Fr. J. Michael Venditti

This first post is a shameless commercial on my part. The homily on which Valarie is commenting focuses on proper respect and devotion for the Blessed Sacrament. I post this exchange merely to demonstrate how an on line apostolate can touch people who aren't even looking for answers to particular questions...

Subj: November Homily posting
Date: 94-08-11 17:58:04 EDT
From: VClarkie
To: Fr. M


First of all, Bless You Father! For the diligence and commitment that contributing to a forum such as this asks of you. I am a new member on America On-Line and was very excited to see your forum. I was actually searching for a friend's address (using the search criteria "priest and catholic and religion or sociology") when I found the address and profile noting the discussion.

I thank you for bringing to my attention the little things of life. In horror I must admit (Bless me, Father) that many of these simple reverences and courtesies I was never even taught! I think that people must consider them "old-fashioned," with their meanings lost in antiquity somewhere. I think that it represents a simple lack of respect and awareness. It never ceases to amaze me how people just seem to "go through the motions". I allow myself to fall into it, too sometimes, and it doesn't amaze me any less!

Imagine my astonishment the first time that I encountered what I called "Jack-in-the-Box Communion" at an inner-city cathedral during midday services. Ten minutes before the scheduled beginning of the service (12:00), people began lining the communion rail—I thought my watch had stopped! Then the attended priest came out, distributed about 3 passes worth of the host (the rail kept filling!), then disappeared. Everybody from the communion rail then turned and hot-footed it out of the church. At this point I figure that I have totally lost it! Then—THE SERVICE BEGINS! WHAT IS THIS? The sister in charge of religious education (DRE) at my home parish got such a fit of the giggles hearing me tell this story the following weekend that I thought I would have to pick her up off the floor. Apparently there is some old-fashioned precedent for this, and I felt ashamed of my pre-judgment of it ..... but I've seen some pretty shoddy congregation performances during Lent that looked awfully similar—and I mean AWFULLY!

I am only 38, but since I delight in attending daily mass whenever I can, and my job has taken me to many different areas of the country, I have had the opportunity to see many different ways of conducting the worship of my faith. Fortunately, and unfortunately in cases like the one above, much of it has been on the "old-fashioned" side! These days we need to slow down our lives. Through the rituals of our faith we should take advantage of the opportunity to slow down and examine each of our thoughts and deeds. I love the rituals of my church because each one of them means something very special to me and enable me to communicate more eloquently with my Lord. Heaven knows, my own prayers aren't always so eloquent!

I think that there is so much more comfort, enlightenment, forgiveness and grace offered through our worship than many of us ever take the time or energy to receive. When I walk outside into God's day after morning services I am just a little more alert, a little more aware, with a stronger sense of direction, reason, and purpose than when I walked in.

I add in closing, Father, that in thanks and appreciation for your beautifully offered homily, my experience of the celebration tomorrow morning will be an even deeper treasure than before—And a Friday on top of it all!

Thank you, Father!
Valarie Clark Austin, TX VCLARKIE

Dear Valarie,

Thanks so much for your letter and your kind words. Is isn't often that someone takes the time to write and let me know when something I've said has been helpful, with God's grace. I really appreciate it.

Fr. M

Subj: Please give me your guidance, Father
Date: 94-08-12 11:28:07 EDT
From: NiEire
To: Fr. M

Father, I have been reading your column/board for some time now and have come to respect your judgment and guidance.

Now I need to ask some questions for myself. This is a "where do I go from here?" question.

My religious background—baptized Catholic, brought up in the Lutheran church through catechism training to age 15. This was a decision on the part of my parents who had rival Irish religious factions (and a history of such) going on in the family.

Just prior to Confirmation, one of my Sunday School teachers told us that all Methodists would burn in hell because they didn't follow the one true religion of Luther. In the disgust and rebellion of the 60's I walked out and never returned. My religious life, however, did not end there. My hopes for nun were obviously out (my mother vehemently refused to allow me to attend the local parochial school) but I continued a journey, with God's guidance I believe, in comparative religion, history, and the sociology of religion.

I lingered on the outskirts of organized religion until five years ago at a midnight Christmas service in St. George's chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle, England. At that service, I believe that our Holy Mother of God called me in her Son's name to feast at his table and I participated in my very first Holy Communion. I feel that I was not only well prepared spiritually to participate, but that God had truly called me. I found myself completely clothed with the Holy Spirit for the next year. I also came to believe that the original faith of my baptism was where I belonged.

I have been an active member of two different parishes since that time (due to company/job moves) and, due to another move, am now facing the choice of entering a third community in my new town.

