Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Do Manfully (3)

I always liked the "Lone Ranger" when I was a kid. I listened to the old radio shows, and watched the black and white serial on t.v. The thing that I never got as a kid was the fact that he was not really "alone", because he always had Tonto with him. True, he was the only Ranger who survived that attack that led to his taking up the mask and fighting crime; yet, that did not fit the common terminology. Everyone back then used the term "long ranger" (as in "he just wants to be a lone ranger") to refer to someone who does things without anyone else helping him. When I grew older and heard the term "no man is an island" I started to get it a bit more, but I still thought it was an odd (mis)usage of the term "lone ranger".

So then, let me say it again: no man can be a "Lone Ranger". Guys need guys to strengthen them. There is something about men being able to help each other and "sharpen" one another that cannot be explained by common words. Even the Scriptures acknowledge that as "iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" (Prov 27:17, Douay). Men can encourage each other in ways that women (even their wives) are unable to do for them. This is why children (and especially boys) need their father in the home when they are growing up (as well as a good masculine priest in their parish). This assumes, however, that the men are behaving like men, and not trying to encourage each other in ways that women do with each other (which is definitely not the same).

As I assume that you all know, I am one of the few married Catholic priests in America. I love my wife; we have been married for 27 happy years, and I can honestly say that we love each other more today than we did when we got married, and it is continually getting better between us. Yet, having said that (and she will understand this completely), I must also say that I need the companionship of other men in order for the "iron to sharpen iron". I have a very close friend right now that helps me to fulfill that in a special way; a fellow priest whom I have only known for about a year but it feels like its been 10 years. We can speak to each other "as men" and boldly help one another.

All men need this, and yet few men are brave enough to admit it. Yes, they will often say that avoiding it means that they are strong enough without it, but the opposite is true. It takes guts to admit that we need each other. I am not denying that men have other men as friends; yet few of them have male friends who will talk to them about more than their favorite sports team and brand of beer. This is not to say that it is wrong to talk about sports and beer; but if that is the deepest subject that men speak about--they are not really helping each other as Catholic men. G.K. Chesterton once said that one of the best things about Christendom is, "a tavern for men to talk with men." He meant that Christianity encourages men to help each other, as brothers, and as men. That means that they are helping each other with the acknowledgement that they have the same Lord, and in the manner that men need.

What is often referred to as "male bonding" is usually a small slice of what I am calling "iron sharpening iron". Yes, men bond by slugging each other in the shoulder, teasingly insulting one another, and (occasionally) belching (and I am exaggerating only a small bit). It is this strength, boldness, and directness that men need in order to help each other. Ignoring each other's problems, or beating around bush--but never getting to the subject--is not a help. When men "bond" but do not actually encourage each other in greater faithfulness, it is comparable to smelling dinner but not eating. It is an enjoyable experience, but without any real nutrition or satisfaction.

This is what I would like to see happen more at St. George Church (my Ordinariate community). We are too small to do much in the way of an organized men's group (yet). For the time, however, this is part of what it means to be under the patronage of St. George, who was a true "soldier for Christ" that slayed dragons, and stood up for his faith (even unto his own death). I have often said that the Catholic faith is "not for sissies"; that is especially true for men. It is possible for a man to hide and avoid his responsibilities before God, but when he does so, he is only showing just how completely emasculated he has been. So, men, let us admit we need each other, and then seek to help each other, as men, to be strong, faithful, leaders in our homes, glorifying Christ in all we do. Let us "do manfully".

Friday, May 12, 2017

Do Manfully (2)

"That's a good dog!" He spoke those words like they were irrefutable. He knew it for sure, and wanted the rest of us to be aware of it also. The qualities of a "good dog" were obedience, intelligence, and loyalty; and knowing that dog, I would have to agree with his assessment. What are the qualities that we would look for and say "that's a good man"? In order to answer this question rightly, let us ask what the world's answer would be first.

Much of the world today has been trying to blur the differences between masculinity and femininity for a while now. I still recall the college professor that tried to encourage everyone to be "androgynous" (a fairly new word to me at the time) because that was (according to her) true to our evolutionary progress (every word after that was fairly suspect to me). So now, some 30 years later, what would she and others of her philosophical persuasion say was a "good man"? Of course, I cannot be completely sure (after all, a barbarian society is quite hard to interpret), but I will fathom a guess.

