Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Repentance

It seems that many people today either ignore or reject the sacrament of Reconciliation.  In my day, growing up, it was called the sacrament of Penance, or Confession.  It is that sacrament in which a Catholic confesses his/her sins to a priest in a confessional in the church or some other private setting.  While in grade school and high school, I received this sacrament monthly.  The precept of the Church that relates to Confession states that we must receive this sacrament at least once a year if we have committed serious sin.  It is somewhat intimidating to enter a confessional and kneel before a priest (behind a screen) and confess serious sin.  People today seem to dismiss serious sin as not being so serious, and so they never receive this sacrament.  They feel that they are then in compliance with the precept.  Examples of serious sins that are seemingly rationalized as being not so serious are:  missing Mass on Sunday, use of artificial methods of birth control, cohabitating and having sex outside of marriage, aborting a baby … it is really a pretty long list.  I believe that the need for repentance today is tremendous.  Many people today seem to have a poorly formed conscience.

John the Baptist preached the importance of repentance for salvation, and so did Jesus.  Three parables of Jesus come to my mind when thinking about repentance:  The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  In the case of the lost sheep, a shepherd (God) has lost one sheep (a sinner) out of a hundred sheep in his flock.  The shepherd ultimately finds the sheep (the sinner repents) and the entire community (heaven) rejoices.  In the case of the lost coin, a woman (God) has lost a coin (a sinner).  The woman “seeks diligently until she finds it” (the sinner repents) and she then rejoices with her friends and neighbors (heaven).  In the case of the prodigal son, a father (God) loses his son (a sinner) when the son squanders his property (commits sin) and winds up hungry and destitute (experiences the effects of sin) and subsequently returns home and asks forgiveness (repents).  The father then hugs and kisses him, dresses him in the finest robe, kills the fatted calf, and puts on a feast (admits him into heaven).    

Jesus instituted the sacrament of Reconciliation as the repentance tool to be used so that we may return to God after committing serious sin.  Sometime after the resurrection, Jesus said to His apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”  This is the scriptural basis for the private confession to a priest.  The priest is a successor of the apostles and so has this power to forgive and retain.

The reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation is liberating, even exhilarating.  Patrick Madrid, in his book Why Be Catholic puts it this way:  “To actually verbalize one’s sins to another human being, a fellow sinner himself, to own up and take responsibility for the evil acts one has committed, to speak them out loud, is tremendously liberating.  Even more liberating is hearing the words of absolution from the priest and knowing you have been forgiven by God.”  These words of absolution include this statement:  “… through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  I know what Madrid is talking about.  There have been times when I have walked out of the confessional with tears in my eyes.

My prayer for today:  Lord, please give your people the strength to recognize serious sin and the courage to seek repentance through the sacrament of Reconciliation.  Amen

The photograph below is of the confessionals inside the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, Maryland.  I visited this Cathedral a few of years ago.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Urgency While in this World

I’m currently reading the book Drawn From Shadows Into Truth: A Memoir by Ray Ryland.  Dr. Ryland was an Episcopal clergyman for thirteen years before he was received with his wife and children into the Catholic Church.  Twenty years later, he was ordained to the priesthood of the Catholic Church, with a dispensation from the rule of celibacy.  The book is essentially his autobiography in which he tells his conversion and vocation stories. 

Father Ryland served in the Navy during World War II.  The book was published in 2013 when he was in his 90’s.  Following is a passage from the book that I wanted to share with you for today’s MTT.  In this passage, he is describing his feelings one evening while on duty on his Navy ship.

“One evening I stood on the bridge as the stars were becoming visible.  I noticed one of our destroyer escorts silhouetted against a particularly heavy cloudbank to the northeast of us.  The sun was just below the horizon, and its reflected rays added to the darkness of the background of that noble ship.  (We loved our escorts; they were our only protection against enemy submarines.)  Immediately I was impressed by the thought of eternity.  It seemed to me that beyond that cloudbank lay great ages and histories and horizons of thought that I would never have the privilege to encompass, or attempt to encompass.  A deep sense of humility came over me as I realized what an infinitesimal, ephemeral speck I was in the scheme of things.  I felt shame for being anxious about the petty details of my own life.  There and then I perceived my humble place in the universe.  There and then I realized dimly the urgency while in this world of preparation for the next.”

My prayer for today:  Lord, help me put aside the petty details of my life so that I can perceive my humble place in the universe and the urgency in this world to prepare for the next.  Amen. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Hands of a Priest

When a Catholic priest holds the wafer of unleavened bread or the chalice containing wine in his hands at Mass and proclaims the words of consecration as directed by Our Lord in Sacred Scripture, this bread and and wine become the body and blood, soul and divinity of this same Lord, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, and so the priest is holding God in his hands.