I feel a need to "get straight" with the church, and have called to place myself in this year's RCIA journey. I was married (civil ceremony in Las Vegas YEARS ago) and have been through a divorce. I am considering remarriage and wish to have my marriage blessed by the church and have it truly exist as a sacrament. My fiancée, while not a Catholic, completely supports this as he knows the depth of my belief and my commitment. He says that he loves having his own personal "mystic" and that I help him see the world and the church through more tolerant and thankful eyes. I indeed hope that I give him that much.

I am a participant in the daily mass, when I can find an early enough service to get me to the office on time. Unlike life in the Northeast or the Chicago area, most of the churches around here (and a scant few of them at that—this is Baptist country!) hold morning services around 9:00 or 9:30.

I have been to confession, but have never confessed partaking of communion without confirmation—It's been between God and me. I never approach the rail unprepared, I listen each day for his call. I've never told anybody because I'm afraid they'll throw me out.

Now you know my worst fears, but also my unwavering love. Is the RCIA approach the right one? What do I tell my priest? How do I tell him gently so that he will understand my commitment before he begins to condemn me for my falsehood?

Please help me, Father....
Lost Daughter of Ireland

Dear NiEire,

I'm pleased that you have found a renewed interest in the faith of your baptism, and I want to encourage you to pursue it.

With regard to receiving the sacraments, as I understand from your letter you received no sacraments from the Catholic Church subsequent to your baptism. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and you should not hesitate to talk to your parish priest about it.

The procedure by which Catholics who have not made either their first Communion or Confirmation are admitted to these sacraments varies from diocese to diocese. In some cases, such individuals are asked to participate in the parish's RCIA program; in other dioceses, such as ours, a special program is set up particularly for people in your situation.

In either case you should be aware that, while the Catholic Church recognizes the valid baptisms of many Christian denominations, this is not the case for the sacraments of the Eucharist or Confirmation. These you would have to receive in the Catholic Church in whatever way is required in your diocese. Your first course of action, then, would be to approach your pastor and tell him your story. He would be able to tell you in detail what would be necessary for you to receive these sacraments and complete your initiation into the Catholic Church. Although this may disappoint you, you should not continue to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church until you have been admitted to this sacrament in the proper way. That's why I think you should speak to your parish priest as soon as possible.

With regard to your prior marriage, you should know that a baptized Catholic is required to marry before a priest and two witnesses (unless permission to do otherwise is obtained from one's bishop before hand). Therefore, your civil marriage in Las Vegas is not a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church. However, because a legal marriage did occur, you will most likely be required to present both proof of your baptism and a marriage license showing the position of whoever performed the ceremony, along with a certificate of divorce, to prove that you were not married according to the law of the Church.

If I have somehow misunderstood your situation, please let me know. I hope this has helped, and please write back if there's anything else I can help you with.

Fr. M


Subj: Re: Please give me your guidance...
Date: 94-08-15 18:21:23 EDT
From: NiEire
To:Fr. M

Dear Father,

Thank you so much, you dear person!

I had an RCIA interview at lunch today with the DRE at my local parish. She said that I was a delight, she was thrilled to have me, and that I had truly been blessed by the guidance and advice that you gave. She was happy to know that there were people out there like you!

Me too! This morning's trip to the "Assumption" mass will be the last one that I take alone. Fear not..... it will be no problem whatsoever to forego the eucharist until my formal confirmation. It is a sacrifice that I willingly and joyously make for the return rewards and peace.

I wrote to you directly, but if for any reason you want to post my letter, or use it to help others, please do. I'll let you know how the journey's going and will search often for copies of your homilies. My DRE says that she'd love to see them, too.

Bless you, Father,
NiEire (though no longer "Lost"!)

P.S. by the way, the pastor of this church..... apparently a respected canon lawyer, will be counseling me on the marriage/divorce issues. Thanks for the direction there too!

The following question reached me on AOL through the Internet...

Subj: question
Date: 94-08-12 13:27:52 EDT
To:Fr. M


What is ones responsibility to others in terms of informing them about venial and mortal sins. To explain the family tends toward going to mass on Sundays and that's about it....I don't want to appear holier than thou and usually don't tell them that (for example) missing mass because one is tired is a mortal sin and that confession is necessary before receiving communion the following Sunday. I know their knowledge of the faith is as poor as mine was before I started reading and found an excellent priest and really don't want to inform them, but as I said before they already think I'm a bit extreme anyway (for not using birth control, etc.) and don't want to alienate them. Thanks for your time.


