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National Vocation Awareness Week Highlights Vocation as Gift from God

WASHINGTON – The Catholic Church in the United States will celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, November 3-9, 2019. During this week, dioceses across the U.S. lead the effort in parishes and schools to uphold and encourage the fostering of vocations among the faithful and to pray for those currently discerning a call to marriage, ordained ministry, or consecrated life.

In his message for the 2019 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that unlike a secular career, a vocation is a gift born from God’s own initiative: “The Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God into our freedom; it is not a ‘cage’ or burden to be borne. On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be a part of a great undertaking.”

Whereas choosing a career requires much “doing” – such as the accomplishment of various tasks and goals – vocational discernment requires much “being.” At its core, vocational discernment is a process of self-discovery. Assisted by divine grace, each person is invited by the Lord to receive the gift of a specific vocation whereby they manifest God’s love in a particular way to the outside world. In the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony, the husband and wife image the Trinity by their communion of love that produces new life; in ordained ministry, priests and deacons are called to minister in the person of Christ, the High Priest and Servant; and in consecrated life, each member is called to bear Christ’s love through a particular charism.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., of Newark, and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, echoed Pope Francis's definition of vocation as a gift. “Discerning a vocation is not the same as completing a checklist. It is a process of learning how to receive the greatest gift God could offer us – the gift of living in accordance with our true identity as a son or daughter of God.” For those currently discerning a vocation, Cardinal Tobin suggested that one always stay close to the Blessed Mother. “Entrust your vocation to Mary, the Mother of all Vocations. She will always direct you to her Son and intercede for you along the path the Lord has for you.”

Observance of Vocation Awareness Week began in 1976 when the U.S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year for the celebration. In 1997, the celebration was moved to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and in 2014, the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations moved the observance of National Vocation Awareness Week to November to engage Catholic schools and colleges more effectively.

More resources for National Vocation Awareness Week, including homily aids, recommended reading and discernment tips, prayers of the faithful and bulletin-ready quotes are available online at


Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Pope Francis, vocations, National Vocation Awareness Week, priesthood, religious life, consecrated life, marriage, religious, vocation, Catholic education, ministry, prayer, World Day of Vocations.
Media Contact:
Chieko Noguchi or Miguel Guilarte


Book Review: A Year with the Mystics

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer

Our parish’s fall festival was coming to an end. As I rounded up my little ones, I spotted an acquaintance. Antoinette is almost 95 years old and now wheelchair bound, but her incandescent smile inevitably draws people towards her. “Have you had a nice evening?” I asked.
 “Oh yes,” she replied, “I spoke for a long time with Father.” 
“You know,” I said in a hushed tone, “I think he is a mystic.”
 “Yes,” Antoinette said, taking a deep breath, “he saw right to my soul.”
A mystic is not some sort of Catholic tarot card reader. A mystic is, in the eyes of traditional Christianity, someone God has given certain gifts and graces to accomplish a specific purpose for the salvation of souls. Some of the Church’s notable mystics include great saints like St. Padre Pio, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena. Their extraordinary ability to sense God transformed their hearts. Theirs were hearts moved to quiet and solitude when necessary, but also to action and service to souls and the Church. They were obedient to God and Church, and – not unrelatedly – they were profoundly humble. 
Now, we shouldn’t think that the exceptional relationship that mystics had with God is just for an elite, holy few. No, not at all. Mystics walk among us in our everyday lives – Antoinette’s and my parish priest, for example – and a mystical relationship with God is open to us all. In fact, God longs to connect with each one of our hearts and transform them for His glory. To that end, National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez has just compiled a beautiful daily devotional, A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living, that can help open our hearts to such prayerful, mystical encounters with God. Lopez’ message is simple: “You too can be a mystic.”
“I don’t pretend to either be a mystic or an expert on mysticism,” she writes. “But I do pray enough to know that so very few us of us have plumbed the depths of what God wants to reveal to us and do in us through prayer.”
A Year with the Mystics features brief, daily meditations grounded in the writings and prayers of the Catholic Church’s well-known mystics – Padre Pio, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, for example.  Lopez also includes the words of “active saints in the world,” figures not conventionally thought of as mystics such as Mother Teresa and Mother Angelica.
The book is not a formulaic, chapter-by-chapter guide to the interior life. Rather, each day’s reflection invites the reader into a particular contemplation. “Entering into the light,” “Divine friendship,” “Looking in the mirror, seeing light and virtue,” “Pray without ceasing? A how-to” are some of my most favorite daily invitations. Lopez follows up with a brief introduction to an inspired writing, the excerpt itself, a consideration and then a final prayer. The reading and daily meditation takes a brief 15 minutes, but it can inspire an entire holy hour or direct your entire day. It’s worth pointing out that the book is beautifully bound and sturdy enough to survive transport in a purse, briefcase, or the door pocket of the car so that not one day of contemplation is missed.    
I have turned to this little volume often in my prayers since receiving my review copy. And I have found great consolation – the kind of consolation I saw on Antoinette’s smiling face after she spoke with Father John at the parish festival.  
For most of us, the mystical union with God will be found as contemplatives in an often loud and busy world. Inviting the mystics to accompany us along our journey of contemplation presents an opportunity for incredible growth in our prayerful encounter with God. In A Year with the Mystics, Kathryn Jean Lopez has mapped a lovely and useful path to facilitate this encounter. “Be not afraid as you’ve heard and will read,” she writes “Let him bring you to a peace that surpasses all understanding, even as he brings you into a deeper understanding in the heart of the Trinity.”

