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We Cannot Limit God's Forgiveness
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Will My Aborted Baby and I Go to Hell?
Do Cardinals Have to Be Ordained?
Is God Listening?
Unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers?
What Are Ember Days?

Q: Three years ago I had an intentional abortion. I was 13 going on 14, not thinking about my baby. I have dreams and I cry whenever that time of year comes around.

I am scared that I am going to hell because I did such a terrible thing, and I donít know how to fix it. I am scared my baby will suffer for the things I did wrong. Can I save my baby and myself from hell?

A: Thank you very much for writing. Your aborted baby has always been in the loving hands of God. There has never been a danger that he or she might go to hell. God’s love and mercy have never been withheld from you; I urge you to experience God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you repent, you certainly will not be condemned.

An intentional abortion is the taking of an innocent human life and is extremely wrong. Many people who think that abortion is a solution for “problem pregnancies” do not want to hear stories such as yours because they don’t want to know that abortion can create lifelong problems. It is never the “solution” some people claim that it is.

In 1984, Project Rachel began as a local ministry to women who have had an abortion; six years later it became a nationwide effort. You can contact Project Rachel (also known as the National Office for Post-abortion Reconciliation and Healing) at or at 1-800-5WE-CARE in complete confidentiality.


It now works with parents and grandparents of women who have had abortions and with men whose wives or girlfriends did likewise. Friends, siblings and other relatives are also affected by a decision to abort. Project Rachel can help in many ways.

You realize that what you did was very wrong. What you may not realize is that no sin is beyond God’s power to forgive. If it were, the sin would be greater than God—and that is not possible. Project Rachel, which is active in almost every diocese in the United States, can direct you to a specially trained confessor in your area.

Or you could set up an appointment for confession with a Catholic priest in your area. Yours will not be the first such confession he has heard, and he is there to represent God’s forgiveness. May the Lord be your strength and guide.

Q: During a recent RCIA class, someone said that cardinals do not have to be priests. Is that true now? Has it always been true? Does the Code of Canon Law identify the requirements for being named a cardinal?

A: Cardinals did not always have to be ordained. The 1917 Code of Canon Law required that cardinals be priests (Canon #232). The 1983 Code of Canon Law says, “Those to be promoted cardinals are men freely selected by the Roman pontiff, who are at least in the order of priesthood and are truly outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters; those who are not already bishops must receive episcopal consecration” (Canon #351, 1).

By 1962, Blessed Pope John XXIII had already required that a cardinal become a bishop if he was not one already. This establishes a strong link between the College of Bishops (based on Scripture) and the College of Cardinals (a historical evolution).

This change means that only bishops are voting to elect the pope, who heads the College of Bishops. If the person elected is not yet a bishop, he must immediately be ordained a bishop (Canon #332, 1).

In the last 30 years, priests who were over 80 when they were named cardinals were not required to become bishops because they could not vote in a papal conclave—a 1970 decision by Pope Paul VI and confirmed by Pope John Paul II’s 1996 apostolic constitution Shepherd of the Lord’s Whole Flock (Universi Dominici Gregis, Section 33).

In 1983 Henri de Lubac, S.J., was already 87 when he was named a cardinal; he was not required to be ordained a bishop. The same is true of Father Avery Dulles, S.J., and several other priests who were over 80 when they were named cardinals in 2001. They are, however, permitted to wear miters, use crosiers and do several other things normally reserved to bishops.

Regardless of age, all cardinals are entitled to participate in meetings of the College of Cardinals between the death of one pope and the start of the conclave to elect his successor.

Q: Although several of my friends do not believe in God, Jesus Christ or the saints, they are lucky and have everything. Other friends and neighbors do not go to church or donate to charity, yet they have the best of everything and are very lucky.

I work hard, go to Sunday Mass, support the Church and yet I donít get the best of everything and I am unlucky. My repeated prayers do not receive any answer. Why? Where is this loving God?

A: Yours is a common question, already asked centuries before Jesus was born. See Psalm 73 for one prayerful response to your question.

It is not easy to see things as God sees (see Matthew 16:23), but we must admit that God’s ways can differ from our ways.

It sounds as though your basic needs are being met but you resent the “extras” that other people have. Perhaps their lives are not as stress-free as you suppose.

People who believe in God pray because they cannot live honestly without doing so. The first reason for praying is to praise God for being God. We can and should pray for what we need, but our prayers do not fill in gaps in God’s knowledge or sense of urgency.

If believing in God guaranteed a rich and easy life, then why are there martyred saints and other saints who died poor? Why did Job lose his children and his possessions? Why did Jesus die on a cross?

Our column Psalms: Heartfelt Prayers addresses these very candid prayers. Also, Father Michael Guinan, O.F.M.'s article The Book of Psalms: Prayers for Everyday Living, offers an overview of the honest and wide-ranging prayers in the Book of Psalms.

Q: Several friends and I attend Mass daily at our Catholic university, usually with a different priest celebrating each day. Because of the differences in the texts, we arenít sure if all of them are using Eucharistic Prayers approved by the Church.

Is there an exact wording that they must follow? Iím pretty certain that all these priests use the same words at the Consecration, but some of my friends maintain that because they vary at other points of the prayer, some of these Masses are invalid. I donít think that is true.

Is there a strict set of words and actions that priests must use for the Eucharist to be valid?

A: There are currently 13 Eucharistic Prayers approved for use in the United States of America (four approved in 1970, three for Masses With Children, two for reconciliation, and four more approved in 1995 for various needs and occasions). The actual words of consecration are identical in all 13 prayers.

From what I have observed, many priests use either Eucharistic Prayer II or Eucharistic Prayer III from the original four. The unfamiliar words you are hearing could be from one of the other 11 approved prayers. I once used one of those at a Sunday Mass and was challenged afterward for having used an unauthorized prayer. Few missals, missalettes or other worship aids print all 13 prayers.

The place to seek clarification is with the priest who is using words that your friends think are not approved. Maybe they are correct—and maybe not.

Q: Not long ago I was looking through a pre-Vatican II missal and came across Ember Days for spring, summer, fall and winter. I had never heard of these before and do not know what they were. Do they still exist?

A: Ember Wednesday, Friday and Saturday were celebrated during four weeks of the liturgical year, coordinated with the start of each season. They invoked God’s blessings for the work of farmers in particular and, by extension, the work of all other laborers.

These days were dropped from the Church’s worldwide liturgical calendar when it was revised in 1969. The U.S. bishops have asked that liturgies on Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day include this same focus.

Low-gluten hosts: The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have these. The magazine Gluten-Free Living recently described these hosts as “perfectly safe” for people who suffer from celiac disease. Call 1-660-944-2221 or write them at 31970 State Highway P., Clyde, Missouri 64432.

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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