Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

30 April 2011

Notes in the Octave VII: I'm All Yours

Totus tuus ("Wholly yours") was the motto of Pope John Paul II (r. 1978-2005).  The "you" to whom he refers is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who received JPII's consecration of self, Church, Russia, and world many times over the years of his life as a youth in Poland, as a priest, a bishop, and as Sovereign Pontiff.  The Church received hundreds of saints at his direction; now he is being elevated to the "blessed" by his erstwhile chief doctrinal advisor and successor, Pope Benedict XVI. 

The beatification of John Paul may be, at best, an afterthought in a culture consumed with all things that tend unto death--and more recently, with the glamour of a British royal wedding--but this is the world that God so loved, that He gave His only-begotten Son as the "offering of peace, the sacrifice of praise" (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

For the day of beatification the Church appropriately chose the Solemnity of the Divine Mercy that JPII instituted worldwide in 2000 amid the canonization of Sister Maria Faustina.  To this simple Polish nun, Jesus revealed His intention for the feast, and many other reassurances of God's compassion toward sinners.  The Church prays that this feast will awaken in the hearts of all a greater appreciation and immersion in the lifelong process of reconciliation.

Mercy is the Church's standard operating procedure.  Granted, her leaders and trusted servants stand in need of it as much as, if not more than, the devout and the errant laity; this we cannot sufficiently emphasize.  It is always a joy to kneel or sit before a brother priest to receive the same forgiveness that I am humbled to bestow upon others.  I am called to this not only as a sacramental agent, but as a man among men.  Priests are nothing if not humble seekers and sharers of Divine Mercy.

To that end, pray for us.  Pray, too, that other men may consider this a viable life direction, that they may align their interests and aptitudes with God's desire for their lives.

29 April 2011

Notes in the Octave VI: Can't Keep the Man Down

The author of the Acts of the Apostles (traditionally thought to be St. Luke) must have had a few holy chuckles as he recorded the exploits of Jesus' first ambassadors.  He notes the amazement of the Jewish intelligentsia at local yokels Peter and John.  How these fellows can perform such mighty deeds and utter such convincing words, they will never understand or accept.  Fraught with fear, what else can they do but engage in random acts of oppression?

But Peter and John proceed unalarmed with their ministry of evangelization and healing because, like the twenty-centuries-removed hot dog company, they "answer to a Higher Authority."  Since then Christians have known that persecutions of the Church paradoxically cause her to increase in quantity and quality, in the same way that the exercise of muscles can, with the proper rest and nutrition, stimulate their growth.

The officials' chastening falls on deaf ears; their blows hit rubber and bounce back on them with equal intensity.  And the crowds go wild!


Then you have the "Longer Ending" of St. Mark's Gospel (vv. 9-20, although the day's reading stops with verse 15), which has been accepted since ancient times although it is different in style and vocabulary from the rest of Mark.  It abruptly relates the unbelief of several disciples, and then features Jesus calling the Eleven to task for their hardness of heart (i.e. intellectual contempt).  Verse 15 lays out the program to be followed until Furthest Notice: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature."  So long as this is in place, from Pope to pew-dweller, nothing will keep down the Man-God and His Own.

An "Accidental" Note in the Octave: Something Helpful

Some time ago a friend forwarded to me an article from a family apostolate based in New York State (  I submit this to you, patient reader, as a sound resource for spiritual development.  Sign up for their free 2-month series of daily emails and pass it on!

Notes in the Octave V: Royal Wedding

For readers interested in theological reflections concerning Prince William's long-awaited knot-tying to Kate Middleton, one must look elsewhere; instead I endeavour to provide coverage of the Wedding-Feast of the Lamb, which is already in progress.

I have no desire to be a Bishop, but I have plenty of episcopal mottos up my cassock sleeve, and any episcopabilis is most welcome to select from among them.  One example is Omnis pro Seipsum, "Every man for himself."  Another, Age. Fac ut Gaudeam, "Go ahead.  Make my day."  But seriously, folks: one real contender is from Revelation 19:7--Uxor Eius Praeparavit Se, "His Bride has made herself ready."  This last phrase is an exclamation of the heavenly hosts upon the commencement of the Royal Nuptials.  We are living in that great moment--we, the Bride of Christ, the Church.  Are we ready?

