Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

25 July 2022

YOUCAT Handle the Truth!

Catholic schools and Public school religious education programs have their various textbooks and audio-visual programs. Even with adult programs, there’s lots of grasping at straws when it comes to which series is going to win everyone, or win them back, for Jesus and His Church. It’s tiring.

2010 witnessed the publication of the official Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, YOUCAT. It was originally written in German, which is especially noticeable in spinoff texts that have made YOUCAT a series: a Study Guide, an adaptation for younger children, special texts for Confession and Confirmation, an excerpted Bible, a prayer book, and DOCAT, which presents Catholic Social Teachings. The series has two apps: one for daily meditations and another for DOCAT.

Now I’m not making the pitch for the YOUCAT series as the silver bullet, the golden ticket, or the bronze bonanza, but it makes a good start for being ecclesiastically authorized, well-balanced between holy pictures and stock photos, rife with quotes from saints recent and ancient. There’s even an exercise for the bored reader; you’ll have to pick one up to learn what I mean.

Like the standard Catechism, there are no quizzes, reflection questions or conversation starters; the Study Guide provides those, albeit for an older teenage audience. Adaptation becomes the task of the competent catechist. Mileage varies.

I am tempted to make the YOUCAT series our series for public school religious education and maybe even use it for my weekly middle school religion class. Perhaps it will become a text for other age groups—certainly our few high school students who express interest in meeting, but also adults, whose intelligence I don’t think would be insulted by taking this work in hand.

02 October 2021

Peace, Penitence, and Prayer

The second of October is the memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels. One of the first prayers Catholics (and others) learn: 

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, / to whom God’s love entrusts me here, / Ever this day be at my side, / To light, to guard, to rule, to guide.

That God creates a custom pure-spirit protector for human beings is not a mandatory Catholic belief, but it is not a mere fable either. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition refer to angels who gaze upon the heavenly Father’s face (Mt 18:10), yet have enough eyes to look out for us—more eyes than a mother, a teacher, or a nun.

Writer Mary Farrow penned a fantastic piece on Guardian Angels, quoting a professor who quoted a Cardinal on Guardian Angels’ three main areas of interest concerning us: peace, penitence, and prayer. When they’re successful, the universe is better off, because, according to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, angels govern the processes of the entire universe, in ways known and unknown.


Since the more recent sexual abuse reports, many dioceses, including our own, have resorted to praying the Prayer to St. Michael after Mass (his feast was observed recently—29 September), hearkening back to a series of prayers once recited after every “Low” (recited) Mass. The series became known as the Leonine Prayers because Pope Leo XIII introduced them in 1884. They were discontinued in 1965, but in some places they’re making a comeback. Unofficially, they were for the conversion of Russia, but they have 1,001 uses.


Archangel Michael has the pleasant job of “casti[ng] into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.” The name Michael is Hebrew for “Who is like God,” because Satan wants to be like God and Michael reminds him he can’t be. Like Michael, however, Satan is a powerful pure spirit, except Satan devotes his towering intellect and will to diminishing people’s peace, penitence, and prayer.


When prayer and penitence go, peace follows suit. When priests stop praying, they start predating. When they stop repenting of their prideful, greedy, and lustful choices, their various victims lose peace. So we appreciate all the more St. Michael and his minions. 


Of course priests aren’t the only ones who entertain the deadly sins enough that temptations lead to actions: whosoever qualifies for a guardian angel, sure as heaven needs one.


I mentioned to a parishioner that today’s readings concerned marriage and the parishioner said, “I had a joke for you on that, but I forgot it.” It may be indiscreet to mention the parishioner’s name, but I will say it rhymes with “Snarl Tarzan.”


What’s no joke is the current situation of marriage and family life— though to be honest, it wasn’t always taken seriously in biblical times either. Why else would Moses have proposed conditions for divorce? Why else would Jesus have gone off as He did about the Creator’s intention for marriage? The evil spirits still prowl around the world seeking the ruin of souls. They prowl for bodies as well, because, as long as people are living, bodies and souls are together.

Since this diocesan Year of Real Presence began, I‘ve been considering how Jesus’ words, “This is My Body,” apply to every aspect of human life, including how we speak them sinfully. The many forms of self-worship drive people from God, from each other, and within themselves. What God has joined, let no one put asunder.


Commentators have noted the proximity of Jesus’ words on marriage to those on children. We connect angels with children often enough (cf. Mt 18:10). We also think of dead people, but they’re not angels either. None of us is. People often say, “I’m no angel,” when they want to excuse themselves from sin. 


We have to look somewhere for the root of our malady. When individuals go sour, marriages and families (and more) go sour. That’s no judgment on anyone, because God and the person know best. God’s always honest to us, but we’re not always honest to God.

Satan the home-wrecker wants to interrupt our awareness of God’s Presence with temptations, and he really wants us to interrupt our actions with sins. (Temptations aren’t sins, remember!) Satan wants peace, penitence, and prayer to end. He wants to harm children and the adults they become, and he will encourage us to find ways to do that. He wants bodies and souls to break up in one way or another.

29 April 2021

Where Thy Glory Dwells

(cf. Wikimedia Commons)

(as featured in the Diocese of Allentown)

Since seventh grade (1988-89) I have played the organ for church, as often as five times a weekend. At first an occasional substitute, finally I reached out to local parishes for regular work, and soon I was picked up by the former St. Francis DeSales Parish in Mount Carbon, suburb of Pottsville.

