Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why Confess To A Priest?

Since many second graders will soon be receiving their first Sacrament of Reconciliation, it seems like a good time to reflect on this awesome gift that Christ has given to his Church.

Jesus said to the apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). Jesus has the authority to forgive sins because he is God. So, why did he empower the apostles (and their successors) with this authority? Why would God want people to tell their sins to men? God hears us. Why put some man in the middle?

In the Old Testament, people were supposed to tell their sins to a priest. However, the priests could only offer up animal sacrifices, which could never completely take away sin. In the New Testament, Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice which fully takes away sin. He fulfilled the Old Testament. “Fulfilling” does not mean “destroying.” Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament. Jesus completed the Old Testament. So, now when we confess to a priest, it is a complete, fulfilled sacramental cleansing of sin because it is based on the sacrifice of Christ, not the blood of bulls and goats.

That still doesn’t explain why God insists on having a man in the middle. People often ask, “Why not confess directly to God? Why go to a priest? Here are a few reasons:

  1. When we sin, we sin against God, the Church and our fellow human beings. So, it makes sense to apologize not only to God, but also to the Church and to a fellow human being. Confessing to a priest includes all three of these elements. Making amends with individuals we have wronged is, of course, important whenever possible. The priest will likely encourage such actions.

 

  1. Most people will admit that it is usually easier to apologize to God in the silence of one’s heart than it is to apologize out loud to another human being. Let’s face it; it’s very humbling to speak your sins out loud to another person and hear your own voice admitting what you did wrong. I see this frequently in counseling sessions with couples. It can be very difficult to say out loud to someone, “I’m sorry!” This is because apologizing is an act of vulnerability. Vulnerability is essential to intimacy. The Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to be truly humble, vulnerable and intimately connected to God in our relationship with him. It’s harder to go to confession because it “keeps the relationship real” so to speak. You have to “put it all out there.” You can’t hide within the silence of your own thoughts.

 

  1. Can God hear you speak to him without a priest? Sure. But, can you hear God speak back to you? Of course, God can “speak to your heart” in many ways. However, God did not create you as only a “heart.” He also gave you a physical body with five senses. Assuming that all five senses are working properly, God expects you to use those senses in your relationship with him (as we do with each other). That’s why the sacraments incorporate the five senses. Through the priest, you get to use the ears God gave you to actually hear the words, “I absolve you of your sins.” Your spirit AND your body are involved as God intended. Jesus ascended to Heaven, but he still has a voice for us to hear. What a blessing!

 

  1. Imagine having a disease that is difficult to diagnose and treat. Your prayer to God may be, “Lord, please heal me of this disease!” Now, imagine that circumstances place you under the care of a doctor that just happens to have obscure knowledge and understanding of what ails you. The doctor performs a procedure that cures the disease. You are overjoyed and proclaim, “Thank you, Lord, for sending that doctor to me!”

Now, who cured your disease? Was it God, or was it the doctor? The answer is BOTH! So often, we see things from an either/or perspective when we should be looking at the both/and perspective. God cured the disease by sending a doctor that had the curative power. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is similar. We go to God for forgiveness. God provides a person to whom he has given the power to be his instrument (the priest). God and the priest work together because God wills it.

Rejecting the role of the priest in God’s forgiveness is similar to rejecting the role of a doctor in curing a disease. Because we are created as spiritual AND physical beings, it makes perfect sense to include both aspects of our being in a relationship with God. This is why Jesus gave us the sacraments. They are outward, physical connections to spiritual realities. God knows we need the sacraments because he created us!

 

For further reading on this topic:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/is-confession-in-scripture

 

Which Voice?

John 18:36-40

36 Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” 37 Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

 

We have the voice of the eternal King who is truth and who speaks truth.

We have the voice of Pilate who speaks Relativism and hands Truth over to be crucified.

Which voice do we listen to and obey?

Do We Reject Science When Scientists Behave Badly?

It is curious to me when Christianity is rejected because of the bad behavior of people. There are complaints about religious wars, crusades, inquisitions, sexual abuse scandals and any number of hypocrisies of “religious people.” Somehow, these complaints are allowed to cancel out the good that Christianity has brought to the world. It seems as though the examples of the Saints, the hospitals, the universities, the scientific advances, the charitable contributions, the spiritual enlightenment, the eternal salvation of souls and any other good that stems from Christianity is cast aside.