The meal is ready, at any rate: Jesus has come to the seashore, spying on the apostles who have been unsuccessful at securing provisions.  Apparently it profited them nothing to return to their day job.  Jesus is willing to give them a hand, to great effect.  Some ink has been spilt over the precise catch, 153 according to St. John.  If there is any significance to the number, I cannot say; but it's better than what they had obtained by their own unaided efforts.

The Presence of the Risen Lord in the Church prompts our repentance, our seemingly foolhardy heroism, and our success.

If you see a recently-initiated Catholic at Mass this weekend--wherever you go--congratulate him or her.  Whether you yourself are a cradle Catholic or a convert, ask the neophyte's prayers for all those whose company he or she has just joined, that (1) our lives will help sustain them through their impressionable early years, that (2) more may be inspired to inquire with the help of our example, and that (3) perhaps even one disillusioned or lapsed Catholic may soon rediscover the joy of the Communion of the Faithful.

28 April 2011

Notes in the Octave IV: Dignity Restored

The Resurrection of the Christ underscores God's high estimation of mankind.
St. Peter, in one of several post-Pentecost preachings, accounts for the power of God at work in him and his fellow apostles.  Having healed a cripple, Peter deflects the credit to Jesus, the One whom His own people rejected, but whose response to that rejection was unadulterated love.  Repentance is our proper response: changing our evil ways not (pace Santana) as a precondition to the gift of love, but as the optimization of our capacity to receive the gift.

Christ is the pinnacle of God's expression of love for the people He has fashioned.  The Psalmist declares the majesty of God's name precisely in light of the dignity that He ascribed to man over all created things.  These things are important to us; how much more important (cherished) are we to God!

The Resurrection appearances of Jesus are themselves an affirmation of our worth.  Jesus' first words: Peace be with you, set the stage immediately.  Incredulity gives way to faith with demonstrations of Jesus' reality: He has flesh and bones, He can eat, He can open the disciples' minds to understand the Scriptures in a flash, He can empower them as witnesses to preach and heal in His Name.

These Scriptures can put to rest any thoughts to the contrary about my worth in God's sight.  No longer can I throw exceptions, as if one of them may shut God up ("Yep, he was right all along.  Why ever did I go the Cross and grave for that miscreant?").  Our repentance is one good reason: the very possibility of it!

27 April 2011

Notes in the Octave III: Symptoms of Heart Burn

No pharmaceutical companies have prompted the following reflections, nor are any such companies receiving an endorsement in them.

Do you experience heart burn?  How would you know if you did?  Recognize the signs.

You may be experiencing some difficulties in your life, such as the recurrence of emotional or other trauma.  Perhaps you felt you may have dealt with these difficulties sufficiently in the past, but you are changing and your perspective on the past is too.  Some people experience a gnawing interest in knowing the truth about themselves or a relationship with a spouse, coworker, friend, or family member.  You may be interested in a more precise sense of personal responsibility in these situations.  Many have reported anger, disillusionment, disappointment, fear, or even generalized physical pains.

If symptoms persist, talk to your confessor.  If you don't have one, get one.  Talk to him about heart burn and what time-honored solutions are available.  If you need help, know that it is available.  You don't have to be alone in it anymore.

Two of Jesus' disciples experienced heart burn prior to Jesus' appearance to them on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), but it wasn't until He walked and talked with them that they could put a finger on it.  What helped for them was personal reflection, interpersonal conversation (as opposed to a sort of rumination that can be compared to running on a gerbil wheel), and the direct application of the Scriptures to their life--the choices (actions, words, thoughts) they've made in the past, their choices (actions, words, thoughts) of how to deal with their choices, and what new options (actions, words, thoughts) may prove more effective.  The Breaking of the Bread (Eucharist) also contributed significantly to effective treatment in those who were eligible.  Results are not always immediately perceived.

