A number of years back, I was at a parish for mass on Sunday when I heard something that shocked me to the core: the priest, referring to the Holy Spirit, said “she.”

Gasp!

At this point I can’t remember when exactly this was or when I first heard it, but I remember being very confused, even offended by it. Who did this priest think he was? God is not a “she.” He’s just trying to be hip or go with the trends of the world. Stick to the faith father and stop pushing an agenda.

Over the years, I began to hear this more, both by priests within Church and by other faithful Christians in other contexts, and I began to question my feelings on the matter: why does this offend me? I remember someone asking me one time, “You believe that God is neither male nor female, right? God is above gender? Then why does it offend you when we use the analogous language of “she” but not when we use “he”?

Fair question. God is not masculine by nature. God is not an old guy with a beard. God is pure being, completeness, beyond any particulars or potencies. Sure, God is often depicted in Scripture in traditionally masculine terms (most notably as “father” by Jesus), but God is also described in traditionally feminine terms as well. We tend to latch on to one, but not the other.

So, what’s my response today? Am I an advocate for beginning prayer “In the name of the Mother…” or “following her word”? Not necessarily. But I am more conscious of the fact that our language is wildly insufficient. I fear, sometimes, that we forget that we are using an analogy and begin to deify the wrong aspects of God. I fear, sometimes, that the title “Father” has become less of a term of endearment and more of an idol. For what is an idol but making something that is not God into God? If we believe that God is beyond gender, then what does it mean when we insist that God only be referred to through one gender?

Interesting questions for sure, and hopefully something that we can continue to approach with humility in the future!

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Last year, Catholicism In Focus asked the question, “How Late Can I Come to Mass?” Officially, there isn’t a rule or an actual cutoff. There are no bouncers at the door. While most people would say that if you made it by the Gospel and Homily, you were good, this has simply never been the case.

But the very fact that most people thought this—and held to this conviction so strongly that they fought with me on social media when I presented this video—shows how engrained this notion was. Why is this significant? Because implicitly, the vast majority of people have been raised to believe that the what maters at Mass is the Eucharist, and everything else is secondary. “Oh, don’t worry, you just missed the first reading. You didn’t miss what really matters…” You might not find someone who actually says these words that bluntly, but the idea is certainly there.

This, quite obviously, is not what the Church wants us to think, and the problem was apparently so bad, that it had to explicitly state the opposite in its Constitution on the Divine Liturgy: “The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. Accordingly this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when instructing the faithful, they insistently teach them to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 56.)

The liturgy of the Word is not simply a warm up to what really matters. It is a gift in and of itself. In reading from Scripture, Christ is made truly present. That is pretty incredible, and something that we should take seriously!

In 128 days, I will be ordained to the priesthood. That means a world of new responsibilities. Celebrating mass. Hearing confessions. Anointing the sick. Being the person people turn to in times of crisis and need. That is going to be a big step in my life as a pastoral minister.

And it has raised an interesting question: what will that do to my “other” ministries of evangelizing and catechizing through social media, preaching and teaching in various parishes around the country? It is a question that I have thought about for more than two years, a question that, frankly, has caused me to be a bit hesitant with what I started as I didn’t know if it would be able to continue.

We’ve reached the point where that question is beginning to be answered.

Last week, I have a conversation with my provincial and vicar provincial about my future. I shared what I was thinking, they shared what there were thinking, and we came to a pretty good conclusion: they want me to find a way to continue doing this ministry into the future.

What that will look like, I’m not 100% sure. But my guess is that I’ll have a much clearer answer in a few weeks time…

A little while ago, I was talking with someone about how the Church cares for the poor, works for justice in our world, and does all that we can to promote peace. I said that we do these things not because we’re “do gooders” or hippies, but because it is our responsibility as Christians.

I forget the context of the conversation, but it was a pretty standard response to whatever was asked, straight from Catholic Social Teaching 101. I will never forget the response:

But why should we care about this world? If we believe in heaven, who cares if people are poor or die? Shouldn’t our only focus be on getting souls into heaven?

Rarely am I caught off guard by a question, but this one certainly got me. I could see what the person was getting at, I could see why they would ask this, but there were just so many problems with that way of thinking that I didn’t know where to start. Luckily I have a good internal filter and regrouped, because my first thought was, “So, are you suggesting that we just mercy kill everyone who has a tough life so that we can ‘send them to heaven?'” That would not have been a pastorally appropriate response.

I can’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but it got me thinking, theologically, how to best answer this question. In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I offer three reasons why we care about protecting life, and really, the entire physical world:

1. Creation was created by God, it is good in itself, and is a vessel for experiencing God.

2. The human person is more than just a “soul” or spiritual body, but is fundamentally a physical being.

3. Salvation is not simply an other-worldly experience, one completely removed from our reality.

Is this a complete list? By no means. But I think it offers a foundation for a Catholic view of the world that must be behind everything we do. Unless we accept these three points as a basis for our faith, we might struggle to understand much of what we do and why we do it, leading us to ask tragic questions like, “Why should we care about life at all?”

When does the Mass begin? It might seem like a silly question, but liturgically, there really isn’t a clear answer. If we say that the sign of the cross by the priest is the beginning, then does that mean that the opening hymn and procession really weren’t the Mass? Well that’s not good (and probably why presiders shouldn’t start “we begin in the name…”) So, what if we say that the opening hymn is the beginning? Well, a few problems. For one, a hymn technically isn’t required, so, at some masses that would mean that mass never officially begins… Besides this, it still ignores the important things that happen before this point—blessing ourselves with holy water, praying silently in our pew, greeting those around us.

To answer this question, it can be helpful to ask a more general one: what is the purpose of the Introductory Rites in the first place? The answer to this question is obviously to gather us in and prepare us for what is about to happen: we join our voices together, greet one another, call to mind our sins, give God praise, and declare our intentions through a singular prayer. Beautiful and important in themselves, for sure, we can see that none of these acts are necessarily the reason we come to mass, but rather prepare us for that purpose.

So, if the point of the Introductory Rites is to gather us in and prepare us for what is about to happen, when does the Mass begin? Some will suggest, and I tend to agree, that the Mass begins when we leave our homes and start our journey to the church. From the moment that we make it our intent to go to church, leaving our lives and secular responsibilities behind for a short while, we being the process of gathering together and preparation needed for the Mass. Those individual journeys we all make are our own processions to the altar.

The reason I find this a significant question to ask is because it changes our whole approach. If we believe that the Mass begins with the sign of the cross, then we might be tempted to skip the song, to not care about reverence in the Church, or to simply act inappropriately walking in the church. But if our mindset is different and we view the entire journey to the church as part of the Mass, think about how different our experience will be in the car, in the parking lot, walking through the doors, greeting those around us. These actions are not just normal, ordinary, boring events, but the very act of communion.