Q: I have just been reading one of my
mission magazines. Over and over
we read of people of great faith, practicing
their religion by loving and caring for their
neighbors’ physical and spiritual needs. Yet
thousands of people lack the barest necessities
for a decent life—insufficient food
(sometimes gathered from scrap heaps),
no running water, poor sanitation, etc.
Yet we read in the Bible of food and
drink: “Your Father knows that you need
them” (Luke 12:30) and “Seek first the
Kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto
you” (Matthew 6:33). Can you explain this
A: Yes, there is tremendous human
need, very often among people
who sincerely believe in God. Because
the biblical passages that you cited are
connected to prayer, let me start there.
We do not pray to call God’s attention
to things that we fear God may
have overlooked or perhaps noticed
yet forgot before taking appropriate
action. We pray in order to acknowledge
God and to recommit ourselves to
live as people made in God’s image.
That includes recommitting ourselves
to doing our part (however modest it
may be) to ensure that the dignity of
other people will be respected.
God’s love and providence for us do
not cancel out natural disasters (floods,
hurricanes and tornadoes, for example)
or human sinfulness (such as murder,
rape or business fraud). Indeed,
that same love prompts us to respond
generously when others suffer, whether
because of natural disasters, accidents
or human sinfulness.
Our honest prayer leads us to do all
that we can to promote God’s justice for
all men, women and children living
today. We work hard at this, but we also
know that however imperfect human
justice is in this life, God’s justice in the
next life is total.
In Jesus’ story about the rich man
and Lazarus (see Luke 16:19-31), Jesus
doesn’t say whether either of them
prayed. From the ending of the story,
I presume that each of them did.
Jesus also does not say that the rich
man was deliberately cruel toward
Lazarus, whose needs may have been
practically invisible to the rich man.
Radically honest prayer on the rich
man’s part would have challenged any
idea that he and Lazarus had very different
economic situations because God
arranged things that way.
What Jesus does say in this story is
that human judgment does not always
reflect God’s judgment. That is news to
the rich man in this story, who presumes
to command Abraham and
Lazarus as he probably would have
done had he met them in life.
Israel’s pagan neighbors who believed
in an afterlife presumed that their
earthly economic and social positions
would continue throughout eternity.
They never considered that people’s
roles might be reversed.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
knew the face of human suffering as
well as anyone who has ever lived.
What she saw did not amount to an
indictment of God for failing to provide
for people; it fueled her reminder to
all of us that God never intended people
to die from lack of proper food,
housing or medical care.
Special Places for Other Religious Orders?
Q: Assisi is effectively the worldwide
capital of the Franciscans (friars,
Poor Clares and members of the Secular
Franciscan Order, plus all sisters, brothers
and priests who follow a Franciscan Rule of Life). Do other religious groups such as
the Benedictines and Jesuits have places
comparable to Assisi?
A: Yes, they do. Benedictines look
to Subiaco (near Rome) as their
birthplace and to Monte Cassino (closer
to Naples) as the place where Benedict’s
monastic charism developed and where
he is buried. Jesuits point to several
places key to Ignatius of Loyola’s
life: Loyola (his birthplace) and Manresa
(where he was a hermit for 10
months)—both in modern-day Spain—plus La Storta (near Rome), where he
felt divine approval for the new Company
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s residence in
Emmitsburg, Maryland, has become a
place of pilgrimage for many people.
The same is true for Blessed Kateri
Tekakwitha and the Jesuit North American
martyrs remembered at Auriesville,
New York. There are places connected
to Sts. John Neumann, Katharine
Drexel, Frances Cabrini, Rose Philippine
Duchesne, Theodora Guérin and to
Blesseds Damien de Veuster, Junipero
Serra and Francis Xavier Seelos, to name
We create shrines not because the
holy people honored there need such
honors but because we need to be reminded
that in these places holy people
made choices for God.
Especially in the last 10 years, many
religious communities have organized
pilgrimages to places especially significant
to that group, attracting that
group’s members, friends, benefactors,
co-workers and, in some cases, graduates
of its schools. For a good book
on the “spirituality of place,” I recommend
The Place We Call Home: Spiritual
Pilgrimage as a Path to God, by Father
Murray Bodo, O.F.M. (Paraclete Press).
Father Murray has been a pilgrim guide
to Assisi for over 25 years.
Q: Your answer about demonic possession
in the December column
has left me a bit confused. You wrote that
“while genuine demonic possession may
be fairly rare, there is certainly something
demonic about an individual’s reluctance
to name his or her addictions or blind
spots....” What do you mean? Is this connected
to demons as obscuring the truth
and Jesus’ saying that the truth will set us
free (see John 8:32)?
A: The easiest way for the demonic
to work is to “hide in plain
sight,” to convince us that a certain
action or omission is “no big deal” but
is, in fact, perfectly normal or ordinary.
For example, “genteel” racism (“Well,
that’s just the ways things are...”) is
in some ways more insidious than some
foaming-at-the-mouth, blatant bigotry.
Hitler was most dangerous when he
had bureaucrats willing to present his
plans as perfectly reasonable ways of
addressing Germany’s economic and
social challenges. The Nazis carried out
their diabolic plans under the guise of
People wanting to systematize evil
will succeed to the extent that they
make it look perfectly normal, quite
harmless and perhaps even beneficial to
society at large.
Thus, many people today have trouble
naming their addictions or blind
spots. Defending the “normalcy” of
these situations means that there is
nothing to change, no tough choices to
Perhaps the best examination of conscience
that any of us can make in Lent
2007 will be to ask with repeated honesty:
What things in my life are truly “a
big deal”? Do I have any addictions
and blind spots that I resist naming? To
what lengths am I willing to go to protect
Lent is one way we can acknowledge
the truth about God, ourselves and others
while preparing ourselves to make
whatever changes may be needed to
live in God’s full truth.
Q: I would love to see the veil that Veronica used to wipe the bruised
and bloody face of Jesus as he made his way to Calvary. It is a precious
memorial depicting a true image of Jesus’ immortal face.
Whatever happened to it? Did it get inadvertently lost or destroyed?
The Shroud of Turin is available to be seen. Why not Veronica’s veil?
A: Brace yourself: The story of Veronica’s wiping the face of Jesus
on his way to Calvary does not appear in any New Testament
Gospel. In fact, that part of each Gospel is very short. In Matthew and
Mark, Simon the Cyrenian carries Jesus’ cross (27:32 and 15:21 respectively).
Luke mentions Simon and includes Jesus’ words to the weeping
women of Jerusalem (23:26-31). The Gospel of John includes none of these
stories. The story of Veronica’s veil, a basis for the sixth Station of the
Cross, is first mentioned in the fourth-century writing Acts of Pilate.
Did Veronica wipe the face of Jesus on his last earthly journey? Perhaps—but she may have been created later (her name literally means “true
image”) to explain the existence of a relic brought to St. Peter’s Basilica
in the 13th century.
“The veil kept in St. Peter’s today has no image on it,” according to Butler’s
Lives of the Saints (New Full Edition). In fact, this veil is not currently
Our faith is in Jesus—not in our certainty about the genuineness of
relics associated with him.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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