It would seem that this very special privilege afforded to a priest would require that the priest's hands be special hands, that they be blessed in some outward formal way.  Indeed, the consecration of a priest's hands is something that is done at the ordination ceremony the day a new priest receives the sacrament of Holy Orders from a bishop in the Catholic Church and actually becomes a priest.  The bishop does this in his role as the successor to the apostles.  I recently witnessed this formal consecration eight times at the Ordination ceremony here in the Lincoln Diocese.

The priest candidate ascends the steps leading to where the Bishop is seated and the Bishop then anoints the new priest's hands with the chrism oil that was blessed at the special Chrism Mass during Holy Week.  I understand that this oil is a special blend of olive oil and other ingredients.  Immediately after anointing and consecrating the new priest's hands, the Bishop then hands the new priest a cloth for wiping the oil from the hands.

One might assume that this cloth is then laundered so that it may be re-used.  This is not the case.  The cloth, with the Chrism oil still on it, is given to the new priest, who, in turn, presents it to his mother at the time of his First Mass.  The idea is that, upon the death and burial of the new priest's mother, the cloth is placed in the woman's coffin and buried with her as a recognition of the fact that she gave her son to the people of God just as our Blessed Mother gave her son to the people of God so many centuries ago.

To me, this whole process mind-blowing.  What the priest's mother must be feeling!  You know, I've heard that sometimes when a young man first expresses to his parents that he wants to become a priest that they may object, that somehow this "surprising" calling is not what they had envisioned for their son.  My prayer for today is this:  Dear Lord, please instill in your families here on Earth a deep devotion to you such that they may humbly realize the amazing privilege that it is to have a son or daughter be given a religious vocation from God.  Amen.

The picture below is of Father Justin Fulton, a new priest, elevating the body of Jesus Christ at his First Mass.  From the look on his face, you can see that he believes it to be an awesome privilege.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Conservative Approach with a Focus on Catholic Education

The Catholic grade school and high school I graduated from in 1966 closed its doors in 1967.  Through consolidation, the grade school has survived to this day, but it is in a town thirteen miles away.  The nearest Catholic high school, however, is something like fifty miles away.  I understand that the practice of the faith in this small Iowa town has waned, and while we had a full-time pastor and often a full-time assistant pastor back in the day, I understand that now the pastor is shared with a neighboring town.  My thoughts today are dominated by these problems, which, of course, are not uncommon today across the country.

If you read my blog post last week, you know that my current diocese, the Lincoln, Nebraska, diocese, is thriving.  Catholic education is accessible (and affordable) and religious vocations are at a high level.  The reason, I believe, is the unwavering financial support of the people of the diocese over the years.  Seeing the importance of Catholic education in both the life of a parish and in religious vocations, the Catholic bishops of our diocese have instituted funding programs early on that have been very successful.  As a result, one of these bishops founded an order of teaching Sisters and another founded a seminary college.  All three of the bishops we’ve had since I moved here in 1977 also saw the importance of a thriving Newman Center on the campus of the University of Nebraska.  It’s amazing how many of our priests and nuns came through the university and found their vocation via this holy and active Newman Center.  Last month, a beautiful new Newman Center opened on the campus.  The need was recognized because Sunday Mass attendance by the students was so high, and Bible study group meetings and other activities so numerous, that the old smaller church, with two priests assigned full-time, simply could not accommodate the need any longer. 

There is an important lesson here, I think.  One might ask the question:  “Why is this happening in this diocese?”  Aside from holy and faith-filled bishops that had the foresight early on to stave off financial problems by placing a high priority on the funding programs, we’ve had a fundamental conservative approach to our faith.  The diocese has a reputation nationwide of being one of the most conservative dioceses going.  I’m not an expert in this kind of analysis.  I’m really just an ordinary parishioner who has made personal observations over the years, both in this diocese and in the diocese of my youth.  It seems a conservative approach, with a focus on Catholic education, is what works.

And this is another reason why I’m writing this weekly blog.  I was thinking today of writing this post on the topic of the Precepts of the Church, thinking that many Catholic may not know what they are or even that they exist.  But then I thought of the larger problem, and I couldn’t resist writing about that instead.  Maybe it will be the Precepts of the Church next week.

My prayer for today:  Lord, send us your Holy Spirit and your legions of angels to renew the face of the Earth today so that support for Catholic education and religious vocations will pick up nationwide.  Aw, heck, Lord, let me change that to “worldwide.”  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen. 

The photo below is of the sanctuary of the chapel of the St. Gregory the Great seminary in Seward, Nebraska, in the Diocese of Lincoln.