Thursday, July 23, 2015

Q & A with a Seminarian

Each week Seminarian Brian will be answering questions in the bulletin. They can be about himself, about seminary, or about the Church and its teachings. If you have a question you’d like answered, ask him in person or email the parish office at

This is my last weekend in the parish and I just wanted to say thank you for all the kindness that you have shown me these last 10 weeks. I hope that you've enjoyed my answers to these questions and that you've perhaps learned a thing or two about the Catholic faith. I am always happy to answer more questions so if you have more questions you can always email me at or give them to Fr. Young. Perhaps I can occasionally answer them via the bulletin throughout the year.

Q: Can a Catholic receive communion at a Protestant service? 
The short answer is no, and here's why. The Catholic Church professes that after the words of consecration, what was once bread and wine becomes fully the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the true presence. The word that we use to describe this is "transubstantiation". Our Protestant brothers and sisters do not believe this same thing of the communion at their services. For them the communion that they share is a symbol of the body and blood of Christ, but not the real presence. Different Protestant communities believe this in different degrees, but none of them have the true presence. In some Protestant services this is very obvious in the way they treat the bread and wine they use. A Baptist friend of mind once said that after the service is over, the leftover bread is simply fed to the birds. However in other services, like many of the Episcopalian community, they treat their communion very reverently and may even claim that it is the real Body and Blood of Christ.

Even if our Protestant brethren did claim that their communion is the true presence and did treat it with the reverence that we give to the Eucharist, it still cannot be the true Body and Blood of Christ. This is because they do not have valid priests to consecrate the Eucharist. When the Protestants split off from the Catholic Church in the 16th century they took themselves out of the Apostolic line of succession. This means only a priest ordained by a bishop who is a descendent of the Apostles can consecrate the Eucharist. Every Catholic bishop can trace his ordination back to one of the 12 Apostles, who trace their authority directly to Jesus, the Son of God. And in addition to that, there are specific words that must be said at the consecration in order for it to be valid. This is why it is essential for the priest to use the correct terms when saying these prayers at Mass. If these specific words are not said, then the bread and wine do not become the Body and Blood. Hence, when the Protestants communities changed the words of the Mass to what they now have in their services, in addition to not having a validly ordained priest,
they also do not have the valid words required to consecrate.

It is important that we share the many graces that do exist between us and our Protestant brothers and sisters. It is always appropriate to pray together for each other and the rest of the world. It is important that we continue to talk with each other
about our differences and try to bridge the gaps that prevent us from being the one Church of all Christians in the world as Christ had intended. However, the sharing of communion is not appropriate. For a Catholic to receive communion at a Protestant service would confer a validity that does not exist. This can be an uncomfortable moment for some Catholics, especially if at a wedding or a funeral for someone who is not of the faith. However, I find that if you decline to partake in their communion in a respectful way, most of the time non-Catholics are very understanding and it can even offer an
opportunity to teach them something about your faith!

Steubenville East 2015

This week I decided to forgo a question and instead share with you an amazing grace that I experienced
two weeks ago. I was privileged to attend the annual Steubenville-East Youth Conference up at the University of Massachusetts' Lowell Campus with five of our high-school-age parishioners. The conference is one of many across the country put together every year by LifeTeen and the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Last year was my first year going to the conference and Fr. Young has been going since he was in high school (I won't tell you how many years ago that was!) So when I got here in May, we were both very interested in trying to put a group together for this year's conference. Fortunately St. Thomas More in Narragansett had a few extra spots that we were able to use.

The six of us joined over 3,000 youths from around New England to learn more about our faith and to grow closer to Jesus Christ. The conference included many dynamic speakers, musicians, numerous priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation, holy Mass on Saturday celebrated by a priest from Lifeteen and Sunday celebrated by Cardinal Sean O'Malley and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament Saturday night. As one of our participants commented: " When we got to the conference and I saw everybody singing together and praising God's name, I knew it was going to be a special weekend. However, special cannot truly describe the weekend." Another said "It was a great 3 days and I
learned many new things about God and my faith...I will definitely go next year!" And a third wrote "I thought going to Steubenville was really inspiring. It changed my way of looking at faith."

