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We Are Only as Sick as Our Secrets and as Healthy as Our Confessions

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve Hiding

In preparation for our mission, which will start November 2nd and continue until November 5th, I continue to reflect on the great gift of the sacraments.  Specifically, confession is our greatest aid towards healing of our sins.

We can recall in the book of Genesis of the first sin committed by our race.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve would walk with God in the Garden of Eden.  They enjoyed his presence and all was open.  Then, in secret, the tempter proposed to them an act of prideful disobedience.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

This story is allegorical of course.  Yet, it is a story that teaches us a few very important facts.  At some point, our ancestors disobeyed in a very serious way that the whole human race was plunged into suffering and death.

Also, shame, secrecy, and hiding accompanied this disobedience.  After they ate the forbidden fruit, they fled.  They hid from each other and from God.

This tendency seems to accompany us whenever we sin.  We want to keep them secret.  Sometimes we even keep them secret from ourselves.  Indeed, neither Adam nor Eve were willing to acknowledge their fault.  Instead, they blamed someone else.

There is a saying: “you’re only as sick as your secrets.”

When we keep our sins secret, they behave like battery acid.  They sit on the surface of our soul.  It would seem tolerable at first…even harmless.  Yet, over time the acid eats away at our soul, our joy, our peace, and our serenity.  In this way, our sins become far more destructive then they were when we first committed them.

The shame hurts us and distorts our vision of ourselves.  We tend to beat ourselves up over our sins.  Or worse, we simply get so used to them that we no longer feel any shame, guilt or remorse (a lot of self-help and psychology books suggest this as a solution!)

The Lord knows the pain and the curse of sins kept in secret.  So he gave us the sacrament of confession and set aside human beings to be his ears and his heart…the ordained priests.  Confession is that place where God searches for us and asks, “where are you?” just as he did in the book of Genesis.

It is the place where the grace of Jesus Christ washes away the acid of secret sins.  It is the place where shame is conquered by grace.  And perhaps the most unique advantage of confession is that we get to be ourselves, good and bad, and we experience the loving and accepting company of a fellow Christian, whose unique role is to hold that conversation in strict confidence, listen to us with a loving heart, and help us as we continue to do our best to change our behaviors.

Parish MissionOur mission coming up in November (2-5), will include some time for confession.  Get ready for it now, especially if you haven’t done it for a long time.  Remember that you are as sick as your secrets and as healthy as your confessions.

Tired of Saying “Sorry?”

Divine Mercy Confession

The Sacrament of Confession

It is quite sad to hear about people that have lived their entire lives without truly getting to know the Lord and doing His will.  Yet, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of them as they return to the Lord, even if they have only days or hours to live.

What a holy and awesome privilege I have had as a priest!  I share in the joy of Christ our Lord when his servants return; the ones, when asked by God to do his work, said “I will not” yet, in the end, changed their minds and served (Mt 21).

This reminds me of a movie depicting the story of St. John Bosco.  He was a very holy priest who served underprivileged juvenile delinquent boys.  Throughout his mission, a government official opposed him because he believed that there was no hope for the boys except to keep them in prison.

At the end of his life, as he laid on his bed, sick with grief and guilt, he called out for St. Bosco to visit him.  When St. Bosco went to him, the government official repented and confessed his sins before the holy priest.  After St. Bosco absolved him the official cried out, “I am so sorry for all that I have done against you!  I deserve punishment!”

St. Bosco replied, “nonsense!  At this very moment, at the end of your life, you have outdone me in virtue!”  St. Bosco had a very powerful sense of the great mystery of mercy at work in this old man who lived a life of bitterness, yet, like the servant who said, “I will not serve,” he served the Lord in the end.

He served the Lord, in his remaining hours of life, by helping St. Bosco advance his mission for the youth and for the advancement of holiness by assisting in forming some very important administrative aspects of it.

St. Don Bosco

St. Don Bosco

We know now that St. Bosco would formalize this mission into a religious order known as the Society of St. Francis de Sales, also known as the Salesians.

Our Lord, for our sakes, works quickly for our healing and forgiveness.  The Psalms say that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in mercy and love (103).  Do we believe this?

Do we truly believe that the Lord’s mercy to us is limited only by how much we trust in it and ask for it?

