Everyone knows that there are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. Not everyone knows, or receives, the fullness of each sacrament.

Of particular importance today, I think, is an appropriate understanding of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. As I discuss in this week’s Catholicism In Focus, it is not one that many people quite understand, and their misunderstanding is among my largest pet peeves in the Church.

In short, the sacrament is meant for the sick, not just the dying. Don’t wait until the last moment, when someone is already unconscious, to receive this wonderful gift from God.

Five years ago, Pope Francis promulgated Laudato Si, the first ever encyclical devoted to the environment. It is a fantastic work of theology, looking to the signs of the times and offering a comprehensive approach to the ills facing our world.

If you haven’t read it yet, I cannot encourage you enough. It is really good. And incredibly important. And about more than just the environment.

Beyond this week’s Catholicism in Focus, which offers and overview, here are some of my favorite passages:

The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. (#6)

If we approach nature and the environment without…openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. (#11)

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. (#23)

There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. (#25)

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet… The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor. (#48)

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (#120)

“There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development.” (#136)

Where are Catholic Teachings in the Bible?

It is often said by fundamentalist Christians that Catholic doctrines are made up, that we’ve disregarded God’s Word to follow the laws of man. It’s utterly ridiculous. Catholics were the first Christians, and we were the ones who compiled the Bible. Anyone who has ever read a papal encyclical or official document of the Church knows that there are references to Scripture in every paragraph.

Everything we do finds its foundation in Scripture.

But that doesn’t mean that everything exists today just as it did 2000 years ago. The Church grows and develops. Implicit or minor teachings in the Bible took on flesh as the Church became greater aware of its mission. To suggest that every detail of what we do now is found in Scripture is not a fair claim—no Christian community could live up to that standard.

The problem, unfortunately, is that many Catholics (or other Christians) don’t know where the foundation is for many of our doctrines. In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I offer the biblical foundation for some of our most contested beliefs, showing exactly where and why we believe what we do.

The question of ordaining women to the priesthood is not open to debate. At least, not according to John Paul II. In his 1994 letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he states, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

In other words, the Church will not and cannot ordain women to be priests.

The point of this week’s Catholicism In Focus is not to spark a debate. I have no interest in sharing my own opinions or hearing others’. What one thinks about a doctrine is of no consequence, really, especially when few people know what the doctrine actually says.

The purpose of this video, then, is to look at the rationale given in this definitive statement and to understand its limits. Why can women not be ordained priests, according to the Catholic magisterium? How does this limit their scope of leadership in the Church? In what ways has this doctrine been inappropriately applied to prevent women from active participation? These are the questions I seek to answer, particularly the final one.

Women may not be able to be ordained priests, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for them to have legitimate influence. Until those ways become the norm and not the exception, we’ve got some work to do.

What is a Mortal Sin?

Do you know what really grinds my gears? Finding parish or youth group websites posting lists of mortal sins. Not only does no such list exist in the magisterial teaching of Catholic Church, it would be impossible to make one.

For starters, as I discussed in a previous video, there is no such thing as an act that always bears culpability. The act itself is important, but one must always consider the intent of the actor and the circumstances in which they acted.

On top of that, for something to be a mortal sin, it must have more than just “grave matter.” Simply being serious (or what these homemade lists believe to be serious) isn’t enough. There must also be full knowledge and complete consent on the part of the actor. If they don’t know what they’re doing or are not completely free to say no, it cannot be a mortal sin.

Again, for those sitting in the back. Just because someone has done something grave doesn’t make it a mortal sin. In fact, there are many times in which it isn’t.

So when you see a list suggesting that illegal drug use, theft, gossip, anger without justification, superstition, and pride are all mortal sins, without any reference to intent, circumstances, knowledge, or freedom, please remember what the Church actually teaches. There is no such thing as something that is always a mortal sin no matter the circumstances. There are things that consist of grave matter, yes, but that’s not the same as being sinful, and it most certainly isn’t the same as culpability.

Are Marian Apparitions Real?

It is not an uncommon experience for me to get a message from someone asking about the prophecy of Mary or some saint. Generally, they’re terrifying. Mary is nothing like the docile, “do unto me according to your will” mother that we find in the Bible, but is much more a tyrant usurping her son’s throne to inflict some harm.

It’s easy for most of us to dismiss these things as fabrications or the work of the paranoid, but how do we respond to these things? Surely, there must be an objective way to evaluate such apparitions for some semblance of authenticity.

In fact, there is! In this week’s Catholicism in Focus, I look at the Church’s standards to evaluating miraculous encounters and what they mean for us.