A "good man" (according to modern American culture) is one who satisfies his passions, and yet does not assert himself on anyone else (especially women and minorities), except those who have "antiquated" and "medieval" opinions (who should be screamed at). To put it in other words, the world wants men to be slaves to their own lusts, but only in so far as it promotes the superiority of females and the utter stupidity and uselessness of males. Men who have been formed like this have been emotionally and spiritually castrated. They have rejected the very heart of what it means to be male.

Following on what I have said in the past couple of posts, what would be a good list of the qualities that define godly masculinity? Unfortunately the list is longer than I plan on this post being in its entirety (and spending the time to define each of those qualities would encompass a book in itself!). I could summarize it, though, with the following statement. The necessary qualities of a godly man are those things that require a bold and humble strength to accomplish. This might, at first read, seem too simplistic and non-specific. In truth, however, it foundational and crucial.

A godly man is one who seeks to know what his calling is (for it is not exactly the same for every man), and then seeks to perform it with greater faithfulness every day of his life. For example, the godly man would say, "how does King Jesus want to me to teach my wife and children to love Him?" (which is a married man's duty before God; whether he likes it or not!). Then, he will go out and find the answer to that question (which may involve research, or even [oh, no!] asking someone else, like his priest). Once that is accomplished he will sit down and find the best way to implement that in his own home. Finally, he will spend time in prayer and seek the wisdom of God so that he can present this important truths to his wife and children.

A unmarried godly man will not be much different. He may not be asking about teaching his wife and children (unless he is planning for his future marriage), but he will, at the least, be asking how God would have him to establish holiness in his life and home. Then he will follow through with the subsequent steps as listed above, according to his own situation.

In other words, a godly man is one who is brave enough to ask the hard questions; the questions that ask for correction from God (the prayer "God show me my faults" is possibly the most humble and godly prayer anyone can pray). A godly man is one is bold enough to get up off his rear end and make sure that his family goes to Mass (and does not allow any excuses to stop him). A godly man is the one who is honest enough with himself to admit his faults and accept his responsibility to correct them. A godly man will never be mistaken for Homer Simpson. A godly man seeks to hear God say that he is a "good man". That is masculinity, and that is what every man is called to by virtue of being born male. Will you accept your calling and "do manfully"?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Do Manfully (1)

What does it mean to be "emasculated"? We usually think of it as the same as being made "feminine"--as in one's mannerisms and tastes. Yet, that is only one possible aspect of emasculation, and not the entirety of it. When a man is losing his masculinity, he is not necessarily becoming more "feminine", but rather, he is becoming less of a man. What, therefore, does it mean to be a "man"? The definition here is fairly simple; a "man" is that which God designed it to be (contrary to the "gender identity" foolishness that is being touted by many today).

Let me explain. God designed men to be the protectors, the fighters, the guardians. This is why He generally gave them more physical strength, more muscle mass, deeper voices, etc. This does not mean that women cannot protect, fight or guard, but that they are not particularly suited to this by design. Being a man, means behaving in accord with what God has designed men to be. When a man refuses to do his duty as protector, he is abdicating his role assigned to him by God. When a man accepts his role given him by God, then he is behaving in a masculine manner. In the same way, women are "feminine" when they behave in the way that God designed them to behave (although it is not the subject of this post, the Blessed Virgin is the example of femininity).

Men can abdicate their role as men in various ways, but they basically narrow down to two categories: those men who do so by applying their inner strength to aggression and anger, and those men who apply their strength to softness and cowardice. The first we would call the bully, the second we would call the sissy. Every man has an "inner strength", and we are each responsible to apply it to the right areas in life. When we fail to apply our strength properly, we are only increasing our weaknesses, and every man will have a weakness in one of these two areas (usually depending on factors like upbringing, environment, etc.).