Dear Andrea,

How to deal with those who do not share our commitment to the same faith is always a difficult matter. It's important to keep in mind that what we may say to them will not be nearly as effective as our good example. I think you've done the right thing in mentioning your concerns to your family; but, once it's mentioned, it probably doesn't do much good to keep mentioning it, otherwise you might be perceived as being a "nagger." Once you've told them the truth, the best thing to do after that is to simply give good example. Let them see your own commitment to the faith through you actions, and let God do the rest.

Fr. M

Subj: Advice re annulment
Date: 94-08-12 10:20:39 EDT

Dear Father M,

I married a divorced man in a civil ceremony. Years later I felt the call to get back to my Catholic roots. My priest allowed my confession and gives me communion so long as my husband pursues his annulment. (My husband attends mass but does not take the sacraments.)

Now it seems as if the annulment may never happen because some of the witnesses' testimony was marked, "insufficient ". And the marriage took place over 30 years ago.

My question is, I love the Lord and want to be with Jesus in Holy Communion, but I also love my husband. I feel like such a fraud when I even go to church. If you were my priest, how would you advise me?

Dear Forgiven,

First of all, I would never discourage you from attending Mass. Our Holy Father, himself, has said time and again that even those unable to receive the sacraments because of their marital status should avail themselves of the ministry of the Church as much as possible.

If I were your priest, however, I would not have advised you to partake of Holy Communion until your husband's annulment is secured and your current union is regularized according the marriage laws of the Church. Until you exchange consent in the presence of a priest and two witnesses, the Church cannot regard the union as a valid one (the exception to this is if you and your husband had agreed to live without marital relations, as "brother and sister," until married in the Church, in which case your pastor could admit you to Holy Communion; but, this option is usually not even discussed nowadays as it is seen as too unrealistic for most couples).

It's possible that I do not fully understand your situation and may, for that reason, misunderstand your pastor's decision to give you Holy Communion. In any case, you might want to speak to him again about your concerns, or seek the advice of another priest as well to make sure you are getting the correct information about your situation. In the mean time, I encourage you to continue to participate in the Mass and prayer of the Church, even without receiving the sacraments, asking the Lord for a speedy resolution to this situation and the grace to accept the outcome. Also, keep in mind that if your husband's petition of nullity is denied by the diocesan tribunal, he has the right to appeal the case to a higher court. Should the petition be refused in the court of first instance, he should not hesitate to ask his advocate for the information necessary to submit an appeal to the court of second instance should he be inclined to do so.

I hope this information helps some. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to be of service.

Subj: Re:Monastery
Date: 94-08-11 04:02:42 EDT

We are not Catholic, but our 20 year old son is taking Catholic instruction of his own volition. He is apparently interested in entering a monastery. This is fine with us as long as it makes him happy. Our son is very contemplative, religious, and does not like the "modern" world as such.

What is a monastery? What does being a monk entail? Is there a monastery in Colorado? How does one apply for a monastery? Is everyone in a monastery a Monk, or do others work there? Are there any books we can read? We, as his parents, only want his happiness. You may email me if you wish. Anything you can tell us will help. Thanks so much. JN

Dear JN,

A monastery is a house of prayer, either for men or women, devoted primarily to prayer and sacrifice. Those who live there (ordinarily called Monks or Nuns), believe they possess a special vocation from God to forsake the concerns of the world to devote themselves to this apostolate.

Monasteries do not exist autonomously, but are part of "Monastic Community" which may consist of several monasteries scattered throughout the world. There are many monastic communities active in the Catholic Church today, each with a unique history and each with a slightly different way of life.

The roots of monasticism in Christianity date to the early Desert Fathers of the East, who fled the civilized world to escape the persecution of Christians in the early Church. Monasticism in the West is usually traced to St. Benedict in the very early middle ages, whose monastic rule continues to guide the lives of several monastic communities today, though there are others as well. Some monastic communities live lives of strict contemplation, with little or no contact with the outside world; while other communities will engage in a limited apostolate within the Church, such as teaching, giving retreats, or even parish ministry if the needs of the Church require it. Those who embrace the former are typically called "contemplatives," and their role and vocation in the Church are held in high esteem. Consequently, admittance to a monastic community is usually difficult, and applicants are carefully screened. As a rule, monastic communities will usually discourage anyone who seems to be seeking this way of life as a way of escaping life's problems.