Be warned that a heart-to-Heart with the Christ can actually provoke heart burn.  In such an event, do not panic.  This is normal, and will subside only when you part company with Him, in which case you will want to repeat the experience until your condition becomes irremediable.  Continue to use all necessary human helps (e.g., Confession/Spiritual Direction, Participation in the Eucharist, Worthy Companionship, Productive Self-Examination) throughout the process, otherwise you may never recover.

You may be convinced at some point that you are cured; if persistent thoughts of this sort occur, repeat the treatment until such thoughts subside.  Physical death has not been reported as a side effect, except regarding those who have utterly abandoned their course of treatment; in these cases spiritual death always preceded physical.  Here as always, early detection is most helpful, but when treatment is swiftly and consistently applied, success has been reported in even the most extreme cases.

26 April 2011

Notes in the Octave II: Ecstasy in the Garden

What's up with gardens in Scripture?  They are second only to mountains as places of deep spiritual significance.  It all started in a garden, this story of fruitfulness and trial.  Jesus, by His act of fidelity in Gethsemane, undid the first treachery of sinful Adam.  Now the Risen Savior encounters the Magdalene in a garden, though the latter does not recognize Him whom her heart loves (Song 3:1-5). 

Speaking of the Song of Songs, this passage has been viewed through the Christ-Lens to refer to Mary of Magdala's eager clinging to the Bridegroom.  "I took hold of him and would not let him go" (v. 4); yet the Bride in the Song wisely recommends her bridesmaids not to "stir up love before its own time" (v. 5).  One may moralize on the value of "true love waiting," but in the Gospel story it refers to Jesus' interest in Mary's apostolic activity among the apostles ("my brothers"; Jn 20:17-18).

Genuine evangelization begins with this encounter with the Risen Lord and indeed requires our eager "clinging to" Jesus, though not the kind born of self-interest.  Mary must be purified of this for the sake of her mission, and Jesus purifies her of this so that He has the freedom to depart to the Father and to send the reconciling Spirit upon the derelict disciples who thus are reborn as God's children and Jesus' brothers.

Another interesting point: this verb "to touch" also has the meaning "to light or kindle," as in "no one who lights a lamp places it under a bushel basket" (Lk 8:16).  To be touched by Jesus, then, is to be ignited; and if ignited, then for God's sake--and for the world's--not to be extinguished!

Notes in the Octave I: Empty Tomb, Empty Heads

(Notes...Octave...get it?)

The solemnities of the Lord's Nativity and Resurrection are so profound in the life of the Church that they are celebrated over an eight-day period called an "octave."  I shall not promise blogging coverage for each day, but let's start with

The second day in the Octave of Easter, which features a curious tale of guards asleep at the switch.  Apparently people have a hard time staying awake in the Lord's Presence.  Is it the company, or the hour?  Or is it the human person, whose presence of mind just shuts down amid Him who is fully-present always to all?  I must concede that Jesus is soporific.  The Blessed Sacrament emits rays of diphenhydramine, it seems.  The guards were awake at the time of the Resurrection, says St. Matthew, but "became like dead men" at His appearing (28:4).  They reported the awesome sight to the chief priests, who devised a fine story and produced a payoff to the guards so they would spread it.  (Was it thirty pieces of silver?  At least that sum would have maintained the budget item: 400-33, "Jesus of Nazareth: Betrayal.")

The NAB footnote for this passage on the etiology of the empty tomb (28:11-15) says that the account "indicates that the dispute between Christians and Jews about the empty tomb was not whether the tomb was empty but why."  Numerous factors have led scholars to assert that Matthew wrote his gospel for Christians of Jewish origin, who of all believers at the time would have been interested in what fellow Jews had to say about the disappearance of His Body.  The account certainly adds to the polemic concerning the Chosen People's division over this Man.  "His disciples stole the body--yeah, that's what we'll tell 'em."  And that's probably what they wanted to believe.  Nothing extraordinary here, just run along.  Show's over.

