Thursday, May 31, 2012

On the Necessity of Making a Good Confession

Previously, we discussed the necessity of making a sacramental confession of one's sins. But it is not merely any sacramental confession that is necessary, rather, one must make a "good confession." We have pretty much already answered that in the course of our prior posts, but let us confront the question directly: What constitutes a "good confession"? A good confession is one that is sincere and contrite and full and complete.

What does that mean? A common understanding of "the rules," that is to say, canon law, is that the requirement is that one only needs to confess mortal sins. Specifically, canon 988 states that
"a member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience. It is recommended to the Christian faithful that they also confess venial sins."
Unfortunately, the apparent distinction that is drawn here can lead to some confusion as to what constitutes a full and complete confession, and it prompted one non-Catholic to ask --

It’s my understanding that it’s only necessary to go to confession in the event of a mortal (serious) sin, but that a venial (less serious) sin can be confessed directly to God. Isn’t this a little inconsistent? It seems that if sacramental confession is important, then it ought to apply in all cases. Or conversely, if God will forgive a sin confessed directly to Him, then why isn’t sacramental confession merely optional? I have never understood this differentiation, and don’t see the logic behind it.

First, it is helpful to keep in mind the different approaches to the theology of sin and confession as discussed in the academic and teaching setting, and then as they apply in practice. The Magisterium and theologians do make a distinction between “mortal” sin and “venial” sin (see below), but that really is not helpful in everyday life.

Why? Because our ability to judge accurately is necessarily impaired by being in that very state of sin, often with the consequence of our wanting to minimize our culpability. For these reasons, the Baltimore Catechism wisely counseled that we cannot always distinguish between mortal and venial sin in our own lives. Moreover, we are not the judges of our own sin. Beyond the inherent conflict of interest were we to judge our own case, Jesus Christ is the judge, not us, and if He says that a given sin is a “mortal” sin, it does not matter if we insist that it is only a venial sin. Making the mortal/venial sin distinction in our everyday life could have disastrous consequences if we judge wrong.

However, let's leave aside that distinction between mortal/venial sin for the moment. So that one is sure to make a full and complete confession — a “good confession” — the better practice is to sacramentally confess all of the sins that you are aware of and can remember.

Now, in practice, this does not mean you will spend hours in the confessional. Usually we can remember the big sins, so those obviously should be specifically confessed. But there are countless tiny little sins that we commit all the time and often we cannot recall each and every instance of such sins. Nevertheless, those too should be confessed.

How can you confess them if you can’t remember what they are? Very simply by openly admitting that you are sure that there were other sins you committed, but can’t remember them, and for those too you are sorry. To truly make a good confession, after stating all the sins that you recall, you should end with such a catch-all confession. And to make a good confession, you must be truly contrite, you must be truly and authentically sorry for having committed those sins.

Thus, in the practice of making a good confession, with this “catch-all” admission that there were many other sins you committed, even if you can’t remember them so as to specifically mention them, you necessarily do confess to venial sins, as well as the mortal sins which you did specifically mention.

Now, back to the mortal-venial distinction — even though in practice, because we are not our own judges, it is something we should be careful about — it is “necessary” to make a sacramental confession and absolution of a “mortal” sin, and not “necessary” to confess a “venial” sin, because of the nature of the two types of sin.

A mortal sin is indeed a “serious” sin, but it is a serious sin, not in the human or worldly understanding of “serious,” but in the effect of such a sin. It is a serious sin because it is a mortal sin, that is, it is a sin which is “mortal,” from the Latin morte, meaning “death.” A mortal sin is a sin which leads to eternal death, i.e. damnation. Sometimes that can be a sin which is serious or grave in the worldly understanding, like murder or theft, sometimes it can be serious in the Biblical sense, like a purposeful violation of one of the Commandments.

But it is not necessarily so that a mortal sin is serious in our typical understanding. Sometimes a mortal sin can be something fairly innocuous. Remember, the greatest and most mortal sin in all of human history consisted of eating a piece of fruit. By Adam and Eve eating that fruit, all of humanity was made subject to death. Such a tiny, seemingly insignificant act was a mortal sin because, by that act, humanity severed the bond between mankind and God, who is Life Himself.

That Original Sin, like all mortal sin, was a rejection of God, a statement that we did not want God and we did not need God. Formal confession and formal forgiveness of such sin is necessary to restore that bond and to reconcile the human person to God. Just as in human relations when you injure someone it is necessary to formally apologize to effect a reconciliation, so to is it appropriate to do so with God.

Denying that you have done anything wrong when you have, refusing to formally say that you are sorry to the One whom you should love, refusing to seek God’s forgiveness for going against Him and thereafter refusing to accept His forgiveness is the only unforgivable sin — it is the sin mentioned in the Gospels as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — and it is, by its very nature, unforgivable because in order for the gift of forgiveness to be effective, it must be accepted. If one refuses to seek forgiveness or accept it, one cannot be forgiven. Not because God refuses to forgive, but because we refuse.

Very simply, it is “necessary” to confess and receive absolution for such a sin because it would be mortal, it would cause death, if it were so not confessed and forgiven. And it is not “necessary” to confess and receive absolution for a venial sin because such a sin is non-mortal, that is, although it strains the relationship between us and God, it does not break that relationship, it does not cause eternal death. That is, what makes confession of mortal sin “necessary” is that, without it, you suffer damnation. Such confession is necessary for eternal life, i.e. heaven.

Thus, venial sin, because it does not cause eternal death, is not necessary to attain eternal life to be so formally confessed. However, it is necessary to be contrite and repentant about such sin. Venial sin can easily become mortal if you are not sorry that you committed it.

Moreover, that does not mean that you can walk into heaven with all that stain of venial sin on you. You cannot. Only those in a state of perfect grace — heaven being a place of perfect grace — can enter heaven. Hence the need for purification, i.e. having those imperfections purged from your being. But we'll leave purgatory for another time.


I disagree with your statement that venial sin only strains our relationship with God, but doesn’t break it. The Bible says that the wages for sin is death, and that we are all dead in our sin. When Jesus died on the cross, He died for all our sins, big and small. So while I understand that there are certainly degrees of sin, all it takes is one tiny sin to separate us from the holiness of God. So, again, I find it a little inconsistent to have two different rules regarding confession, depending on the type of sin involved. Additionally, I find the Catholic doctrine as you’ve explained it highly legalistic.

The Catholic Church does indeed recognize that a sin is a sin is a sin, and that “all it takes is one tiny sin to separate us from the holiness of God.” However, the Church also recognizes that “there are certainly degrees of sin.” In all of this, we are in agreement.

The mortal/venial distinction is an attempt by the theologians and Magisterium of the Church to further explore those “degrees” of sin. Indeed, to say that there are “degrees” of sin is to say that not all sin is mortal, so long as there is contrition for that non-mortal sin as well. (A non-mortal sin can effectively become a mortal sin merely by being obstinent and refusing to be sorry about it, thereby being an additional sin of rejecting the whole idea of God’s forgiveness.)

This might seem overly legalistic, but once one starts trying to expand upon the idea of degrees of sin, then such complexities are inevitable. In any event, with respect to being overly legalistic, again, it is helpful to maintain a distinction between (a) the theologians, whose role is to further explore and understand and define all of the finer points of theology, doctrine and dogma (and, hence, are more apt to give the appearance of legalisms), and (b) the individual in his everyday life.

The everyday person generally is not going to be engaging in such in-depth analysis in his or her examination of conscience, that is, determination of what sins were committed. There are some who do put form over substance, but most people in their everyday life do not.

For most, it is —
"A sin is a sin, and these are the sins I’ve committed, these are the things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have done, and these are the things I did not do that I should have, these are all the ways that I have fallen short. Some are more serious than others: these are the more 'serious' and these are the not-as-serious, but sinner that I am, it would be impossible to list each and every tiny little transgression that I am guilty of; nevertheless, I am sorry for all of these."
There really is not all that much “legalism” for the everyday person. And for the person going to Confession, the “rules” are pretty straightforward — to be a good confession, you must totally come clean and not foolishly try to hide your imperfections from the Lord. The requirement as to confessing "in kind and number" is construed to mean a full and complete confession to the best of a person's recollection. The Lord already knows what you have done and what you have not done, so it is not necessary to go into minute detail, but as a matter of truth and honesty, for your own sake, you need to outwardly own up to it all in some way.

