Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Catholic Prayer: Christmas Day Three ~ Blessing of Wine for the Feast of St. John the Apostle

St. John the Apostle, is the disciple "whom Jesus loved". It is a custom in the old countries to drink of "St. John's Love". The Church provided a special blessing of wine in honor of the Saint. According to legend St. John drank a glass of poisoned wine without suffering harm because he had blessed it before he drank. The wine is also a symbol of the great love of Christ that filled St. John's heart with loyalty, courage and enthusiasm for his Master; he alone of all the apostles was not afraid to stay close to Our Lord during the Passion and Crucifixion.
St. John's wine, blessed by the priest or sprinkled with water by the father of the family, is served with the main meal. In Catholic sections of Europe, even the children receive a little sip of it after the main course of the dinner. The wine is poured in glasses and passed around to the family and guests. As each glass is given, say:
"I drink you the love of St. John."
Response will be "I thank you for the love of St. John."
The following prayer is said over the wine:
Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who has made heaven and earth.
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Let us pray. Be so kind as to bless and consecrate with Your right hand, Lord, this cup of wine, and every drink. Grant that by the merits of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, all who believe in You and drink of this cup may be blessed and protected. Blessed John drank poison from the cup, and was in no way harmed. So, too, may all who this day drink from this cup in honor of Blessed John, by his merits, be freed from every sickness by poisoning and from any harms whatever. And, when they have offered themselves in both soul and body, may they be freed, too, from every fault, through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.
Leader: Bless, Lord, this beverage which You have made. May it be a healthful refreshment to all who drink of it. And grant by the invocation of Your holy name that whoever tastes of it may, by Your generosity receive health of both soul and body, through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen
Prayer Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Holiday Christmas Concert featuring the Chesapeake Orchestra Brass Players on Wednesday, December 28th, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bushwood, Md

Sacred Heart Church in Bushwood, Maryland is hosting a Holiday Christmas Concert featuring the Chesapeake Orchestra Brass Players on Wednesday, December 28th, starting at 6:30 pm. The concert will feature works of Bach, Handel and Holiday Favorites at the beautifully decorated Sacred Heart Church in the heart of the Maryland country. Performers will be Music Director of the River Concert Series, Jeffrey SIlberschlag, trumpet, with Zachary Silberschlag,trumpet, Nathaniel Silberschlag, Horn, and Bryan Bourne, trombone. Admission is free and doors open at 5:45pm. Check us out on Facebook or at sacredheartbushwood.org for more information. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

St. Francis de Sales on so-called "ostentatious" and "worldly" priestly garb

“Saint Francis of Sales, the bishop of Geneva, while on a journey during Lent, went to a church that was attached to the monastery of Capuchin friars. He arrived at sermon time; the preacher had taken ostentation in dress as his sermon’s theme and was inveighing vehemently against prelates and ecclesiastical dignitaries who, instead of setting an example of humility, wore splendid garments.

“When the sermon ended, the bishop went into the sacristy and summoned the preacher. Once they were alone, Saint Francis said, ‘Reverend Father, your discourse was edifying. It may also be true that we who are in authority in the Church are guilty of sins from which the inmates of the cloister are exempt. Nevertheless, I consider it highly unwise to say such things as you did on this subject from the pulpit to the common people. Moreover, I wish to call your attention that for many reasons it is a matter of necessity that the princes of the Church should keep up an appearance befitting their rank. Besides, one never knows what may be hidden beneath a silken robe.’

“Saint Francis unbuttoned the upper part of his purple cassock, and let the monk see that he wore a ragged hair shirt next to his skin.

“‘I show you this,’ Saint Francis added, ‘so that you may learn that humility is quite compatible with the rich dress of one’s office. From henceforth, see that you are less harsh in your judgements and more prudent in your speech.'”

“If the dignitaries of the Church were wretchedly dressed, they would lose the respect due to themselves and to their office. Therefore it is not only permissible, but obligatory upon them, to dress in accordance with the official rank they hold.”

Source: Father Francis Spirago’s 
Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating the Catholic Catechism(New York: Benziger Brothers, 1904), 187-188.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Francis Repeats Use of Vile Words Associated with Sexual Perversion in a Public Forum

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

On November 9, 2013, this reporter wrote an Open Letter to Pope Francis “On a Papal Commission of Inquiry into Homosexuality, Pederasty 
and La Lobby Gay in the Catholic Church”  http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/engel/131110 . A member of the pope’s Council of Eight brought the Open Letter to the attention of the pontiff, and a short time later the Vatican announced the creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (and vulnerable adults). 

At the end of my 2013 Open Letter to Pope Francis, I wrote the following commentary regarding the use of the words “coprophilia” and “coprophagia” made in a news interview in 2012 by the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. 

It might surprise you Holy Father, that until quite recently, I still hoped that despite your obvious sympathy for the Homosexual Collective, you nevertheless might find some merit in the concept of a Papal Commission of Inquiry into Homosexuality and Pederasty which I have briefly described in this Open Letter.

