Q: I am a 73-year-old married woman
with three adult children. I graduated
from a Catholic high school, have
been a faithful wife and have always
attended Mass—daily if possible. I also say
the Rosary almost every day.
We live on a modest income in a small
house, and I praise God every day for my
blessings, although I have been through
many trials and tribulations.
My 48-year-old son-in-law died of a
brain tumor last year, after two years of suffering.
Because my daughter and grandchild
were left with only a small insurance
policy, she must work at a job where she
is treated unfairly by employers who live
in million-dollar homes. Her job provides
no medical coverage.
For six months I have been praying
three daily novenas that the insurance
company that underpaid her would be
responsible for additional insurance. The
other day we learned that the insurance
company was not responsible for more
than it has already paid. I guess my novenas
Why do so many people who never go
to church live in mini-mansions, have great
jobs, etc.? Does God give them more blessings
than people who go to church and
confession regularly—like my widowed
daughter? I see many Christian actors and
athletes who have huge homes, private
jets and other luxuries.
I know that many people have experienced
floods, earthquakes and other
losses. I have sent help when I can. Today,
however, after my long novenas I am
very discouraged. Why is life so unfair?
Please pray for my daughter and grandchild.
A: Thanks for writing. Yes, I will
pray for your daughter and
grandchild. The practice of praying for
the same intention nine days consecutively
is a very good one, but it does
not guarantee that the intention prayed
for will certainly happen. If it did, then
God would be at our beck and call,
knowing our wants and needs only because
of our prayers.
One of the side effects of a novena
is that people may resolve to stand up
for their rights and work in various
ways until those rights are recognized
and respected. Your daughter-in-law
can take the insurance company to
court if she thinks that she has a case
Are her current employers complying
with relevant state and federal laws?
Has she developed skills at this job that
would be better compensated by another
You may want to read and pray over
Psalms 37 and 73, both of which were
based on experiences of injustice.
our February 2005 issue, I wrote a short
reflection on Psalm 73. You can access
It is very tempting to envy evildoers
and feel that God is slow to trip them
up, but that path leads to a dead end.
God’s justice is fully vindicated only
in heaven. Unfortunately, some people
use their freedom in very destructive
Being wealthy is not a sin—it all
depends on how the money was made.
Some wealthy people are also very generous
A novena made in the proper frame
of mind should not end in bitterness.
Please encourage your daughter to
explore all her options within her present
employment and outside it. Perhaps
God is answering your prayers in
a way you did not expect.
Where to Turn?
Q: I have several ex-Catholic friends
who at one time considered returning
to the Catholic Church. Because of the
U.S. priest sex-abuse scandals, however,
they are now looking for a Protestant group
These friends say that they cannot rejoin
a Church where such horrible things have
happened to children at the hands of bad
priests (even if they were relatively few in
number) and when Catholic bishops in
the United States did not prevent this.
What can I say to these friends?
A: The first thing to say is that
the sexual abuse of minors by
anyone is a crime. It is also a sin and
is made more so when a previously
trusted person (like a member of the
clergy) is the abuser. People who have
been abused should be encouraged to
report this to law enforcement and to
Is joining a Protestant Church the
answer? Can your friends find one
where sexual abuse of a minor by a
member of the clergy has never occurred?
Regretfully, I doubt it. Or where
this is guaranteed not to occur in the
future? Again, I doubt it. Sin is very real
and will eventually show up among
every group of Jesus’ followers—indeed,
among all humans.
This does not excuse sin in general or
clergy sexual abuse of minors in particular.
Right now, experts in the field
of child protection will tell you that, in
fact, the Catholic Church is the largest
group in the United States taking the
sexual abuse of minors seriously.
Some Catholic bishops and others
have clearly not taken this abuse seriously
enough in the past. Adopting
and implementing their June 2002
Charter for the Protection of Children and
Young People is one way of doing this
now. The National Review Board, composed
of lay women and men, works
to ensure that clergy sexual abuse continues
to be addressed seriously in every
diocese and eparchy.
The challenge here is much bigger
than we may think. We need to be
advocates for children everywhere.
Q: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus
curses a fig tree and commands it
to remain barren forever (21:18-22). At
first glance, it would seem that he was “having a bad day” and lost his temper
when an apparently healthy tree had no
figs, but there must be more to it than
that. What does this story mean?
A: The footnote in the New American Bible for this passage reads: “Jesus’ act seems arbitrary and ill-tempered, but it is a prophetic action similar to those of Old Testament prophets that vividly symbolize some part of their preaching; see, for example, Ezekiel 12:1-20.
“It is a sign of the judgment that is to come upon the Israel that with all its apparent piety lacks the fruit of good deeds (Matthew 3:10) and will soon bear the punishment of its fruitlessness (Matthew 21:43).
“Some scholars propose that this story is the development in tradition of a parable of Jesus about the destiny of a fruitless tree, such as Luke 13:6-9. Jesus’ answer to the question of the amazed disciples (verse 20) makes the miracle an example of the power of prayer made with unwavering faith (verses 21-22).”
Why Pray for the Deceased?
Q: When did the custom of celebrating
Masses for people who have died
A: I cannot give you an exact date
for the first time this happened.
It was a natural step from remembering
martyrs to remembering other holy
people to remembering those who
might need further purification. There
are prayers for the dead in the Third
Anaphora of St. Peter (Sharar) used by
the Maronite Church today; this text
dates to 431.
The Mass links us to all the living, all
the saints and “all the dead whose faith
only you [God] can know” (Eucharistic
Prayer for Masses for Various Needs
In Book Nine of the Confessions, St.
Augustine of Hippo describes extended
conversations with his mother, St.
Monica, shortly before her death in
387. He reports that she asked him to
remember her during celebrations of
When Did Women's Religious Communities Begin?
Q: How and when did religious communities of women begin? I
know there is a great variety among religious orders, communities
and societies. How did that come about? These questions
arose during a recent RCIA session.
A: The first Christian “sisters” were contemplatives in the desert
in Egypt, starting in the fourth century. Although they lived
alone at first, they soon gathered together to form communities
dedicated to prayer. Because people sought them out for advice,
some of these groups moved closer to urban areas. St. Scholastica (480-542?), sister of St. Benedict, is regarded as founding the first women’s religious
community in the West.
All religious sisters were contemplatives until the 1300s, when groups
began so that women could combine community life and work such as
teaching, hospital work, running orphanages and similar apostolic work.
Some groups that began as associations of laywomen later became formal
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be
mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.