Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Sacrament of Confession: "Your Sins are Forgiven"

We have been so graced with the glory of the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. The Church, in all her glory has in its God given power, the wonders of Absolution. Imagine if MasterCard called you up and asked you to simply spend 10 minutes listing purchases you made on your credit card, and in turn offered to clear your debt. God, in essence does the same thing through confession and the Church’s power of absolution. You confess your sins (mortal or venial) and you are “cleansed” of your sins.
Christ tells Peter “ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19) . Surely, the confessor must have an “interior repentance”: …at the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life (1431). God knows truly what is in your heart, so a confession of words alone is not enough, the confession must be true and from the heart. Catechism #1432 tells us that “God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him”. It is only by his grace that we even feel the guilt for our sins, and of course the grace to seek absolution. St Augustine tells more about the need for confession:
“When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance" (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16 [A.D. 395]).”
Augustine talks about the ability to have venial (or lesser) sins removed through prayer. We see these sins removed through the Mass as well. The grave or “mortal” sins must be confessed for forgiveness. St Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5: 18-20) explains, “ and all this is from god, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
The intention of this article is not to be a thesis on the justification or deep theological basis for the sacrament of reconciliation. It can only scratch the surface. There are some great resources available on the Net, as well as Catholic Bookstores. The remainder of this article will explore some practicalities and my thoughts of this great gift.
The Church tells us that “Penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction…contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (1450-1451). 1454 tells us to make a good examination of conscience (http://www.scborromeo.org/confess.htm) before going to confession. It may surprise you how you may have broken one of the Ten Commandments and not realized it. I have attached a link to a simple examination of conscience document that will enlighten you and allow you to truly dig deep into your interior and give a GREAT confession that will allow you to start changing and begin to reflect Christ in your life. The Catechism further states that “confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret… (1456). First and foremost, the sins MUST be confessed to a priest. We may find this uncomfortable (but I assure you that, at least in my case, it gets easier with experience) at first. We must also remember to confess all the sins we have committed (particularly the mortal sins, but may also include any venial sin you wish to confess as well). We are not expected to remember everything we have done (particularly for those who have not confessed in many years). We are expected; however, to do the best we can to remember whatever possible. You may remember a sin you forgot to confess and wish to confess this as well. I would not get hung up on this, as you did not remember to confess this particular sin by no fault of your own. I would recommend, however, confessing the sin at your next confession…why not? You must remember that if you have any grave or Mortal Sin on your soul that you CANNOT TAKE COMMUNION! This is grave sin and separates the offender from God.
Most Parishes offer confessions once a week (Usually before the Saturday evening Mass) and by appointment. Some have the option to use a “confessional” for private and anonymous confession or to use sit down “face to face” confession. My opinion is that “face to face” is quite therapeutic and adds a “spiritual counseling” dimension to it, but the anonymous confession allows for a much more open and honest confession (especially for people new to the sacrament). Another point to share is that many people go to other parishes if they are uncomfortable confessing to a priest they know at their own parish. Keep in mind, however, that most priests have heard it all. Nothing you are going to confess is going to make him blush. He is there in the “person of Christ” and not there to punish you, or belittle you. He is there for your SOUL. Find a way to get to confession at least once a month (or the very least once per year). You will find that the oppressive weight of sin will start to lessen and you will become less of a slave to sin and more of a servant to the Lord. God Bless.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Eucharist: The Real Presence of our Lord

Do we have a point to our lives? Absolutely! The Eucharist! Everything comes from the Eucharistic gift of our Lord. Christ is (or should be) our focus at all times. Thus, the Eucharist (being Christ) is our purpose. Let us start at the Last Supper:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving to his disciples said, “Take and eat, this is my body” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26-28)-

These awesome words are the words repeated every day in every Catholic Church during the consecration. To further understand what this means, we must look to the Bread of Life Discourse. If there is any doubt as to Jesus meaning “eat” his flesh, or as many of our protestant brothers and sisters believe to mean “eat his words” in a symbolic way, read John 6: 22- 65. This leaves no doubt. “I am the bread of life” (John 26: 35). “ I am the living bread that comes down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 26: 51). “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 26: 53-54). Did the disciples automatically say yes to eating him? Did they want to eat him like cannibals? “This saying is hard; who can accept it?’(John 26: 60). They wanted to make sure they understood him. Jesus, being Jesus, knew exactly what they were thinking: “Does this shock you…the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 26: 61-62). He assured them that what they were thinking (which is what we still think 2000+ years later) was correct. Jesus would not have let them build his Church on a misunderstanding.