Unfortunately, that glimmer of hope was wiped out when by chance a close friend of mine, Marielena Stuart, a multi-lingual journalist and creator of the exquisite blog, Roman Catholic World, sent me a copy of an interview you gave to Rome reporter Andrea Tornielli of the Vatican Insider on February 2012 while you were still Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

In an interview titled "Careerism and Vanity: Sins of the Church," Tornielli's last question to you was: Can you tell us how the Roman Curia is perceived from the outside?
And you, Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, replied:

I see it as a body that gives service, a body that helps me and serves me. Sometimes negative news does come out, but it is often exaggerated and manipulated to spread scandal. Journalists sometimes risk becoming ill from coprophilia and thus fomenting coprophagia: which is a sin that taints all men and women, that is, the tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive aspects. The Roman Curia has its down sides, but I think that too much emphasis is placed on its negative aspects and not enough on the holiness of the numerous consecrated and lay people who work in it.

Now the term "coprophilia" which you used spontaneously in the interview refers to a sexual perversion (fetish) by which a person 

derives sexual excitement from the presence of feces. The term "coprophagia" pertains to the actual act of eating excrement. Both 

paraphilias are commonly associated with homosexual behavior and are a regular feature of homosexual pornography.

That a bishop should so glibly refer to such disgusting and perverted practices in a public interview clearly indicates to me that 

you are not unschooled in the ways and dangers of sexual perversion, and hence, have no real need for me to instruct you on the 

perversity of homosexual behaviors, nor on the grave necessity of combating the Homosexual Collective and other forces of organized 


And so it is with great sorrow that I bring this Open Letter to a close.

Whether or not it will have any salutary effect upon your pontificate, especially as regards the establishment of a Papal 

Commission of Inquiry into Homosexuality and Pederasty, only time will tell. ...

Sincerely in Christ,
Randy Engel

It was, therefore, with great sadnessand deep sense of outrage that I sawthat in the December 7, 2016, interview for the Belgian Catholic weekly, Tertio , the occupant of the Chair of Peter repeated the very same terms, coprophilia and coprophagia, in almost the same context that he used them more than four years ago in reference to the Roman Curia, before he became pope.          

There is no question that the pope knew exactly what he was doing when he chose to deliberately link a disgusting and perverse nomenclature to the communication issue of false news. What other objective is there in doing such a dastardly deed than to desensitize the faithful to the 
horror of sexual perversion and to attempt to introduce perverted words and acts into normal Catholic parlance?   

I called the pope out in 2013 in my Open Letter on this very subject, and I’m calling him out again in 2016. 

Francis needs to offer a prompt apology, first to God and then to the faithful Catholics everywhere, for his misuse of the Papal Office to 
promulgate such perverted and degrading terminology in a public forum. I respectfully suggest, for his eternal welfare, that the apology come sooner than later.

Sincerely in Christ
Randy Engel
December 8, 2016
Export, PA 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Letter to a Young Mother Who Lives within walking distance of the church and sent an email inquiring about what is necessary for baptisn of her two year old child

Hello H,

Wonderful news!

I think I might have met you and visited your home? 

The Lord says that Sunday Mass is necessary unless a grave reason prevents arttendance. Perhaps I mistakenly believed you were already aware of this.

Please take some time to pray about this ordinary witness of faith without which we cannot be saved.

God bless your family,

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Who Ya Gonna Vote For? The Choice Before Us

Who Ya Gunna Vote For?

Imagine a terrorist attack in which every man, woman and child in the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota was killed. As horrendous as this would be, fewer people would have been slaughtered than the number of children aborted in the United States in the last eight years.

The abominations to the sanctity of human life and the indifference to the teachings of the Catholic Church in this period extend well beyond abortion. There have been restrictions on religious liberty, coercion of individual conscience, the approval of same-sex marriage, a growing legality of physician- assisted suicide, sanctions on public prayer, the creation of special “rights” for LGBT individuals, the elimination of a distinction between genders in accessing public bathrooms, a movement towards creating children with three genetic parents, and experimentation with human-animal chimeras. God has been largely marginalized and religion is being driven from the public square.

How many more societal and governmental abuses can the Church sustain and still carry out its mission to evangelize and minister to the faithful? How much more repression can it bear and still remain an influence on public matters, helping to develop the moral underpinnings necessary for a government of and by the people?

On November 8, we will have an opportunity to change course by voting for the next leaders of this nation – those who will set its direction and shape its culture. This election is about much more than jobs, the economy, immigration, health care, defense, and foreign policy, as important as these are. It is about the future and, by means of lifelong appointments to the Supreme Court, what will happen in the next 40 years or more. It is about the values that underlie our society, and the kind of country we wish to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

From a moral perspective, the most important issue facing the nation is assuring the sanctity of human life. The Catholic Church has an immutable position opposing the wanton destruction of human life through abortion and euthanasia, actions which it calls intrinsic evils, and on redefining the source of life as anything but the union of one man and one woman. On these moral items, there are sharp differences between the positions of the two major presidential candidates, their vice-presidential running mates, and their party platforms.