Generally speaking, most men today have been brought up hearing that "masculinity" is a bad thing because it is usually equated with aggressive and violent behavior (although sometimes aggression and violence are necessary, they are not the same thing as abuse). This aggressive violence that we see so often in the world today, is not masculinity. It is, rather, just testosterone without godly restraint. When men are fed a diet of this lie, then it is not surprising that many of them will gravitate toward the other form of emasculation, and often end up being tempted to behave in an effeminate manner and then often fall into sodomy.

There are also a few men who have been fed the lie that any form of tenderness or gentleness are to be equated with weakness and therefore they are to be avoided. These are the men who, if there is no godly restraint to their behavior, will end up as rapists and (genuine) misogynists. They actually believe that having an abusive personality is the proper way to be "a man". In truth, this hateful behavior is very "un-manly" because it is merely a childish form of a temper tantrum exerted in an adult. Being a man means avoiding childishness just as much as it means avoiding femininity.

Clearly, neither of these extremes can be equated with genuine godly masculinity. Yet, it would be foolhardy for us to imagine that a man is doing fine if he has not fallen into one of these extremes. There are many points on the scale that are between those extremes and the godly center that all men are to have as their goal. Each of us men needs to look at our own heart and determine (with the Holy Spirit's guidance) where we are at on the scale so that we can work on it; both for our good and for the good of our friends and family.

It is often said that admitting one's guilt is the most significant first step. What we cannot miss in this context is that admitting guilt is a very masculine thing to do. It shows bravery and a willingness to grow in holiness. The "bully" refuses to do so because he has been taught to believe that it is a sign of weakness (though nothing could be further from the truth). The "sissy" refuses to admit his guilt because his selfish fear causes him to want to hide in a shell and protect his sensitive feelings.

My brothers in Christ, I appeal to you to seek to "do manfully" and ask yourself these important questions. Where are your weaknesses? Where do you stand on the scale? Are you moving toward masculine holiness or away from it? It is not a manly thing to avoid that introspection that is so necessary for growth in the Lord. God is willing to help you if you will but call out to Him. Let us stand firm together; let us show what it means to be brave. Let us "do manfully".

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Beware Yon Dragon of Emasculation!

After an extended time where I do not post anything on this blog, I find it helpful to begin my return to writing by thinking about the things that kept me away. Those are not always bad things, sometimes they are just a matter of having to prioritize. No, I am not necessarily busier than a celibate priest because I have family to attend to, but I do have that on my list of responsibilities in life. Being busy was not, however, what really kept me away this time.

Sometimes we can get caught up in the numerous activities that are so common in modern society and those pull us away from "normalcy", yes, but that was not what held my attention. It was more of a time of "study". Not theological study; but studying the world around. I have been watching things from a somewhat different perspective lately. I have thought for a long time that there has been a steady emasculation of men, and I have seen it even more lately. I am not about to give a list (it would be long) of the things I have been noticing, but I have come to believe that it is even more pernicious than I thought before.

Picture the Church like a city on a hill. It has precious land and there are many enemies who wish to take it by force. If the enemies believe that the city is well defended, then what are they going to do to overcome the defenses? Although there are many ways an enemy can attack, the most effective will certainly be if they can convince the men of the city not to fight in her defense. If the army willingly lays down her weapons of defense, then the enemy can march right in and take what she wants without firing a single shot. I think that is what we are going through right now. Rather than being attacked directly, Catholic men are being convinced by this sinful world (usually in a very subtle manner), not to defend themselves or their families and churches.

I have always been moved by the words of Psalm 149. It is recited regularly in the Ordinariate lectionary for the Daily Office and it seems to hit me more deeply every time I read it. Let me quote it here:
Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful! Let Israel be glad in his Maker, let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre! For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to wreak vengeance on the nations and chastisement on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!
Particularly I am thinking of the last few verses (even though many people would rather skip those verses). No, I am not advocating war (but self defense is a godly behavior). That combination of "let high praise be in our throats" with the idea of keeping "two-edged swords in our hands" should make every man realize that he is called to a battle. Not a battle with guns, tanks, and bombs (those weapons are too petty and weak for this battle that I am speaking of). We are called to do battle with the devil, the world, and our own flesh. We are told that "this is glory for all God's faithful ones". Tough words, yes, but they are something of a battle cry that speaks to us as men.