With this being said, what is it that we, the normal Catholic get from receiving communion at our Masses? The Catechism states that “Holy communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist is an intimate union with Christ Jesus” (1391). This physical and spiritual joining is similar (but on a much higher level) to marriage, and the full giving of one to his/her spouse. While the marital embrace between a man and a woman is truly a beautiful giving of oneself completely for the glory of God, Christ’s giving is to all of mankind for the SALVATION of mankind. It could be, and has been said that the gift is actually to God the Father from the Son. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharista” stated:
“The Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food. The gift of his love and obedience to the point of giving his life is in the first place a gift to his Father. Certainly it is a given for our sake, and indeed that of all humanity, yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father.”
I heard it said once that God loves man so much, that we are “almost like Gods to him.” Please don’t misunderstand this statement. It is hyperbole used to show how much God truly loves us. John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world that he gave is only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” This gift, first to the Father, and to us as beneficiaries, is so that we can be joined with God in heaven…this is the primary fruit of communion. Paragraphs 1393-1398 in the Catechism further state fruits such as “separating us from sin” (1393), restoration of strength and “preserving us from the future mortal sins” (1394-1395), the Church (1396)…and so on…The grace we receive from one communion is enough to make everyone of us great saints, yet we receive him every Sunday (or even everyday), and struggle to simply keep our heads above the tide of sin. We must be open to the graces and ask the Lord to make us saints on a daily basis. “Lord, with the graces received from communion, make me a saint.” Pray for it, he is God and can do anything. Don’t be fooled, this is Christ, “in the flesh.” John Paul II said of this, “…in order to be in accord with the Catholic faith, [we] must firmly maintain that, in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine” (EDE 15). The doctrine of transubstantiation is confirmed by John Paul II; the bread and wine no longer exist, Jesus now exists. The Lutherans believe in consubstantiation, which means that it is bread/wine and Jesus together. Be careful to read and understand this doctrine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transubstantiation#Theology_of_transubstantiation

Pope John Paul II further wrote” the worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church…it is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the beloved disciple and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the ‘art of prayer’, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation, and support?”(EDE25).
Take advantage of time with our Lord. Sure, you can pray anywhere and have an “ear” from our Lord. But there is something special about the “…presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present” (Mysterium Fedei, 39). It is very difficult to get an audience with the President, the Pope, or even your boss, but the Lord of the Universe, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ is present in every Tabernacle in every Catholic Church in the world. If your Catholic Church does not have a tabernacle present for adoration, go to another Catholic Church. Most Churches do, however have a tabernacle, some will have a monstrance (he is exposed for exposition and adoration). Either way, he is present, for YOU! How lonely he must be, when people don’t come to see him, don’t believe that he is actually present, or defile him as an object. Give reverence to the BLESSED SACREMENT: “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Philippians 2.9-10)
“We genuflect to the tabernacle, and bow to the altar of consecration. Receive him only in a state of grace (if in doubt, go to confession before receiving him). Honor, glorify, and thank him for coming to YOU/US in the Eucharist. People have been Martyred defending this believe and TRUTH. Long for the Eucharist, for he is the “bread of life”. For more sources see:

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Who are the Salisians? St. Don Bosco and Our Children

