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When Can We Say, “Enough Is Enough”?

Q: We have a frustrating, no-win situation with a close, unmarried, financially comfortable relative. She attends at least one, sometimes two Masses daily, and prays three or four rosaries daily. Yet she has a heart of stone when it comes to giving to the Church and charities.

She is even extremely critical of her family or anyone doing kind deeds while she makes demands on her own family. How can one profess such faith, show such public display of faith, consider oneself so devout and be so self-righteous and not put all this faith into practice? Faith without any good deeds or almsgiving is dead!

If someone who is already in her old age and is very well fixed financially still saves her money but uses other people, feeds off of them, demands free transportation from them without ever reciprocating, is this a sin of greed? Please answer in the Wise Man column of the next issue.

A: A few observations to begin with: When letter-writers give no return address, it is impossible to answer them privately. Further, it is impossible to answer in St. Anthony Messenger more than a fifth of all the questions the Wise Man receives. When people ask for an answer in the next issue, they simply have no understanding of how long it takes to answer questions and get them into print in St. Anthony Messenger. Some questions require considerable research. All letter-writers think their questions are important and want quick answers. Yet from pen or typewriter to the printed page takes three months—at the earliest.

For the magazine, the Wise Man attempts to pick questions of interest to many readers, and balance the kind of questions answered in a particular issue. When it comes to the columns of St. Anthony Messenger, letter-writers have to wait their turn. Some questions may never make the column, but receive private replies.

With that said, I feel uneasy writing about or lecturing people who have not written themselves and have no way of stating their side of the case.

I can’t tell what motivates your relative. Is she just a plain miser and surly person without feelings and gratitude to anyone for anything? Or is she an older person concerned with conserving her resources in case she lives a long life and exhausts her savings or in case she is stricken with grave health problems and incurs the huge costs of health care? To get inside your relative’s mind might give you a more kindly opinion of her.

There is, however, a general obligation of doing charity. God’s command that we love our neighbors requires that we contribute to the needs of the poor, the sick, and homeless. The closer the persons, or the greater the need, the stronger the obligation. And the more a person possesses, the greater the duty to do charity.

As disciples of the Lord we also have an obligation to contribute to the works of evangelization and proclaim the gospel to all peoples and nations.

On the part of the receiver stands the virtue of gratitude which inclines people to acknowledge interiorly and exteriorly the gifts and kindness from others. And, where it is possible, gratitude should urge us to make some kind of return for gifts received. Even the poor and destitute are capable of gratitude—of saying thank-you and praying for those who show them goodness.

If you feel your relative is taking advantage of you, you have to make some decisions of your own. How much can you do for her, how much do you want to do for her, what is reasonable and what is unreasonable? How much can she really do for herself? How much does charity demand from you? To what lengths do you wish to go to preserve cordial relations?

And if you feel she is overly demanding and unreasonable in her requests, you need to learn how to say no in kind and constructive ways. If she has a problem with the plumbing, say, “My husband can’t come. He’ll be glad to recommend or call a plumber for you.” Or if she wants a ride somewhere, “My son can’t take you then. You might call a taxi or a van service run for senior citizens.”

If you can’t take her to dinner, you can suggest she send out for a pizza or put her name on the list for Meals on Wheels. If you are unable to take her shopping, suggest she order from a catalog.

Is It a Sin to Miss Sunday Mass?

Q: I’ve heard that it is no longer a sin to miss Mass on Sunday. Is this true or not?

A: Plain and simple, the Church has not abolished the law requiring Catholics to participate in the celebration of Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.

Canon #1247 reads, “On Sunday and other holy days of obligation the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass….”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice.” It goes on to say, “For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (#2181).

Note, there is a precept to participate in Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and it binds gravely. At the same time there can be serious reasons that excuse a person from observing the law.

Manuals of theology published before the present Code of Canon Law spoke of moderately grave reasons that would excuse. Besides illness, distance from the church, police duty, the need to shut down mills that run around the clock, the grave displeasure of a spouse or parents, the demand of an employer, fire and flood emergencies, care of the ill, and being on a journey were listed as examples of such moderately grave reasons.

At least one of these manuals offered that, “One may miss Mass for the sake of a pleasure trip once or twice if he has no other opportunity during the year or if it is the last opportunity he will ever have for a certain excursion.”

It is also pertinent to note that when the Church revised the rules concerning penance and fast and abstinence, it introduced the concept of substantial observance. Explaining Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, and a reply concerning it from the Sacred Congregation of the Council concerning substantial observance, a canon lawyer wrote:

“The substantial observance of the laws of fast and abstinence does not pertain to individual days but to the whole complexus of penitential days, i.e., one only sins gravely who, without an excusing cause, omits a notable part, quantitative or qualitative, of the penitential observance which is prescribed as a whole.”

Some moralists have argued that the same norm of substantial observance should be applied to the precept of Sunday Mass. They suggest that to regularly and habitually violate this law would indeed be a grave matter. But they believe to miss Sunday Mass on one or the other time without an excusing cause would not be a serious sin�unless done with contempt of the law.

It may be that some people translate this to say it’s no longer a sin to miss Mass on Sunday, but that is not what these moralists are saying.

What Is a Seraphic Saint?

Q: I am researching the history of St. Francis Seraph Parish. Could you inform me about the meaning of the word Seraph and its origin?

A: Sixth-century writer Dionysius the Areopagite drew on different scriptural texts to list nine choirs of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.

First in this hierarchy of angels are the Seraphim. An individual member of this group is called a Seraph.

The Seraphim are mentioned in Isaiah 6:1–7. There they stand before the throne of God praising him and crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.” And it is a Seraph who touches the lips of Isaiah with a live coal, cleansing him from sin. Associated with the Seraphim is their burning love for God.

It is a Seraph who appears in the story of how Francis of Assisi received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ’s passion) in his body. Omer Englebert, drawing on St. Bonaventure, describes the event. Francis prayed to experience the pains of Christ’s passion and to feel the same love that made Christ sacrifice himself for us.

Then a seraph with six wings of flame came from heaven. He bore the likeness of a man nailed to a cross. Upon Francis’s body he imprinted the stigmata.

Because of this experience and his burning love of God, Francis is often called the Seraphic Saint and some parishes and institutions are named St. Francis Seraph.