One candidate believes unequivocally that every woman should have access to abortion, the other affirms that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be violated. One stood arm-in-arm with the president of Planned Parenthood and told her: “I will always have your back,” the other will prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds. One will retain the Obamacare mandate that employer health plans must include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of any moral or religious objections, the other will get rid of the mandate.

One has promised to nominate Supreme Court justices who will ensure that abortion and same-sex marriage remain legal, the other will nominate justices who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. One wants to repeal the Hyde and Helms Amendments which prohibit the use of certain federal funds for abortions, domestically and abroad, and the other wants to make them permanent.

One will continue the current executive action allowing people to use public bathrooms, changing rooms and homeless shelters matching their gender identity, the other believes the states should decide the matter. One will urge Congress to make gender identity and sexual orientation a protected right in every aspect of public life, the other opposes this action. One will continue special considerations for gender and sexual self-identity in the military, the other wants the development of a military based on competency. One believes that religious teaching should change to accommodate LGBT rights, the other told Catholic leaders: “I will fight for you…I will defend your religious liberties.”

Which of the two candidates is more likely to continue the current Administration’s view that Catholic schools, hospitals and charities are not sufficiently religious to qualify for the Obamacare mandate’s narrow “religious exemption”? Which one is more likely to continue efforts to force pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other health professionals to violate their consciences and provide abortion-producing drugs and abortions? Which one is more likely to restrict the rights of military chaplains to preach and counsel in accord with their religious beliefs?

When you consider their vice presidential running mates, would you prefer one who is Catholic but has a record of voting for abortion and same-sex marriage, or one who is an Evangelical Protestant and who as governor passed some of the most restrictive laws against abortion in the nation? Would you prefer one who as a senator received ratings of 100% for his voting from both NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) and Planned Parenthood and a 0% from the National Right to Life Committee, or one who as governor received 0% ratings from both NARAL and Planned Parenthood and a 100% from the National Right to Life Committee? Further, the party platforms on which they are running are polar opposites regarding moral issues that the Catholic Church considers immutable. One party is opposed to the Church’s positions, the other is in agreement.

Unfortunately, both of the two presidential candidates have major character flaws, and the morality of some of their past actions is repugnant and reprehensible. If judged only on character, the choice of whom to vote for is difficult. Their stated positions, running mates and party platforms, however, should also be taken into account.

One of the two candidates will become president, and each of us will bear some responsibility for the outcome. Our choice is limited, for a Catholic in good conscience cannot vote for a candidate who promotes an intrinsic evil. The person who does not vote or votes for a third party nominee will only help elect the less desirable candidate.

Before you vote, strengthen your understanding of the Church’s positions on moral issues, those that are non-negotiable and those that allow prudential judgment, learn the views of the candidates, give the matter prayerful reflection, and then – and only then -- cast your ballot.

Vivat Jesus! * * * * *

November 2016

Lawrence P. Grayson
Editor, Pro-Life News & State Pro-Life Couple, Maryland State Council, Knights of Columbus

Friday, October 28, 2016

On Devotion to the Holy Souls

On Devotion to the Holy Souls
 Dom Prosper Gueranger, teaches: “Every sin causes a twofold injury to the sinner: it stains his soul, and renders him liable to punishment. Venial sin, which displeases God, requires a temporal expiation. Mortal sin deforms the soul, and makes the guilty man an abomination to God: its punishment cannot be anything less than eternal banishment, unless the sinner in this life, prevents the final and irrevocable sentence through confession to a priest and penance...For every fault satisfaction must be made to God’s justice, either in this world or the next.

“On the other hand, every supernatural act of virtue brings a double profit to the just man: it merits for his soul a fresh degree of grace; and it makes satisfaction for past faults...and satisfactions given to God by sinners can be transferred to others: God is willing to accept it in payment of another’s debts, whether the recipient of the boon be in this world or in the next, provided he be united by grace to the Mystical Body of Our Lord, which is one in charity.”
The great Jesuit scholastic theologian, Francisco Suárez, also teaches: "I believe that this satisfaction for the dead is a matter of simple justice, and it is infallibly accepted with its full value, and according to the intention of him who applies it. Thus, for instance, if the satisfaction I make would if kept for myself, avail me in strict justice for the remission of four degrees of purgatory, it will remit exactly the same amount to the soul [in purgatory] for whom I choose it.”
So, the teachings of the Holy Bible are clear, the infallible theology and Tradition of the Church is clear, our prayers and our penances of we members of the Church Militant still here on earth are immensely helpful to our brothers and sisters of the Suffering Church in purgatory. Since we of the Catholic Church, members of Christ’s Mystical Body are a family, we are all duty bound to one another. We are in it together, we are in this fight together to make it to heaven and we are not in it alone. We all must help each other out and who in the Church needs more help than our brothers and sisters in purgatory...still expiating their sins before they can enter into heaven.
Is any condition more pitiable than theirs? So great is their anguish on that river of fire, that river of purification that bears them on little by little to the ocean of Paradise.
May we heed the call of the Church and have pity on them, those dear holy souls in purgatory and continually offer our prayers and penances for their speedy entry into heaven.
In following the example of our ancestors in the Faith at Knock, Ireland, let us utilize the two most powerful instruments we have at our disposal for not only getting the souls in purgatory into heaven but ourselves as well, and that is prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the Refuge of Sinners-—she who is so close to Our Lord in heaven is our grand intercessor-—and as a loving mother of us all will not fail to look with favor on our prayers for those of her children most in need. And the second instrument, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass-—the most powerfuland effective form of prayer for any intention. May our prayers which we join to the Sacrifice offered by Father at this Mass on this night, grant remission to all the faithful departed, that the Precious Blood of Our Lord shed forth at this altar may extinguish the purifying flames of the Holy Souls whom we pray for and lead us all unto eternal life. Amen.
Our Lady of Refuge of Sinners, pray for us.
All our Patron Saints and Guardian Angels, pray for us.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Biography of Father Kevin M. Cusick