Accordingly, you cannot simply say, "I'm sorry" and leave it at that, rather, you must then answer the inevitable next question, "Sorry for what?" If you do not specify what it is that you are sorry for, in some fashion, then you cannot really be sure that you are sorry for anything. Thus, to be a good confession, you must be completely open and honest without withholding anything, giving as much information as is necessary to reasonably yet fully describe the sin, you must be contrite and repentant for ALL of your sins, you must confess ALL those sins, and you must do the penance assigned to you (some small gesture to make amends for the sins you have committed, some small way to show your thanks and gratitude to God, typically prayer). As is apparent, these are not really “rules” but are merely what is required in order to fully reconcile with someone you love.

But if you fail to do this, if you try to minimize your responsibility, if you knowingly try to hide the truth, if you purposely try to conceal some wrong that you done, if you say "I have done X," but you knowingly fail to say that you have also done Y - if you essentially lie to the Lord - then by engaging in such dishonesty, even if you are doing so out of embarrassment rather than out of some deceitful motive, you are committing another sin. That is not a good confession, it is a bad confession, and since you are not repentant of all your sins, since you do not fully seek to be reconciled with God, you are not and cannot be forgiven. To be a good and honest confession, you must come out from hiding in the bushes and stand naked before the Lord, bearing all, you must show him your wounds if you want to be healed.

These considerations are not all that legalistic. For the everyday faithful Catholic, notwithstanding the language of canon 988, there really are not “two different rules regarding confession,” there is only one rule: Be sorry for all your sins and confess all your sins.

The mortal/venial distinction favored by theologians comes into play only in the manner of confessing “all your sins.” The sins that you are aware of and are more serious (and thus have greater potential to be mortal) you should specifically mention, with sufficient detail to give the priest some idea of what happened and how often or how many times you might have done it (e.g. “I stole $100 from my employer’s cash register”). Those that are not-so-serious are still confessed, but in a more general way if you can recall them (e.g. “I often get angry at other drivers in traffic”). And all of your other sins in a “catch-all” way if you cannot recall them but you are sure that you are guilty of them (e.g. “for those sins I have mentioned and for all the other sins in my life that do not readily come to mind, I am sorry”).

In this way, all sin is confessed – “venial” sin is still confessed, but generally, rather than specifically. Given that there are so many more venial sins we commit on a daily basis, so many ways that we fall short of the perfection to which we are called, even if we could remember them all, or spent all our time throughout the day writing them down, to confess each of them individually and specifically would require you to spend hours confessing. Hence the dispensation to confess them in a more general fashion.

If you are having trouble remembering anything specific, yet it has been a while since you have gone to confession, such that it is highly likely that you have done something sinful, you might even confess that you are sorry that you have been so neglectful of your faith as to not be able to make a better examination of conscience so as to remember those things. And if you find that you are confessing the same things over and over each time, you might also confess the failure to seek the grace to avoid these these.

To understand that a good confession really does entail confessing all sins, including those that might be "merely" venial, it might be helpful to see some of the prayers that are involved in Confession. As part of the process, after verbalizing the various sins committed, the person confessing will also say something to the effect of:
“My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.”
or something like,
“O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because of your just punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.”
From these “acts of contrition,” we can see that, in addition to the specific confession of non-recalled and minor sins, there is an overall confession of guilt for all of one’s sins.

Furthermore, if we look at one of the prayers said publicly at Mass, we again see a general confession of guilt:
“I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. . .”
This public confession necessarily includes venial sins. And inasmuch as it is said in the Mass, which includes the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), while this is not technically sacramental confession, the reception of Holy Communion does effect a forgiveness of those venial sins. (One guilty of mortal sin should not receive Communion, which would itself be a sin, but should first receive the Sacrament of Confession/Penance.)

Again, there is really only one “rule” regarding confession of sin, only different manners of confessing different degrees of it. To be a good confession, it must be full and complete, opening your soul and confessing all with sincere contrition, with sorrow and a firm resolve to be true to the person that God made us to be, to love Him and others in truth, to do good and avoid further sin.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mortal and Venial Sin

In leading up to our discussion on the necessity of making a good confession of sins, we previously turned to Blessed Pope John Paul II to answer the fundamental question of "What is sin?" We also noted that the Catechism (CCC 1849-69) states that sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor, that is, the nature of sin is a privation or distortion or perversion of love and/or truth.

Now, in order to make a good confession, we need to not only know what sin per se is, it is proper to also understand distinctions between different sins. Theologians in the Church and the Magisterium have recognized that some sins are more serious than others with respect to the consequences they incur. Some sin is so grave, so contrary to love and/or truth that it essentially severs the person's relationship with God, while other sin, while a deviation from love and/or truth, weakens the person's relationship with God. We call these mortal sins and venial sins.

Reconciliatio et Paenitentia
Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance
Blessed Pope John Paul II
December 2, 1984
17. Why and to what degree is sin a serious matter in the offense it commits against God and in its effects on man?

The Church has a teaching on this matter which she reaffirms in its essential elements, while recognizing that it is not always easy in concrete situations to define clear and exact limits.

Already in the Old Testament, individuals guilty of several kinds of sins - sins committed deliberately,(75) the various forms of impurity,(76) idolatry,(77) the worship of false gods (78) - were ordered to be "taken away from the people," which could also mean to be condemned to death.(79) Contrasted with these, were other sins especially sins committed through ignorance, that were forgiven by means of a sacrificial offering.(80)

In reference also to these texts, the Church has for centuries spoken of mortal sin and venial sin. But it is above all the New Testament that sheds light on this distinction and these terms. Here there are many passages which enumerate and strongly reprove sins that are particularly deserving of condemnation.(81) There is also the confirmation of the Decalogue by Jesus Himself.(82) Here I wish to give special attention to two passages that are significant and impressive.

In a text of his First Letter, St. John speaks of a sin which leads to death (pros thanaton), as opposed to a sin which does not lead to death (me pros thanaton).(83)

Obviously, the concept of death here is a spiritual death. It is a question of the loss of the true life or "eternal life," which for John is knowledge of the Father and the Son,(84) and communion and intimacy with them. In that passage the sin that leads to death seems to be the denial of the Son(85) or the worship of false gods.(86) At any rate, by this distinction of concepts, John seems to wish to emphasize the incalculable seriousness of what constitutes the very essence of sin, namely the rejection of God. This is manifested above all in apostasy and idolatry: repudiating faith in revealed truth and making certain created realities equal to God, raising them to the status of idols or false gods.(87) But in this passage, the apostle's intention is also to underline the certainty that comes to the Christian from the fact of having been "born of God" through the coming of the Son: The Christian possesses a power that preserves him from falling into sin; God protects him, and "the evil one does not touch him." If he should sin through weakness or ignorance, he has confidence in being forgiven, also because he is supported by the joint prayer of the community.

In another passage of the New Testament, namely in St. Matthew's Gospel,(88) Jesus Himself speaks of a "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" that "will not be forgiven" by reason of the fact that in its manifestation, it is an obstinate refusal to be converted to the love of the Father of mercies.

Here, of course, it is a question of external radical manifestations: rejection of God, rejection of His grace and therefore opposition to the very source of salvation(89) - these are manifestations whereby a person seems to exclude himself voluntarily from the path of forgiveness. It is to be hoped that very few persist to the end in this attitude of rebellion or even defiance of God. Moreover, God in His merciful love is greater than our hearts, as St. John further teaches us,(90) and can overcome all our psychological and spiritual resistance. So that, as St. Thomas writes, "considering the omnipotence and mercy of God, no one should despair of the salvation of anyone in this life."(91)

But when we ponder the problem of a rebellious will meeting the infinitely just God, we cannot but experience feelings of salutary "fear and trembling," as St. Paul suggests.(92) Moreover, Jesus' warning about the sin "that will not be forgiven" confirms the existence of sins which can bring down on the sinner the punishment of "eternal death."