Pope Francis Accepts Resignation of Bishop John Jenik, Names New Auxiliary Bishops for Archdiocese of New York

WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has appointed the Rev. Msgr. Gerardo Colacicco and the Rev. Msgr. Edmund Whalen as Auxiliary Bishops-elect of New York.

Monsignor Colacicco is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and currently serves as Pastor of St. Joseph-Immaculate Conception Parish in Millbrook, NY. Monsignor Whalen is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and currently serves as Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese. The appointments were publicized today in Washington, D.C, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

Monsignor Gerardo Colacicco was born September 19, 1955 in Poughkeepsie, NY. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (1978) from Marist College, NY. He attended St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, NY, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York on November 6, 1982. He received a Licentiate of Canon Law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome in 1992.

Assignments after ordination include: parochial vicar at Good Shepherd Parish, Rhinebeck, NY (1982-1984), Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Scarsdale, NY (1984-1987), St. Denis-St. Columba Parish, Hopewell, NY (1987-1989), and Priest-Secretary to Cardinal John O’Connor (1989).

Monsignor Colaccico also served as Judge of the Metropolitan Tribunal (1992-1996; 2007-2010). He was Pastor at Sacred Heart Parish, Newburgh, NY (1996-2002) and St. Columba Parish, Hopewell, NY (2002-2014). In 2014, he served as Administrator at St. Joseph, Millbrook, NY, and from 2015 to present he has been Pastor at St. Joseph-Immaculate Conception Parish, Millbrook, NY.

Monsignor Edmund Whalen was born July 6, 1958 in Staten Island, NY. He was ordained a priest on June 23, 1984 for the Archdiocese of New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (1980) from Cathedral College, a Bachelor of Sacred Theology (1984) from Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome (1984), a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (1986), and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology (1995) from Academia Alphonsiana.

Assignments after ordination include: North American College, Rome, Graduates Studies (1984 and 1992); Parochial Vicar at Resurrection Church, Rye, NY (1985); Faculty at Monsignor Farrell High School (1987) and Secretary to Cardinal John O’Connor (1990). Monsignor Whalen also served as Vice-Rector at St. Joseph Seminary (1995), Rector at St. John Neumann Residence (1998), and was also Pastor at St. Benedict Parish, Bronx, NY (2001) and St. Joseph-St. Thomas Parish, Staten Island, NY. From 2010-2018, he served as Principal at Msgr. Farrell High School.  

