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Neela Kale :
177 article(s)

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
August 21st, 2015

Question: My dorm does not allow candles but I like to pray with a candle in front of my statue of Mary. Should I claim religious exemption?
Candles have a time-honored place as a symbol of prayer, especially in the Catholic tradition. In fact, at least two candles must be placed on the altar for the celebration of the Mass (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 117). But that doesn’t mean that you must use a candle when you pray in your room. For private devotional prayer a candle is a helpful symbol, not a requirement. Generally, religious exemptions are reserved for serious matters, when a rule impedes a person’s ability to practice his or her religious faith. That’s not at stake for you here. So don’t spend

May 22nd, 2015

Q: Soldiers in war are technically killing other sons and daughters of God in an effort to protect our country. Will this affect their fate on Judgment Day? Is it wrong to thank them upon their return home even though they’ve sinned?…
Never hesitate to thank a returning soldier for his or her service to our country. (Thank you, veterans!) Military service cannot be reduced to any single act, and these returning veterans and their families need all the support they can get in response to their sacrifice and generosity. It is not your job to examine their consciences. Many of these men and women return home struggling with the psychological and spiritual consequences of their actions in the line of duty; they need to

March 11th, 2015

We should highlight an important point here: There is a distinction between matters of faith and other practices of the Church. The essential truths of the faith — Tradition with a capital T — do not change and cannot ever be updated or modernized. But many aspects of the life and practice of the Church — tradition with a lower case t — can and do change over time. The Church must respond to situations and questions that the earliest disciples could never even have imagined, and she must change as the world and the needs of the faithful change. The challenge, of course, both for the magisterium and the faithful, is discerning and understanding the difference between Tradition and tradition.…

March 6th, 2015

In Jewish and Christian tradition, the number 40 has symbolic meaning. A period of 40 days or years, more than being a literal measurement, represents a long time and a period of preparation or testing. When 40 days or 40 years have passed, the appropriate period or the “right amount of time” has been completed in preparation for the working of God’s grace. Recall the 40 days and 40 nights of rain during the flood in Genesis 7, the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the desert after the Exodus, and the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Lent lasts 40 days so that we will spend the “right amount of time” in this period of penance…

March 4th, 2015

Questions about “unpardonable sin” often arise because of Mark 3:29 and its parallels. Responding to claims that he was possessed by an evil spirit, Jesus says that “whoever blasphemes against the holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” This challenging passage has been interpreted in many ways over the centuries. Catholic teaching holds that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit means making a serious choice. It implies a final rejection of God’s mercy offered through the Holy Spirit. This is summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects…

February 20th, 2015

Q: During Mass, before you receive communion, shouldn’t you be on your knees before God? Standing doesn’t seem right to me on one hand. On the other hand I want to follow current teachings. Can you shed some light?
Kneeling was once the common posture for receiving communion, and some people wonder if this is a more reverent way to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Postures and other norms for the celebration of Mass, which have changed throughout the centuries, are established by the universal Church or by the local bishops’ conference. The 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that,
“The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the diocese of the United States is standing” (paragraph…

February 19th, 2015

You’re out with your friends on a Friday night and suddenly you notice that one of them has switched from his favorite microbrew to… lemonade? Is it time for Lent already? Giving up something for Lent sometimes evokes head-scratching in non-Catholics, but what might seem like just another Catholic eccentricity can actually be a practice with deep spiritual significance.
Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter, has its origin in the early days of the Church. Converts seeking to become Christian, who at that time were mostly adults, spent several years in study and preparation. Under the threat of Roman persecution, becoming a Christian was serious business, so their process of…

February 4th, 2015

Q: How do we reconcile the teaching to “love thy neighbor” and the traditions of Christian faith with controversial topics such as gay marriage?

Viewed from within, the Church believes its position on gay marriage is a stance of love. But sometimes what comes across instead is scorn or fear, stemming from ignorance of what it is like to stand in the shoes of gays and lesbians and their families. At times the Church fails to show love for neighbor because of this. (James Martin, S.J. offers excellent insight at http://americamagazine.org/issue/simply-loving.)
Conversely, viewed from within, supporters of gay marriage also take their stand out of love. But sometimes what comes across is scorn or fear, stemming…

November 13th, 2014

Q: Why do infants who receive the sacrament of baptism have to wait until they are older to receive the sacrament of confirmation, instead of receiving them at the same time?
Delaying the sacrament of confirmation until some time after baptism preserves the candidate’s direct connection with the bishop. In the early Church, people who became Christians first were catechized over an extended period. Then they were baptized in water, anointed with oil and given the bread and wine of Eucharist all at once. The presider at this rite was the bishop, seen as the successor to the apostles, the ones sent by Christ to go and baptize all nations. However, as the Church grew, the bishop could no longer be present at all the…

November 11th, 2014

Q: What’s the best way to respond to someone who thinks it’s “funny” to always comment on a show of faith in the workplace (like prayer before a meal)? I don’t want to create tension but I feel I should respond.
The tension is already there, because this person’s comments are making you (and perhaps others) uncomfortable. You’re right to respond. Find a moment when you can talk calmly and without interruption. Try a neutral approach like, “I heard your comment when I was praying before lunch today, and I was just wondering why you might have said that.” It’s possible that this person really hasn’t thought about the ramifications. He or she might simply be a jokester who makes light of everything,…