LCDR Kevin M. Cusick attended Fordham University on a four-year Army ROTC scholarship and was commissioned a second lieutenant of Armor in 1984. He served in 3/67 Armor Battalion of the 2d Armored Division as a tank platoon leader, battalion adjutant and headquarters company executive officer.

Then-First Lieutenant Cusick took part in the last NATO Reforger exercise in the former West Germany in 1987 and was awarded two Army Achievement medals and two Army Commendation Medals. Cusick left the Army as a First Lieutenant (Promotable) and transitioned to the Navy as chaplain candidate prior to entering the seminary at Mount Saint Mary's in Emmitsburg. Maryland for the Archdiocese of Washington as a cosponsored seminarian with the Archdiocese for the Military Services for future duty as a Naval chaplain.

Father Cusick was ordained priest in 1992 and served for three years in Washington area parishes before returning to active duty as a Navy chaplain upon completion of Naval Chaplain School in Rhode Island and promotion to the grade of Lieutenant.

Father Cusick served at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, two deployments in three years on USS IKE, two years at Naval Support Activity, Naples, Italy followed by a stint at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, Chapel. He was awarded the Navy Commendation medal before transitioning to the Reserve component in 2006 after separation from service on active duty of 14 years and 11 months.

Chaplain Cusick began drilling with Surgical Company Bravo of the 4th MLG in late summer that year. Cusick was tapped for deployment to Iraq and mobilized in July 2007 for combat duty with OIF from August to January 2008. After a 10-month activation Cusick returned to pastoral duties with the Archdiocese of Washington and Reserve duty at 4MLG. He was promoted to the rank of LCDR in late 2008. He also deployed to Morocco, California and Alaska with 4MLG.

After 8 years at SCOB Cusick was given orders to CNSL and the ministry center where he has served on a number of ships including USS Kearsarge for periods at sea ranging from overnight visits to two week AT periods.

Cusick has attended classes at the Pontifical Faculty at Naples, Italy, in the STL program there. He also taught for Saint Leo College on an adjunct basis, has written a weekly column for The Wanderer Catholic Newspaper for fifteen years and has published in the London Catholic Herald, the Washington Catholic Standard and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He currently serves as pastor of Saint Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Benedict, Maryland since 2010. He blogs at APriestLife. blogspot.com, writes homilies at mcitl.blogspot.com, keeps up with friends on Facebook at Reverend Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and is on Twitter as @MCITLFrAphorism.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Father Stephen McGraw on Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia

Reflections on Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia
The most controverted part of Chapter 8 is the passage in which Pope Francis states that “[b]ecause of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin—which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such—a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end,” and further states in a footnote that “[i]n certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.”  He then makes reference in the footnote first to the Sacrament of Confession and then to the Eucharist.  I offer the following in the hope that it will contribute to a better understanding of the Pope’s teaching in Chapter 8 of his Apostolic Exhortation, without pretending to completely resolve all problematic elements and without suggesting that the magisterial teaching contained therein is, in its every formulation, the last-word Gospel truth without room for clarification or fine-tuning.

With the aim of grasping the Pope’s teaching concretely, let us start with the situation of Latin American Catholics.  In thispopulation, there is a low percentage of divorced and remarried Catholics, but there is a high percentage of marriages that are irregular because they were entered into in the absence of canonical form, that is, civil marriages (involving at least one baptized Catholic) that have never been convalidated in the Church.  The pastoral problem that often presents itself in ministering to Catholics in this situation is not access to Holy Communion but access to the Sacrament of Penance.  Priests who serve the Hispanic Catholic population not infrequently find themselves ministering to a penitent who is in a civil marriage, a circumstance which is sometimes adverted to by the penitent but other times must be elicited through judicious questioning.  The normal pastoral response is to encourage the penitent to work towards resolving the situation, deferring or, if you will, denying absolution for the time being until the irregularity is close to being resolved (except in the exceptional case where an on-the-spot commitment to live as brother and sister seems realistic).  The sound thinking behind this response is that penitents must be helped by the priest to make—and are only effectively helped by making—an integral confession, including a detestation of all serious sins for which the penitent has to repent.  Since for a Catholic to live a conjugal life in a merely civil marriage is a serious contradiction of the objective truth about marriage, it is morally incoherent for priest or penitent to dodge this issue, even if the penitent feels sincerely sorry for other sins committed.