At the same time, the Holy Father has accepted the resignation of the Most Reverend John Jenik from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of New York.  

The Archdiocese of New York is comprised of 4,683 square miles in the state of New York and has a total population of 6,183,764 of which 2,782,694 are Catholic. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the current archbishop of New York.


Keywords: Bishops appointment, Pope Francis, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop-elect Gerardo Colacicco, Bishop-elect Edmund Whalen, Bishop John Jenik, Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.


Media Contacts:
Chieko Noguchi
Miguel Guilarte


USCCB President and Vice President Candidate List Released; Elections to take place at November General Assembly in Baltimore

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will elect their next president and vice president at the upcoming general assembly, which meets November 11-13 in Baltimore. Each office is elected from a slate of 10 candidates who have been nominated by their fellow bishops.

The slate of candidates for president and vice president are as follows (in alphabetical order):

•   Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services
•   Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport
•   Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City
•   Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco
•   Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville
•   Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles
•   Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee
•   Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois
•   Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend
•   Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit

The president and vice president are elected to three-year terms, which begin at the conclusion of the meeting. At that time, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, will complete their terms as president and vice president, respectively.

The by-laws of the USCCB provide that the first election is that of the president by simple majority vote of members present and voting. Following the election of the president, the vice-president is elected from the remaining nine candidates. In either election, if a candidate does not receive more than half of the votes cast on the first ballot, a second vote is taken. If a third round of voting is necessary, that ballot is a run-off between the two bishops who received the most votes on the second ballot.  

During the meeting, the bishops will also vote for new chairmen of six committees: Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Committee on International Justice and Peace, Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, and the Committee for Religious Liberty.

Coverage of the bishops' meeting taking place at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel is open to credentialed media. Sessions open to the media will be November 11-13 and there will be media conferences after all open sessions. Reporters interested in covering the meeting must register before October 25 and submit a letter of assignment from their editor/producer. Due to enhanced security, on-site credentialing will not be available.


Keywords: USCCB, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fall General Assembly, November meeting, Baltimore, elections, president, vice president, ballot, vote, majority vote, committee, #USCCB19.

Media Contacts:
Chieko Noguchi or Miguel Guilarte


USCCB Chairmen Issue Statement on Supreme Court Cases on Redefinition of “Sex” in Civil Rights Law

                       WASHINGTON— Bishop chairmen of three committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commented on three cases argued before the Supreme Court today – Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. These cases present the question whether the prohibition on employment discrimination based on “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination, respectively.

Bishop Robert J. McManus, of Worcester, Chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, of Venice, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop James D. Conley, of Lincoln, Chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, issued the following statement:

“Today the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument regarding the meaning of the word ‘sex’ in federal law. Words matter; and ‘sex’ should not be redefined to include sexual inclinations or conduct, nor to promulgate the view that sexual identity is solely a social construct rather than a natural or biological fact. The Supreme Court affirmed that sex is an ‘immutable characteristic’ in the course of establishing constitutional protections for women against sex discrimination in the 1970s. Such protection is no less essential today. Title VII helps ensure the dignified treatment of all persons, and we as Catholics both share and work toward that goal. Redefining ‘sex’ in law would not only be an interpretive leap away from the language and intent of Title VII, it would attempt to redefine a fundamental element of humanity that is the basis of the family, and would threaten religious liberty.”

On August 23, the USCCB filed amicus curiae briefs in the cases, available at and

Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Robert J. McManus, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Bishop James D. Conley, religious freedom, religious liberty, Title VII, nondiscrimination, Supreme Court.


Media Contact:
Chieko Noguchi



Pope Francis Appoints Reverend Austin A. Vetter as Bishop of the Diocese of Helena

WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has appointed the Rev. Austin A. Vetter of the Diocese of Bismarck as the Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Helena. The appointment was publicized in Washington, DC, on October 8, 2019 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

Father Vetter was born September 13, 1967 in Linton, ND. He attended North Dakota State University (1985-1989) and pursued seminary studies at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo, ND (1986-1989). In 1992 he received a bachelors in sacred theology (STB) from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Bismarck on June 29, 1993.