Time to get ready for the battle. Time to accept what it means to be a Catholic man. Time to recognize that every one of us has been tempted by cowardice and foolishness. I am reminded of the verse in 1 Corinthians that says essentially the same thing. The Apostle speaks boldly about this very subject, and yet I know of few men who are aware of this verse. Unfortunately, some translations water the idea down with a phrase like "be courageous". That is not, however, all that the Apostle is saying. A more literal rendering of the original Greek is found in the good old Douay Bible.
"Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, do manfully, and be strengthened" (1 Cor 16:13, Douay Rheims).
Sounds to me like a rally cry. "Do manfully." This is needed, and I wish to encourage other men (and especially young men) to accept what God has made them to be, and let us help one another to take the stand we need to take. Let us have "high praise" for God as well as the "sword of the Spirit" in our hands. This blog is supposed to be about slaying dragons, and the emasculation of men is a dragon that needs to be slain. Pray for me as I continue to write on this subject.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bad Thinking

What is the primary influence on your thinking process? No, I did not ask, "what is the primary influence on your beliefs?" for that is a different question. One's beliefs are the technical details; like, for example, if someone said "I believe that the moon is made out of green cheese"; which is a technical detail of what one believes. This is different from one's thinking process, which refers to the mental steps by which he arrives at his beliefs (i.e. how did he come to believe that the moon is made out of green cheese?). Therefore, I ask again, "what is the primary influence on your thinking process?" We would hope that it is the truth of God, but that is not always the case, even for Catholics.

Take, for example, a recent article in a blog that I will not name, written by a Catholic theologian that I will not name. The article was teaching about a reference in the Scriptures, and one individual in the comments section (who will also not be named) responded with strong disagreement. The commenter criticized this writer's position in the article. It was not, however, his disagreement that was the issue I want to point out. It was the grounds for his disagreement, and these grounds revealed what that "primary influence" was that I mentioned above.

The commenter claimed that the passage must be symbolic and not literal because [get this], the New York Times had published an article that spoke otherwise (and that, apparently, settled the case). Now, I want you to think about this with me for a moment. The Bible says "X", and a Catholic theologian says he believes that is an accurate representation of the facts since there is no apparent reason anywhere in the passage to take it otherwise. Then, another Catholic says that the  writer is wrong because a prominent (non-christian) newspaper says "Y". The commenter claimed that the author of the article needed to "get his facts straight" because he clearly failed to consult with some well-known pagans on how to interpret the Bible. Something is seriously wrong with this picture (am I the only one to see it?).

In another place, I came across someone who made the claim that the Bible is "more theological than historical". Why? Does it say that? ["And thou must be awares, all the words of this book art more theological than historical. The history parts are all inaccurate, and thou canst ignore them."] This sounds more like what scientific denials of Christian truth are telling us. Let us ask the obvious: is he saying that the authors of the Bible were able to receive divine revelation to state theology correct, but that they were unable to do simple math and get their timelines correct? Realize that these scientists who attack the truths in the Scriptures are the same ones who are telling us that "that thing" is not an "unborn baby" but merely a blob of tissue. Once someone makes such a blatant error in reality, we ought to look at everything they say as suspect (especially when they claim to know the proper interpretation of the words of God). Who could be more biased about God's word than those who deny His existence?

There is an interesting commentary about this issue in the Holy Scriptures themselves, and it should be a major influence on our thinking. We read in Psalm 50:16-17, "But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you." God does not think very highly of non-Christians even quoting His words unless they are doing so in a state of penitence. If He does not even like them quoting His words, what would He think about them commenting on their proper interpretation? I doubt it pleases Him very much; in many ways God has told us that bad thinking is a "dragon" to be slain. This being the case, then, should we be going to them instead of trusting God to speak through the Church?