Believe it or not, this was one a controversial question. Today, many “mixed marriages” take place every year, joining together people of different faiths into one. While it may seem commonplace and routine today, this is only because of major shifts in the Church’s approach to ecumenism, leading to a reform of the liturgy.

If you’re preparing for your own wedding today, the USCCB has some great resources for you to use.

Bible Overview: What is it all about?

As most people know, the Bible is less of a book than it is a library. Consisting of dozens of books from different authors written at different times for different purposes, it is hardly a cohesive work. Add this to the fact that the final editors decided to group the books together thematically rather than chronologically, and there is no way to keep everything straight.

Which is why, a) reading from Genesis through Revelation is such a difficult task and many people give up along the way, and more importantly, b) most people have no idea how the stories all fit together. Especially for Catholics, who tend to get most of their Scripture from the Lectionary of Mass (and do little reading at home…) there is a disjointed nature to it all. We have all of the stories, yes, but we have no chronology. No narrative. No overarching story holding everything in place.

In this Catholicism In Focus, I hope to demystify the Bible and make it more approachable. When you have the general structure and know where it’s going (think, reading the Cliffnotes), all of the details become easier to understand. The Bible may not be a cohesive work, but the story of salvation is definitely clear.

During Lent, and especially on Good Friday, many Catholics pray the stations of the cross. It is among the most popular devotions in the whole world, ranging in style and content from place to place.

But where did this devotion come from, and how did it develop over time? Interestingly enough, the Franciscans had a lot to say in answering both questions.

If you’re interested in praying the stations at home, I recommend a number of resources to you. The first is the USCCB’s website that includes multiple versions of the prayer. Catholic Relief Services has produced a version that connects our prayer to the suffering and poverty of our world. As I mention in the video, there are also Marian versions of the devotion, following the events from her perspective. And, honestly, there is a lot of leeway to create your own. A parishioner just sent me a “coronavirus themed” version that reflects on the current situation in light of Christ’s passion. The point of the practice is to mediate on the events of Christ’s death in a way that makes sense to us, and so I say, “be creative.”

Is there anything wrong with being rich? This is America. And in America, we reward hard work and ingenuity. You can be anything and anyone you want, right, as long as you work for it. If you work hard enough and have enough skill, you deserve everything you get. Millionaire? Billionaire? Richest person in the world? This is the sign that you have worked hard, and everything you earn is rightfully yours. No one can take it away from you.

Okay. But what if that person is a Christian?

The question of what we do with our money is arguably the most important issue found in the entire Bible (in the Old Testament, second only to the issue of idolatry.) More than an insistence on peace, more than politics, far more than sexual ethics, Jesus spends most of his earthly ministry caring for the poor and preaching about wealth. He tells his disciples how they are to approach it, preaches against the rich, and raises up the poor. Truly, if there is one thing that Jesus cares about more than anything else, it’s what we do with our money.

Understandably, then, the Catholic Church has a few things to say on the topic. Drawing from the social encyclicals, papal pronouncements, and ecumenical council documents, this week’s Catholicism In Focus offers a brief overview of the Church’s stance on but one economic topic: private property.

Can a Christian be rich? In general, the Church has no problem. But it definitely depends on what one does with their riches.

Most of you are probably well aware of this, but there are Christians in the world that hate Catholics. They don’t just disagree with our teachings, they do not think that we are Christians, and believe that we are nothing liars and deceivers.

Oh, and they’ve got the “scriptural evidence to back it up.” Because, you know, we don’t read the Bible and have no idea what’s in it.

One of the most common attacks we hear comes in regards to most famous title for a Christian leader: “father.” According to them, it is against the teaching of Jesus. Quoting Matthew 23, they point out that Jesus said “call no one father,” evidence that Catholics don’t care about Jesus’ teaching.

Of course, the Bible is absolutely central to our faith as Catholics. We would never disobey Jesus is such a blatant way. There must be more to the story than what appears on face value!

Hence, this week’s episode of Catholicism in Focus. Enjoy!

If you’ve followed Catholic news much over the past year, you know that there has been a lot of attention give to the Amazon region. Pope Francis convened a synod to explore the needs of the people and what the Church should do in response.

On most people’s minds, there was only one question that mattered: will the pope allow married men to be ordained priests in a region that desperately needs sacramental ministers? This is what the news covered almost entirely, and so for many people, it was seemingly the only issue at hand.

Thus, when Pope Francis remained silent on the issue, many moved on without giving much attention to the post-synodal document. This is a shame, to say the least.

In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I unpack what the pope actually did say, and why it matters to us. It is a short document (relatively speaking) and so I strongly encourage everyone to read through it yourself. You can find it in its entirety here.