The approach just outlined is certainly the right one for cases in which a Catholic party to a civil marriage is freely electing to continue in a conjugal union without binding himselfthrough the irrevocable personal consent that can only be accomplished by marriage in the Church.  As one priest friend (who has helped great numbers of Hispanics to marry in the Church) put it, “Anglos don’t marry in the Church because they don’t believe in the Sacrament; Hispanics don’t marry in the Church because they do believe in the Sacrament!”  In such cases, as Pope St. John Paul II taught in Familiaris Consortio, the “physical donation”—outside the context of that total, unconditional commitment, unable to be taken back, which society calls marriage—would be a “deceit,” and such an offense in this grave matter would need to be repented of for a good confession to be made.

Nevertheless, ministering to Latin American Catholics in civil marriages with discerning mind and heart also leads to the discovery of many cases in which the spirit of fornication is not present but rather a conscience that is relatively innocent.  The failure to marry in the Church is due not to resistance to the Sacrament of Matrimony or to a lifetime commitment but ratherto “cultural or contingent situations,” Amoris Laetitia (AL) 294, for example, extreme poverty that makes even a simple church wedding seem beyond reach, or the looming obstacle—sometimes subjectively viewed as insurmountable—of never having received First Holy Communion, or persistent difficulty in obtaining a baptismal certificate (owing sometimes to unhelpful parishes in the home country). Even in these cases,however, the common pastoral practice has been nonetheless to withhold the help of the Sacraments, in particular the Sacrament of Confession, for the sake of leading the penitent to rectify his irregular situation, however understandable or even justified it may have been up to that point, and also for the sake of maintaining public order in the Church and avoiding scandal—the leading of the faithful into error regarding the grave obligation to abide by the marriage laws of the Church.
The Pope, however, seems to be indicating that greater discernment is called for and that in some of these cases the help of the Sacrament of Penance might be warranted.  Let’s take the case—not a merely hypothetical one for priests who minister to Latin American Catholics—of a penitent in a civil marriage who confesses the grave sin of abortion (another typical case is the confession of the grave sin of contraceptive sterilization, which through ignorance, fear, and strong pressure from health care officials, has become tragically widespread among Hispanic immigrants). Let us further suppose that the penitent does not seem to be gravely culpable for the entry into the irregular marriage or at least for its continued irregularity, either because of lack of full knowledge or lack of full consent of the will.  In other words, while she must be helped to understand her grave obligation to rectify the situation going forward, the continuedirregularity might not be among the serious sins that in good conscience she has to repent of in order to make an integral confession.  What about the need for a firm purpose of amendment in regard to future serious sin?  Would that not apply to future conjugal relations, given that she has been informed of the invalidity of her marriage and of the seriousness of this matter?  Assuming we are dealing with a case in which an immediate commitment to live as brother and sister is not realistic, can absolution be given?  I think the teaching of the Pope indicates that it could be.  But how is this consistent with traditional Catholic teaching?
It will be helpful here to highlight the authenticdevelopment of the Church’s teaching and praxis concerning conscience.  On the one hand, we know that conscience is a reality that is often distorted today.  One has only to think of the glossy pseudo-Catholic news journal by that title (I have no ideahow our College’s “campus ministry” got on their distribution list!), which is nothing more than a front to provide cover for Catholics wishing to justify dissent from the infallible moral teaching of the Church, especially regarding abortion and contraception.  We might also recall the recent distortion of the Church’s teaching on conscience by an American archbishop around the time of the recent Synod of Bishops.  At the same time, we need to a have a clear appreciation of what the Church really does teach about conscience. Conscience includes first of all the perception of the principles of morality (what the Church with St. Thomas calls synderesis); second, the application of these principles in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and thirdly judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed.  Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1780.  It is vitally important to enlighten people’s conscience and thus aid them with the perception of moral principles and also to some extent with their application.  But it is also vitally important, for the sake of a person’s dignity and authentic freedom, that we let the natural operations of conscience run their course without pretermitting them.  Having done what we can to help a man to form his conscience correctly, we must also leave him alone in his “most secret core and his sanctuary,” where “he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”  CCC 1776.  In particular, it is important that we give his conscience time and space to make its own judgment, for conscience is itself “a judgment of reason” whereby the human person himself recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.”  Thus the Church, aided by thinkers such as Blessed John Henry Newman, perceives more keenly than before the legitimate primacy and inviolability of conscience, and this deeper appreciation has in recent decades come to be reflected in the Church’s discipline and practice in various ways.