Let us imagine for a moment that the pagan scientists are correct in their interpretation of the Scriptures (just for the sake of an argument). What would be the right way to receive their claims? With hesitancy and caution, we should look at their ideas as suspect. Remember, these are the same people that God says "cast [His] words behind" them. The Scriptures say that someone who denies the existence of God is a "fool" (Psalms 14:1); not as an insult, but as a technical term: "one who is deficient in judgment, sense, or understanding". Is that really someone we should choose to guide us on the words of God? Then, later, if God speaks through the Church and tells us the proper interpretation (which happens to accord with the pagan interpretation), then we can believe--precisely because God said so, not because a non-Christian said so.

So then, let me ask the question one more time: "what is the primary influence on your thinking process?" Is it the Church, the Bride of Christ, who acts as His mouthpiece to the world? Or do we allow unbelievers (who "hate discipline" and reject God's truth) to tell us what the Bible means? How can we trust them to interpret the Scriptures? The days are long past when scientists acknowledged that theology is the queen of the sciences. Today, theology is the whipping boy of atheists. Yet, many today will still give heed to unbelieving scientists as though they know more than the Magisterium of the Church. Statistics tell us that a large percentage of Catholics in the pew doubt the truth of many of the Church's teachings, and many of them have been led into this error by priests who teach these errors. Truly a great deception has clouded the minds of many of God's people.

I would encourage each of you to look deeply at your thinking process. Who guides you? How have you come to the conclusions you hold to today? Has it genuinely been in submission to the truth of God, or has something else clouded your mind? The only thing holding you back from answering this question would be pride. No one thinks that he is wrongly influenced in his thinking; that is why we hold the beliefs that we do. Yet, the danger is too great to ignore. It is Lent; time to do some healthy self-examination. Do so for more than a mere exercise. Do so because it will impact all of your thinking in the future, but do so in a spirit of humility. Because you must know this: if you examine your thinking, you must be willing to change. You must be willing to seek "the mind of Christ" in all things (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Monday, February 20, 2017

Silence

Listening to the radio one day, I heard my friend (who was the DJ at the local station) announce the next song, and then, rather than hearing the song begin, I heard silence; only a faint hum from the speakers. I waited about a full minute, and then quickly called her on the phone. "Did you forget to start the song?" After about a minute more of silence from the radio, she came on and said "So sorry about that couple minutes of dead air; we had a technical glitch here. We're back on track now, and here is the song you were expecting to hear."

Notice her terminology, "dead air". That is the way we think of it: "dead". Silence is not always appreciated today. I can think back a number of years when elevators, doctor's office waiting rooms, and a few other establishments were about the only places that you would hear piped in music (and that stuff was enough to cause waves of nausea). Much of the rest of the world was generally left peaceful (by comparison). Today, it is a different story. Now we have multiple video screens in the grocery store aisles, music over the loud speakers, and a flood of noise that is overwhelming. It is as though store owners think that we are unable to purchase their products unless we have a million noisy distractions to keep us from realizing we do not need most of the stuff they are forcing on us.

Silence is a forgotten beauty. Yes, most people still appreciate the silence of a quiet walk in the woods, or quietly watching a sunset, but that is a rarity rather a common event. Whether it is those who cannot go far without their ipod, those who are always watching or listening to something on their "smart" phone, or those who leave their radio on constantly in the car and the TV on constantly at home, we have been immersed in constant sounds.

This "noise inundation" is so much the case that when people come to the Mass they expect the same kind of thing. If the purification of the vessels after communion takes a minute or two, most people get fidgety if they do not have some music playing or the cantor singing something to them. This is not because it is "wrong" to have that moment be quiet. Rather, it is due, in most part, to the fact that we are so used to having "background noise" that silence almost seems like a bad thing; like "dead air". What are those moments of silence in the Mass supposed to be for? It may shock some people, but it is for personal prayer, meditation, and adoration. Those who refuse to engage during the Mass if there is a moment of silence are showing that they are not truly engaged in "active participation" in the first place (a vital requirement of the Second Vatican Council!).

This point is difficult to get across to modern day Catholics for two main reasons: first, we have become numb to the overwhelming flood of noise and entertainment that is constantly thrown at us; second, our spiritual disciplines have largely become flaccid. Put these two factors together and we find that people cannot "see the forest because of the trees"; or to put it another way, "they cannot recognize silence because their is so much noise". Let us look, therefore at a few extra sources to help us see the truth, goodness, and beauty of silence.