I think that it is a great opportunity for young people to see so many others of their generation passi
onate about their faith. Unfortunately with the way that our society has often taken God out of our schools and athletic leagues and summer camps and the many other places that young people interac
t with each other, it becomes easy for them to confine their faith to simply Sundays or in their homes. The Steubenville conferences hopefully teaches them how they can share their faith with others and really bring the fire of the Holy Spirit into those other parts of their lives. And most importantly it shows them that they are not alone in their desire to be closer to God. For those of us who are older and go as chaperones, it gives us a sense of great hope for the future of our Church. We too need reminders of that. I told the five people that came with us that they are the "trailblazers", that they are the first group to go from the parish and that their witness will hopefully encourage many more to attend in future groups. That is why I was glad to read this last comment from one of our members. "I know
that I have to go back next year and bring more teen s from St. Paul's so they can experience Jesus and
strengthen their relationship with God just as I did this year."

Q: Does God get offended when we pray to Mary? 

This is an important question to address as it is often a charge leveled at Catholics by our Protestant brethren, so many thanks to the parishioner who sent it in. As Catholics we often pray to Mary and the saints for their help in our struggles, both spiritual and physical, in life. We have patron saints for specific causes that we pray to. For example, when I have lost something, sometimes as simple as my car keys, often I'll say a prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost articles. For some, however, this appears to contradict the very first commandment "for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14). 

 St. Thomas Aquinas answered this by explaining that there are two types of honor that we bestow by our prayers, latria and dulia. Latria is the honor of worship and adoration reserved only for God. So for example, the way we adore the Eucharist during exposition on Mondays here at the parish. We would never do that for a statue of Mary or one of the saints. Dulia, on the other hand, refers to veneration or homage. It is recognition of the honor we give to the saints for the lives they lived, whether due to martyrdom or worked miracles or even just lived very holy lives. In the case of Mary, because she holds such a special spot as the mother of Jesus, God incarnate, we call the honor we give to her "hyperdulia" or simply lots and lots of dulia. We hold that Mary is the most blessed and closest to Christ of all the saints in Heaven. But despite that, she is still not God, and we do not give her the worship that is reserved for God. 

 When we pray to Mary and the Saints, we are asking them to intercede to Christ for us, not to do any miraculous work themselves. So when praying to Mary, it would be sinful to ask her to forgive us our sins, for only God can do that. While on the other hand it would be neglectful to simply lower her to the level of the other saints. This is why, for example, at the end of a rosary or during a litany we often pray something like "Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us." It would not make any sense to ask God to pray for us, because who would He pray to? And it would not be correct to ask Mary or the saints to have mercy on us, as that is reserved for God. In no way should this detract from our devotions to Mary or to particular saints. This is one of the great benefits of the Catholic faith, that we have so many saints who we can ask to pray for us and whose lives we can see as examples for our own. But it is important to remember that true worship is reserved only for God.

Q: When you become a priest, how would you feel about a friend going to you for confession? 

One of the things that I look forward to most about the priesthood is being able to hear confessions and offer absolution for sins. This amazing sacrament has been such a grace for me in my life that I cannot wait to be able to offer that same grace to others. It is helpful to remind people, and sometimes the priest himself, that the role of a confessor is to act in the person of Christ as showing mercy, not judgment. A good confessor will admire the humility and transparency that a person brings with them to the confessional. Gossip is not a new thing, but in our society today technology has given us the ability to spread embarrassing stories about people at the blink of an eye. Just look at the newsstands in the grocery story, or even the front page of most news websites. It is certainly understandable that people would be skeptical about the fact that the confessional is a place of complete privacy and without judgment. In fact, if you are sitting outside of a confessional and you overhear someone's confession, you are bound by the seal of confession yourself. 