October 16th, 2014

Some Christian communities talk about the “assurance of salvation,” an absolute certainty that one will go to heaven upon one’s death, regardless of how someone lives their life. The proposal sometimes sounds transactional: if I do X, God will do Y. (Often X means giving assent to the doctrinal formula of some particular group.) This may be justified by a scripture passage such as Acts 16:31. (They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”)
But the Catholic understanding of salvation is more nuanced. Jesus proclaimed that the reign of God is at hand. It is already here in our midst and yet still to come; it is the free gift of God and yet calls for our willing collaboration.…

October 13th, 2014

No one made God. God always is, always has been, and always will be. Time itself is part of God’s creation, so there cannot be anything or anyone before God. Though posed innocently by children, this question challenges the most sophisticated philosophers and theologians. Humans are finite creatures, so bound by time that we cannot grasp the idea of something outside of time. The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges this difficulty:
“Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking. … Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God”…

September 29th, 2014

Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom of God is truly open to all – young and old, rich and poor, saints and sinners alike. The sad divisions that have arisen throughout history cannot change the fact that this invitation is given to all. The Vatican II document on ecumenism notes that
“many of the significant elements… [which] give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Unitatis Redintegratio, paragraph 3).
As summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 819, “Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities…

September 25th, 2014

Question: I am a registered nurse and an Extra-ordinary Minister of Holy Communion in my parish. I work with many young Catholic nurses and aides. Is it ok to bring Holy Communion to them at work?

Communion services allow patients at health care facilities who cannot easily attend Mass at the parish to receive communion regularly, in a liturgical setting bringing together those residents who are well enough to gather and participate. It is entirely appropriate for the entire community to join in, including staff members, family members and guests. Your young colleagues already bring their faith to work every day in the loving care they provide; participating in the communion service would give them an…

September 22nd, 2014

Question: On Ash Wednesday this year, I went to a noon service and then came back to work. One of my co-workers then told me I “had dirt on my forehead,” referring to the ashes. This person obviously was not Catholic and I was so shocked that someone would be so blunt that I didn’t know what to say. I struggled to address the comment without explaining my whole faith tradition. How would you recommend responding to a comment like this?

Religious traditions that feel like second nature to those of us who practice them sometimes seem foreign to others. Your co-worker, rather than being blunt or insensitive, was probably just being truthful. He or she sought to spare you embarrassment, just as one might quietly…

July 15th, 2014

Q: I am so glad the “nuns on the bus” are going through the country. Why can’t the majority of people see what awful things the Republicans are doing to the poor, women, and wage earners?
The “Nuns on the Bus” are a project of NETWORK, which describes itself as a “National Catholic Social Justice Lobby” and was founded by Roman Catholic religious women working for economic and social justice. They have done excellent work on behalf of the poor since the 1970s. While you may support their advocacy, keep in mind this tidbit of bumper sticker wisdom: “God is not a Republican… or a Democrat.” Catholic teaching on the issues the nuns address may seem quite clear. But reasonable people of good will can…

July 8th, 2014

Situation: My friend had a severe allergic reaction at a party. His wife was embarrassed by it and suggested we all keep eating and drinking. A nurse tended to his needs but he wouldn’t go to the ER or even urgent care. I was surprised at how his wife was more concerned about the party and the guests than her husband’s health. Do I address this with him?

This sounds like a good moment to check in with your friend. Ask how he is recovering and see if he needs anything. Then inquire, gently, about what happened at the party. There may be more to the story. Perhaps the reaction which seemed severe to an outside observer was not actually that serious. Your friend and his wife, presumably experienced with his medical condition,…

July 1st, 2014

First of all, my heart goes out to you. Discovering your husband’s infidelity must be a heartbreaking blow. It is important for you to seek safety and support to face the difficult decisions ahead.
In Catholic teaching, the bond of marriage is indissoluble. A truly valid sacramental marriage ends only in death. But couples sometimes discern that they can no longer remain together. Sometimes they obtain a civil divorce while remaining married in the eyes of the Church. Sometimes they can obtain an annulment, a declaration that in the eyes of the Church the marriage was never a valid sacramental bond. The latter is required if either party wishes to marry again in the Church.
The Church does not oblige you to stay…

May 27th, 2014

Consider that according to the Code of Canon Law, in the marriage covenant “a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life … which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (canon 1055).
Marriage is a partnership in everything – the marvelous and the mundane, the triumphs and the trials, the day in and day out through all the seasons of your lives. Marriage exists for your good, so that you and your spouse can experience and express the deep love for another person that reflects God’s deep love for us. In fact, one of the tasks of spouses is to help each other on the way to salvation. Marriage also exists for the good of others,…

May 14th, 2014

Q: How do you overcome doubts? After attending college again, and being surrounded by atheists (with good arguments), how do you deal with doubts? I am a believer, and I still believe. This seems to be an isolating place to be.
Remember the father begging Jesus to heal the mute boy in Mark 9:24: “I do believe; help my unbelief!” Sometimes the line between unbelief and faith is razor-thin. While you may feel isolated right now, you are in fact in excellent company. Some of our Catholic tradition’s greatest figures — from the apostle Thomas to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta — wrestled with doubt. Serious intellectual inquiry, such as you are undertaking as a college student, should lead you to seriously…

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