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Endings and Beginnings

Thanks, Father Norman

Father Norman Perry, O.F.M.Father Norman Perry, O.F.M., wrote this column for 33 years until his death on March 1, 1999.

For every response that appeared in his column, there were five or six others that he handled privately, often in the evenings. His work was extremely pastoral, conscientious and thorough. So thorough was he that he left us enough responses to maintain this column during the months of transition after his death.

In 1997, when members of the Catholic Press Association gave Father Norman its highest award, the St. Francis de Sales Award for lifetime achievement, they praised his “remarkable dedication to a ministry of compassion and presence.” Today we say, “Thanks, Father Norman, and God bless!”

Just as sports teams sometimes retire the number of an outstanding player as a tribute, we are retiring the “Wise Man” title for this column. “The Wise Man’s Corner” began in our February 1915 issue and retained that title until July 1985 when it became “The Wise Man Answers.” “Ask the Wise Man” debuted in January 1998.

We are also retiring the anonymous byline “By a Franciscan Priest,” used by all the writers of this column over the years.

We now introduce the column’s new title, “Ask a Franciscan,” and its new author, Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. Like the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 2:9), Father Pat prays for a “double portion” of his predecessor’s spirit in answering your questions. You may send them by regular mail or submit online.

This column’s basic purpose and focus remain unchanged: helping you, our readers, to grow in faith as you grapple with questions arising from Scripture, Church history, sacramental celebrations or a curiosity about Catholic customs and expressions.

Father Pat’s name may be familiar to some of you since he has written columns and articles for us occasionally since 1972. His writing for this column began in our October 1999 issue.

Thanks to all the Franciscan friars who answered personal letters and e-mail addressed to the Wise Man during and after Father Norman’s final illness. Special thanks to John Bookser Feister, who has edited this column with Father Norman since mid-1991 and will continue to work on it with Father Pat.

Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

Catholic Press Loses a Giant

Why No Baptism?

Q: Our whole family has been very upset since a priest refused to baptize my nephew’s baby. Every generation of our family has been raised Catholic.

Since becoming adults, however, my sister’s children are not practicing Catholics. One of her sons had a job transfer out of state. When he and his wife took their new baby to be baptized, the priest said he would have to have a letter from my nephew’s previous parish, stating that he was a member in good standing.

My nephew offered to take instructions, or whatever is necessary, if the priest would baptize their baby, but the priest refused.

Is this the new practice of the Church and, if so, why? I’ve been told by a friend that the reason is the Church wants to be sure the child is raised Catholic. I find refusing Baptism to an infant very hard to accept.

A: I am sorry for the problem that has arisen, but there may be a happy ending to this story.

The Rite for Baptism of Infants includes questions to the parents about their readiness to raise this child as a Catholic. The priest or deacon asks two questions: What name have you given the child? What do you ask of God’s Church for this child?

After the parents give the child’s name and respond, “Baptism,” the priest or deacon says: “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of raising him/her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him/her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”

At the end of the rite, after a blessing for the child’s mother, this blessing for the father follows: “God is the giver of all life, human and divine. May he bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We baptize infants when there is a reasonable hope that they will be raised in the Catholic faith. Priests should be prudent about this, not delaying Baptism without a good reason, but also not placing parents in a situation where they would have to lie about their intention to raise the child in a faith which the parents do not intend to practice.

The best way for your nephew to have this child baptized is to resume the practice of his faith, join a parish and attend Sunday Mass regularly, then approach the pastor or parish staff and request Baptism.

Is Plastic Surgery Wrong?

Q: My son told me that his teacher at school, a nun, taught the class that Catholics shouldn’t have plastic surgery. I had never heard this before and wondered what the teaching on this is. It makes sense, in a way, that we should be happy with what God has given us. Can you tell me what the Church teaches regarding plastic surgery?

A: There is no prohibition against Catholics having plastic surgery. Plastic surgery for someone with a cleft palate, for a person burned in a fire or injured in an accident—these are all fine if the person or a parent or guardian seeks them.

Like anything human, plastic surgery could be abused. A few years ago, 60 Minutes had a story about a woman who had undergone multiple surgeries so that she could look “just like Barbie” (the doll).

At some point, elective plastic surgery could become a moral issue in terms of allowing or encouraging such surgery for those able to pay while denying life-and-death surgery for those unable to pay. Medical resources are not infinite, and some ways of allocating them could be immoral.

Holy Doors Represent Christ

Q: There is a door at the Vatican that is opened every 25 years. What does the door represent and why is it only opened every 25 years? It will be opened in the year 2000.

A: Some St. Anthony Messenger readers will receive this issue before December 24, 1999, when Pope John Paul II will open the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. It will remain open until January 6, 2001, the end of the current Holy Year.

The Holy Door represents Christ, the door or gateway to salvation (John 10:1-18). It is opened during the Holy Year, now held every 25 years. The Holy Year custom began in 1300.

There are permanent Holy Doors at three other Roman basilicas (St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls). These, too, will remain open during the Holy Year.

In imitation of this custom and as a link to the Holy Year, many cathedrals and other churches around the world have designated a Holy Door for the current Holy Year.

The U.S. bishops are encouraging individual households to designate a Holy Year Door in their homes. St. Anthony Messenger Press has a simple, colorful, sturdy door hanger for this purpose. It is designed to hang on a doorknob and has a household prayer service on the back.

Bulk orders are available from 1-800-488-0488 for $62.50 for a pack of 50. For individual orders, send a check for $1.50 and a self-addressed, business-size stamped envelope to our business address. Door hangers may also be ordered online.

The Holy Door is explained in The Jubilee Guide to Rome, by A. Braghin (Liturgical Press).

Questions and answers about the Holy Year and the millennium are available at

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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