In order to answer this question, I first asked it of many priests who I admire to see what their actual experiences were. One priest told me that it is always humbling to hear the confession of a person they know because it means that they are implicitly stating that they are more desirous of receiving the Lord's mercy than fearful of what the priest might think of them. In fact, every confession should help the priest to recall that he too needs to seek the Lord's mercy in humility and gratitude. Since we are all sinners, the priest doesn't expect even their friends to be perfect. Another priest said that hearing the confession of a friend often acts as a source of growth in that friendship. Perhaps the most practical response from a priest friend was that he practices "reflexive amnesia". He focuses more on and prays deeply about what God wants him to say to the person who is bearing their soul in the confessional, rather than the sins themselves. It is a conscious effort not to remember and to actually forget. He also stated that the older he gets, the easier this becomes since he now seems to forget everything! 

As for my thoughts, I think that the most important factor should always be the comfort of the penitent. If a friend (or family member) doesn't feel comfortable confessing their sins to me I would never be insulted. It is more important that the penitent feel comfortable enough to share all of their sins with the Lord through the priest than for me to have all my buddies lining up outside my confessional. On the other hand, some people may feel more comfortable confessing their sins to a priest that they know well. In that case, then I'd be more than happy to hear a friend's confession. All of that being said, there is also an amount of prudence that can be applied when choosing a priest to confess to. For example, as a seminarian I have many priests who are responsible for judging whether or not I should be ordained a priest, such as my vocations director, my bishop and even Fr. Young here at St. Paul's. It would not be prudent, and would be somewhat unfair for me to go to one of them for confession. I could say something to them that could tempt them to use in my evaluation which would be a violation of the sacred seal of confession. I imagine though, that with my hearing loss, I may prove to be quite the popular confessor! 
Q: What do you do about Mass when traveling?

One of the six precepts of the Catholic Church is that we have an obligation to participate in the Mass on all Sundays and other holy days of obligation. It is in fact a mortal sin when a Catholic does not attend Mass on Sunday. A person in this state needs to confess that sin as soon as possible and certainly before presenting themselves to receive the Eucharist again. However, there are situations that come up that might prohibit us from attending a Mass on Sundays. If one is seriously ill one is released from the obligation. Also on occasion the bishop of a diocese might lift the obligation for inclement weather, as Bishop Tobin did back in February.

As we continue down the summer months and many of us are taking vacations, we might find that our travel plans conflict with our obligation to attend Sunday Mass. As Catholics we should make every effort to avoid those conflicts. When traveling though, especially in an area we are not familiar with, it is not always easy to find a Mass to attend. Therefore it would be prudent if you know you'll be traveling on a Sunday to make plans to attend that week's
Mass ahead of your travels. Perhaps attend the Saturday vigil Mass or look into a late Sunday evening Mass. Here in Rhode Island we are very blessed with numerous churches in such a small geographic space with a large variety of Mass times. There are Masses offered Saturday nights, Sunday mornings and many times Sunday evenings going as late as 8pm down in Narragansett. College campuses
often will have a late Mass for the students that is open to the public. When I was at Wake Forest our chaplain offered a Mass at 10pm and Providence College has one at 10:30pm during the school year. Having such flexibility to find a Mass that fits our busy schedules is a great privilege that many of our Protestant brothers and sisters do not have.

So simply having to travel would not excuse one from their obligation to attend Mass. However, if your travel plans get moved unexpectedly, ie. flight delays, car trouble, traffic, and that prevents you from making the Mass you had planned to attend, or you simply are unable to find a Mass despite your efforts, then you would likely be released from your obligation, given that you had intended to attend Mass and did everything within your power to do so. Of course if you are unsure, simply take the opportunity to visit the confessional and describe the situation to the priest. Even if it ends up not being sinful, surely you have some other sins to confess, I know that I always do!

One resource I'll offer is a great website: You type in the zip code or city and state you're in and they'll show you many of the churches in the surrounding area and the Mass and confession times that they offer. They usually include the parish website and phone number so I recommend verifying those times though before making plans.

 Q: Does the theory of evolution contradict the Bible? 

