How Can I Help My Mother?
My mother is dying of lung cancer and I don’t know what
to do for her. My family prays every day. We love her so
much that I am starting to break down. I don’t want to do
that in front of her; I’m trying to be strong.
I know I’m not a very good Catholic but I believe in God.
I feel so guilty because I cannot help my mother. What can I do?
A: You might not be giving
yourself credit for what you are already doing. It’s easy
to undervalue the importance of telephone calls, visits
and small gestures.
The underlying problem may be that the thing you most want to do
(take away her lung cancer) is something that you cannot do. At this point,
perhaps no doctor can do that.
For what do you pray? If you pray that her cancer will go into
remission, you should also pray that you will be attentive to your mother’s
deepest needs—whatever those turn out to be, even if those needs “stretch” you.
Over 30 years ago, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying, a book that
tremendously influenced medical personnel, clergy and people who deal with
dying friends or relatives. Kübler-Ross, a medical doctor, identified anger,
denial, bargaining, depression and then acceptance as five stages of someone
dying from a terminal illness.
Each dying person does not necessarily work through all five
stages. Someone could die, for example, while in the stage of denial. Friends
and family members can go through their own version of those five stages as
they grieve—again with no guarantee that everyone will work through all five
Sometimes it happens that, although the dying person is moving
toward the stage of acceptance, a friend or family member remains firmly at the
stage of denial (“Maybe they will find a cure next month”). While the dying
person may seek to tie up loose ends in family relationships or other matters,
that person’s friends and relatives may hinder this process by being overly
positive in his or her presence.
Yes, we should always be positive but that does not require lying
to ourselves or others about someone’s condition. Especially, it does not mean
refusing to talk about the approaching death if the dying person indicates a
desire to do so.
Visits, cards, flowers are almost always appreciated, but even
more valued is the readiness to move beyond one’s preferences and instead deal
with the dying person at whatever stage he or she is in. Your present way of
being strong may actually be counterproductive. The best help you can offer now
is by taking your cue from your mother.
Which Saint Can Change My Gay Son?
Q: I have three
sons. The youngest lives at home, is in graduate school,
works three jobs and recently told me he thinks he is gay.
I cried and cried when he told me. Then I told him
that I would fight him all the way with the power of prayer.
I talk to God every minute that I am not busy and ask him
for a miracle. Each day I ask Mary to intercede for me.
This son told me he is still a virgin. Can he know he
is gay without even trying? Am I wrong to ask for a miracle,
for a girl my son can love?
I’m afraid he will have a horrible life and I want him
to be happy. To which saint should I be praying so that
he won’t be gay?
A: Your distress comes through loud and
clear. Obviously, your faith means a great deal to you, and you want to deal
with this distressing news in terms of that faith.
God and the saints can help you face whatever challenge the truth
about your son’s life may present. They do not, however, “pull some strings” to
turn a genuinely homosexual person into a heterosexual person. Homosexual
actions, however, are a matter of choice and are wrong.
Rather than seek to identify the saint whose intercession can
change your son, you are better off to pray that you will have the strength to
deal with your son as a gay person if that turns out to be his genuine sexual
orientation. Whether he is gay or not, he is still your son and is still loved
At this Web site, see the article “When
Our Son Told Us He Was Gay” (St. Anthony Messenger,
July 2002), including its sidebar about other resources.
Do I Need a Special Kind of Confession?
Q: I have been
away from the Church for many years. Recently, I started
attending Mass again and would like to go to Confession.
Is there a special type of Confession for someone who has
been away from the Church for a long period of time?
If so, can you provide me with any
details? It would be virtually impossible for me to remember
all my sins.
A: This celebration of Confession, also
called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, may take you a bit longer than previous
Confessions. You need to mention the mortal sins as best you can recall them
according to their category and number.
Do not let yourself get tied up in knots over trying to make an
exact list of every sin you have committed since your last Confession. Take
this seriously and do the best you can. Your confessor will help you and
probably remind you that God rejoices greatly over your desire to be forgiven
and reconciled. Jesus told three wonderful parables to answer people who
criticized him for being “the friend of sinners” (Luke 15:1-32).
You might consider making an appointment at a parish for
face-to-face Confession. Although it may not seem that way
right now, this may actually be easier than confessing behind
Whichever format you select, know that God has been and continues
to be much more willing to forgive you than you have been willing to seek
forgiveness. Accept God’s forgiveness. Try to live in a way that reflects your
dignity as someone made in God’s image and likeness.
Didn't Jesus Wipe Out Original Sin?
Q: In discussing Baptism with
friends of other faiths, the following question arose: Why
are infants said to be born with the Original Sin of Adam
and Eve on their souls if Jesus died for the forgiveness
of our sins? Don’t his suffering, death and resurrection
free us all from Original Sin?
A: The teaching about Original
Sin is a way of explaining why our world is not exactly
as God created it. Is sin a defect in creation or is it
the result of an abuse of human freedom? The teaching about
Original Sin says, “God created a perfect world; sin comes
from an abuse of human freedom.”
Because of Original Sin, our notion of what is “natural” easily
accepts situations that do not reflect our dignity as people created in God’s
image and likeness. At various times, for example, some Christians have said
that war and slavery are natural human conditions. Most Christians have
responded that these are consequences of Original Sin, which predisposes us to
other sins and encourages us to consider them “no big deal.”
One of the first consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin is that
they—and all human beings—love to take credit for things that will be rewarded
but quickly deny involvement whenever their decisions lead to negative
consequences. When Adam and Eve attempted to evade responsibility, they did so
in order to cover up an earlier sin.
Jesus has overcome sin by his loving death and resurrection.
Baptism enables us to share in that death and resurrection in a unique way. It
is up to us, with God’s grace, to open our hearts to Jesus’ saving power.
Sin says, “Psst! Let me show you a shortcut.” Those shortcuts,
however, always turn out to be dead ends. Jesus shows us the way to genuine
freedom, the kind we were always meant to have as people made in God’s image
How Do Diocesan and Religious Priests Differ?
Q: What is the difference between diocesan and religious priests? It cannot simply
be a matter of the kind of work that they do because sometimes they have very
similar ministries in parishes.
A: Diocesan priests belong to a diocese or archdiocese; their bishop has the final
say about their assignment, usually within the geographical boundaries of that
diocese. Most diocesan priests work full-time in a parish. They can transfer
permanently to another diocese only after several years of probation, allowing
all concerned to evaluate the wisdom of such a move.
Religious priests belong to a religious community; their religious
superior has the final say about their assignment. A religious priest is assigned
to a parish only with the approval of the local bishop. Most religious priests
have a ministry outside the parish context. Rarely would one minister in the
same diocese for 40 or 50 years.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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