Pope Francis, in his first Angelus address to the world said that the Lord never tires of forgiving us.  Rather, it is we who are tired of asking for forgiveness!

One of the reasons we tire of asking for forgiveness is shame.  We cannot bear the shame of facing our sins for what they really are and the damage they really do.  So, like Adam and Eve, we hide from God.

We can forget that our God is loving and that when he looks at us in our sins he does not see what we might think he sees.  He definitely does not see us the way we see ourselves.  Sin has a way of distorting our view of ourselves and of life in general.

When we sin, we might only see ourselves as worthy of punishment and nothing else.  Yet, the Lord sees the one he created, the one he has known from the beginning, the one in whom he has placed his love and the one who he wants to be happy.  He sees the one for whom he has many dreams and beautiful plans.  He sees the one who bears the features of his only begotten son, Jesus.  He sees his own adopted child, whom he takes as his own and will never let go…yet will not force them into his embrace.

He knows how good we are and he knows how bad we are.  Every time we sin, how does he respond?  The Lord says that if one “has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ez 18).

This is what St. Bosco knew and saw when he looked at the youth in prison.  He saw this also in the government official.  By the way, he sees us in the same way. How wonderful it is to be under the loving gaze and care of the saints!

So, our greatest challenge is to put aside the shame and turn away from a life of sin.  We must do this daily.  In the morning we can ask the Lord to help us especially with those sins with which we struggle the most.  We can also ask the help of others who love us for who we are, such as good friends and family, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, like St. Bosco, and the angels, especially our guardian angel.

Most importantly, the most effective way to be healed of our sins and change our way of life is the sacrament of confession.  In confession we do the opposite of hiding.  We open ourselves up and bear all before Jesus.  We have no need to hide.  Let the eyes of your heart see Jesus in the priest in confession, just like the government official did.

It is sad to think of those who said they would do God’s will and then don’t do it.  It is sadder to think of those who said they would not do God’s will, don’t do it, and never repent.  We can enjoy the Lord’s mercy here and now as long as we never get tired of asking for forgiveness and striving to live a better life.

Prayer, Rest and Recreation…nice

Rest and RecreationHow many times have we said to ourselves that we just need to get away from all?  And yet, at the same time, how many times have we said that we need a vacation after our vacation?

Indeed, we often feel tired when we go on vacation and we feel tired when we come back.  Sometimes we also feel sad that our vacation is over and we don’t have the motivation to really get back into it.

What’s happening here?  I propose to you the possibility that we need two things: rest and recreation.

Isn’t that what a vacation is?  Not necessarily.  A vacation is where we go somewhere else.  We vacate our places at work or home and go somewhere else.  Yet, a vacation does not necessarily help us rest and recreate.

To rest means to stop using or slow down the use of those parts of us that we are constantly utilizing in our labors.  This can be our minds, our hands, our ears and our mouths.  To recreate means to RE-CREATE what has been destroyed or exhausted as a result of our extended labors.

I submit to you that out of the many ways that we can rest and recreate, there is one that guarantees us true rest and recreation: prayer.

You and I have many opportunities to enjoy this form of rest and recreation.  We constantly do the work of the Lord.  We should also spend time with the Lord of the work!  Daily prayer, Sunday Mass, and an annual retreat are great ways to rest and recreate.  In fact, when we go on vacation, we can spend a few hours in silent prayer by going to a park, fishing, hunting, or sitting at the beach.

This is especially important as the holidays approach.  In the midst of the excitement of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we can prepare, in advance, time for spiritual rest and recreation during our vacation.

The Glory and the Cross

Christ on the CrossWhen we think of the glory of God, certainly we can imagine the angels and saints in radiant splendor, offering up to God praise and thanksgiving.  We can imagine a majestic house of worship bedecked with fine jewels and a towering throne upon which sits the Son of the Most High.

This is a fitting image for the glory of Christ our King when he returns again.

At the same time, we know that the glory of the Lord means the Lord shows himself for who he really is.  We might be surprised what happens in John 13.  As Jesus sat with his disciples to share his last supper with them, and he gave himself at that moment in the Eucharist, Judas left to commit his act of  betrayal against him.

Then immediately after that, Jesus says, “now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”

How is he glorified?  How is he showing to the world who God really is?