The theory of evolution, that the human bodies that we have today are the result of millions of years of growth in nature, does not contradict the Bible or the faith on it's own. Where we run into problems is when someone claims that we are the result of random chance, also known as “atheistic evolution” or “evolutionism”. The story found in Genesis of God creating the universe in seven days, is not meant to be a literal telling of creation. After all, there are actually two different versions, so they both can't be true! Instead it is a story meant to pass on fundamental truths about the creation of the universe. Those truths include that it was created by the one, true God, who created it out of love and out of nothingness. There are some Christians who believe that story literally, they are called “fundamentalists” or “creationists”. The Church also frowns upon this argument as well because it denies our ability to discover the imprint of God's actions in the world around us, which is a gift from God. It is important to realize that Science and Theology cover different areas of knowledge. Science cannot tell us that there is no God or that He doesn't love us just at theology has no ability to tell us how exactly nature works. This is why for Catholics theology and science, or faith and reason, need to work together, they need to complement each other. 

Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of Science last year (October 27th) about this issue. He said: “The Big Bang theory, which is proposed today as the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of a divine creator but depends on it. Evolution in nature does not conflict with the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings who evolve.” After he gave that speech all the news pundits and websites lit up with joy proclaiming that Pope Francis has finally pulled the Catholic Church out of the Dark Ages and accepted evolution! This couldn’t be further from the truth. Pope Saint John Paul II said pretty much the same thing when he spoke at the Academy in 1996. In fact, in 1927 the original scientist behind the Big Bang Theory, which has more to do with the evolution of the universe than the human body, was a Catholic Priest named Monsignor Georges LemaĆ®tre. And in 1950 Pope Pius XII encouraged research into the theory of evolution in his encyclical Humani Generis. In the letter he said that it is perfectly acceptable to research the evolution of the human body. However, he also emphasized that our human souls cannot be a product of evolution, but are an immediate gift from God. This is where we need to be careful when looking at evolutionary theories. The fact that we have a rational soul, a fact that distinguishes from all the rest of creation on earth, cannot be accounted for by scientific theories. 

For further reading on the Catechism of the Catholic Church 282-301, 317-320 (YouCat #42 & 43). Also, Pope Saint John Paul II has a wonderful letter entitled “Fides et Ratio” (Faith and Reason) discussing the relationship between the two. It can be a bit philosophical, but definitely worth a read.

 Q: If you kill someone in a war, is that a mortal sin? 

First of all, in order for a sin to be a mortal sin, as opposed to a venial sin, it must be a grave matter that is undertaken with full knowledge and consent. The taking of a life is a grave matter. Only God, as the giver of life, has the right to take it. However, there are situations in our fallen world when the taking of a life can be permissible for self-defense and the defense of others. In unfortunate cases when a war breaks out, Catholics may have an obligation, and in some cases do have an obligation, to help restore the peace. Many Catholic men and women have served honorably in our nation’s military and still do today. In such conflicts it would not be a sin for a soldier to kill an enemy combatant as long as it is done unavoidably, and not in any kind of cruel or unusual way. Therefore it would be immoral to kill someone who’s surrendered or is trying to surrender, and especially innocent civilians. This is a difficult topic in today’s world because of the advent of weapons of mass destruction. Think back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II and all the civilians who died from those bombs. The idea of “collateral damage” is something that, not just Catholic soldiers, but all members of the military need to be very careful about. 

Q: Before Jesus died on the Cross and opened the gates of Heaven, where did people go when they died? 
The souls of those who died before Christ went to a place that the Jewish people called She’ol (or “Hades” in Greek). Within She’ol there was a place sometimes known as the “Bosom of Abraham”, and there was a place of the damned. Jesus discusses this in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus, who lived a just and difficult life, dies and goes to paradise, while the rich man dies and goes to the place of the damned where there is eternal suffering and pain. Paradise is not quite Heaven though. It was only a temporary place, like a “waiting room” to get into Heaven. The fullness of Heaven could only be accessed after Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. This is why we say in the Apostles Creed: “He [Christ] descended into Hell.” Christ didn’t go into the place of the damned, but rather He went into that “waiting area” and brought all of those souls up into the eternal paradise. A little biblical trivia: there are three people who are mentioned in the Bible as being in paradise. Moses and Elijah both are mentioned because they come down during the Transfiguration. The third is a little known character from Genesis named Enoch (Gen 5:21-24) who “walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.” 