The reverse is true for science and technology. Few people reject science or technology because of the atomic bomb, weapons of mass destruction, pollution, social disconnection, or the dehumanization of the person. It does not seem to matter much when people behave badly with science and technology. People still embrace science and technology and extend the benefit of the doubt. In fact, despite whatever evils may have been perpetrated in the name of science or technology, people expect such endeavors to somehow be the salvation of us all.

We need to be consistent. The reality of human nature is that people have the ability to behave badly with any gift given to them. Science and religion can both be abused. Why reject only one of them?

I suspect that focusing on the bad behavior of people can be a convenient excuse for avoiding the humility, holiness and submission that successful Christianity demands. Focusing on the good that science and technology brings strokes our pride and makes us feel in control. We don’t need God because we become “little gods” that are masters of our own destiny. We like our smart phones. We don’t like holiness. We’re afraid that holiness will restrict our freedom. Yet, we are willing to become slaves to science, technology, and our own pride.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

If the idea of “people behaving badly” keeps one away from Christianity, it should just as well keep one away from science and technology. If one focuses on the good, however, there is no reason to reject either one.

Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinking Rules!

my boat my rules

Any genuine relationship has certain “rules” whether spoken or unspoken. Families have rules. Parents have rules for their children. Married couples have rules that both partners agree to in order to preserve the integrity of the marriage. Businesses have rules to maintain customer relations. Societies have rules for keeping things civilized.

Call them “rules,” “parameters,” or “expectations,” the fact remains that relationships have them.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a genuine relationship with God would include certain parameters, expectations or rules. Yet a major objection some people have about religion in general and Catholicism specifically is “all those rules” being imposed upon them. This is short-sighted.

Imagine a man who cheats on his wife. When she complains about his infidelity, he could respond, “Don’t impose your rules on me! I’ll make up my own morality!” This relativism may justify his actions in his own mind, but is it good for the relationship? Of course not.

Catholicism is not simply a list of rules to follow for being a “good person.” Atheists can be “good people.” Catholicism is not about climbing our way up to God by following some arbitrary, man-made rules. Catholicism has “rules” because it is ultimately about a relationship. It is a relationship where God comes down to us and helps us discover how to authentically reconnect with him and with each other.

Easter In July

This past Easter, we brought home an Easter lily. After a while, it seemed to have run its course and the pot sat ignored out on our deck.  Recently, we noticed the stalk producing a bud, and today, Sunday morning, it opened into full bloom.

How appropriate, since every Sunday is a “little Easter” celebrating the resurrection. If we are willing to listen, God can be heard.

Easter Lily

Can I Be A Man of Constant Prayer?

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I’ve decided to try a different approach to my prayer life.

St. Paul tells us in 1Thessolonians 5:16-18 to pray without ceasing or, to pray constantly. Constant prayer seems like a lofty goal impossible to achieve. It’s tempting to say, “Oh, Paul just means we should pray a lot and be consistent about it. He didn’t mean literally all the time every day of the week! Good grief, even monks aren’t on their knees with folded hands all the time!”

Instead of minimizing Paul’s challenge, I’ve decided to accept it at face value. However, I won’t be constantly praying on my knees or even with words. I’m taking a clue from St. Thérèse de Lisieux who said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

So, here is what I have decided to do:

When I wake up in the morning I will start by making the sign of the cross (which, by the way, is a prayer). Then, I will resolve to make my living out of that day a prayer by recognizing God’s presence and God’s love regardless of circumstances. If I’m feeling mad, sad, scared or glad, I will do so knowing that God sees, cares and understands. I will allow my heart and my mind to simply look toward heaven.

I like to use the metaphor of being in a car with someone. Even if both of us are silent, we still sense each other’s presence. It’s hard to be in a car with someone and forget about that person entirely. If we have a conversation, that’s like “on-my-knees” praying. If we are silently riding along together, we’re still aware of each other.

I still intend to have “on-my-knees” conversations with God. In between those conversations I will pray constantly simply by being aware of God. Before I go to sleep, I’ll dedicate my heartbeat and my breathing to God (like lighting a prayer candle), and let my body pray until my mind wakes up the next day.

How To Be A Jerk With The Faith

This reflection is part public confession and part self-reminder of how not to share the Faith. I’ve caught myself (and others) doing many of these things in face-to-face conversations and on social media. It’s human nature to get sucked into these ways of interacting with others. So, this is a “note to self” to avoid these pitfalls and walk a better path.

The problem isn’t the Faith. The problem is that the Faith is being followed by people that have not yet reached perfection. I think it was Mother Angelica who said, “If it wasn’t for people being holy would be easy.”