The Catholic Church regards the monastic vocation as wholly necessary. While it is certainly not the vocation of most Christians, the Church believes that it is essential for a few to devote themselves entirely to living Christian perfect and to prayer for the Church and the world. Since the vocation is difficult to live, those considering this way of life must be individuals of uncommon character and maturity. Ordinarily, most monastic communities expect to be aquatinted with an applicant for some time before a formal application process can be begun, which is accompanied by a battery of psychological tests. Once accepted, the individual must progress through various stages before becoming an actual member of the community. Ultimately, if the applicant is judged worthy, he will be permitted to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a member of the community. Church law requires that these vows first be taken temporarily, renewed each year, for a certain number of years, before the individual is allowed to take them finally for life. If the applicant aspires to the Holy Priesthood (and not all Monks are priests), he is not ordained until the final vows are taken, and the required studies are completed. Obviously, all this does not happen quickly; and, in many communities, an individual does not become eligible for final vows for six years or more, depending on the policies of the particular monastic community.

There are several books about monastic life, but one of the best is called "The White Paradise," It is a straightforward presentation of daily life in a Carthusian monastery in Sweden, though I'm not sure it's still in print (the title comes from the fact that the Carthusian monks wear white habits). When I was in college I had a strong attraction to monastic life myself, and had visited the Carthusian monastery in Vermont several times. Ultimately, I decided against the monastic life, and became a parish priest instead. I also have frequent contact with a monastery of Carmelite Nuns here in our diocese, for whom I offer Mass occasionally.

Monastic houses are everywhere today, and I'm sure there are several in Colorado, belonging to various communities. You should be comforted to remember that no monastery will accept your son hastily. I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if there's anything else I can do to be of assistance.

Subj: Immaculate Conception
Date: 94-08-15 21:45:08 EDT
From: KWehrmeist


Could you explain the reasoning behind the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception? In particular, how does it square with passages such as Romans 3:23 ("all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.")?


Dear Karen,

Simply put, the Immaculate Conception is a dogma of faith which teaches that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was conceived in the womb of her mother without original sin, in preparation for being the mother of the savior. Consequently, since original sin is responsible for man's fallen nature and his tendency to sin, Mary was able to remain sinless throughout her life on earth.

This dogma was defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, but clearly was believed by many for centuries before, partly by reason of the implications of Scripture, partly because of popular devotion.

On June 1, 1848, at the most critical stage of the Papal States' involvement in the Austrian War, he commissioned a group of twenty theologians to study whether it was feasible to define Mary's immunity from original sin.

From Gaeta, in the following year, the Pope issued an encyclical letter addressed to the bishops of the Catholic world, asking them to help him decide the matter. Of some six hundred replies, only that of the archbishop of Paris, with one or two others, took the line that the belief was not definable. A few more, mainly from Protestant countries, considered it inopportune. The overwhelming majority, better than 90%, were enthusiastic.

Pius IX's proclamation of the Immaculate Conception, "Ineffabilis Deus," is a masterpiece of theological restraint. It shows none of the effusion of which Pius has been charged by his critics.

In the first three parts, the Pope examines the testimony of tradition, first in the interpretation of Scripture and then in the teaching of the Church. Without claiming that Scripture reveals the doctrine explicitly, he shows that the most common interpretation of the relevant texts by the ancient Fathers and current theologians sees in these texts an implicit teaching that Mary was conceived without sin, especially in Genesis 3:15. Here he interprets the seed of the woman as referring to the Savior ("autos" in the Septaugint), so that the Mother of Christ came to be identified with the woman who opposes the serpent.

He then refers to the descriptions of Mary by the ancient Fathers, citing such phrases as "most innocent," "most spotless," "all pure," "the dwelling place of all graces," etc.

He then goes on to point out the definition was asked for by the bishops and faithful of the Church, not promulgated from on high; but that his decree is necessary to make the teaching irreversible. He then condenses the whole teaching into one paragraph...

"To the honor of the holy and undivided Trinity, to the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, to the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and the increase of the Catholic religion, We, by the authority of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and by our Own, declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the omnipotent God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of Mankind was preserved free from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore is to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful."

With regard to Romans 3:23, it's important to interpret the passage in relation to Paul's overall purpose in explaining the whole idea of faith and justification in Romans 3:1 through 3:31. In verses 10 through 18 he quotes Psalm 141 to establish the principle of the dichotomy between the law of the OT and justification through faith. Since the Psalm says that no human being would ever be forgiven if God judged everyone by their actions, there must be something else that will account for justification; and Paul finds this in God's promises to save his people: this is the "saving justice of God" which was promised for the messianic era and which, as Paul says in v. 22, is manifest in Jesus Christ. The law, which merely regulates behavior, was meant by God not to eliminate sin but to make sinners aware of the fact (cf. John 1:16 and 7:7). When he states in v. 23 that "all have sinned and lack God's glory," he is identifying how each of us would stand were the law of the OT the final word on the matter; but, immediately following, in v. 24, he adds, "and all are justified by the free gift of his grace through being set free in Christ Jesus." In other words, the condemnation of OT law, to which he refers in v. 23, is canceled by justification in Christ.