In the light of these and other passages of sacred Scripture, doctors and theologians, spiritual teachers and pastors have divided sins into mortal and venial. St. Augustine, among others, speaks of letalia or mortifera crimina, contrasting them with venialia, levia or quotidiana.(93) The meaning which he gives to these adjectives was to influence the successive Magisterium of the Church. After him, it was St. Thomas who was to formulate in the clearest possible terms the doctrine which became a constant in the Church.

In defining and distinguishing between mortal and venial sins, St. Thomas and the theology of sin that has its source in him could not be unaware of the biblical reference and therefore of the concept of spiritual death. According to St. Thomas, in order to live spiritually, man must remain in communion with the supreme principle of life, which is God, since God is the ultimate end of man's being and acting.

Now, sin is a disorder perpetrated by the human being against this life-principle. And when through sin, the soul commits a disorder that reaches the point of turning away from its ultimate end God, to which it is bound by charity, then the sin is mortal; on the other hand, whenever the disorder does not reach the point of a turning away from God, the sin is venial.(94) For this reason, venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and therefore eternal happiness, whereas just such a deprivation is precisely the consequence of mortal sin.

Furthermore, when sin is considered from the point of view of the punishment it merits, for St. Thomas and other doctors, mortal sin is the sin which, if unforgiven, leads to eternal punishment; whereas venial sin is the sin that merits merely temporal punishment (that is, a partial punishment which can be expiated on earth or in purgatory).

Considering sin from the point of view of its matter, the ideas of death, of radical rupture with God, the supreme good, of deviation from the path that leads to God or interruption of the journey toward Him (which are all ways of defining mortal sin) are linked with the idea of the gravity of sin's objective content. Hence, in the church's doctrine and pastoral action, grave sin is in practice identified with mortal sin.

Here we have the core of the church's traditional teaching, which was reiterated frequently and vigorously during the recent synod. The synod in fact not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins,(95) but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. It must be added - as was likewise done at the synod - that some sins are intrinsically grave and mortal by reason of their matter. That is, there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object. These acts, if carried out with sufficient awareness and freedom, are always gravely sinful.(96)

This doctrine, based on the Decalogue and on the preaching of the Old Testament, and assimilated into the kerygma of the Apostles and belonging to the earliest teaching of the Church, and constantly reaffirmed by her to this day, is exactly verified in the experience of the men and women of all times. Man knows well by experience that along the road of faith and justice which leads to the knowledge and love of God in this life, and toward perfect union with Him in eternity, he can cease to go forward or can go astray without abandoning the way of God; and in this case there occurs venial sin. This, however, must never be underestimated, as though it were automatically something that can be ignored or regarded as "a sin of little importance."

For man also knows, through painful experience, that by a conscious and free act of his will, he can change course and go in a direction opposed to God's will, separating himself from God (aversio a Deo), rejecting loving communion with Him, detaching himself from the life principle which God is and consequently choosing death.

With the whole tradition of the church, we call mortal sin the act by which man freely and consciously rejects God, His law, the covenant of love that God offers, preferring to turn in on himself or to some created and finite reality, something contrary to the divine will (conversio ad creaturam). This can occur in a direct and formal way in the sins of idolatry, apostasy and atheism; or in an equivalent way, as in every act of disobedience to God's commandments in a grave matter. Man perceives that this disobedience to God destroys the bond that unites him with his life principle: It is a mortal sin, that is, an act which gravely offends God and ends in turning against man himself with a dark and powerful force of destruction. . . .

[The] essential and decisive distinction is between sin which destroys charity and sin which does not kill the supernatural life: There is no middle way between life and death.

Care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of "fundamental option" - as is commonly said today - against God, intending thereby an explicit and formal contempt for God or neighbor. For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered. In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God's love for humanity and the whole of creation; the person turns away from God and loses charity.

Thus, the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by individual acts. Clearly there can occur situations which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint and which have an influence on the sinner's subjective culpability. But from a consideration of the psychological sphere, one cannot proceed to the construction of a theological category, which is what the "fundamental option" precisely is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin.

While every sincere and prudent attempt to clarify the psychological and theological mystery of sin is to be valued, the Church nevertheless has a duty to remind all scholars in this field of the need to be faithful to the word of God that teaches us also about sin. She likewise has to remind them of the risk of contributing to a further weakening of the sense of sin in the modern world.

75. Cf Nm 15:30.
76. Cf Lv 18:26-30.
77. Cf ibid., 19:4.
78. Cf ibid., 20:1-7.
79. Cf Ex 21:17.
80. Cf Lv 4:2ff; 5:1ff; Nm 15:22-29.
81. Cf Mt 5:28; 6:23; 12:31f; 15:19; Mk 3:28-30; Rom 1:29-31; 13:13; Jas 4.
82. Cf Mt 5:17; 15:1-10; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20.
83. Cf 1 Jn 5:16f.
84. Cf 1 Jn 17:3.
85. Cf 1 Jn 2:22.
86. Cf 1 Jn 5:21.
87. Cf 1 Jn 5:16-21.
88. Cf Mt 12:31f.
89. Cf St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 14, aa. 1-8.
90. Cf 1 Jn 3:20.
91. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 14, a. 3, ad primum.
92. Cf Phil 2:12.
93. Cf St. Augustine, De Spintu et Littera, XXVIII: CSEL 60, 202f; Enarrat. in ps. 39, 22: CCL 38, 441; Enchiridion ad Laurentium de Fide et Spe et Cantate, XIX, 71: CCL 46, 88; In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus, 12, 3,14: CCL 36, 129.
94. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 72, a. 5.
95. Cf Council of Trent, Session VI, De Iustificatione, Chap. 2 and Canons 23, 25, 27: Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, Bologna 1973, 671 and 680f (DS 1573, 1575,1577).
96. Cf Council of Trent, Session IV De Iustificatione, Chapt. 15: Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, ed. dt. 677 (DS 1544).

Monday, May 28, 2012

The New Platform

Everything appears to have transferred OK, except for the links sidebar. A few of those were old and out-dated anyway. Unfortunately, to restore the ones I want to keep (and add some newer ones), I need to add them one at a time. So, I'll do a few here and a few there. Not a priority though.

(Added -- Another thing I want to do is go through and add labels to some posts that I couldn't fully do before because of the page issue.)

Meanwhile, I've been looking at the statistics page that indicates the number of visits to the site overall, as well as visits to individual posts. Interestingly, the individual post that has been viewed the most, and one that shows up frequently on the weekly numbers, is this one -- Lost: What Really Happened? As for showing up on the weekly numbers a couple of years after the show ended, my guess is that it is still having its first run in some international markets and people are wondering, "just what was that all about??"

Speaking about Lost, it was nice to see Claire and Charles Widmore make appearances on Once Upon a Time, another show co-written by Horwitz, Kitsis, et al., and it was also cool to see Charlotte and everyone's favorite, Desmond, on Fringe, by Abrams, Burk, et al. Meanwhile, taking a peak at IMDB, I noticed that the Evil Queen (Regina) was in a couple of episodes of Lost, when Charlie goes down to the underwater station.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost - the Baptism of the Church and the Call for Unity

Today is Pentecost. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, we receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as happened to the faithful at Pentecost (Acts 1:8-9, 2:1-33), and as has been promised by God the Father in the Old Testament (Jer. 31:31-34; Joel 3:1-5; Ez 36:25-28) and by Jesus in the Gospels (John 14:15-26, 15:26-27, 16:13-14). That said, most people do not understand Confirmation, and unless carefully read, the Catechism often only adds to the confusion.

The Catechism says that Confirmation completes what began in Baptism, bringing an increase and deepening of graces, and a fullness of the Holy Spirit. OK, what does that mean?

This description points us in the right direction, but it often only raises more questions. Don’t we already receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism? Is Confirmation merely more of the same? Is it basically Super-Baptism? What is the point of that? Why bother breaking up receiving the Holy Spirit into two parts?

