Ask a Priest: August 2017

August 18, 2017

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Q. When I was in 8th grade, our priest often came into our class to talk about different topics. One time he spoke on the topic of sin, and he said, 'one of the greatest sins is the sin of omission'. Can you explain what that was or is?

A. Sins can be things we do or things we fail to do: “commission” or “omission.” Omission is NOT doing things that we should. For example, not helping someone who has fallen; not speaking up when someone is being made fun of; not objecting to racist remarks; not caring for those in need. Chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s Gospel outlines some important sins of omission. (Matt. 25:31-46)

Q. A friend of mine just became a Catholic. She asked me about the devotion that many Catholics have to particular saints. In her tradition, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on the saints. Can you give me something that may help her understand our practice?

A. Devotion to the saints goes far back in our history. In some of St. Paul’s letters, he refers to the people in the church as “saints.” These were living, breathing believers, but he call them the “saints.” The word simply means “holy.” Unfortunately, many people think that “holy” means “perfect.” Far from it. No saint has been perfect, although our Blessed Lady comes closest. The communion of saints refers to all those believers who have gone before us as witnesses of the faith. We sometimes call upon friends and relatives to pray for us and our needs. We do the same with twenty centuries of holy people – saints. If we have a special devotion to our patron saint or to the patron saint of some favorite cause, it makes sense to ask for their prayers. For baptisms and confirmations and ordinations, we regularly sing the “litany of the saints.” We ask for their prayers as well as the prayers of living brothers and sisters in the faith. As always, we address our prayers to God.

Q. If I go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and if I say my morning and evening prayers, and if I commit sins that are not serious, is that enough for God?

A. No. Well, probably not. I refer you to St. Mark’s Gospel (10:17-22). “As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?* No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” In other words, going to Mass on Sundays, saying your morning and evening prayers, committing sins that are not serious – that’s a good start. But being a real disciple of Jesus takes a little more commitment. All of us are challenged each day to “take the next step” in following the Lord. Discipleship must never be “selfish” or self-centered. Rather, the Lord must be at the center. So, sharing our faith, ministering to those in need, showing love for people who don’t “deserve” it – these are some of the next steps that we never get finished with. With God’s help, we can all do that.

Q. Can you tell me what Catholic Social Teaching is?

A. Well, it goes back to the gospels and to the teachings of the prophets. Modern Catholic Social Teaching goes back to the 1890s and Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter Rerum Novarum. It’s available online, but to give a little overview, it speaks about the rights of workers, the dignity of labor, and fairness in the workplace and the marketplace. Other popes and national bishops’ conferences have added to that original teaching. Quadrigesimo Anno, was an encyclical letter of Pope Pius XI. Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Populorum Progressio. The bishops of the United States issued two important pastoral letters on world peace and on a just economy. St. John Paul II wrote several encyclicals on our social obligations. And Pope Francis has challenged us to look at the social dimensions of caring for our common home, the earth. All of the social teachings have focused our attention on our responsibilities to other people and to other nations. The faith we try to live must not be closed-in on ourselves, a kind of “me and Jesus” approach. Social justice is important in our duty as believers.

“Ask a Priest” is written by Father John Ludwig, pastor of St. John the Apostle Parish in Norwalk. He can be reached at johnpludwig@hotmail.com.