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Parish Councils Have a Consultive Role

    What Are the Responsibilities of Parish Councils?

    I would like to know the responsibilities of parish trustees and parish council when there is a pastor in the parish and also when there is no pastor and no administrator in the parish.

    Canon law permits the existence of a parish council. It also allows the bishop to mandate that the parishes in his diocese each have a parish council. If the bishop has not mandated a parish council, a pastor himself may decide to establish a council in his parish.

    The purpose of the parish council is to assist the pastor in the pastoral care of the parish. But the council is a consultive body. It advises and offers its opinion. It does not have legislative or decisive power. The governing of the parish is, by law, in the hands of the pastor.

    Since the bishop may enact norms governing the parish councils in his own diocese, you would really have to ask a particular diocese about any norms governing parish councils there.

    In the absence of a canonical pastor, the bishop appoints an administrator of a parish. Again, you would have to consult any diocesan norms for administrators and check their letters of ap-pointment to know their authority.

    The Code of Canon Law, however, does require that all parishes have a financial council. The duties of this council are to be spelled out in diocesan statutes, which determine the competence of the council. The pastor can certainly use this council in numerous ways, and the wise pastor will make much use of members’ skills and knowledge in determining budgets, expenditures, salaries, benefits, contracts, etc.

    Wasn’t Samson a Suicide?

    Suicide is an objective mortal sin. Yet, in Judges 16:20-30, Samson kills himself and prays to God for assistance: “Let me die with the Philistines!”

    The New Catholic Encyclopedia explains that, in order for a suicide to be considered indirect (which is sometimes permissible), “The evil effect is not intended.”

    The evil effect of Samson’s suicide—his death—is clearly intended because he prays for it.

    I took a look at some six or seven commentaries and biblical dictionaries to see what they had to say about Samson’s death. Hardly any of them tried to analyze his death or comment on verse 30 in Judges 16.

    For what it is worth, the Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Louis Hartman, C.SS.R., had this to say: “Samson’s death in the Temple of Dagon at Gaza, which he brought down on himself and the assembled Philistines (16:23-30), was not an act of suicide, but rather a return to his mission, to which he had been unfaithful when he betrayed the secret of his strength to Delilah, but which he in conscious response to his call and with a prayer to God on his lips, now fulfilled, even at the cost of his own life.”

    I would infer from the Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible’s point of view that Samson’s death was like that of a martyr who dies in defense of some virtue, like a person who leaps to death rather than be sexually violated.

    The moralist Heribert Jone, O.F.M.Cap., calls this indirect suicide and says that, while in itself it is forbidden, it may be permitted for a proportionately grave reason. Jone writes: “One kills himself indirectly if, without the intention of committing suicide, he knowingly and willingly does something which not only has an intended good effect, but from which death also follows.”

    It is presupposed that the good effect results from the action as immediately as does death. By example Jone then finds it permissible for a person to leap from a dangerous height to escape burning to death, for a woman to do the same in order to avoid being violated by a libertine, or for someone in wartime to blow up an enemy fortification or ship even though the person foresees his or her own death in doing so.

    To Attend or Not to Attend, That Is the Question

    I would like to know the Church’s position on attending a wedding and giving gifts to a couple (one of whom is Catholic) who marries without a dispensation in a non-Catholic ceremony. Would it be a serious sin to attend and give a gift under the above circumstances?

    It is not easy to answer questions like yours with just a yes or no.

    Each case is individual and requires a particular judgment about what is the best or most charitable thing to do. There are a lot of factors to be weighed and questions to be answered before a person makes a decision to attend the marriage of a Catholic marrying outside the Church.

    Among the questions to be answered are: Will my friend or child or relative take my attendance as approval of what he or she is doing? Will my decision to attend encourage the person to go ahead and marry contrary to God’s law and enter a sinful union? Or does the person know and realize my attendance will only be a sign of caring and friendship?

    If I don’t attend, will it only embitter that person and drive him or her further from the Church, thus making any future effort to be reconciled with the Church and God harder and more unlikely? Will failing to attend cause divisions and enmity in the family? What action—attending or not attending—is morelikely to keep open communication with the person and, in the end, have the most beneficial spiritual effect?