The answer is that Baptism and Confirmation are separate sacraments because they serve different purposes. Whereas Baptism is more about personal redemption and entering the Church, about getting yourself into heaven, Confirmation is more about sanctification and joining in the Church's mission of going out into the world to be a witness for Christ, that is, loving Him and helping Him in the work of salvation to get all of God's people into heaven. The two sacraments are related, but one is more individual-oriented, the other is socially-oriented.

In today's Mass, Pope Benedict adds to our understanding here to see the connection and differences between the two. One involves baptism on the level of the individual person, the other involves "baptism" on the level of the community so that the human family, which was fractured and separated early in human history, might be reunited as one with God.

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Pentecost 2012
I am happy to celebrate this Holy Mass with you – a Mass animated by the Choir of the Academy of Santa Cecilia and by the Youth Orchestra, which I thank – on this Feast of Pentecost. This mystery constitutes the baptism of the Church, it is an event that gave the Church the initial shape and thrust of its mission, so to speak. This shape and thrust are always valid, always timely, and they are renewed through the actions of the liturgy, especially.

This morning I want to reflect on an essential aspect of the mystery of Pentecost, which maintains all its importance in our own day as well. Pentecost is the feast of human unity, understanding and sharing. We can all see how in our world, despite us being closer to one another through developments in communications, with geographical distances seeming to disappear – understanding and sharing among people is often superfical and difficult. There are imbalances that frequently lead to conflicts; dialogue between generations is hard and differences sometimes prevail; we witness daily events where people appear to be growing more aggressive and belligerent; understanding one another takes too much effort and people prefer to remain inside their own sphere, cultivating their own interests. In this situation, can we really discover and experience the unity we so need?

The account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, which we heard in the first reading, is set against a background that contains one of the last great frescoes of the Old Testament: the ancient story of the construction of the Tower of Babel. But what is Babel? It is the description of a kingdom in which people have concentrated so much power they think they no longer need depend on a God who is far away. They believe they are so powerful they can build their own way to heaven in order to open the gates and put themselves in God's place. But it's precisely at this moment that something strange and unusual happens. While they are working to build the tower, they suddenly realise they are working against one another. While trying to be like God, they run the risk of not even being human – because they've lost an essential element of being human: the ability to agree, to understand one another and to work together.

This biblical story contains an eternal truth: we see this truth throughout history and in our own time as well. Progress and science have given us the power to dominate the forces of nature, to manipulate the elements, to reproduce living things, almost to the point of manufacturing humans themselves.

In this situation, praying to God appears outmoded, pointless, because we can build and create whatever we want. We don't realise we are reliving the same experience as Babel. It's true, we have multiplied the possibilities of communicating, of possessing information, of transmitting news – but can we say our ability to understand each other has increased? Or, paradoxically, do we understand each other even less? Doesn't it seem like feelings of mistrust, suspicion and mutual fear have insinuated themselves into human relationships to the point where one person can even pose a threat to another?

Let's go back to the initial question: can unity and harmony really exist? How?

The answer lies in Sacred Scripture: unity can only exist as a gift of God's Spirit, which will give us a new heart and a new tongue, a new ability to communicate. This is what happened at Pentecost. On that morning, fifty days after Easter, a powerful wind blew over Jerusalem and the flame of the Holy Spirit descended on the gathered disciples. It came to rest upon the head of each of them and ignited in them a divine fire, a fire of love, capable of transforming things. Their fear disappeared, their hearts were filled with new strength, their tongues were loosened and they began to speak freely, in such a way that everyone could understand the news that Jesus Christ had died and was risen. On Pentecost, where there was division and incomprehension, unity and understanding were born.

But let's look at today's Gospel in which Jesus affirms: “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to the whole truth”. Speaking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus is explaining to us what the Church is and how she must live in order to be herself, to be the place of unity and comunion in Truth; he tells us that acting like Christians means not being closed inside our own spheres, but opening ourselves towards others; it means welcoming the whole Church within ourselves or, better still, allowing the Church to welcome us. So, when I speak, think and act like a Christian, I don't stay closed off within myself – but I do so in everything and starting from everything: thus the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity and truth, can continue to resonate in people's hearts and minds, encouraging them to meet and welcome one another.

Precisely because it acts in this way, the Spirit introduces us to the whole truth, who is Jesus, and guides us to examine and understand it. We do not grow in understanding by closing ourselves off inside ourselves, but only by becoming capable of listening and sharing, in the “ourselves” of the Church, with an attitude of deep personal humility.

Now it's clearer why Babel is Babel and Pentecost is Pentecost. Where people want to become God, they succeed only in pitting themselves against each other. Where they place themselves within the Lord's truth, on the other hand, they open themselves to the action of his Spirit which supports and unites them.

The contrast between Babel and Pentecost returns in the second reading, where the Apostle Paul says: “Walk according to the Spirit and you will not be brought to satisfy the desires of the flesh”. St Paul tells us that our personal life is marked by interior conflict and division, between impulses that come from the flesh and those that come from the Spirit: and we cannot follow all of them.

We cannot be both selfish and generous, we cannot follow the tendency to dominate others and experience the joy of disinterested service. We have to choose which impulse to follow and we can do so authentically only with the help of the Spirit of Christ. St Paul lists the works of the flesh: they are the sins of selfishness and violence, like hostility, discord, jealousy, dissent. These are thoughts and actions that do not allow us to live in a truly human and Christian way, in love. This direction leads to us losing our life. The Holy Spirit, though, guides us towards the heights of God, so that, on this earth, we can already experience the seed of divine life that is within us.

St Paul confirms: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace”. We note how the Apostle uses the plural to describe the works of the flesh that provoke the loss of our humanity – while he uses the singular to define the action of the Spirit, speaking of “the fruit”, in the same way as the dispersion of Babel contrasts with the unity of Pentecost.

Dear friends, we must live according to the Spirit of unity and truth, and this is why we must pray for the Spirit to enlighten and guide us to overcome the temptation to follow our own truths, and to welcome the truth of Christ transmitted in the Church. Luke's account of Pentecost tells us that, before rising to heaven, Jesus asked the Apostles to stay together and to prepare themselves to receive the Holy Spirit. And they gathered together in prayer with Mary in the Upper Room and awaited the promised event.

Like when it was born, today the Church still gathers with Mary and prays: “Veni Sancte Spiritus! - Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!”. Amen.

Prayer for Pentecost

Spirit of Life, which in the beginning hovered over the abyss,
Help humanity of our time to understand
That the exclusion of God leads to being lost in the desert of the world.
And that only where faith enters, do dignity and liberty flourish
And the whole society is built on justice.
Spirit of Pentecost, which makes of the Church one Body,
Restore in the baptized an authentic experience of communion;
Render yourself a living sign of the presence of the Risen One in the world,
Community of saints that lives in the service of charity.
Holy Spirit, which trains to the mission,
Make us recognize that, also in our time,
So many persons are in search of the truth about their existence and the world.
Make us collaborators of their joy with the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
Grain of the wheat of God, which renders good the terrain of life and assures the abundance of the harvest.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Mystery of Sin, the Mystery of Christ

Previously, we discussed the necessity of making of sacramental confession of one's sins, and soon we will take up the matter of the necessity of making a good confession of sins. But both of these beg the question -- "What is sin?" I recently came across this teaching by Blessed Pope John Paul II and it should help to answer that fundamental question.

Reconciliatio et Paenitentia
Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance
December 2, 1984
13. In the words of St. John the apostle, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins." (1 Jn 1:8-9) Written at the very dawn of the church, these inspired words introduce better than any other human expression the theme of sin, which is intimately connected with that of reconciliation. . . .

To acknowledge one's sin, indeed - penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one's own personhood - to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God. . . .

[The] consequences of sin are the reasons for division and rupture not only within each person, but also within the various circles of a person's life: in relation to the family, to the professional and social environment, as can often be seen from experience; it is confirmed by the passage in the Bible about the city of Babel and its tower. (cf. Gn 11:1-9) Intent on building what was to be at once a symbol and a source of unity, those people found themselves more scattered than before, divided in speech, divided among themselves, incapable of consensus and agreement.