But it isn't.  As The Carpenters (!) sang, "We've Only Just Begun."  Quite the homiletic stretch to read the early Church's beginnings into this song (, but hey, what the heck.

"Before the risin' sun (Son), we fly / So many roads to choose / We'll start out walkin' and learn to run"
"Sharing horizons that are new to us / Watching the signs along the way" (Wasn't "The Way" one of the earliest monikers for Christianity?)  

OK, Space Cadet, time to descend.  Paul Williams would sue me for Inflammation of Character.

Anyhow, the evidence is overwhelming, though the watchword (here as always with Jesus) is invitation.  There is no forcing our belief and personal investment in the divinity of the Christ.  His Self-emptying is so profound that He is, in a certain sense, powerless over intentional incredulity.  But then there's St. Paul, who was "blinded by the light."  That one was so thick-headed (as he himself would admit) that only astounding divine intervention would convince him.  Most of us merit incremental interventions, occasionally to be floored by the Redeemer's radiance when we're on our personal warpaths.

24 April 2011

Notes on a Scandal VI (Reflections on Holy Week)

A couple of hours ago I was the principal celebrant of the Easter Vigil for the first time as a priest (eight years this June).  What an honor, to Baptize, Confirm, and give Holy Communion to seven men who are now fully initiated into the Catholic Church!  I pray that our neophytes will grow their faith through worthy study, worship, prayer, and life choices.  One of my blog "followers" (you know who you are) has just made this step tonight.  Many blessings to him in particular, as he and I have known each other for over 20 years; it has always been an honor to be his friend, but now he is a fellow Catholic.

This Liturgy began with the lighting of the Easter fire and the blessing of the Paschal Candle, which for a time was the only light visible in the nave of the Church.  Scripture readings told the story of God's movement in creation; the Gloria and the threefold Alleluia led us to the Gospel of the Resurrection.  Then the glory of the risen Christ shone forth in sacramental initiation and in the baptismal renewal of all present.  The Mass continued as any other, which is to say that God the Son gave His life for us in tangible, edible form.  Hardly ordinary!

The greatest scandal lies ahead: your life and mine, which will not help but cause non-believers and believers alike to "stumble" upon Christ.  Perhaps it will be His weakness that people see quite often, as we don't cease to be weak; but His strength and glory will surface, as well.  To the extent that we tap into that strength and glory, aligning our weak selves with His crucified and risen Self, the Church will continue to grow.

22 April 2011

Notes on a Scandal V (Reflections on Holy Week)

This recent series of postings, Notes on a Scandal, is not related to a movie of the same name (which I have never seen and about which I know nothing).  Says St. Paul: "We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1Co 1:23 NAB).  The Greek word for "stumbling block" is skandalon, whence originates "scandal": something in the path that might cause one to trip.  The Cross of Christ stands unexpectedly in the way of wisdom and strength, but it is precisely where it needs to be in order to demonstrate wherein true wisdom and strength lie: in apparent folly and weakness.

Thus was the Cross unveiled as the deacon processed up the center aisle of the Church, bearing it as our standard.  Our people likewise processed up the aisle to venerate the Cross, not merely as a token of devotion to One who has suffered the shame of crucifixion for us, but also as their pledge to walk that way of foolishness in union with Him.

Shortly after the veneration of the Cross, Holy Communion (consecrated the day before) was distributed to the faithful.  Although it seemed like an afterthought to the Cross, it actually was the (theo)logical thing to do, for how else could we pledge to walk this Way each day of our lives if we didn't receive the power to walk it from the Lord? 

The Self-gift of the Eucharist, made the night before, is ratified in the awesome deed of Calvary.  What Jesus said on Holy Thursday, He did on Good Friday.  It is not unlike the conjugal pledge made in the exchange of vows that now is consummated in the outpouring of the body.  You say that "I give you my all," and I will "hold my breath" until you prove your gift in action, when You, Lord, will take my breath away--a mutual dying, an ecstasy!