I am taking on a new endeavor this fall. I am going to be working with the Junior High kids at my parish in the EDGE ministry. The EDGE program (at least at my parish) is being based on the philosophies of the Salesian order and St. John (DON) Bosco. 2 Timothy 22-26 states:
So turn from youthful desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart. Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will.
This is some basic “biblical” teaching on how to approach teaching others, particularly in matters of faith. This is especially true with our youth. While many of them would not “return” to the devil’s snare (since they are quite young to be culpable for sin), they may be on their way to a sinful life. Many of the children are brought to youth groups as a “social” event. Their parents’ may think they are fulfilling parental duties (of teaching the faith) by dropping them off once a week to a youth group. It is our duty, to give the children a safe, loving, and caring environment, where we can hopefully plant a seed of faith into them.
We are following a method of teaching developed by St. Don Bosco. John Bosco was born in 1815 in Italy. His father died when he was only two years of age. He was raised by his mother Margherita , who taught him to see God in others such as the poor and homeless. At the age of nine, Don Bosco had the first, great dream which marked his entire life. He saw a multitude of very poor boys who play and blaspheme. A Man of majestic appearance told him, "With meekness and charity you will conquer these, who are your friends". And a Lady, just as majestic, added,"Make yourself humble, strong and robust. At the right time you will understand everything." In 1841, at the age of 26, he was ordained a priest after 6 intense years of seminary. He immediately hit the streets to find and help young boys such as the ones he dreamed of. He discovered many of the parish priests in the area understood the problem with the young boys in their town, but expected them to follow traditional parish catechism classes. This was the industrial revolution, so it was a dynamic time of change that was not always conducive to traditional catechesis. It was necessary to try new ways, to invent new schemes, to try another form of apostolate, meeting the boys in shops, offices, market places. Many young priests tried this. Don Bosco met the first boy on December 8, 1841. He took care of him. Three days later there were nine, three months later twenty five and in summer eighty. They were pavers, stone-cutters, masons, plasterers who came from far away places, he recalled in his brief Memoirs. Thus was born the youth centre (which he called oratorio). This was not simply a charitable institution, and its activities were not limited to Sundays. For Don Bosco the oratorio became his permanent occupation and he looked for jobs for the ones who were unemployed. He tried to obtain a fairer treatment for those who had jobs, he taught those willing to study after their days work. The oratorio, or as we call it: The oratory, is what we are trying to emulate in our youth group.
The Oratory is not just a place. It is not just the classroom, or the church, or the home, job, school, etc. It is all of these. The children will learn to LIVE the life of a Catholic. The method is actually of “lifestyle” of pastoring, mentoring, educating, and creating a spiritual heritage. As we begin to learn our new positions as catechists (we have until November when the kids will join us), we learn to understand that we are not spending a lot of time in front of the class lecturing. We need to get on their level, learn what interests them, what they are all about, and incorporating a simple cathecetical message into our interactions. While the kids may be not be able to rattle of huge chunks of the Catechism of the Catholic Church after a year, they may be so inclined to come back and open up a little more next year. If we can, by the grace of God, help to plant a seed of interest and love for our Lord and our Church, we can help to change their lives.
I hope and pray that we don’t forget our children in today’s fast paced world. Many households are forced to have Mom and Dad both working. With that, traffic, school, and everything else in life, we can loose our children in the mix. Pretty soon, we will realize that we never stopped to smell the roses. My Catholic church did not have much of a youth group when I was in Junior High. My parents probably would have had to drag me to it anyway. I joined a High School Group at a Community (protestant) Church at one point. God Bless those people, I made some great friends there during some rough times in High School. It did not, however, do anything at all for me spiritually. Apart from a few renditions of “Our God is an Awesome God”, we did not have much faith development. Probably a good thing, because it was not a Catholic Church. The point I am making, is that we have a duty to our children. We are responsible to put them on a path of righteousness. We can have a direct impact on their salvation. I don’t want to explain to St Peter, or even my wife a hundred years from now, why we a hanging out in Purgatory, and our children are in Hell…because we forgot to set them straight. Don’t let this happen. Be active in your church, or at least catechize your children. Do it for real! Not just a “token” dinner prayer, and a few trips to Mass. Talk, pray, make it a LIFESTYLE. Be Catholic first, then be American, a worker, a PTA mom, etc. 100 years after the death of John Bosco, Pope John Paul II conferred the title of "Father and Teacher of Youth" upon him. We could all take a lesson from him, and maybe ask him for help. For more information of St. Don Bosco go to http://www.dbpc.org/ABOUTSALE.html.
God Bless.