Why did the ambitious project fail? Why did "the builders labor in vain?" (cf. Ps 127 (126):1) They failed because they had set up, as a sign and guarantee of the unity they desired, a work of their own hands alone and had forgotten the action of the Lord. They had attended only to the horizontal dimension of work and social life, forgetting the vertical dimension by which they would have been rooted in God, their creator and Lord, and would have been directed toward Him as the ultimate goal of their progress.

Now it can be said that the tragedy of humanity today, as indeed of every period in history, consists precisely in its similarity to the experience of Babel. . . .

14. A first point which helps us to understand sin emerges from the biblical narrative on the building of the tower of Babel: The people sought to build a city, organize themselves into a society and to be strong and powerful without God, if not precisely against God. (The terminology used in the Septuagint Greek translation and in the New Testament for sin is significant. The most common term for sin is hamartia, with its various derivatives. It expresses the concept of offending more or less gravely against a norm or law, or against a person or even a divinity. But sin is also called adikia, and the concept here is of acting unjustly. The Bible also speaks of parabasis (transgression), asebeis (impiety) and other concepts. They all convey the image of sin.)

In this sense, the story of the first sin in Eden and the story of Babel, in spite of notable differences in content and form, have one thing in common: In both there is an exclusion of God through direct opposition to one of His commandments, through an act of rivalry, through the mistaken pretension of being "like Him." (Gn 3:5, cf. 3:22) In the story of Babel, the exclusion of God is presented not so much under the aspect of opposition to Him, as of forgetfulness and indifference toward Him, as if God were of no relevance in the sphere of man's joint projects. But in both cases, the relationship to God is severed with violence. In the case of Eden there appears in all its seriousness and tragic reality that which constitutes the ultimate essence and darkness of sin: disobedience to God, to His law, to the mural norm that He has given man, inscribing it in his heart and confirming and perfecting it through revelation.

Exclusion of God, rupture with God, disobedience to God: Throughout the history of mankind this has been and is, in various forms, sin. It can go as far as a very denial of God and his existence: This is the phenomenon called atheism.

It is the disobedience of a person who, by a free act, does not acknowledge God's sovereignty over his or her life, at least at that particular moment in which he or she transgresses God's law. . . .

15. According to the Babel story, the result of sin is the shattering of the human family, already begun with the first sin and now reaching its most extreme form on the social level.

No one wishing to investigate the mystery of sin can ignore this link between cause and effect. As a rupture with God, sin is an act of disobedience by a creature who rejects, at least implicitly, the very one from whom he came and who sustains him in life. It is therefore a suicidal act.

Since by sinning, man refuses to submit to God, his internal balance is also destroyed and it is precisely within himself that contradictions and conflicts arise. Wounded in this way, man almost inevitably causes damage to the fabric of his relationship with others and with the created world. This is an objective law and an objective reality, verified in so many ways in the human psyche and in the spiritual life as well as in society, where it is easy to see the signs and effects of internal disorder. . . .

18. It happens not infrequently in history, for more or less lengthy periods and under the influence of many different factors, that the moral conscience of many people becomes seriously clouded. . . . It is inevitable therefore that in this situation there is an obscuring also of the sense of sin, which is closely connected with the moral conscience, the search for truth and the desire to make a responsible use of freedom. When the conscience is weakened, the sense of God is also obscured, and as a result, with the loss of this decisive inner point of reference, the sense of sin is lost. . . .

The loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God: not only in the form of atheism but also in the form of secularism. If sin is the breaking off of one's filial relationship to God in order to situate one's life outside of obedience to Him, then to sin is not merely to deny God. To sin is also to live as if He did not exist, to eliminate Him from one's daily life. . . .

19. In order to understand sin, we have had to direct our attention to its nature as made known to us by the revelation of the economy of salvation: This is the mysterium iniquitatis. But in this economy, sin is not the main principle, still less the victor. Sin fights against another active principle which - to use a beautiful and evocative expression of St. Paul - we can call the mysterium or sacramentum pietatis. Man's sin would be the winner and in the end destructive, God's salvific plan would remain incomplete or even totally defeated, if this mysterium pietatis were not made part of the dynamism of history in order to conquer man's sin. . . .

The mystery or sacrament of pietas, therefore, is the very mystery of Christ. It is, in a striking summary, the mystery of the incarnation and redemption, of the full Passover of Jesus, the Son of God and son of Mary: the mystery of His passion and death, of His resurrection and glorification. . . . this same mystery of God's infinite loving kindness toward us is capable of penetrating to the hidden roots of our iniquity! in order to evoke in the soul a movement of conversion, in order to redeem it and set it on course toward reconciliation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Anointing for Confirmation and the Battle Ahead

Bishop Paul Loverde will confer the Sacrament of Confirmation on adults from throughout the Diocese of Arlington on Pentecost and the preceding Vigil this coming weekend. As part of the Rite of Confirmation, the recipient is anointed by a sign of the cross on the forehead with chrism oil, together with the words, "(Name taken in Confirmation), be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit."

A question arises with respect to this anointing -- Should you leave the oil on your forehead or wipe/wash it off right after Mass?

I don't know that there is any "official" answer. Certainly, it would seem inappropriate to immediately wipe off the oil as the newly confirmed is walking back to his seat, and it should remain throughout the Mass. But beyond that, I suppose the same considerations apply as when the question was asked about the ashes received on Ash Wednesday. However, especially in these times, I would think it good to keep it on as long as possible as a reminder to yourself for the remainder of the day.

What do you mean, "especially in these times"?

Society, the nation, the world, are facing difficult days ahead. The world has great need for witnesses of Jesus Christ. We need to keep that in mind, and keep the sign of the cross and keep the sign of Christ in the oil (the name "Christ" means "anointed one" in Greek) upon our very being.

Pope Benedict was not speaking of Confirmation specifically on Monday, but he did provide some wise words, which are directly applicable to our Confirmation duty, in thanking various cardinals for the congratulations they gave on the occasion of his birthday and anniversary of his papacy.
At this moment my word can be only a word of gratitude. Gratitude first of all to the Lord for the many years he has given me; years with so many days of joy, splendid times, but also dark nights. However, in retrospect one understands even the nights were necessary and good, a motive for gratitude.

Today the word ecclesia militans (the Church Militant) is somewhat out of fashion, but in reality we can understand ever better that it is true, that it bears truth in itself. We see how evil wishes to dominate the world and that it is necessary to enter into battle with evil. We see how it does so in so many ways, bloody, with the different forms of violence, but also masked with goodness and precisely this way destroying the moral foundations of society.

Saint Augustine said that the whole of history is a struggle between two loves: love of oneself to contempt of God; love of God to contempt of self, in martyrdom. We are in this struggle and in this struggle it is very important to have friends. And, in my own case, I am surrounded by the friends of the College of Cardinals: they are my friends and I feel at home, I feel safe in this company of great friends, who are with me and all together with the Lord.

Thank you for this friendship. Thank you, Eminence, for all that you have done for this moment today and for all that you do always. Thank you for the communion of joys and sorrows. Let’s go forward, the Lord said: courage, I have overcome the world. We are in the Lord’s squad, hence in the victorious squad. Thanks to you all. May the Lord bless you all. And let’s toast.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Go to Confession!
The Necessity of a Sacramental Confession

A leper came to Jesus and, kneeling down, begged Him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, He dismissed him at once. Then He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them." - Mark 1:40-44
During His ministry, Jesus healed many sick and diseased and injured people. Such affliction is to be understood not only in the literal physical sense, but also, in the Divine pedagogy, it symbolizes sin, which disfigures our soul. Thus, in performing these healings, Jesus not only demonstrated that He is Lord over physical creation so as to perform miraculous medical cures, the healing by Jesus also signifies that God seeks not to condemn, but to heal us of what really ails us. God delights not in the death of any man, and He wants to spare us from that. In telling the man to show himself to the priest and make an offering, Jesus indicated that not only was he healed of the leprosy that disfigured him and made him an outcast, but he was also healed of his sins, resurrected from a kind of death, and reconciled to rejoin the community. (See Pope Benedict, Angelus, February 15, 2009)

The greatest sickness and disease and injury that man suffers is not medical, but spiritual -- sin is the greatest affliction because sin brings with it, not merely temporal suffering and death, but eternal suffering and death. St. Augustine explains that "evil" is a privatio boni, a privation or distortion or perversion of the good. (see Enchiridion, ch. 11 et seq.) Similarly, more than merely "breaking the rules," sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor. (CCC 1849-69) Because, by its very nature, sin is a privation or distortion or perversion of love and/or truth, because sin is a deviation from or inconsistent with or contrary to Love and Truth, that is to say, contrary to He who is Life itself, sin separates us from life. Such sin does not hurt Him -- we mere creatures do not have that power over the Almighty to hurt Him or harm Him in any way -- but it does hurt and injure and disfigure us, and Jesus wants to heal us and restore us to spiritual health.