Assignments after ordination include: parochial vicar, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bismarck, ND (1993-1996); part-time instructor, St. Mary Central High School, Bismarck, ND (1994-1999); parochial administrator and pastor, St. Martin parish, Center, ND (1996-1999); episcopal vicar for the permanent diaconate (1999-2002); pastor, St. Patrick parish, Dickinson, ND (1999-2008); pastor, St. Leo parish, Minot, ND (2008-2012); director of continuing education for clergy (2008-2012); director of spiritual formation, Pontifical North American College (2012-2018); rector-pastor, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bismarck, ND (2018-present).

The Diocese of Helena is comprised of 51,922 square miles and has a total population of 612,419, of which 45,400 are Catholic.   


Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Pope Francis, Bishop-elect Austin A. Vetter, Diocese of Helena, Montana, Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota.

Media Contact:
Chieko Noguchi


Made for Heaven

By Father Dave Pivonka, TOR

Last weekend, like most weekends this summer, I stood in front of teens at a Steubenville Youth Conference talking about heaven and hell. Also last weekend, like most weekends, fewer teens came than I’d hoped to see.

Don’t worry; I’m not taking it personally. At the conferences, the workshop is offered at the same time as a workshop about dating. Ninety-five percent of the teens opt for the dating talk. The other five percent opt for mine. Which makes sense. Discussions about relationships naturally capture young people’s attention more than discussions about eternity. Nevertheless, last weekend, out of curiosity, I began my talk by asking my five percent why they came to my workshop and not the dating one. One young lady raised her hand. “I want to make sure I go to heaven,” she said.

Jokingly, I responded, “So, you think everyone at the dating talk wants to go to hell?”

The teens laughed, and I moved on with the talk. But I’ve been thinking about her response ever since. It’s unusual. Not because she wants to go to heaven; I think everyone at the conference wants the same. Rather, it’s unusual that she’s thinking about heaven at all.

Last year, a study by the Barna Group found that the percentage of Gen Z (those born between 1999 and 2015) that identifies as “atheist” is twice that of the U.S. adult population. The same study found that teens who do believe in God tend to disagree with their faiths’ teachings about sexuality. And even among those who practice faithfully, religion often takes a back seat to other priorities: school, sports, and, yes, relationships.

I’ve worked with young Catholics for over 20 years, and what I’m seeing now bears that out. Too many teens live in a world without consequences or self-reflection. Many treat God like an extracurricular activity, and religion like a shirt they put on just for Sundays.

Moreover, many teens I encounter—maybe even most—have been formed by the culture, not the Church. Twenty years ago, things that kids coming to our conferences would have thought were crazy, are now normative. I regularly meet young people who are engaged in their parish, attend youth group, attend eucharistic adoration, but who also have no issue with pre-marital sex, gay marriage, or transgenderism. They’ve become so inculcated by the culture that it doesn’t occur to them to question these behaviors.

This presents a huge problem, not just for the Church, but also for young people. They were made for heaven. But you don’t get to heaven by treating the spiritual life as just one of many competing demands on your time. You also don’t get to heaven by living a life contrary to the Gospel.

Franciscan University, the school I serve as president, is doing everything we can to change this youth culture. This includes sponsoring 23 Steubenville Youth Conferences, in 18 cities across North America, this summer. Over 60,000 teens will attend.

At these conferences, in every talk—even the dating talk—we help teens go deeper, to think outside their circumstances, outside their worldview, and start thinking with the Church. We want them to know that each one of them has an eternal soul, and the fate of that soul hangs in the balance.

As I tell them, the Evil One is real, and he wants nothing more than to pull them away from the life for which they were made—eternal life with God. That’s why they have to learn to be more reflective, not just about themselves and Church teaching, but about the music they listen to, the shows they watch, and how they spend their time. It’s all feeding their soul, and they will only make it to heaven if they feed themselves right.