A scandal, this Cross, this Eucharist: who would follow a Messiah who claims to lead His people to glory by becoming, in a certain sense, less than us by making Himself not only one of us, but our food and drink?  Who would follow?  The Vigil of Easter soon will reveal, in our parish, seven more persons who would follow this Messiah as members of His Mystical Body.  These men desire and deserve our prayerful support and our steadfast example of what "following this Messiah" really looks like in our day.  Come to the Easter Vigil, and lend that support; be Christians the next day and the day after, and give that example.

21 April 2011

Notes on a Scandal IV (Reflections on Holy Week)

The Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper features St. John's account of that Supper, which does not mention the institution of the Eucharist.  Jesus does establish the priesthood, in terms sacrificial: His Body and Blood are at the disposal of His servants.  The Master washes their feet and directs the Apostles to "go and do likewise" in what has come to be known as the Mandatum ("commandment," mitzvah in Hebrew; hence the alternate name "Maundy" Thursday).  Peter, who often speaks as the first among the Apostles, initally chafes at this self-emptying display; but his vehement resistance becomes a vehement insistence when Jesus reminds him that to let Jesus serve him thus is a condition for sharing in the Kingdom.  "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well" (Jn 13:9): as if to say, "Everything in me that is needed to render Your kind of service needs to be cleansed if I am to do it."

It is a powerful display, this mandatum: the priest usually removes his chasuble (outer garment), and with pitcher and basin in hand reminds the people of God that his own will and sensibilities must be purified of self-importance.  Any attitudes that have perpetuated the popular perception of priests as center of the parochial universe must be smashed just like the alabaster jar that a woman smashed in order to release its fragrant oils upon the Lord's sacred Head (cf. Mark 14:3)

The remainder of the Mass resembles every other: it is the tangible self-gift of God-in-flesh, where bread and wine are changed, their substance now giving Life to the world and meaning to every authentic human offering.  At the end of the Mass, the Eucharist is transferred to an "out-of-the-way place," setting the sanctuary stage for the memorial of Jesus' Passion and Death.  The assembly abides and eventually (without formal dismissal, whenever each is ready) leaves in contemplative silence.

Notes on a Scandal III (Reflections on Holy Week)

From the Letter to the Hebrews, excerpts of which grace the First Readings of the Office of Readings this week:

"Strive for peace with all men, and for that holiness without which no one can see the Lord. See to it that no man falls away from the grace of God; that no bitter root springs up through which many may become defiled; that there be among you no fornicator or godless person like Esau, who sold his birthright for a meal. You know that afterward he wanted to inherit his father’s blessing, but he was rejected because he had no opportunity to alter his choice, even though he sought the blessing with tears." (12:14-17, part of "Spy" Wednesday's First Reading)

Jesus the Blessed Peacemaker desired the peace of holiness for each of His apostles, yet would force it upon none of them.  We consider Judas as the one who "fell away from the grace of God," he of the "bitter root" who, being "resentful and crestfallen," could not lift up his head (Gen 4:6-7) for shame at his inferior offering.  He wasn't the only one who deserted the Master in His Hour of Need; but his desertion was the only final and irreparable one.

Strange, the reference to a "fornicator" alongside the "godless" Esau, whose ill-gotten gain foreshadows the Prophet's line: "Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?  Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare" (Isa 55:2).  It is the question asked too late by the fornicator, or the idolater of whatever stripe: "Was it really worth it?"  It is the recognition that never comes too late: Obedience to the Lord is far more satisfying than my previous vain pursuits.

Notes on a Scandal II (Reflections on Holy Week)

Today many of the priests of the Diocese of Allentown gathered in the presence of our Bishop to rejoice in the gift of Priesthood and Eucharist.  A major practical and spiritual purpose of the Mass was the consecration of the oils to be used in the sacramental ministrations of the diocese (i.e. Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick).  In the blessing of the oils, the "Power of the Keys" is most evident when the Bishop blesses Sacred Chrism: after stirring the fragrant balsam into the vats of oil, he breathes upon them just as the Lord breathed the Holy Spirit on the Apostles on the night of the Resurrection--specifically conferring the power of the forgiveness of sins (cf. John 20:22).  Then the co-operation of bishop and presbytery shines forth when, as the Bishop prays the consecratory prayer over the Chrism, the priests extend their hands toward the oil, not unlike the procedure during the consecration of the Eucharistic Elements.  Neat stuff.