Returning to the case before us of the penitent in an irregular marriage confessing the sin of abortion (or some other grave sin, such as direct sterilization or adultery), the priest must certainly inform her conscience and help her to see the grave lack that is due to her failure to comply with the juridical requirement of a marriage according to canonical form.  But as Pope Francis notes, a subject may know the rule and yet have great difficulty in understanding its “inherent values.”  AL 301.  This is especially the case where the action or omission that violates the rule is not malum in se but malum prohibitum.  In other words, marrying without canonical form is not against the natural law but against a positive ecclesiastical law, which in recent centuries has become universal in the Church, according to which a baptized Catholic can only marry validly in the presence of a witness duly authorized by the Church.  We must help the penitent to see that among the principles of morality that she must in conscience apply to her situation is that, as a Catholic, she is bound to obey the Church, for whatever the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven.  But this is not grasped as readily as the more fundamental precepts of the natural law itself, such as that prohibiting relations outside marriage.  Morever, even the natural law principles do not “impose themselves a priori on the moral subject, but rather the natural law gives “objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions.”  AL 305.  According to Pope Francis’ teaching, it seems that a priest could legitimately discern in particular cases that he is able to absolve a penitent in an irregular marriage who sincerely repents of a serious sin such as abortion, sterilization, or adultery, if the priest discerns that the penitent is not convicted in his conscience of grave sin with regard to conjugal relations in the irregular marriage.
It is worth noting that the problem of civil marriage in the Latin American context has been a seemingly intractable one for generations.  A priest in my diocese, in his effort to help couples on the journey towards the Sacraments, and knowing that many are missing First Penance, First Holy Communion and/or Confirmation, had them focus first on preparation for those Sacraments.  Once catechized and prepared, he allowed them to receive the Sacrament of Penance and then at a special Mass receive Confirmation and, on that one occasion only, Holy Communion, all this before some were even close to havingtheir marriages validated.  I was critical of his approach as morally incoherent, and I still have a problem with it, but Pope Francis’ exhortation has made me less rigid in my judgment than before, as I recognize this priest’s approach as a sincere if misguided effort to awaken Latin American Catholics to the power of the Sacraments that they are living without.
Let us take a look now at the Anglo-American context, in which the secularism in our cultural landscape has produced a different kind of irregular-marriage “mess”.  Many Anglo-American Catholics are only vaguely or dimly aware, if they are aware at all, of the canonical problem with their merely civil marriage.  They may have an idea that they really ought to get their marriage “blessed” but do not understand that it is invalid.  Many times, a Catholic gets married in a Christian ceremony to a non-Catholic at a time when he is lapsed from the practice of the faith, and so it does not even occur to him that he is bound, for the sake of having a valid marriage, to get a dispensation from the Bishop authorizing the non-Catholic pastor to witness the marriage.  On other occasions, a Catholic attempts a Catholic marriage but unwittingly is married by a priest (perhaps an ex-Catholic priest) with no jurisdiction to validly witness the marriage.  This is perhaps more common than is realized.  I remember a casual conversation with a couple coming for Baptism class which uncovered the fact that they had been married by a priest” who had offered his services through public advertising.  On another occasion, a couple thought they had a Catholic marriage after “Mom’s friend at work” connected them with a priest who met them for pre-Cana at a diner and conducted the ceremony away from any Catholic parish.  We can include here also the pastoral problem of the many marriages conducted by priests of the Society of St. Pius X without any delegation from the Bishop of the Diocese.
In these and other similar cases, the couple must certainly be made aware of the problem with their marriage.  But what is to be done before it is regularized?  Objectively, conjugal relations should await the marriage in the Church, but respect for the workings of conscience may lead a priest to tread delicately when counseling a couple in this area.  What if they are having marriage difficulty and one or both are hesitating to convalidate?  What if there is a fear that a cessation of marital relations, either by mutual accord or according to the decision of one of the parties, might contribute to the breakdown of the union, just when it might be on the point of being made sacramental? What if one of the two is convinced of the invalidity while the other is not?  Keep in mind that, but for an ecclesiastical norm that was imposed (with good reason) in modern times, their personal consent, exchanged in good faithbut without a witness authorized by the Church, wouldnonetheless have bound them indissolubly in accordance with the natural law, and some may feel very much bound by their “I do” in light of that same natural law precept.  They may feel bound as well by the precept of the marriage debt, according to which spouses are exhorted not to “refuse one another.”
In sum, it may take some time before both parties to the marriage can grasp the moral principles and their proper application, in such a way that they come to make a judgment ofthe wrongness of concrete acts of conjugal relations in the absence of a canonically valid marriage bond.  In the meantime, it seems that a Catholic whose conscience has not yet formed a judgment of the grave wrongfulness of continued conjugal lifemight in some cases continue to receive the help of the Sacrament of Penance before the marriage is regularized, even in the absence of a mutual agreement to live as brother and sister.  With regard to the Eucharist, Canon 916 forbids a person to receive the Eucharist if he is conscious of grave sin that has not been confessed.  If a person has not yet become conscious of grave sin in this matter, it seems that a pastor might legitimately discern that he or she could continue to receive the Eucharist.
