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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Facing Death Together


How Can I Help My Mother?
Which Saint Can Change My Gay Son?
Do I Need a Special Kind of Confession?
Didn't Jesus Wipe Out Original Sin?
How Do Diocesan and Religious Priests Differ?

How Can I Help My Mother?

Q: 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 stages.

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 by God.

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 a screen.

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 and likeness.

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. 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.


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