Lord, help me to do better.

So, without further ado, here are some ways to be a jerk with the Faith (or even just a jerk in general):

 

Give in to your insecure “need to be right.”

Be a know-it-all. Have an answer for everything. Never say, “I don’t know.” Never admit that you might have a thing or two to learn. Don’t have a teachable spirit. Admitting you might be wrong or misinformed about something is just weakness, not a valid way to learn and grow.

Tell others how wrong they are.

If being right all the time isn’t enough, by all means, let others know how wrong they are. Point out and criticize where everyone else falls short. For that special touch, make sure to do it in a way that “means well.”

Don’t listen.

No need to really listen to the thoughts, feelings and words of other people. Focus on your own thoughts, feelings and words. Who has time to listen when there is so much to say? Empathy is overrated.

Hand out lots of unsolicited advice.

People need your opinions and your experience if they’re going to survive. How on earth does anyone make it without you? God forbid anyone make their own mistakes, learn their own lessons, do their own research or walk their own journey.

Judge people’s souls, motives and intentions.

Some behaviors are moral and some are immoral, but don’t stop there. Make sure to inform the people that are going to Hell of their destination and save God some time on Judgement Day.

Ignore the “plank” in your eye.

Plank? What plank? There can’t be any planks in your eye, otherwise you wouldn’t be so good at spotting all those splinters in everyone else’s eyes.

Brag about how happy/joyful/blessed you are.

You’re happy and blessed, dog gone it! Make sure everyone knows about it so they can see how high the bar has been set. After all, those miserable, unhappy people need something to shoot for in life. They need to be more like you.

Be unkind.

Use sarcasm, call people names or just be generally arrogant and puffed up. Look upon people with contempt. See them as stupid, ignorant, evil, or any other label besides “person created in God’s image.”

Worthiness

No one is worth more than you.

If someone is better than you at something,

Or has discovered a better path,

Understands something more clearly,

Has been given better opportunities,

Is more privileged,

Is more virtuous,

Is more spiritual,

Is more intelligent,

Is funnier,

Is more anything,

No one is worth more than you.

So, treat yourself as valuable and worthy.

Do your best.

Seek the best path.

Seek better understanding.

Seek better opportunities.

Recognize your privileges.

Strive to be more virtuous.

Grow spiritually.

Use your intelligence and reason.

Improve your sense of humor.

And remember that you are not worth more than anyone else.

Imagine

Imagine seeing a close, personal friend, who was innocent of any crime, being brutally tortured and executed by civil authorities. Imagine seeing that person dead and buried. How would that impact your life?

Imagine you and hundreds of other people seeing that same, executed person a few days later alive and well. How would that impact your life? What would change for you? What would it do to your priorities? How would you live your life differently from that point?

What if you stopped imagining and accepted the historic reality of the event?

The “COEXIST” Bumper Sticker

Christians are supposed to, as much as possible, live peaceably with everyone (Rom 12:18). In that respect, we are to “coexist.” At the same time, Christians are to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Coexisting with the world is not the same thing as adopting the world’s philosophies and behaviors. We are called to be different than the world; peculiar even.

We are called to be a “city on a hill” and not “hide our light under a bushel.” We are here for the same reason as Jesus: to call sinners to repentance and to a relationship with God the Father. This will not happen without us swimming against the current.

It’s not possible to be a genuine Christian without rocking the boat. The Gospel is a radical, subversive, counter-cultural message. It is a message of love to be sure, but not the same kind of love that the world generally espouses. Just looking at a crucifix drives this point home.

Christianity is not simply one of many fingers pointing to the moon. It is not simply one path among many for seeking God. Christianity is about God seeking us. Jesus claimed to be God, and proved it. Other religious leaders may claim to direct us to God, but only Jesus claimed to BE God. He came to find us and set us free from sin. God is not distant. The world needs this message, like it or not.

So, while we are to coexist in one sense, Christians cannot genuinely follow the Gospel without making any waves. We can’t be content to quietly take our “place” as the “T” on the end of a “COEXIST” bumper sticker and leave it at that. Jesus didn’t command his followers to blend in. He didn’t call us to huddle in our church buildings and leave the world alone. He called us to stand out and be different. He called us to be holy. He called us to change the world (all that “salt of the earth” stuff). That’s going to run up against no small amount of resistance. People might talk. They might say we’re not coexisting and “fitting in” very well.