    That is one set of considerations. Another is: What effect will my attending or not attending the wedding have on other people, especially those for whom I have the most responsibility? If I attend, will my children or other family members take it to mean that I see nothing wrong with what the other person is doing?

    Is it likely to encourage them to do the same thing in the future? In other words, will it give genuine scandal? Or will the other family members understand that I am not approving of sinful conduct and am merely showing friendship and caring by attending the ceremony?

    The closer the relationship, of course, the more the pressure to attend and the more significant the act of attending or not attending.

    In my own experience, I have discovered that, outside of close family relationships, attending or not attending a wedding isn’t noticed very much. The parties don’t stop to ask questions about why so-and-so didn’t come. We frequently exaggerate the importance of going or not going and the likelihood of giving real offense by not attending.

    Also, to be fair, those marrying outside the Church must have some consideration and understanding for the consciences of their friends and relatives. They should not expect or demand them to do what they believe wrong. Friendship and love are, after all, two-way streets.

    Where relationships are closest, kindness and a show of affection are more likely to have the best spiritual effect in the long run. A parent who has hope of eventually leading the child back to God and Church, for instance, might choose—after letting a child know he or she believes what the child is doing is wrong—to keep communication open and to show love and concern, even by attending the ceremony.

    In all these cases, I believe we have to respect the prudential decision a person makes and accept that it is made in good conscience whether the person decides to attend or not to attend.

    Confession of Devotion

    We are encouraged to go to Confession often. How do I confess if I have no mortal sins or perhaps no venial sin and faults? I have felt some priests were impatient with my confession. Now I dread going to Confession.

    It is always appropriate to make what theologians call a confession of devotion. That means the penitent has no unconfessed, unforgiven mortal sins to confess, but wishes to receive the graces of the sacrament to grow in his or her spiritual life.

    I’m sorry if some confessors have been impatient with you. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through the sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful.”

    If you have no serious sins to confess, you may simply confess one or more venial sins. And if you have been so fortunate as not to have committed any sin since your last confession, you may confess a sin from your past life.

    A confession of devotion might sound something like this: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been a month since my last confession. I am not aware of any grave sin since then. But I accuse myself of being unkind and impatient with my wife (husband) and children, neglectful of my parents who are lonely and ill. And I want to acknowledge again my sorrow for all my sins, particularly the sin of...”

    Ashes for Infants?

    On Ash Wednesday, the priest in our parish did not distribute ashes to small children. He explained to the people who were present that ashes are an outward sign of our inner intention to enter into the penitential discipline of Lent. He said that, even though ashes are a sacramental of the Church, it does not make sense to impose them on the foreheads of little children who are innocent and have no need to repent. He said a child should have some awareness of sin to be a recipient of ashes.

    I felt his explanation made sense, but I cannot seem to find any “official” support for his position. In a neighboring parish, ashes were distributed to everyone, including infants. Could you shed some light on the question?

    I found your letter and question quite interesting. There is a certain logic in the position taken by your parish priest. After all, we do not administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation to children who haven’t started school or expect preschoolers to participate in penitential services. Liturgical directions in the Sacramentary, after the blessing of ashes, say, “The priest then places ashes on those who come forward.”

    That instruction seems to indicate a conscious decision to receive the sacramental, a personal declaration of the intention to change for the better and a prayer for God’s assistance. It doesn’t seem to suggest putting ashes on a baby carried to the altar or a toddler pulled there by his mother or father.

    Yet there is a line in the Book of Blessings that says the season of Lent begins with the ancient practice of marking the baptized with ashes as “a public and communal sign of penance.”

    From that I think it possible to argue that marking the child with ashes could be an expression of human solidarity and a reminder we are all marked by the sin of Adam and need redemption.

    I’m not sure how much of a question this is in most places. You don’t usually find many babies or preschoolers at Masses on Ash Wednesday when their parents are between home and work.

    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, 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: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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