Q: What does INRI mean on the cross? 

Well it definitely doesn't mean that Christ was crucified "In Rhode Island"!!! All four Gospels mention that the Roman soldiers placed a sign over Jesus on the Cross, but John's gives the fullest description in 19:19-22. John states that Pilate ordered his soldiers to place a sign over Jesus that said in Hebrew, Latin and Greek "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews" (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum). The sign was in three languages because Hebrew was the local language, Latin was the official language.  

Q: Why do I have to go to confession to a priest? Won't God forgive me if I just pray for forgiveness on my own?
     God is infinite in His mercy, so to say that one cannot be forgiven his or her sin by simply praying to God privately would be wrong. However, as with all the sacraments, Christ instituted the sacrament of penance as the way He wants us to come to Him for mercy. We see this in the Gospel of John when Jesus says to His apostles "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (20:23) Christ knows us better than we know ourselves. It is through that knowledge that He knew that the best way for us to grow in charity and be forgiven our sins is to confess them to a priest. 
     Firstly, He knew that honestly confessing our sins to a priest requires that we face up to the reality of our sins and feel honest sorrow for them. Pope Francis stated that many may feel ashamed of confessing their sins and that feeling that shame is a good thing because it humbles us. However, that shame and sorrow should not hold us back from the amazing consolation that is God's mercy. Tertullian stated that those of us who avoid the confessional are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like a person who contracts a disease that they are too embarrassed to go see a doctor about. They end up perishing along with their own bashfulness. 
     Christ also knows that we are beings both spiritual and physical. Our physical nature needs contact. When Jesus forgave sins He did it through His voice and His touch and His presence. Christ desires to continue to heal us both physically and spiritually through the person of the priest. The priest acts in the person of Christ in the confessional. As one physically listening to your sins and then granting you pardon through the words of the Church, He is hearing and speaking as Christ ("in persona Christi"). 
     Finally, Christ knew that each of us as members of the Church as members of the Body of Christ. Therefore, every sin that we commit is an offense against the body, the whole community of believers. No matter how private the act, sin is always a community affair, it isn't just between God and us. Therefore it is most appropriate to go to the minister of the community for forgiveness. 

Q: Can a priest reveal anything he’s heard in confession? What about a serious crime that needs to be reported to the police? 
No. There is nothing that a person can tell a priest within the confessional that can be repeated by the priest, no matter what the circumstances. In fact, if a priest should break this seal of confession, it is one of those sins that results in excommunication and can only be forgiven by the Pope. Many priests throughout the history of Christianity have suffered and even died to protect this seal. There’s even an old Alfred Hitchcock movie about this called “I, Confess” from 1953. 

Q: What is a Papal Encyclical? 

On Thursday, Pope Francis released a new papal encyclical entitled Laudato Si’, which is said to focus on how we exercise our role of dominion and stewardship over our natural world which God has created us in. An encyclical is a letter written by the Pope usually addressed to the bishops and people of the world concerning matters that affect the welfare of the Church at large. The title of an encyclical is taken from the first two words of the letter in Latin. For example, Laudato Si’ means "Praised be to you" and the last encyclical, co-written by both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis was Lumen Fidei, "The Light of Faith". The message of an encyclical is intended for instruction to all Catholics in the world. The content of encyclicals are not infallible teachings in themselves. An encyclical can contain restatements of infallible teachings of the Church (which I'll discuss in the next question) but they are not used to introduce new infallible teachings. Popes have used encyclicals to address the faithful about concerns that they see in the world in their role as Vicar of Christ, varying from prevalent forms of error in faith and morals, to exhortations of the faithful towards some form of action, to prescribing remedies for evils that are foreseen or already in existence. Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) was the most prolific writer of encyclicals in the modern age having written 90 of them during his 25-year reign. To put that into perspective, Pope St. John Paul II (1978-2005) wrote 14 encyclicals in his 27 years and Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) wrote 3. 