Jesus has now ascended to heaven, but He has not left us to our own devices, He has not left us to suffer the illness of sin. To help accomplish His continuing mission of healing us, of reconciling man to God, to redeem us and sanctify us, our Savior and Lord established the Church as His Holy Bride, two become one, and He gave us the sacraments, which are administered by the Church. Two of the sacraments that were given to us by Jesus are (a) the Sacrament of Baptism and (b) the Sacrament of Penance, also called the Sacrament of Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Baptism cleanses us of Original Sin, but it does not abolish the weakness of our impaired human nature nor our inclination to personal sin. Experience shows that we inevitably will commit some individual and personal sin even after we have been baptized, such that we become fallen again and lose that state of grace. However, if we examine our conscience and make a good sacramental confession of our personal sins with a contrite heart and a determination to avoid further sin, through the Sacrament of Penance, by the Crucifixion and Resurrection, we are absolved of our individual sins and reconciled to God through the priest who acts in persona Christi. Furthermore, grace is given, if we accept it, to avoid further sin. Having been established by Jesus Himself in establishing the Church, such sacramental confession is the ordinary means of forgiveness by God and, therefore, is morally obligatory.

But why a sacramental confession of sin to a priest? Why not simply go to some quiet place and confess to God one-to-one?

(1) Again, as just stated, one reason for the necessity of sacramental confession is because Jesus established the Sacrament of Confession/Penance, and He did so because He wanted us to utilize it. In all humility, we must understand that it is His system of forgiveness, not ours, and we do not have either the freedom or the power to compel a different system of reconciliation.

(2) Another similar reason is because Jesus established the Church as a whole for a reason. Ours is not a hub-and-spoke kind of religion, ours is not that type of highly individualized one-on-one relationship with God. Rather, we are more like drops of water in the ocean, each being diffused throughout the whole, yet still retaining our individuality.

Thus, the Sacraments, including Confession, are not individualized, but are communal. Man, male and female, is by his nature a social being. Being made in the image of God the Trinity, we were meant to exist as He exists, in relationship. We confess, not in privacy, not with God and ourselves alone, but rather, we confess and receive absolution in the entirety of the Church.

It may look as if there are only two people in the confessional, but in actuality, the whole of the Church is present. Confession, no matter how private in human terms, is a social act, involving all of the faithful, both here on earth and in heaven. All of the Church, being part of the Body of Christ, is bound up in the work of redemption and forgiveness. The Church is not a mere bystander, a mere observer on the sidelines. Rather, as the Bride of the Crucified One, she shares in His redemptive mission, including the Sacrament of Confession.

As such it is necessary to turn to the Church and seek and obtain sacramental confession and absolution, and not merely consider sin and forgiveness to be a private affair. After all, sin is not a private affair, but is intensely social. Every sin, even though committed secretly and in apparent isolation, has social implications. Accordingly, sin being a social act, so too should forgiveness be a social act.

(3) Moreover, the premise of the question is flawed. In the case of sacramental confession, all appearances to the contrary, you are not really making your confession “to the priest.” You are making your confession to the Lord.

The priest is not present in his personal capacity. Rather, he is present and acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. And it is because there is someone there, physically present, that one can, not merely confess one's sins, but receive tangible absolution, that is, tangible evidence of forgiveness (or withholding of forgiveness if the necessary contrition is lacking).

Let us remember what the nature of a “sacrament” is, as instituted by Christ — it is an efficacious outward visible sign of the invisible reality of the conveying of grace. In the case of the Sacrament of Confession, you have (a) the outward, tangible, visible signs of vocally confessing out loud, which on a practical level makes the confession more concrete, rather than merely theoretical or merely a passing thought; and (b) the priest, acting in persona Christi, giving absolution, which is an outward, tangible, visible sign of the invisible reality of forgiveness by Christ and grace to avoid further sin.

In giving absolution, it is not the priest who forgives, but Christ. Father So-and-So has absolutely no power whatsoever to personally forgive sin. Only God can forgive sin. But, having received the authority of Christ to act on His behalf in imparting the Sacraments, with Christ acting through him, Father So-and-So does have that power by Christ through the Holy Spirit, so that it is the perfect and holy Jesus doing the absolution, not the imperfect human priest.

It might also be helpful to consider the formula (words) of absolution said by the priest:
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; 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.”
So, we see here that such forgiveness is by God, through the ministry of the Church, and in the name of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The priest himself is not doing the forgiving, rather, it is God forgiving through the priest, who acts in persona Christi. (CCC 1440-49)

It is actually a rather ingenious system that Jesus set up.

Although we do have a spirit, we are also bodily creatures, and we experience and come to know things by and through our bodies. As human persons, we need a physical act involving our bodies for us to know that something has actually happened. We can say that we don’t need that, that we have faith and that faith alone is all we need, but as a practical matter, we are all Thomas and we all need to see and touch in order for us to know for certain.

Especially when we are dealing with the transcendent and spiritual, we need some outward sign for us to authentically know the reality of the transcendent. A “sacrament” is such an outward sign.

Moreover, because we are not merely spiritual beings, but are body and spirit, for something to involve us and impact us only on a spiritual level is to engage our being only partially, rather than engage the whole of our being, soul AND body.

A prime example of this is the Eucharist, i.e. Holy Communion. Now, we can stay at home and pray to Jesus and, in that manner, obtain a spiritual communion with Him. But to be spiritually in communion with Jesus is incomplete communion — it is a union with Him in only a part of our being, and only a part of His Being. In order to be fully in communion with Jesus, in order to be fully joined in union to Him in the entirety of our being and the entirety of His Being, we must be in communion, not only spiritually, but bodily. Our spirit joined with His Spirit, our body joined with His Body. One can obtain the whole and complete communion — communion in the full and true sense — only by receiving the Eucharist, the real Body and Blood of Christ. Only then are we joined with Him in the entirety of our being.

Likewise in the other Sacraments. Only because there is an outward visible sign that acts upon, not merely the spiritual component of our being, but upon the bodily component as well, only in this way is the grace imparted upon the compete entirety of our being.

Without the Sacrament of Confession, where one confesses to God in the presence of the priest who then has the authority to convey absolution, you have a confession that is merely potential and, hence, you have forgiveness that is merely potential. When one “confesses” merely to oneself or secretly in the recesses of one’s mind, merely thinking about the sins, even though one may feel remorse, it is really only a possible confession.

Until it is reduced to actual words that are actually spoken out loud, so as to give them a reality that goes beyond mere thought, then it is merely an idea. And without the confession being a reality, without the contrition/repentance being reduced to a tangible reality, there can be no forgiveness.

This is the ordinary means of forgiveness - the Sacrament of Confession - as established by Jesus in establishing the Church. (CCC 1450-58, Can. 960)

But what about people who die after they have committed some sin but before they have gone to Confession? And what about non-Catholics? What about non-Christians? Are they automatically consigned to hell because they did not participate in sacramental confession and receive sacramental absolution?


The Sacrament of Confession is the ordinary means of forgiveness which Catholics are obligated to resort to because Jesus set it up that way and because forgiveness is not a one-on-one proposition, but rather, the entire Church is bound up in and participates in Christ's redemptive mission, such that forgiveness is obtained by the Crucified and Risen Christ through His Church.

But there are extra-ordinary means of forgiveness, that is, means other than the ordinary sacramental means. The faithful of the Church are bound by the sacraments, but the all-merciful God is not. The God of Divine Mercy can forgive whoever He wants to forgive in the manner in which He wants to do so.