We do the same for our students at Franciscan. As a Catholic university, we have a responsibility to form not just students’ minds, but also their souls. Our deepest desire for our students is to see them become saints.

That’s why, at Franciscan University, we teach our students what it means to be made in the image of God. We teach them the dignity and beauty of being made as a man or a woman. We root them in the unchanging teachings of the Church and call them to a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We also feed them with the sacraments and nurture devotion to the Blessed Mother and the saints. This is the food their souls need, and it is our sacred duty to give it to them.

We can’t do this alone. Parents are the primary educators of their children, and if teens today are going to shift their focus away from the world and toward God, we need parents’ help. We need parents to stand firm against the culture that puts sports before God. We need parents to teach their children that actions have consequences, both in this life and the next; that doing one activity or job well, with integrity, matters more than doing many different activities; and that honoring commitments is more important than chasing after the next best thing. Most of all, we need parents to walk with their children on the journey that is the spiritual life, praying with them, sacrificing with them, and serving with them.

It’s not too late to reverse course. Not for young people. Not for any of us. But if we’re not thinking about where we’re going, we’re going to end up in a very different place from where we want to be.

Rush to judge others and gossip: and the devil laughs

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

On January 18, 2019, a video of Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann went viral. He was at the Lincoln Memorial standing face to face with a Native American man during the March to Life in Washington, D.C. On the basis of that picture, a frenzy of condemnations from reporters, commentators and politicians were heaped upon this student, accusing him of prejudice and hatred. Misinformation and lies spread like wild fire. Finally, when the facts were uncovered, the high school student was exonerated of any wrong-doing, even though much wrong had been done to him and his family. It was a rush to judgment. 

On January 29, 2019, American actor and singer Jussie Smollett reported that two masked men attacked him at 2 AM near his apartment in Chicago. He claimed that the attack was racist and homophobic. After Smollett’s initial report, friends and fans, celebrities and politicians expressed outrage at this hate crime. Twitter and Instagram fueled the frenzy of self-righteous indignation. However, in just three weeks, it was discovered that the whole event had been orchestrated by Smollett. Yet, before the facts were fully known, there was the rush to judgment and much chatter.

Gifted with reason, we are wired to make judgments. Discerning the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the right from the wrong, and virtue from vice: this is an essential part of our being human. However, every judgment must be founded on truth, not rumor; on fact, not fiction; on substance, not appearance. And every judgment must always be tempered with compassion. Albeit from opposite directions, the Sandmann and Smollett incidents show how quick we are to believe or disbelieve, to accuse or defend and how easily we pick a side and draw a line in the sand. And, all the while, truth grows ever more fragile.

Today’s rush to judgment gathers speed along the newly constructed digital highway. We get information instantaneously and, because we want solutions just as fast, we are quick to judge. As a result of this incessant communication about other people’s lives, we live on the edge between truth and falsehood. What years ago was whispered between a few people now goes viral and can never be retrieved. As a result, in this environment, deliberately passing on stories that destroy other people’s good names is nothing less than cyber bullying.

There is no area of modern society that is exempt from someone passing on false information, half-truths or blatant, deliberate lies. In a society of fast-paced information sharing, gossip has become so commonplace that people justify it as a way to right wrongs, correct others and unseat those whom they deem unfit for their chosen work. However, unlike the surgeon’s scalpel that removes the cancer, gossip is the arrow that destroys the other. 

As a statement sometimes attributed to Mark Twain says, “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots.” In a similar vein, Jonathan Swift once wrote, “if a lie be believ’d only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no further occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it; so that, when men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late…the tale has had its effect” (Jonathan Swift, The Examiner, Number 15, November, 1710).  For this reason, people of good faith should be slow to judge others. And never should they gossip. People who constantly judge or criticize others truly lack compassion.

Sadly, making negative judgments on others on the basis of appearances and then spreading those judgments to others is found among those who consider themselves Church-going people. It is especially found among those who set themselves as crusaders for a just cause and, then by their lack of charity, become unjust themselves. The fondness to judge and criticize others may well be a way of not facing one’s own sins. "It is often easier or more convenient to see and condemn the faults and sins of others than it is to see our own” (Pope Francis, Angelus, March 3, 2019).

