Ask Fr. Shea

Faith-based questions and answers about a range of topics.

Answers are provided by Fr. Michael Shea, CM, Associate Director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal.

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Question:

As a layman who is reasonably “well off,” I often wonder about what I need to do to be saved—in light of Mark 10:17–30. Does Jesus require one to sell all his assets and give all to the poor, literally?

Answer:

The passage to which you refer contains our Lord’s call to discipleship. As such, it serves as the ideal toward which all Christians should strive: a refusal to rely on material possessions and a determination to have God‘s providence as one’s only protection.

Not everyone has the vocation to live a life of evangelical poverty; if one has that calling and does not heed it, then his or her eternal salvation is jeopardized. The Vatican ll Decree on Religious Life notes that religious who embrace this radical form of lifestyle serve as a challenge to all others in the Church to be similarly reliant on Almighty God.

Some people, however, are called to live in the world with their wealth, which Our Lord never condemned. In fact, it appears in several Scripture passages that both Jesus and the apostles depended on the generosity of just such individuals for their own needs.

In the Christian scheme of things, neither wealth nor poverty are guarantors of a particular station in the afterlife. Rather, it’s a question of what is done with them. The rich who advance the Kingdom of God will be rewarded; the poor who rebel against their status and curse God for it will be condemned. The rich and poor will be rewarded or punished to the extent that, by the grace of God, they live the two great commandments.

Question:

What is the difference between a sermon and a homily?

Answer:

A sermon is a talk on any religious topic, while a homily is a talk devoted to an exposition of the Scripture texts of the day, with an application to daily life.

Question:

At my brother’s funeral all nineteen of his children and grandchildren were present. Only one daughter and her children go to church regularly; however, at communion everyone went up to receive. Is this permitted now?

Answer:

No, it is not. Unfortunately, it is all too common an occurrence—so much so that the American bishops have directed that missalettes carry the notification that Holy Communion may be received only by Catholics in the state of grace.

 

It is understandable that family members would want to receive Holy Communion at a relative’s funeral, but sacrilegious communions do no one any good. A helpful pastoral practice employed by many priests is offering people the opportunity to go to Confession at the funeral home the night before, as well as reminding them at that time about having the proper disposition for Holy Communion.

Question:

Can people who have committed suicide now be buried with a Mass? This recently happened in my parish; I was quite taken aback.

Answer:

In the past, the Church generally denied Christian burial to those people who committed suicide on the presumption that they succumbed to an act of final despair, thus denying the infinite mercy of God.

With the advent of modern psychology, we now understand that most people who commit suicide are not emotionally stable and are thus incapable of giving either the full reflection or the full consent necessary to commit a mortal sin. As a result, the Church does provide such individuals with Christian burial, both to console their families and to pray that they may experience in death the peace they so lacked in life.

Question:

On Easter morning, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to touch him. A week later, He told Thomas to touch Him. Why the contrast and inconsistency?

Answer:

Both passages you identify are post–Resurrection appearances of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of John. Some Fathers of the Church thought Jesus was asking Mary Magdalene to have a greater respect for His risen and glorified body than to try to relate to Him in a purely physical manner. However, that brings us to the Lord’s encouragement for Thomas to do just the opposite. Why the difference? Only conjecture is possible.

One explanation might be that the invitation to Thomas to touch was an invitation to believe, with a physical act merely as a way to bring about the deeper spiritual reality. Or again some authors suggest that Jesus was telling Magdalene not to sully Him with mundane contact in His new mode of existence.

No absolute answers exist for many dilemmas posed in Scripture, especially those connected with the awesome mystery of the Resurrection. Hence, some degree of ambiguity should not only be tolerated but even accepted willingly, lest we attempt to box God into our own neat categories—making Him our creature rather than the other way around.

Question:

To what extent is a Catholic obliged to register at the parish in which he resides?

Answer:

The 1983 Code of Canon Law is much less restrictive on where a person must register. The 1917 Code considered registration in the parish (within whose boundaries one lived) to be necessary unless one belonged to an ethnic parish. The new law envisions the possibility for people to have specific needs which cannot be met within the geographical bounds of a particular parish.

In your situation, I would approach the pastor and tell him why you are not comfortable with membership in his parish and indicate your intention to register elsewhere. Then go to the pastor of the church with which you wish to associate yourself and ask him to register you there.

While you are well within your rights to do this, I would caution against the practice of “parish hopping’’ or “shopping around for a parish,” which often takes place for less than noble reasons (e.g., a desire to avoid hearing the Gospel in all its fullness or an effort to sidestep parish support).

Question:

Is it proper to interrupt the Mass after the Gospel to say the Rosary?

Answer:

Nothing should ever interrupt the proper flow of the Mass. To insert the Rosary into the Mass is an aberration of the first order. I know of many parishes where the Rosary precedes daily Mass by fifteen minutes—or follows it—but I have never heard of what you mention.

Question:

I wanted to have my children baptized but have been regularly denied by my parish priest because my husband and I were not married in the Church. Is there any right of appeal that we have?

Answer:

Your pastor is trying to safeguard the dignity of the Sacrament of Baptism, which can only be administered to children whose parents give evidence that they intend to rear their children in the practice of the faith. In fact, in the course of the baptismal liturgy, the priest specifically asks the parents if they will do so. Parents who are not living a full sacramental life would have difficulty in making such a promise, or so it would seem.

If you are not married in the Church because either or both you and your husband were involved in a previous valid union, have you sought out an annulment? If the process is now going on, I would take that as a sign of goodwill on your part if I were your pastor and would proceed with your children’s baptisms. On the other hand, if you have simply chosen not to marry in the Church, then I would agree with your pastor’s decision. If you feel an injustice has been done to you and your children, you should contact your diocesan office and seek an opinion there.

The correct procedure in these kinds of delicate situations is not for the priest to deny baptism but merely to postpone it until parents demonstrate their willingness to live according to the Gospel. This, then, should be viewed as a waiting period and time of decision to respond to God’s offer of grace; it is a “teachable” moment for all.

 

Question:

Is it permissible for a priest to offer daily Mass with no one in attendance?

Answer:

Liturgical law carries the expectation that at least one server will be present for Mass. Exceptions are possible when a priest would be denied the opportunity to celebrate Mass for lack of a congregation. The prayers of the Mass are clearly designed to have a dialogue between celebrant and congregation; however, they (the prayers) are equally a dialogue between the priest and Almighty God. Neither aspect should be forgotten too readily. If those understandings are in place, no priest will celebrate a private Mass casually, nor will others assume that such celebrations are, ipso facto, improper.

Question:

I have been asked to serve as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in my parish. I really don’t understand why we need them since we have three full-time priests and an extra one on the weekends. Are all these people giving out communion to get things over more quickly?

Answer:

This question seems to reflect a desire to have extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion just for the sake of having them. This flies in the face of the Code of Canon Law and the clear statements of Pope Paul Vl and Saint John Paul ll. These individuals are called “extraordinary” for the very reason they are to be used only in extraordinary circumstances. This may not be the usual practice in many American parishes, which is why the Holy Father has asked bishops to tighten up their local norms—to make them coincide with universal law.

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