What is needed, as the Pope teaches, is a process of accompaniment that would discern the right response in each particular case.  Pope Francis follows Pope St. John Paul II’s distinction between the error of “gradualness of the law”—according to which the law itself admits of gradations, and we can lower or water down the standards or demands that the Gospel itself makes—and the truth of “the law of gradualness,” a law of our nature according to which the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth.”  AL 295.  As the Pope states, “Given that gradualness is not in the law itself, this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church.”  AL 300.
Of course, Pope Francis’ allowance that couples in irregular unions might in some cases receive the help of the Sacraments is most problematic to the extent that it is applied to cases that involve a prior marriage.  Here also, we would do well to keep in mind the shipwreck that litters the modern marriage landscape.  Father Dwight Longenecker has pointed this out very effectively (see his April 9, 2016 blog), also giving concrete illustrations.  One that sticks out for me is the case of “Bob,” a non-Catholic who was married in an almost certainly invalid marriage on the beach.  Having entered into a subsequent marriage with Susan, a lapsed Catholic outside the Church, heeventually went through RCIA in a liberal Catholic parish where the priest waved a hand and said that Bob didn’t need to worry about “all that annulment stuff.”  So Bob became a Catholic, and now he and Susan have six kids and a great marriage and are active members in the parish. Only after a conversation with apriest did Bob and Susan discover that they were in an irregular relationship.  Bob has no idea where his first wife might be.  Presumably his marriage to Susan outside the Church is invalidsince she was a baptized Catholic, and the marriage was apparently never convalidated by the priest when Bob came into the Church (and could not have been licitly without an annulment).  However, in the unlikely event that Susan had formally defected from the Catholic faith before her marriage to Bob, then potentially their marriage is in fact valid, since prior to a 2011 ruling by Pope Benedict (going back to the old rule of “once a Catholic, always a Catholic for marriage purposes), such a “former” Catholic was not bound to marry in the Catholic Church. In any event, assuming that an annulment can be successfully pursued, do Bob and Susan have to abstain from relations in the meantime, and if they do not, might they still be permitted to receive the Sacraments?
Sacramental realism certainly demands that the pastor help a couple like Bob and Susan to understand the objective truth of the absence of a true, invisible (as opposed to legal) marriage bond between them.  Or if the current marriage is potentiallyvalid, as where the baptized Catholic party had previously defected by a formal act (very hard to do) or where both parties were non-Catholics at the time of the remarriage, then the pastor must help them see that only the Church has authority to declare that the prior marriage was invalid, such that a true bond was in fact formed at the time of the subsequent marriage.  At the same time, one can certainly understand if the couple has great difficulty in assimilating this reality.  What is needed, as Pope Francis says, is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God.  Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow.  . . . this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity as proposed by the Church.”
I think of another case, which a solidly orthodox and traditional priest was dealing with in the internal forum—that of a woman whose prior marriage was to a man who was himself previously married, but the woman, an Asian immigrant, has no way of finding him or of proving the fact of his previousmarriage (which would of course have barred her marriage to him and thus leave her now free to marry).  Assuming that there are no grounds for an annulment apart from the women’smarriage, what is she to do?
In my own experience, there is a great variety and complexity in the prior-marriage problems of the average parish(let alone all the other irregular-marriage problems).  Most parishes struggle to handle properly all the different cases, whether from RCIA or from the pews.  There is an unfortunate percentage of people who are baptized or received into the Church without prior-marriage issues being dealt with properlyor dealt with at all, whether because of the “wave of the hand”approach mentioned above or because of negligence or good-faith error.  Then there are the Catholics who come back to the practice of the Sacraments without prior-marriage issues having been resolved, whether on their own out of ignorance or having been told that it was permissible.  Actually, when these prior-marriage cases are carefully dealt with, it is remarkable howprovidentially often they can be resolved on some legitimate basis, whether through an annulment, a “privilege of the faith” decree to dissolve the marriage where at least one party was unbaptized, or a decree of ligamen where the prior spouse was himself previously married.  In the meantime, couples are usually content to wait for the Sacraments, having already waited in many cases for years, even decades.
In my experience, the most delicate and difficult cases, as far as reception of the Sacraments is concerned, tend to arise where someone has already been receiving the Sacraments when the prior-marriage issue comes to light or is being dealt with for the first time.  In such cases, my practice has been to have the couple in an irregular situation refrain from receiving Holy Communion until the marriage issue is resolved.  At the same time, I have also encouraged abstinence from marital relations while awaiting the Church’s decision.  This has seemed to me to be the proper course in order to uphold the truth of the marriage bond and to avoid scandal and safeguard good order in the Church. Although it is hard for the couple, we must trust in Divine Providence, knowing that truth is not opposed to pastoral charity.
But Pope Francis has stated that “individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.”  AL 303.  What is he getting at here?  I think that he is calling us pastors to be clear as to the objective truth of the matter but also to give more time and space for the workings of conscience.  There is something vitally important about accompanying people in such a way that they can come to an awareness of their situation before God and to their own mature recognition of the rightness or wrongness of particular actions.