In speech after speech, Pope Francis has been courageously warning us of the evil of gossip. “Gossip is a weapon and it threatens the human community every day; it sows envy, jealousy and power struggles… We might welcome someone and speak well of him the first day but little by little that worm eats away at our minds until our gossip banishes him from good opinion. That person in a community who gossips against his or her neighbor is, in a sense, killing him.” (Pope Francis, Homily, Domus Sanctae Marthae, September 2, 2013).  

Few things can match the harmful effects of gossip, whether it be slander or detraction. Defamation inflicts grave harm on the individual and destroys the community. It is against charity and, since God is love, it is against God himself. Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular Baptist preachers of the 19th century, summed up the evil of talking about other people by saying, “the tale-bearer carries the devil in his tongue, and the tale-hearer carries the devil in his ear.” Gossip makes the devil laugh!

Sacramental confession and the certainty of forgiveness

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

A few years ago, Paul Croituru and his young son went out treasure hunting near their native village in Romania. To their surprise, they discovered ancient Greek currency dating back 2,350 years to the time of King Philip II. The 300 silver coins turned out to be counterfeit. The father and son now hold the distinction of having discovered the oldest counterfeit money known thus far.

Counterfeit money has been around as long as money has been around. In fact, some have named the production of counterfeit money “the world's second oldest profession.” During war time, nations often resort to counterfeit money to inflict harm on their enemies. During the Revolutionary War, Great Britain attempted to devalue the continental dollar by flooding the market with shovers (fake dollars). During World War II, the Nazis made prisoners in their camps forge British pounds and American dollars to destabilize their enemies’ economies and destroy them.

Satan constantly attempts to entice individuals into counterfeit religion where the forged currency is believing in God while denying sin. The devil would have everyone forget that sin is a reality. In this way, he can render ineffective in us the work of Christ who came to take away our sins. Failure. Weakness. Mistakes. Psychological pressures. Social customs. All these labels the devil uses to disguise sin. But, sin itself remains a fact.

Science always prides itself on beginning every research project with a fact. True religion, likewise, begins with the fact of sin in the world, original sin and personal sin. “The ancient masters of religion…began with the fact of sin. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders…have begun…to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy). And so can the personal sins of hatred, envy, lust, pride, gluttony and greed likewise be proven.

Even a casual glance at Sacred Scriptures shows that sin taints even God’s greatest heroes and heroines. Adam and Eve lead the procession of sinners. Drunken Noah, untruthful Abraham, adulterous David and Bathsheba, disloyal Peter, and murderous Paul follow. Sin really is not that original. It is the monotonous repetition of the tragedy of Eden: choosing self over God. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).

In the Sacrament of Penance, the Church offers us the gift of a personal encounter with our merciful Lord who forgives our sins. However, many people, and sometimes even faithful Catholics, say that they do not need to go to a priest for confession to have their sins forgiven. Why confess to a priest who is a sinner himself? God will forgive sins without the ministry of priests. Certainly, God can forgive sins when we turn to him and repent. But, he has chosen to offer us his forgiveness through the ministry of the Church. And, for a reason.

Sin is not just between the individual and God. Every sin that we commit offends God and affects others. Every sin harms Christ’s Body, the Church. The act of confession before a priest recognizes the true nature of sin as an offense against God and others. And so, it is through the Church’s priests that God chooses not simply to forgive our sins but to reconcile us to the Church. (cf. Pope Francis, General Audience, November 20, 2013).

So important is confession that some of the holiest priests of the Church have spent hours in the confessional as missionaries of God’s mercy. St. Philip Neri, a busy parish priest in Rome, spent every morning hearing confessions before continuing his work with youth in the afternoon. So famous was St. Jean Vianney in hearing confessions that a new train station had to be built in his town of Ars so that people from all of France could go there to confess to this holy priest. Most recently, St. Padre Pio heard confessions for not less than 18 hours a day. There were always long lines awaiting him.  