The sacristan, Kathleen Glaser, called herself the “Assistant Pastor,” and certainly knew as much about the building and community as any assistant. We had many colorful chats before Mass. When Kathleen died, the pastor, now-retired Father Edward B. Connolly, designed her memorial card. Beneath her photo was Psalm 26:8, which reads, “O Lord, I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwells.”

In June 2019, I became pastor of Saints Peter and Paul in Lehighton. In my first visit to the vestibule, I spied above the entrance to the nave that same Bible verse, which connected me to those early experiences that kept me off the streets and in the sanctuary. Upon reaching my seventh assignment in 18 years of priestly ministry, I knew I was home, where God’s glory dwells.

The pandemic is the latest of many changes over these decades. Now 70% of Catholics do not regularly attend Mass in otherwise normal times, and only 25% believe that Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. These facts prompted Allentown Bishop Alfred A. Schlert to declare this 60th Diocesan Anniversary the “Year of the Real Presence” (yearofrealpresence.org).

Catholics know Christ abides and feeds in many ways, as the Second Vatican Council told us: in the proclaimed Scriptures, in the priest, and in the assembly, but most tangibly in the Holy Eucharist, where His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity pitch their tent among us.

Our new parish Society of Saint Vincent de Paul ritually recalls how Jesus is present wherever two or three are gathered (Matthew 18:20). Saint Teresa of Calcutta often said the needy are among Jesus’ “most distressing disguises”: it can be as hard to see Him in our suffering brothers and sisters as in the consecrated bread and wine. But Mother Teresa’s sisters adore the Eucharistic Lord each day before serving Him in the streets, and our SVDP Conference has chosen to begin our meetings in the same way.

The Missionaries of Charity and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society embody another principle from the same Second Vatican Council: the Sacred Liturgy is the “Source and Summit of the Church’s life and activity”: Christ is everywhere because He is present unmistakably, most intimately, in the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Mass. We take His Real Presence in the Mass to the real people and situations of our lives, which in turn we offer alongside the bread and wine that becomes Him in the Mass.

It makes you wonder, though: if Jesus is here, why isn’t everyone else? Other faiths are asking the same of their own adherents. A global pandemic accounts for the current dearth of ritual involvement, but the “real absence” is nothing new to any religious body; even secular organizations have been reporting diminished returns over the years. In defense of their defection, some have cited God’s ubiquity when choosing to “worship in nature” or to follow some ersatz deity who makes no demands upon their conduct or allows them to worship on their own terms.

Sacred and secular alike, feeling the fatigue and isolation of these days, can take to their lips the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near” (10:25). What day? The Day of the Lord, Whose Presence is real and revealing and worthy of reverence.

22 April 2021

“This Is My Body”

This article appeared in the April 15, 2021 issue of the AD Times, the newspaper of the Diocese of Allentown. Read more about our diocesan goings-on at allentowndiocese.org and ad-today.com.


Bishop Schlert has declared this a diocesan “Year of the Real Presence”: a motive for exceeding gratitude. We note meanwhile the real absence of so many, before and since the onset of the global pandemic. We beg the Lord for the grandest possible reunion this side of eternity, where and while we still happen to be.

Recall how, before Judas handed Jesus over, Jesus pre-emptively handed Himself over, saying “This is My Body” (Mark 14:22). This phrase seems to epitomize the spirt of this special year and just about everything there is to being Catholic.

The immediate and crucial context of the statement was, of course, Eucharistic: the bread and wine of Passover became a New Meal, sealed in the love-offering of the God-Man on the Cross. Jesus never offered a more literal declaration. Grammarians call “is” the copulative verb, because it joins subject and predicate. Bread and wine do not “represent,” “symbolize” or “suggest” His Presence-made-palatable to us: they are He.

Our Lord could utter those words on the night before He died because His mother Mary had lovingly consented to the angel’s invitation to bring Him into the world. In every human respect Our Lady was the first to say, “This is my body,” when she offered herself body and soul to the Holy Spirit’s creative action.

From the streets of Caesarea Philippi to the halls of heaven, Jesus has looked out upon this ragtag bunch and declared, “This is my body”: My Mystical Body, the Church. Since the apostles’ time, fellow disciples and leaders sometimes bewilder, yet what’s more a marvel? The Incarnation still alights upon our altars, pulpits and confessionals, and in every place where prayers, works, joys, and sufferings transform the world and pierce the clouds.

Then there is the furnace of the Christian vocation, considered precisely in the ways spouses, priests and consecrated religious “offer [their] bodies as a spiritual sacrifice”(Romans 12:1). Every well-lived example can say to its counterpart, “This is my body,” when, for example, spouses give themselves without reservation in the one-flesh union of sex, or when a priest attends to the sick and dying.

At the Consecration of the Precious Blood, sometimes I will look up at the chalice, see my reflection and then look down to the faithful. That intimate moment prompts a prophecy cited in the New Testament: “Here I am, and the children God has given me” (Isaiah 8:18; cf. Hebrews 2:13). I cannot be any closer to you, for this is my body – Christ’s Body – distinct from yet united to me.

Sounds romantic, but it must translate into daily life.

It’s easy to become a “bachelor who plays God.” Husbands and wives also can collapse into such a cavalier condition. The sexual realm is not the only possible domain of human degradation, but it’s the one that hurts the most. There’s no comfortable compromise: either a body is “given up for,” or it is not.

Our bodies, given up, convey love with exquisite splendor. Witness Catholic participation in education and healthcare; behold the beauty of our sacred music and architecture. Faithful, lifelong, heroic commitments compel like any well-articulated doctrine.

The Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostolic Succession, the interiority of the spousal embrace, and the lived exteriority of beauty, goodness, and truth: this is Real Presence that can unite us as God intends.