Thus, it is wholly possible for God, through direct intervention into the natural processes, to create a spotless human being for the purpose of bringing Christ into the world, which is what he did in the conception of the Virgin Mother of God. Paul eludes to this himself in v. 25 when he speaks of Christ "who God predestined to be [the literal Greek] a propitiatory through faith by his blood; first for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand; and now again for the present age, to show how he is just and justifies everyone who has faith in Jesus." The dogma of the Immaculate Conception simply recognizes the logical follow-through of this predestined propitiation, so that God, in intending from the beginning to set things right through Christ, prepared all that was necessary for the incarnation from the beginning, including the human portal through which he would enter to physical world, namely, Mary.

I hope this answers your question, and thanks for posting.

Subj: Another "Sola Scriptura" question
Date: 94-08-19 14:24:06 EDT

Hello Father M,

I have a quick question on "sola scriptura".

If the old Testament Church recognized the Bible and yet was not infallible, how can the Catholic Church—or why does the Catholic Church—claim that one needs an infallible authority to even know what the bible is [Herself]. I guess what I'm trying to say is why can't Protestants recognize the bible as God's Word without the need of the Catholic Church to tell them what books belong in their bible or why the Catholic Church has the right to interpret those scriptures. I'm just trying to follow the Protestants logic using the Old Testament example. Could you explain the differences here?

Respectfully yours,
Jon G.


The Catholic Church believes herself to be the authority capable of defining the canon of Scripture for the simple fact that it was her authority that declared the Scriptures to be the word of God in the first place.

Just as the Bible we know today had a history in the Church, so the Old Testament had a history among the Jewish people before Christ. Just as the first collection of Biblical books for Christians didn't come into existence in any form until St. Jerome's Latin translation in the Third Century, so the first real translation of the Old Testament for Hebrews doesn't appear in any definitive form until the 3rd Century BC with the Septuagint. This Greek translation of the Pentateuch, along with some of the writings of the prophets, so named because it was compiled by seventy Greek-speaking Jewish scholars, was the first real "edition" of the Hebrew Scriptures used more or less by most Jews. Even so, even the Septuagint was not universally accepted; and, even in our Lord's time, there were still Jewish groups who recognized only the Pentateuch or "Torah" (the first five books of Moses) as Scripture while rejecting the writings of the prophets. While the Saducees of our Lord's time chose to recognize only the Torah as the word of God, the Pharisees, for example, had already begun to recognize a collection of sayings by ancient rabbis, called the Talmud, as somewhat inspired as well.

The form of Scripture used by most Jews today did not begin to take it's present form until 100 years after Christ, when a council of rabbis met at Jamnia (just south of modern-day Tel Aviv) to define for the first time a canon of Hebrew Scripture for all Jews. They decided that they would accept no book that did not conform to the Pentateuch, was not written after the time of Esdra (about 400 BC), and which was not written in Hebrew in Palestine. In their own words, the Rabbis sought to "make a fence around the Scriptures."

For the most part, Christians ignored the canon of Scripture decided upon at Jamnia, and adopted the Septuagint as their "official" version of the Old Testament, containing, as it did, many books that did not meet the rabbinical criterion, such as Baruch, the Epistles of Jeremiah, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Tobit, parts of Daniel and Esther, Wisdom, Judith, and the books of the Maccabees, many of which were written outside of Palestine or were written in Greek.

The Protestant reformers, for their part, were more inclined to recognize the Jamnia canon and rejected much of what had already been a part of Christian Scripture for a thousand years; thus, the seven books or parts of books that do not appear in most Protestant editions of the Bible conform to those which the rabbis at Jamnia rejected, though the reformers gave different reasons than the rabbis did for rejecting them.

It wasn't until the Council of Trent in 1156 that that the Catholic Church became the first religious community to define for it's people a definitive version of Scripture that would, for all time, be considered the inspired word of God. The Church believes that her authority is required to recognize the Scriptures because without that authority there is no agreement as to what exactly those Scriptures are.

I hope this answers your question somewhat. Thanks for posting.