During his public ministry, Jesus forgave sins (cf. Mk 2:5; Lk 7:48; Jn 8:1-11). And, then after the Resurrection, he entrusted this ministry of forgiveness to his priests. On Easter Sunday night, “Jesus said to them ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (Jn 20:21-23). In confession, the priest, weak and sinful himself, acts in the name of Jesus and with his authority.  

In going to confession, we approach the priest, one by one, not as group, not as family. We humbly place before him all our own sins. To receive absolution and be forgiven, it is necessary not simply to confess all mortal sins, but also to have a firm purpose of amendment of sinning no more. As difficult as this might be at times, how great the grace! For, when the priest absolves us, we have, as Jesus promised, the certainty that our sins are forgiven. 

The needed antidote to apathy 

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

In February 1915, only six months after the beginning of World War I, Lancet, a British medical journal, used for the first time the expression “shell shock.” This newly coined expression was used to describe the feeling of helplessness that soldiers felt after exposure to constant bombardment. The term was new, but not the reality. After every war, soldiers return from combat, suffering “shell shock.” 

Watching their comrades mowed down by enemy fire or left maimed and strewn on the battlefield, combatants become immune to feelings of connectedness and concern. Today, this phenomenon is becoming an epidemic. We are constantly being bombarded by bad news. The catastrophic and inhumane events that interrupt our everyday life are causing many people to escape from the brutality by becoming shell shocked. 

Terrorist attacks in Belgium, Syria, Africa, and in England; daily violence on the streets of Chicago, New York, Paterson; the massacre of our children in their schools and of believers in their churches, synagogues and mosques; the interminable disputes and rancor over immigration; allegations of racism and sexism; the incessant reporting of scandals, present and past!  Moment by moment these evils confront us. So fast does news travel that one story stumbles over the other with images of the dead, the wounded, the homeless imprinted on our minds. These problems do not admit of simple solutions. And, since we are more aware of them today than in the past and yet less able to find solutions, many, left numb and disillusioned, drift into apathy.  

In addition, newspapers, blogs and TV commentaries flash before us cause after cause, such as global poverty and climate change. “Every cause seems urgent, but nobody has the time, the energy, or the information necessary to make an impact. Knowing all the ways in which the world is flawed in a very real, raw, up-close kind of way without the ability to make any sort of important change is perhaps the most unwelcome symptom of the digital age” (Jamie Varon, “Generation apathy: How internet outrage is making us all numb and hopeless,” August 20, 2015).

Some Christians have drunk the hemlock of apathy. They are becoming more and more indifferent to evil in the world and, sadly, more and more detached from religion. Unconnected. Not invested. Religion may be good; but, when it comes to God, they have hung up a “Do Not Disturb Sign.” For them, weddings, funerals, First Communions, Confirmations, if even celebrated, are mostly social occasions. 

Apathy within the Church is far more devastating than outside the Church. The Church is the sign and sacrament of salvation for the world. It is an instrument in God’s hands. But if the instrument is dull and listless, it hinders God’s activity. When people become apathetic, something more is needed than telling them to be kind and compassionate. Such preaching falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. What is needed today is the bold proclamation of the kerygma, that is, the love of God given us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  

God is not apathetic. He is intensely passionate about his relationship with us and his world. He is the lover who pursues his beloved. He never gives up on us, despite our sins. He woos us back to himself (cf. Hosea 2:11). He did not turn his back on the evil of our world, but sent his Son to be our Redeemer.

 “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s love is a fact. In Jesus, God has begun the work of forgiving sins and recreating the world. And, he gifts us with the Holy Spirit so that, together with him, we make all things new. We are not helpless. We are not alone. Apathy makes people murmur a half-silent “No” to the world in which we live. But, faith in Jesus Crucified and Risen makes us shout a resounding “Yes” to God’s work of the New Creation. Faith is the antidote to apathy.