The Church believes and teaches that those Catholics who have died in sin, but before going to Confession, can attain eternal life in heaven if they were contrite and repentant and would have gone to Confession if they had lived and had the opportunity. Likewise, "non-Catholics" are entrusted to the love and mercy of God and can attain eternal life in heaven by extra-ordinary means if (and this is over-simplifying it) they too have love for God and perfect contrition.**

To reiterate, a Catholic with “perfect contrition” and a firm purpose of amendment can be forgiven all sins by God directly if the person dies before he or she is able to make a sacramental confession (e.g. a traffic accident, a crashing airplane, etc., such that whenever I fly, as the plane is speeding down the runway, I always express contrition and prayer "just in case"). However, if there is time to make such a sacramental confession prior to death, such as when death is not imminent and the person goes on to live for years after, then a sacramental confession is necessary. Indeed, the failure or refusal to seek such a sacramental confession might in itself be a sin for which such sacramental confession and absolution are needed.

If the sacraments are available, then one has an obligation to seek and make use of them. Jesus instituted them for a reason, to make them the usual and ordinary methods by which the relevant grace would be conveyed. That there might be extra-ordinary means (usually in the case of unexpected and sudden death) to receive such grace does not mean that we may dispense of the ordinary means via the sacraments altogether. Although God is not bound by the sacraments, we are.

However, as with the Mass, the best way of thinking of the Sacrament of Confession is not as an obligation, but as an opportunity. Even if sometimes embarrassing to do so, it should not be thought of as having to go to Confession, but as getting to go to Confession. An opportunity to express our love for God and to receive His love and forgiveness in return.
** That does not mean that all the divisions in Christianity are fine and of no consequence. That does not mean that all churches and denominations are equal or that they enjoy equality of truth. They do not. To the contrary, there is only one truth, and the schisms and divisions in Christianity are wrong and a gross violation of the will of Jesus that we be one. But the question of the salvation of non-sacramental non-Catholic Christians, and of non-Christians, is another discussion for another time. One such discussion may be found here. See also the authoritative document written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and ratified and confirmed by Pope John Paul II, Dominus Iesus, Declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.

Next: The Necessity of a Good Confession (including an examination of conscience)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

He departed, but He is here with us

St. Augustine, Confessions (A.D. 397-98)
Book IV, ch. 12.
When He made the world, He did not go away and leave it. By Him, it was created and in Him it exists. Wherever we taste the truth, God is there. He is in our very inmost hearts, but our hearts have strayed from Him. Think well on it, unbelieving hearts, and cling to Him who made you. Stand with Him and you shall not fall; rest in Him and peace shall be yours. * * *

Our Life Himself came down into this world and took away our death. He slew it with His own abounding life, and with thunder in His voice He called us from this world to return to Him in heaven. From heaven He came down to us, entering first the Virgin’s womb, where humanity, our mortal flesh, was wedded to Him, so that it might not be forever mortal. * * * He did not linger on His way but ran, calling us to return to Him, calling us by His words and deeds, by His life and death, by His descent into hell and His ascension into heaven. He departed from our sight, so that we should turn to our hearts and find Him there. He departed, but He is here with us. He would not stay long with us, but He did not leave us. He went back to the place which He had never left, because He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and He came into the world to save sinners.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Truth and Freedom

Two of my favorite topics — truth and freedom.

Being a strong lover of liberty, I struggled with this idea for a long, long time, that true freedom was the ability to do what you ought to do, the ability to do the “right” thing, rather than what you might want to do. If I can’t do what I want, if I am restrained from doing as I please, either by outside influences or by self-restraint, then how can I be truly free??

It wasn’t until I understood sin as being a privation of the good, a distortion of truth, rather than, for example, a violation of rules or disobedience against God (not connecting the dots between Him and Truth/Love), that it started to click. (See, Augustine, City of God). That, and reflecting on the “self-evident truth” of the “inalienable” nature of liberty. (See, Declaration of Independence)

True freedom is necessarily restrained. True freedom, by its very nature, is necessarily limited, in that it is inalienable, that is, it cannot be given away. If freedom were able to be given away, if one was free to be unfree and able to choose to be a slave, he obviously would no longer be free or in a state of freedom. The consequence of sin is that, by embracing a false and counterfeit “freedom,” we necessarily become a slave to error, even if we erroneously continue to insist that we are still free.

True freedom exists only in order, not disorder. A choice or act is freely made only when it is made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, with an understanding of the nature and consequences of that choice or act. If one cannot, because of external factors or because of a defective internal conscience, recognize what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, then one cannot make an informed and intelligent choice.

Error does not lead to truth, it leads to further error and ignorance of truth. Consequently, making erroneous choices, choosing to do that which is wrong, which is contrary to truth and order (in other words, to sin), distorts and impairs one’s ability to further recognize truth and good over that which is false and evil. To do that which is inconsistent with truth is not freedom, but is instead being confined and controlled by error.

If you insist on doing as you please, rather than following the road map and the road signs, pretty soon you are going to be on the wrong road going in the wrong direction. Now you are no longer free to get where you had planned to go, you are instead a slave to your own foolishness.

Freedom necessarily is dependent and contingent upon truth. Thus, it is necessarily limited by truth, including moral truth, such that the ability to engage in something contrary to truth, as one might want to do, is not freedom at all. Eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge does not free us, it does not make things clearer, it does not make us like gods, empowered to choose and determine what is right and what is wrong; it only enslaves us to error and sin.

It is, and only can be, by doing what we ought to do, doing what is right and good, that is, acting in conformance with truth (or, put another way, acting in conformance with Truth, i.e. the Logos, i.e. God), acting in a manner consistent with the truth for which we were made (which is to love and be loved), that one can be free. On the other hand, when one insists on doing as he pleases, without any consideration for truth, and thereby acts contrary to what is right and good, then he strays from the path of truth onto the path of error. And error necessarily leads to more error, until ultimately he is, not merely a slave to error (sin), but is so removed from Truth and Love, i.e. Life, that he is “doomed to die,” and not merely bodily death, but eternal death (Gen. 2:17).

Freedom does not mean, freedom cannot mean, the freedom to not be free, the freedom to be a slave. Likewise, freedom does not mean and cannot mean the freedom to do that which inevitably leads to death. That counterfeit freedom which acts contrary to God leads only to death. The dead have no rights, they have no freedoms, they are merely dead.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Our Mother Mary: a Woman of Hope, a Woman of Faith, a Woman of Love

Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, December 25, 2005
41. Outstanding among the saints is Mary, Mother of the Lord and mirror of all holiness. In the Gospel of Luke we find her engaged in a service of charity to her cousin Elizabeth, with whom she remained for “about three months” so as to assist her in the final phase of her pregnancy.

Magnificat anima mea Dominum”, she says on the occasion of that visit, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

In these words she expresses her whole program of life: not setting herself at the center, but leaving space for God, who is encountered both in prayer and in service of neighbor—only then does goodness enter the world. Mary's greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself. She is lowly: her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord. She knows that she will only contribute to the salvation of the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God's initiatives.

Mary is a woman of hope: only because she believes in God's promises and awaits the salvation of Israel, can the angel visit her and call her to the decisive service of these promises.

Mary is a woman of faith: “Blessed are you who believed”, Elizabeth says to her. The Magnificat — a portrait, so to speak, of her soul — is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the Word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the Word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.

Finally, Mary is a woman who loves. How could it be otherwise? As a believer who in faith thinks with God's thoughts and wills with God's will, she cannot fail to be a woman who loves. We sense this in her quiet gestures, as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel. We see it in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus. We see it in the humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus' public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and that the Mother's hour will come only with the Cross, which will be Jesus' true hour.

When the disciples flee, Mary will remain beneath the Cross; later, at the hour of Pentecost, it will be they who gather around her as they wait for the Holy Spirit.

42. The lives of the saints are not limited to their earthly biographies but also include their being and working in God after death. In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them.

In no one do we see this more clearly than in Mary. The words addressed by the crucified Lord to his disciple—to John and through him to all disciples of Jesus: - “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19:27) - are fulfilled anew in every generation. Mary has truly become the Mother of all believers.