Before the consecration of the oils the Bishop and his priests renew their commitment to priestly service.  We priests were reminded of the promises we made at our ordination:

"Are you resolved
to unite yourselves more closely to Christ
and to try to become more like him by joyfully sacrificng your own pleasure and ambition
to bring his peace and love to your brothers and sisters? 
Are you resolved
to be faithful ministers of God,
to celebrate the Eucharist and the other liturgical services with sincere devotion? 
Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church,
by teaching the Christian faith without thinking of your own profit,
solely for the well-being of the people you were sent to serve?"

Then the Bishop begs the prayers of the faithful gathered behind us:

"Ask the Lord to bless [your priests] with the fullness of his love,
to help them be faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest,
so that they will be able to lead you to him, the fountain of your salvation....
Pray also for me that despite my own unworthiness
I may faithfully fulfill the office of apostle which Jesus Christ entrusted to me. 
Pray that I may become more like our High Priest and Good Shepherd,
the teacher and servant of all,
and so be a genuine sign of Christ's loving presence among you."

You had to be there.  In fact, you can be there next year if you like.  The Mass of the Oils is a real shot in the arm for clergy, religious, and laity alike.  It leads us into the saving events of the Triduum, which make possible the unity experienced in the Mass of the Oils and in every liturgical action in every place and time.  Jesus' Passion, Death, and Resurrection--the Paschal Mystery--extend His Incarnation into every proclamation of the Gospel, every celebration of the Sacraments, and every corporal and spiritual work of mercy.

19 April 2011

Notes on a Scandal I (Reflections on Holy Week)

This week is called Holy not because the rest of the year is profane, but because the holiness of this week informs the holiness of all time.  It sets the pace for the journey to Jerusalem that each of us who are baptized into Christ must make, is making.

God the Son became flesh so that He might reconcile mankind to right relationship with God--man as a whole and each of us as human persons.  We are inserted into this right relationship by Baptism, and are strengthened in this relationship by the other sacraments.  But the sacraments derive their nature and purpose from the nature and purpose of Jesus, who by being lifted up from the earth, drew all men to Himself (John 12:32). 

"Being lifted up" was Jesus' sorrowful Passion and Death upon the Cross.  In some way His "being lifted up" involved every action of His life among men, but the events of this Holy Week particularly contain and impart the gift of salvation.  It behooves us to attend the entire liturgy of Holy Week.  Work, sports, and school vie for popular attention; but if at all possible, make the sacrifice for Him who made the sacrifice for us.

18 April 2011

Able to Absolve Grave Sins in a Single Bound

The other day I received an electronic missive from a parent whose daughter asked her whether priests have to “do something special before Confessions so that they can become Jesus” in the sacramental action of forgiveness.  This parent supposed that she was thinking (seriously or otherwise) along the lines of Superman.  The question has merit: What do priests do before, during, and after hearing Confessions?  I can speak only for myself, though I presume to speak for every priest who performs this awesome and humbling ministry to God’s people.

First bear in mind that every priest is first a penitent: he too must confess his sins to a brother priest with conscientiousness and humility.  Otherwise he runs the risk of hypocrisy, telling people to do what he himself fails to do because he is somehow “above the law.”  It is easy for priests to neglect this sacrament for some of the same reasons as non-ordained persons do: because we don’t make the time for it, because we may not feel we’ve done anything gravely wrong, or because we are tempted to embarrassment or discouragement over what we have done.