At that moment, he did not refuse obedience to God the Father.  He gave of himself even to the point of experiencing betrayal from those closest to him.  Indeed, the hour of his great glory took place on the cross.

Stretched out in a horrifying way, Jesus bears witness to his glorifying love, and that of the Father for his children.  He loved us and loved us to the end.

Is it any wonder then, that we celebrate the Exultation of the Cross this Sunday?

The Cross vs Satan

What would you say is the hardest thing about being a Christian?

I would say that the hardest thing about being a Christian is that it is so hard!  Sometimes we are slow to admit or quick to forget the cost of following Jesus Christ.

We are in good company.  Jesus called Peter “Satan.”  Which in the Greek text translates into something like, “stumbling block.”  Peter stood in the way of the Messiah’s mission by denying the most powerful part of it: his suffering for our sake.

Also, denying the place of suffering in the Messiah’s mission denies the place of suffering of those who follow the Messiah.  For this reason Jesus makes it very clear that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (MAT. 16).

Temptation of ChristSatan stands in the way of the cross–both Satan the devil and the spirit of Satan in the minds of Christ’s disciples.  Indeed, the devil tempted Jesus three times to deny the way of suffering as Jesus fasted in the desert (MAT. 4).  The devil entered into Judas Iscariot when Judas exchanged his own cross for 30 pieces of silver (LK. 22).  However, in the end we know that the cross of Christ triumphed over Satan through the Resurrection.  The apostles embraced the cross and followed Jesus all the way to martyrdom!

Thankfully, we have the help of Christ and his apostles in accepting the cross.  We know of the Resurrection.  We know of the power of the Holy Spirit.  We know of the great joy of the apostles and the saints.  From their writings and examples we know of the great gifts that we receive through faithfully embracing the cross of discipleship in our life.

For example, we read in John 19 that Mary and John stood at the foot of the cross.  Mary accepted the cross even before the Resurrection.  We see now that she who was closest to Jesus at the cross is now the closest to him in heaven.  For that reason we can always call upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary for help (especially by praying the Rosary).

Like Mary, when we embrace the cross, Jesus helps us bear our sufferings and we help Jesus bear his.  Like John, when we accept the cross we enjoy friendship with Jesus and Mary.  We experience their suffering at the cross so that we may experience their joy.

We can do this everyday.  First, we can pray before a cross everyday that we may embrace our own crosses.  This also prepares us mentally for the suffering we will experience that day.

Helping NeedySecond, we can ask the Lord that we may share in his suffering by sharing in others.  This goes directly against Satan.  The devil rules hell and hell is a place of suffering in isolation.  Yet, you and I can be heaven for those who suffer from sickness, loneliness, poverty, and marginalization.  We can ask the Lord today to help us seek out those who suffer and to be with them, listen to them, love them and help them.

In these ways the cross of Christ defeats Satan and brings us the victory of life and joy!

 

Prophecy Causes Indigestion?

JeremiahI say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (JER. 20).

Jeremiah struggles to speak in the Lord’s name because of what it costs him.  Many mock him because of his message and perhaps because of the way that he delivers it.  He must “cry out.”

Indeed, serving as a prophet of the Lord can cause us great difficulty.  Perhaps the example of parents with their children illustrates this.  I visited one family where a mother of many struggled to remind her teenage children of their obligations to serve in the community.  This particular family took responsibility for cleaning the streets in their area.

For some reason, perhaps because of the characteristic foolishness of youth, they preferred to walk the streets like gangsters rather than clean the streets like Christians.

Yet, she spoke with so much force and passion, that they would ultimately obey, even as they complained while they did it.  I personally believe that they also listened to their own consciences and acted on their natural ability to do good.

Many times, the people to whom the Lord sends a crying prophet do not listen and do not obey the Lord.  What is a prophet to do?  If one is truly dedicated and open to the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing can stop such a one from speaking on the Lord’s behalf…not even themselves.  Like Jeremiah, to be silent when they are prompted by the Lord to speak can be painful, like fire in the heart.

I like to call this “holy indigestion.”  May we all be filled with such power so that we can prophecy the Lord’s message of love, mercy, repentance, and service!