We should also recognize that, while there is no such thing as a true moral dilemma, there can be a difficult weighing of competing or even conflicting values in the person’s own conscience, which no conclusion that we impose a priori can substitute for.  As in the case of simply irregular marriages, certain cases involving prior unions may actually involve some tension between the juridical norm of the Church and the natural law, especially where persons are “subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid,” AL 298, and thus perhaps subjectively certain as well that they are bound by the vows of their present conjugal union.  We can and must help them to grasp the Church’s authority in these matters, particularly the truth, supported by canon law, that Catholics are bound to presume that a marriage is valid unless and until the Church declares otherwise.  But this can be a difficult thing to inculcate in people, and we should recognize that they may in all sincerity take a long time in coming to see it.  In the meantime, an understanding approach is called for in helping them discern the gravity of their situation and to grasp why they may not be able to approach the Sacraments.

We might be inclined to think that there is no harm in the pastor gently and charitably telling the couple what he sees asthe necessary end result of a correct operation of conscience andhaving them take his word for it. But the negative effect this approach can have in certain cases is perhaps underestimated.  I specifically recall two cases in which I requested that divorced and remarried persons who were receiving Communionmistakenly but in apparent good faith (in one case, the pastor had actually overlooked the prior-marriage issue during RCIA) desist from receiving while their prior-marriage issues were being resolved.  In both cases, even after the issue of the prior marriage had been resolved favorably—in one case by an annulment and in the other by a papal decree granting dissolution of the prior marriage (the husband had been unbaptized at the time)—the couple seemingly experienced great hesitation or difficulty in going forward with the convalidation of the marriage.  Although I believe they complied with the request to stop receiving Communion, I think they may have been hurt or felt aggrieved even by the temporary loss of the Sacrament.  It seems a rift had developedwhether between them and me or between the spouses themselves, perhaps in some way between them and the Church or even between them and Jesus—as if I was saying to them, “You and Jesus, go to your corners.”

What is needed—and what the Holy Father is calling for—is a “responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases,’ the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”  AL 300 (quoting the Synod’s Relatio Finalis).  For this discernment to happen, “the following conditions must necessarily be present:  humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it.”  Ibid.  But there is a concern that the Pope’s approach opens the door to distortion by those who do not have this love for the Church’s teaching.  I would say in the first place that there are many liberal-leaning priests who are serving and ministering in good faith and with love for the Church and for the faithful.  These priests will unquestionably be challenged by Chapter 8.  One has only to look at the painfully searching examination of conscience that he invites divorced and remarried persons to make—actually, I think that all priests would be challenged to help couples make such an examination, for it requires at the same time tender familiarity and pastoral courage.  Moreover, Pope Francis’ approach, even if it is “erring on the side of” mercy, is a far cry from Cardinal Kasper’s, because neither the couple nor the pastor is ever off the hook by being able to say they have already done their discernment or their penance and have now put concern about the irregularity behind them.  Rather, “this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”  The goal is clear:  full conformity to the Gospel and its demands, in truth and charity.  This Exhortation represents an opportunity for responsible Bishops and pastors to curb the “internal forum” solutions that have become so widespread, solutions which often have not remotely followed the discerning approach that the Holy Father has outlined, and for couples to take an honest look at their situation instead of rationalizing on the basis of a false notion of autonomous conscience.
But what about those who are not in good faith, who wouldinstead use the ambiguities in the Exhortation as a pretext for introducing a relativistic ethic that allows the facile justification of seriously sinful situations and unworthy reception of the Sacraments based on a theology of dissent from the Church’s moral teaching?  This has to be acknowledged as a real possibility, as the Pope himself has indicated that he is consciously eschewing a “more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.”  AL 308.  Is this not likely to do damage and cause division in the Church?  In response, I would say: Let us not fail to read the signs of the times.  The world and its culture of militant secularism are sliding precipitously towards ruin.  The Church is ever more clearly going against the current, and even deliberate distortion of the Pope’s Exhortation cannot make it seem to provide more than a few tokens of obeisance to the god of this world.  As the persecution of the Church grows ever more virulent, does it seem likely that those who have the spirit of the world, whether liberal or conservative, will be found clinging to her skirts?  As St. Peter said it would, judgment begins with the household of God, and no one makes a fool of Him.  Remember Ananias and Sapphira!  Our part is to interpret and apply the present teaching of the magisterium as faithfully as we can, in continuity with the Church’s constant Tradition, and leave the rest to God.

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