So one of the first things we must do before hearing Confessions is…to go to Confession!  Of course I don’t mean that we must go to Confession before each time we hear Confessions; given the many occasions on which we hear them (e.g. weekly offerings at most parishes, assistance in penance services at other parishes, frequent “on-the-spot” requests) this would be impractical and perhaps unnecessary.  But our regular examination of conscience must demonstrate itself in the faithful celebration of this saving sacrament.  Intervals vary from one priest to the next just as they do for everyone else, but we are mindful of our priestly dignity and responsibility in such a way that it influences our personal spiritual disciplines.

Before “jumping in the box” many priests take a moment to thank the Lord Jesus for making us partakers in His “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  We ask the Holy Spirit to give us what we need to fulfill our office effectively and joyfully: for example, wisdom, compassion, attentiveness, and confidence. We also pray that our penitents may receive what they need: humility to make a thorough self-examination and self-disclosure, sincere sorrow for their sins, as well as courage to "go in peace" and make an honest effort to repair the harms they've done..  It helps everyone involved when we make these petitions an explicit and frequent subject of our prayer.

During the celebration we must be particularly mindful that each penitent who comes to us is a person with his or her own story—the sum total of experiences and reflections that they are expressing as best they can in a few minutes’ time.  Whether it’s “the regular” who goes every week or two with the same struggles, “the big fish” who returns after a hiatus of several or many years, or anyone in between, it is Christ Himself—and priests are bound to treat the penitent with the same reverence that we would expect in his or her position.  The days of priests yelling at penitents are, please God, long gone.  This is not to say that human irritation or exasperation never surfaces, but that it—or rather, the priest himself—is to take second billing to Jesus.  Oftentimes priests encounter their own human weaknesses and sins in the very content being presented to them.  This can be unsettling and challenging, but at the same time enlightening and inspiring.  It helps us to reflect on our own humanity which calls out for the perfection of divine grace; it further moves us to appreciate and shoulder the many crosses that our people bear.

After hearing Confessions, priests also “go in peace” to the next Christ-at-hand.  We may for a moment wonder whether we’ve said the right thing to the persons who’ve approached us; we may wonder whether, humanly speaking, we’ve “done them justice.”  If we’ve absolved them, that’s more than a good start!  But we also pray that our well-chosen words have conveyed the mercy of the Divine Word, whose succinct direction to the penitent woman sent her onward and upward: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).  And, for your own consolation, be assured that the grace of ordination enables us to encounter penitents outside of the sacrament without personal judgment.  Most often, and especially after anonymous Confessions, we encounter you without recalling what was said by whom.  Only if a person speaks to us outside the sacrament and explicitly reminds us of what he or she said can we reference the content in future conversations.  Never do we mention particular sins of particular persons outside of the sacrament to third parties, in keeping with the inviolable sacramental seal.  If we seek direction regarding what someone has said to us or how we ought to handle it, we always refrain from giving even the slightest hint of personal identification.  In such circumstances we consult priests who are (1) far enough removed from our situation and (2) seasoned in Church moral teaching and pastoral practice.  This kind of consultation is by no means typical “shop talk.”  Note that Confession is one of many conversations that is not recorded or monitored for quality assurance; that’s God’s job.

I hope this article helps Catholics to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with joyful confidence in the supreme love that moved our Lord to institute it for the good of souls.

16 April 2011

This Week in Catholic Liturgy: Up To Jerusalem

The Week of Weeks is upon us.  We accompany our Savior to His place of death, not just to watch it happen, but to die with Him--to die to sin and selfishness.  But if to die, then also to rise from the dead, glorious and immortal.  Each Confession, each victory over sin, is a participation in this sacred journey, well worth the effort, though utterly by God's grace.  Take advantage of every available opportunity that your parish offers to unite yourself more closely to the Savior during this time.  Take a tender moment here and there to provide the conditions for Christ to enter more fully into your journey.

03 April 2011

This Week in Catholic Liturgy: Wait for the One

The eighth is enough: to the surprise of both Samuel and Jesse, the boy's father, young David is chosen to be Israel's king.  Whom have we dismissed on account of appearance, race, gender, etc.?  Can we suspend our judgments long enough to see who and what's really there, usually far more than meets the eye?  Look in the mirror today, and marvel at what you see, who and what's really there.