselves into poverty, foolish in the eyes of the world, perhaps saintly in the eyes of God.

If this all sounds like a great deal of work, it is. Holiness is a difficult Quest, but no life-altering Quest is easy. The Quest that does not lead to ultimate transformation of the self that does not lead to holiness is not worth pursuing. The vice that can stop this journey before it begins is the Seventh Deadly Sin.

SLOTH physical or spiritual laziness or inertia is truly deadly because it prevents us from taking that very first step on the Quest for the Holy Grail, which is of course the Quest for holiness. SLOTH binds us so firmly to the world, the flesh, and the devil that we cannot commence our spiritual journey and we are in fact dragged backwards into sin. “Non progredi regredi est” (not to progress is to regress). If we are too tired to get out of bed on Sunday morning to go to church because we spent Saturday night involved in those behaviors St Paul warns us against, then we are truly SLOTHFUL. Again, you will notice that this deadly sin is enabled by others. Gluttony in food and drink can produce such stupor in our wills that we cannot motivate ourselves to do what is good for our souls such as pray and participate in the Eucharist. SLOTH and PRIDE can combine to keep us from the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They can also turn a potentially worthy confession into the grave sin of sacrilege by preventing us from courageously and honestly acknowledging and confessing our sins. With the grace of God, we can overcome SLOTH and all its deadly relatives. We need only ask God for the grace. If we cannot ask for it, perhaps we can only want to ask, God will still and readily grant it to us. DELIGENCE is the conqueror of SLOTH.

DILIGENCE, DETERMINATION, or PERSEVERENCE, is the beginning of our journey. To be holy we must be determined with God’s grace to be holy. We must desire it above all “things.” It must be for us the pearl of great price. We must be willing to sacrifice everything to achieve our Quest. We will be continuously tempted to comprise, to take the easier road, to do only the minimum. These are signs of sloth encroaching on our efforts. DILIGENCE, PERSEVERENCE to the end is required. 2Tim 4:6-8 “I am already being poured out like a libation (NIV has “drink offering”), and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

The Good News is that we do not run this race, or take up this Quest alone or unaided. 2Cor 12:7-10 “To keep me from becoming conceited…, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times, I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. However, he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, and then I am strong.”

All Christians are so empowered by the grace of God through the infinite merits of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. These graces are available to us for the asking, especially in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. They enable us to overcome our laziness and our pride, to live according to our Baptismal promises that we renewed in our Confirmation to reject Satan and all his works. With Diligence and humility we put way the deeds of darkness Rom 13:13 “orgies and drunkenness… sexual immorality and debauchery… dissension and jealousy.” Rom 13:12 and “Instead… put on the armor of light!”

Induamur Arma Lucis

Note: Scriptural quotes are generally taken from the
New International Version as found in the Crosswalk Concordance any changes is noted.

Note: Some of the information above is taken form the
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition; 2003, Thomas Gale, in association with
The Catholic University of America; Washington, D.C.