In the Catechism we are told that, "Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life." Interesting, is it not? We are not actually being told about the Mass, rather we are being told about the entire day of Sunday. It is supposed to be a day when we have some "silence", which grows our "Christian interior life". Here we are told that silence, in itself, has a value. It is not merely "dead air", but "living spirituality". That is quite a radical difference from our modern perspective. If Sunday as a whole should have some silence, then who are we to imagine that it is wrong to have some silence in the celebration of Mass itself?

When we are in the Mass, our every act, our every word, our every thought, should be directed toward the worship of God Almighty. That is what the Mass is all about: an interaction between God and man wherein He gives us His love, and we love Him in return. The Catechism further discusses what it means to "adore" God while in His presence. We are told that, "[a]doration is . . . respectful silence in the presence of . . . God." Those words should have great weight on our hearts: "respectful silence". In other words, the Church is telling us that there is such a thing as "DISrespectful silence". What would that look like? Let me fathom a guess: looking at your watch; checking your phone for a new text; heavy sighs; glancing around the Church to see what others are doing. These are forms of disrespectful silence. Respectful silence is, on the other hand, that genuine adoration that is given to Christ because of His amazing love for us, His unworthy servants.

It is not as though the Church made these ideas up, though. The wonderful truth about silence before God was stated many times in various ways in Scripture (both in the Old and New Testaments). One of the authors of the Psalms tells us of his devotion to God in terms of silent waiting (something very difficult for people who are used to instant foods and super fast download speeds). He says, "[f]or God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation (Psalm 62:1)." Silent waiting; an amazing concept when we live in a society that abhors "dead air".

In the prophet Zephaniah we find, not just an example, but an actual command. "Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests (Zep 1:7)." The context of the verse cannot be more clear. When we approach God for the performance of sacrifice (as every Mass is), then we should recognize that there is need for some silence. It is hard for me to imagine that a brief five-second pause between the homily and the creed is sufficient to cover this (especially since the General Instruction for the Roman Missal says that this is merely for the purpose of reflecting upon the words of the homily!).

The prophet Habakkuk gives us another reference to the importance of silence in the context of worship. Although he does not use the word "presence" in this verse, the point cannot be missed. "But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him (Hab 2:20)." His temple from the Old Testament has been done away with, and will never return. His temple, now in the New Covenant, is every Church where the body of Christ is reserved in the tabernacle. When God is "in" the temple, there is a need for silence. This is not saying that we should never speak or sing when in Church. There are numerous references in Scripture that tell us of the need and importance of voices praising God. Yet, right along with that truth is the truth that silence has a place; it is a place where we cannot allow ourselves to be the center of attention, and we can allow God to speak to our individual souls.

This is not, however, only something that is to be practiced while here on Earth. Even Heaven itself recognizes the importance of silence. In the book of Revelation, there are numerous references that point to the actions of worship in Heaven (in fact, much of the book of Revelation is a description of what is going on in Heaven while there are trials here on Earth). There are millions of angels singing, there are people bowing prostrate before the Lord, there are creatures making testimony about God's greatness (all quite noisy events), and, there is one reference that specifically says that all in Heaven were silent for a time. "When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Rev 8:1)." Half an hour; ponder that for a moment! Have you ever been completely silent for 30 minutes except when sleeping? Certainly there are a number of ways to do this, but the best would be in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (no prayers, no readings, just silence before God).

This brings me to my final point. At my Ordinariate community of St. George, in Republic, Missouri, we have times during the Mass where there is merely silence; part of the offertory, during communion, and during the purification of the vessels, there are times of extended silence. These are times when we intentionally do not have music playing, or a psalm being chanted. This is not because we are a small parish and do not have the means to develop a full choir or schola, it is because silence has value and beauty in itself. This is needed even more today than it was in days past when it was more common; precisely because of the noisiness of society (physically and spiritually). In God's house there is never "dead air"; there is "living silence", offered up for our spiritual benefit, and for God's glory.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Genuine Repentance

Imagine with me for a moment a priest sitting in the confessional, and after the penitent makes his confession, the priest has reason to believe that the penitent intends to return to the sin in the future. What is he supposed to do? Give the absolution and warn him not to give in to temptation? No. If there is a genuine doubt in the priest's mind he is supposed to delve more deeply into the situation with the person to be sure that he is truly penitent (hence the reason for the title "penitent").

