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?

Can We Love?

“Light drives out darkness. Love drives out hate.”

Good.

First, one needs to personally know the Source of light and of love.

Then, one needs to understand what love is, and what love is not.

Love is willing the good of the other. Love is not a feeling. Love is an act of the will; a choice; a decision; often gut wrenching and difficult.

We can not love our neighbors without also loving our enemies, because they are often the same persons. Find a crucifix and really study it for a while. That’s the kind of love that drives out hate.

Can we “really” love each other? Or are we simply calling for an ineffectual, feel-good, sentimentality? Can we love our enemies? Not without the Source of light and of love. Not by our own power

Where Is THAT In The Bible?

Non-Catholic Christians often confront Catholics with the question, “Where is THAT in the Bible?” This is usually a challenge to the Catholic to use the Bible to prove a Catholic doctrine. The premise is wrong, however.

Where in the Bible does it say that every Christian doctrine must be found in the Bible?

Nowhere.

Where in the Bible does it even say which books belong in the Bible?

Nowhere.

It is simply not biblical to look to the Bible alone for Christian doctrine.

There are verses, such as 2Tim 3:16-17 that emphasize the importance of Scripture. Let’s look at that verse:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”

The Bible is certainly the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

“…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness…”

Notice that Scripture is called “profitable” but not “sufficient.” Water is profitable for keeping you alive, but it is not “sufficient.” You also require food, shelter, etc.

“…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Again, if you only have water, but no food, you are not “thoroughly furnished.” You won’t be perfectly healthy. You are not thoroughly furnished if all you have is a Bible. The Bible is an essential part of your equipment, but not the only piece of equipment you require.

Look at it another way: If I leave the house to go to work wearing no pants, my wife will say, “Honey, you’re not fully dressed!” If I then put on pants but take my shirt off my wife will say, “You’re still not fully dressed!” I need the complete outfit to be fully dressed.

The point of 2Tim 3:16-17 is that you need the Bible to complete (i.e. fully furnish) your equipment, not that the Bible is your “only” piece of essential equipment.

So, what else besides the Bible do you need to complete your equipment?

You need the official teachings of the Church established by Christ.

1Tim 3:15 says, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

In this verse, we see that the pillar and ground of the truth is the Church established by Christ, not just the Bible.

2Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

Here we see that both the written word and the oral word have always been important for Christians to adhere to. Though the apostles wrote some things down, they did not write down everything. Christians had to obey what the apostles said, not just what they wrote. Nowhere do we see Jesus instructing them to write down all the “essentials.” Jesus told them to “go and teach,” not to “go write a book.” The successors of the apostles received the same admonition to “go and teach” (2Tim 2:2, for example), not to “go and write.”

The Bible itself was given to us by the Catholic Church. It took about 400 years before it was decided which writings to include in the Bible. The Bible does not say which books belong in it. The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit, decided which books belong in the Bible. The Bible is actually part of Catholic Sacred Tradition. The Church and the Bible work together in harmony. They do not contradict each other.

A preacher might be able to give “good explanations” about the meaning of Scripture. However, any interpretation that contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church is wrong, no matter how appealing or how logical it may sound. This is why there are so many opposing interpretations and so many different churches. With only a Bible, these churches and preachers are not fully equipped.

In order to understand your Bible correctly, you need to include the teachings of the Church established by Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit. To be fully equipped, you need the Bible AND the pillar and foundation of the truth, the Catholic Church. God made them to go together. If you ignore one or the other (or both), you’re missing something Jesus wants you to have.

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