The Pope, The Pillars, and the People

Jesus, in his great generosity has given to you and I the Pope.  That’s how he works.  He always sends to us an individual through whom he rules us, teaches us, sanctifies us, and unites us.  In Exodus, we hear the story of how God gave Moses to the Hebrews.  We also hear this in Isaiah 22 when God gave Eliakim to Israel.

In both of these examples, these chosen men worked tirelessly to govern, to teach according to the law of the covenant, to sanctify through the liturgical rites, and to unite by representing God to the people and the people to God.

How wonderful it is that Jesus Christ does the same!

Jesus Sends the DisciplesNow there is one thing we must understand about Jesus.  He could have stayed on earth in his glorified form after his Resurrection.  Indeed, he was the chosen one sent by the Father.  Yet, he who was sent also sends: “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (Jn. 20).

Who does he send?  One of the ones he sends is Simon-son-of-Jonah.  Upon Simon’s proclamation of faith, Jesus gives him a new name…a name that signifies the nature of his mission.  He was to be the Rock of the Church.  What does this mean?  It means that the members of the Church, you and I, will always have assurance from Christ that the gates of hell shall never prevail against us.

The means by which Christ assures this is the rock.  Peter, and his successors, the popes, each serve as the rock.  They serve as the rock, like Eliakim in the book of Isaiah, who was “like a peg in a sure spot” for Israel.  The popes are given the keys to the Kingdom of God and the vocation to bind and loose.  This hearkens back to Eliakim, who was given the keys to the “House of David,” so that “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Is. 22).

Our wonderful Lord, in a way that is surprising yet not uncharacteristic, gives us the Pope to govern, teach, sanctify, and unite his Church.Peter and the Keys

Yet, it does not stop there.  The structure of the Church does not end at the rock.  The apostles are the pillars and the people are the living stones.  All of this structure is built around Christ, the cornerstone!

The Holy Spirit fills this structure with life, light and love.

Then this whole structure is offered to God the Father.  In no other place is done more powerfully than in the Eucharist.  And in no other place is this structure repaired more effectively than in the sacrament of Confession.

So, that’s it then.  The Pope has the keys and all the authority and no one else does, right?  Wrong.

You see, the pope also represents the entire apostolic life of the Church.  The apostles and their successors, the bishops, also share in the work of binding and loosing.  For that reason, our own bishop can bind and loose.  He is the chief teacher in his diocese.  He is the ultimate spiritual and juridical authority in his diocese.  He can lay down rules and make exemptions, impose and lift excommunications, forgive and not forgive sins (in the case of the unrepentant), and perform exorcisms.  All of the presbyters (commonly called “priests”) assist him in this mission for all the people in his diocese.

Pope w PeopleSo, it stops there, right?  Wrong.  This apostolic authority flows to the people of God as well.  Parents serve in this task in their own households for their children by teaching them in word and example.  They create a household of forgiveness and devotion to our Lord.  Lay leaders in the Church, such as catechists, teachers and professors, do the same.  They, and many other members of the Church, grant access to our Lord Jesus Christ, in communion with the rock and the pillars.

Our Lord Jesus Christ does this so that we can all be united in a union symbolized by the pope.

All of us are connected to the capstone, Jesus Christ.  And all of us, together, proclaim with Peter that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 

 

The Weakness of Simon, The Strength of Peter

Pope FrancisJesus would call one of his apostles by name, including Simon, son of Jonah.

But then, almost within the same breath within which he called him by name, he gave him a new name and a new task.

And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (MT. 16)

In this new name Jesus gave Simon a responsibility that we cannot possibly imagine.  In a way, Jesus placed great trust in Peter.  With the keys of heaven, Peter must bind and loose.

The interpretation offered by Sacra Pagina says that binding and loosing can refer to the following:

Laying down rules and making exemptions; imposing and lifting excommunications; forgiving and not forgiving sins; even exorcisms.

How could Jesus have given so much responsibility to a single man…a man whom Jesus rebuked and called “Satan” in only a few passages later.

The strength and the gift of being the rock of the church did not come from Peter’s abilities.  Rather, it came from God the Father.  That Peter had received this vocation was confirmed when he proclaimed something that his own mind and body could not have discovered…that Jesus was the Christ!