Now imagine a deeper level of the problem. Imagine that the priest presses the individual, and he admits that he full well intends to return to the sin because his situation is different from others and God would understand. Now what is the priest supposed to do? At this point, Church law forbids the priest from granting an absolution (and if he does it is not valid).

Let us take this one step further. Imagine that the "penitent" (for want of a more accurate term at this point) is able to hide his intent to return to the sin, and the priest unknowingly grants an "absolution". Not only is that "absolution" not valid, but the "penitent" at that point remains in a state of grave sin, and were he to receive the Eucharist in that state, he would be deepening his sin.


Please note: The seal of confession binds me from disclosing anything told during the sacrament. Therefore the above situation is entirely made up, no matter how much it may be similar to any actual events either in my own ministry or that of any other priest.

What we are speaking about here is the necessity of genuine contrition. This means that the person who is making confession sincerely desires and intends to cease committing the sins that were confessed. If there is no intention to cease immediately (and not merely at some indeterminate time in the future), then the "penitent" is not truly penitent. We read in the old Catholic Encyclopedia: "Without sincere sorrow and purpose of amendment, confession avails nothing, the pronouncement of absolution is of no effect, and the guilt of the sinner is greater than before" (emphasis mine). Notice those words and do not gloss over them. If there is no "purpose of amendment" then the confession "avails nothing" and the absolution is not genuine.

The Catechism tells us that the sinner must have "the desire and resolution to change [his] life" or he is not truly seeking reconciliation, but merely a salve for his conscience. As much as our consciences need to have a genuine salve to heal them, that is not sufficient for the reception of God's forgiveness. We also read in the Catechism in another place, "without this [interior willingness to change one's life], such penances remain sterile and false". Sterile and false; in other words, ineffective and deceptive. This fits perfectly with what we all know: hypocrisy is a great evil. Yet, we also know that we can lie to ourselves and make our hypocrisy look acceptable (in our own eyes at least).

In fact, the Catechism also outlines for us the fact that there is a difference between interior repentance and an exterior repentance. It distinguishes the two in this way: "Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed." Yes, one may fall back into the sin in a time of weakness, but that is not the same thing as saying "I know I will give in to this sin the next time the temptation arises, but please grant me an absolution now in case I die before the next time I commit the sin. After all, I have very good reasons to justify it."

Those who want an absolution, but who intend to commit the sin again at a later time, are comparable to those who just want to sweep things under the rug, rather than have them actually thrown away, but they are worse. Someone who sweeps something under a rug, does it to hide it, but I cannot imagine someone doing so in order to bring the dirt back out again and spread it on the floor! Who would do something like that? No one that I know of. I do not like sweeping things under the rug (someone always trips on them later!). Either we do so ourselves, or someone else does, and that means they suffer because of our sins. There are all kinds of excuses that people can come up with to return to a sin; "if I don't, they will mock me", "if I don't, he/she will be mad at me", "if I don't, I will lose money", "if I don't, I won't get sex", "if I don't, I will have to work harder." All of these excuses deny the final line in the traditional act of contrition: "I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to amend my life, and to do my penance. Amen."

In the sacrament of confession we are dealing with an eternal transaction, not merely a temporal covering that enables someone to feel good in spite of his impenitence. The sacrament of penance should never be used to allow one to receive communion so that next week we can say yes to the sin once again. I know these words are hard, and may be very challenging to some of my readers, but we are not discussing cookie recipes--we are talking about our eternal souls. We live in an age of compromise and self-centered pride, and these things have clouded our thinking to the point of where we are often unable to make a proper self-examination of our spiritual state. I encourage everyone to go to confession, and do so regularly (go the extra mile, and make it more often than the bare minimum of once a year!). I also, however, encourage you all to do some serious examination of heart and be sure that you are genuinely penitent--if not, then you know what to confess to the priest!