Q: What does it mean to say that the Pope can teach infallibly? 

It is important to start out by saying that papal infallibility does not mean that everything that comes out of the Pope's mouth is free from error. In fact, the last time a Pope made an infallible statement was in 1950 when Pope Pius XII declared in his Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was an official dogma of the Church. And the last one before that was in 1854 when Pius IX declared in Ineffabilis Deus that the Blessed Mother was immaculately conceived. The exception to that statement is that canonizations of saints are also considered infallible. Infallibility means that when something is taught by the Pope or the Church as a whole, under this seal, it is to be held as divinely revealed and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. Therefore such teachings are definitive and irrevocable. There are many evidences for this from the Gospels. We can point to the first instance of papal infallibility in the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-20) when Peter says to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replies that it was not of Peter's own abilities that he says this, but from the Father. After this, Jesus calls Peter the rock on which He will build His Church and hands him the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. This event is repeated in all four Gospels (Mk 8:27-30, Lk 9:18- 20 and Jn 6:66-71). Also, in the Gospel of John, Jesus promises to send down the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to guide the Apostles in Truth (Jn 14:26 and 16:12-14). The Pope, as a successor of Peter, is given this protection from error. However, it is limited to subject matters that pertain to faith and morals. It is also limited in how he is teaching. As the Vatican I document, Pastor Aeternus spells out, the Holy Father must intend to speak infallibly as head of the Church. He must use language that indicates very clearly that what he is saying, he intends to be held by all Catholics as a matter of faith. We refer to this as the Pope speaking "ex-cathedra", which means "from the chair" since the chair is a traditional symbol of teaching authority. However, this is incredibly rare. Pope St. John XXIII, known for his sense of humor, once said: "I am only infallible if I speak infallibly but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible." 

Q: How long does it take to become a priest? 

For most men who are called to the Catholic priesthood, it will take 6 to 8 years. Every priest must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college first, then they must do 4 years of theological studies before they are ordained a priest. Young men who enter seminary right out of high school, like Fr. Young, or later in life with no college education, must complete all the coursework that is required to earn a bachelor's degree in Philosophy. This usually takes four years. These men are usually referred to as College Seminarians (informally as "lifers"). Men who enter the seminary already having a bachelor's degree, like myself, must take certain courses in Philosophy before they can study Theology, and this usually takes two years. I did my two years of philosophy studies at Providence College while living at Our Lady of Providence Seminary. These men are usually referred to as Pre-Theologians. Once the Philosophy requirements are met, whether coming from pre -theology or from college, the man begins four years of theological studies and is referred to as a Theologian, which I am one now. After four years of studying theology, as well as the spiritual and human formation that goes along with it, a man is eligible to be ordained a priest by the bishop of his diocese. 

Q: What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious order priest? 

Diocesan priests are ordained primarily to serve the people of God in a specific diocese. They take a promise of obedience and celibacy to the bishop of that diocese for the rest of their lives or unless released by that bishop. There are also priests in religious orders. The three biggest orders are the Dominicans, who run Providence College and staff St. Pius V parish, the Franciscans and the Jesuits. Men who are ordained for the priesthood in a religious order go through a different formation process and are not ordained for a diocese, but rather for that particular order and its mission in the Church. These men take vows of obedience and celibacy not to a diocesan bishop but to the superior of their order. They also take a vow of poverty, which means that they do not own any temporal goods, but rather the order provides everything for them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Donations Needed!

Our Edgewood Ecumenical Food Closet is looking for donations. They are in need of: Pasta, canned vegetables, soup, tomato sauce, and tuna. Items can be dropped off in the food chests in the vestibule of the church. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Mt 25:40