In fact, if we look at the structure of the passage we can almost make out an artistic flow from Simon, to God the Father, to Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father

And so I say to you, you are Peter

Peter, and all of his successors up to Pope Francis, have served as the rock of the Church of Christ, binding and loosing.  They have done this not by their own power, but by the power of the Father of Jesus, flowing from the greatest declaration ever proclaimed by a sinful weak man: you are the Christ.

Let us give thanks for this great gift to us!

Mammon, Money, and Man

When Jesus says you cannot love both God and mammon, he means that you cannot love God and money at the same time.  He means love in the truest sense.  He also says that you either love one and hate the other.So, if you love money, you can only despise God.

Yet, this seems strange.  Why can’t I love both?

This reminds me of a few lines from Fiddler on the Roof.

Perchik says, “money is the world’s curse.”

Tevye responds, “may the Lord smite me with it!  And may I never recover!”

We can be quite humorous when it comes to the constant draw of money.  Even the best of us can feel its seductive power at times.  I use the word ‘seductive’ on purpose.  Money, even though it is inanimate, seems to seduce us as a mistress.

Of course, money in itself is neutral.  It is no more evil or seductive than gold, grain, and grass.  In our own hearts lie the seduction where we put money in place of God.  We can treat money as if it is our security for the future.  It makes us forget our dependence and vulnerability.  God reminds us of our dependence and vulnerability.

For this reason, a lover of money can only hate the one who reminds him that his money won’t save him.

Jesus gives us the remedy for this by saying three words, “do not worry.”

He tells us to not worry about tomorrow, what we will eat, where we will sleep, and how we will find clothes.  He does not tell us to abandon these things or to behave foolishly by not taking care of ourselves.

This teaching does not concern so much the use of money as our attitude towards it.  Attitude towards money makes all the difference.

Our current economic system is broken in much deeper ways than joblessness, high gas prices, and a just wage.  It is broken in its attitude, specifically, its lack of ethics.  Without going into the intricacies of economics and moral philosophy, it is enough to summarize the broken system with one word: avarice.

Avarice, one of the seven deadly sins, means the insatiable desire for wealth.  It is the desire for wealth for its own sake.  Money becomes the end and ceases to be the means.  This attitude is reflected in our society when businesses consider the “bottom line” as the final determining factor for its decisions.

The social justice teachings of the Church have emphasized that such an attitude of avarice opposes the dignity of the human person.

The economy exists for man, not man for the economy.

In a system that treats human beings like a financial liability, the labor offered by workers becomes in itself a commodity for sale.  In this sense, a human being can be bought, sold, or exchanged for cash.  We see this happen when businesses lay off large amounts of people in order to gain the necessary cash for the bottom line.

To be clear, this article is not an exercise of blame.  Indeed, all of us are at fault in some way because we are all part of this system.

When we shop, do we not buy the least expensive product with the highest quality?  In our system, low prices are often maintained by lower labor costs.

What are you and I to do then?  First things first, as Jesus said, “do not worry.”  The second step, “seek first the kingdom of God.”  The third step, inaugurate the Kingdom of God here on earth to prepare ourselves for the Kingdom of God to come.

We inaugurate the Kingdom of God here by striving to establish social justice wherever and whenever possible.  We will never finish this work until Christ comes again.  But he will provide all things necessary to continue it.

We do this by our votes, our common influence, and by establishing this same justice in our own workplaces, especially if we are employers.

Christ the True Priest

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple to consecrate him to the Lord, according to the law as handed down by Moses (Exodus 13).

“Consecrate” means to “set aside.”  The first born was set aside to the Lord as an act of thanksgiving and also a remembrance of how the Lord spared the first born of the Hebrews when he delivered them from Egypt.

So, in this act of consecration we see two things.  The first born is a sign of blessing from the Lord.  The first born is a memorial of salvation from the Lord.

Do we not see these two things in the presentation of the Christ-child in the temple?

It should not surprise us, then, that two prophets appear to proclaim this significance.  Especially when Simeon exclaims:

I have seen your salvation,which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations,and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2).

A special note we can make that Mary and Joseph were obedient to the precepts of the Jewish Law.  God rewarded this obedience with the prophecy of Simeon.

We can reflect on our own commitment to obedience to the Father, especially in following the precepts of the Church, namely: Attending Mass every Sunday; marrying in the Catholic Church.

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