Men and women of every time and place have recourse to her motherly kindness and her virginal purity and grace, in all their needs and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their moments of loneliness and their common endeavours. They constantly experience the gift of her goodness and the unfailing love which she pours out from the depths of her heart. The testimonials of gratitude, offered to her from every continent and culture, are a recognition of that pure love which is not self- seeking but simply benevolent.

At the same time, the devotion of the faithful shows an infallible intuition of how such love is possible: it becomes so as a result of the most intimate union with God, through which the soul is totally pervaded by him — a condition which enables those who have drunk from the fountain of God's love to become in their turn a fountain from which “flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38).

Mary, Virgin and Mother, shows us what love is and whence it draws its origin and its constantly renewed power. To her we entrust the Church and her mission in the service of love:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, you have given the world its true light, Jesus, your Son – the Son of God. You abandoned yourself completely to God's call and thus became a wellspring of the goodness which flows forth from him.

Show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him, so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Spiritual and the Material

Man is indeed a kind of bridge. He is the point at which the material world and the spiritual world meet and mingle and thus occupies a special place in the matrix of the created order.

Through man, the material world is lifted up into the spiritual realm, and through their combination in man we see that the two are compatible, each with the other. Material being is not a thing along side of which the spirit leads an unconnected and indivisible existence. The unity of creation is demonstrated at the point where the two are united in man. That gives him a special function: that is to say, sharing the responsibility for the unity of creation, incarnating spirit in himself and, conversely, lifting material being up to God -- and thereby, all in all, making a contribution to the great symphony of creation.

-- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
God and the World

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Be a Missionary of Love

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
A reflection on Redemptoris Missio

L'Osservatore Romano, April 8, 1991
God is Love. Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Like us, in all things except sin—in Jesus, with Jesus and through Jesus we go to the Father.

A missionary must be a missionary of Love. A missionary is one who is sent. God sent his Son. Today God sends us. Each one of us is sent by God and his Church. Sent for what? Sent to be his love among men. Sent to bring his love and compassion among men. We have to carry our Lord to places he has not walked before. In Melbourne, once, the sisters picked up a man from the street. He was an alcoholic with no name, no work, nothing, a real street case. After a week, he came up to the sister and said: "Now I am all right and I am going home. I will never drink again. I have realized God loves me". Then he went back to his home, to his wife, his children and to his work. After a month he returned with his first salary saying: "Use this to show God's love to others like me".

Once a man came to Nirmol Hridoy, Home for the Dying Destitutes, Calcutta. He just walked in—right into the ward. I was there. After a little while he came back and said to me: "I came here with so much hate in my heart, hate for God and hate for man. I came here empty, faithless, embittered and I saw a sister inside, giving her whole-hearted attention to that patient there. I realize that God still loves. Now I go out a different man. I believe there is a God and he loves us still".

In Ethiopia, the Apostolic Delegate told us during the homily at Mass: "I thank you, in the name of the Holy Father because by your presence you are making the Church fully present here". We make the Church present by proclaiming the Good News. What is the Good News? The Good News is that God still loves the world through each one of us. You are God's Good News; you are God's love in action. Through you God is still loving the world. Each time people come into contact with us, they must become different and better people because of having met us. We must radiate God's love. By our living and working together as God's family, we proclaim that unity in the Church, as well as by working with all people, serving all people, of any religion, colour, caste or race. . . .

On the night before he died—Jesus left us himself in the Eucharist, under the appearance of bread and wine. So is he also present in the distressing disguise of the poor, though in quite a different way.

And he gave us a new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you".

And to make it easy for us to love, he said: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me"; for I was hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, unwanted, untouchable,—and you did it to me. I call this the Gospel on five fingers - five words: You did it to me. Jesus cannot tell a lie. In your five fingers you have your love for Jesus. And St. John tells us that "if anyone says, I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. One who has no love for the brother he has seen—cannot love the God he has not seen". Look at your fingers often and remind yourself of this love. . . .

Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ, by his Incarnation, is united with each human person. In the beginning when I first started the work, some people passed remarks that the Church is not made of rubbish. That meant the poor, the sick, the dying, the crippled, the homeless, etc. Now everyone seems to have turned towards what was considered rubbish. Yes, the poor are worthy of respect and human dignity. Human beings cannot become conscious of their own dignity unless they have experienced love. . . .

We need to be pure of heart to see Jesus in the person of the poor, for a pure heart can see God. This purity means that our heart "has to be emptied of all self-seeking, of all sin. Once we take our eyes away from ourselves, from our interests, from our own rights, privileges, ambitions—then they will become clear to see Jesus around us. Impurity is present whenever we are proud or bitter, harbouring uncharitable thoughts, words or deeds, unforgiving, jealous or blocked by earthly riches. The people at the time of Jesus rejected him because his poverty threatened their riches. Jesus was sent by his Father to the poor and, to be able to understand the poor, Jesus had to know and experience that poverty in his own body and soul. We too must experience poverty if we want to be true carriers of God's love. To be able to proclaim the Good News to the poor we must know what poverty is. . . .

Let us not make a mistake—that the hunger is only for a piece of bread. The hunger of today is much greater: for love — to be wanted, to be loved, to be cared for, to be somebody.

Feeding the hungry—not only for food but also for the Word of God.
Giving drink to the thirsty—not only for water, but for peace, truth and justice.
Giving shelter to the homeless—not only a shelter made of bricks but a heart that understands, that covers, that loves.
Nursing the sick and the dying—not only of body but also of mind and spirit.

I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To us, what matters is an individual. To get to love the person, we must come in close contact with him. If we wait until we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers, and we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person. I believe in a person-to-person relationship. Every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, there is only one person in the world for me at that moment. Humility always radiates the greatness and glory of God. Let us not be afraid to be humble, small, helpless to prove our love for God. The cup of water you give to the sick, the way you lift a dying man, the way you feed a baby, the way in which you teach an ignorant child, the way you give medicine to a leper, the joy with which you smile at your own at home--all this is God's love in the world today. I want this to be imprinted in your minds: God skill loves the world through you and through me today. We must not be afraid to radiate God's love everywhere. . . .

Charity begins today. Today somebody is suffering, today somebody is in the street, today somebody is hungry. Our work is for today, yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come—today, we have only today to make Jesus known, loved, served, fed, clothed, sheltered, etc. Today—do not to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow might not come. Tomorrow we will not have them if we do not feed them today. . . .

Let us pray that we be pure and humble like Mary so that we can become holy like Jesus. All for Jesus through Mary.

God bless you.

Mother Teresa

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Why am I a Catholic?

by Father Joseph Ratzinger (1971)
We can think of the Catholic Church by comparing it to the moon, not only for the relationship between moon and woman (as mother), but also because the moon does not have its own light. It receives light from the sun, without which it would be in total darkness. The moon shines, but its light is not its own. Lunar probes and astronauts have seen that the moon is nothing but a rocky and desert-like wasteland. They saw rock and sand, the reality quite different from the image we held about it from antiquity. The moon is by and of itself nothing but rock and sand, but it does reflect light.

Is this not an exact image of the Church? Whoever explores it and digs into it with a probe will discover, as in the moon, nothing but desert, sand and rock – the weaknesses of mankind seen as dust, stones, waste. But the decisive fact is that even if she is nothing but sand and stones, she is also Light, by virtue of the Lord.

I am a Catholic because I believe that now as in the past, and independent of us, the Lord stands behind the Church, and we cannot be near Him without staying within His Church. I belong to the Catholic Church because despite everything, I believe that it is His Church, not “ours.”

It is the Church which, despite all the human weaknesses present in her, brings us to Jesus Christ. Only through the Church can I receive Him as a living and powerful reality, here and now. Without the Church, the image of Christ would evaporate, it would crumble, it would disappear. And what would become of mankind deprived of Christ?

I am in the Church for the same reasons that I am a Christian. Because one cannot believe in isolation. Faith is possible in communion with other believers. Faith by its very nature is a force that binds. And this faith must be ecclesial, or it is not faith at all. And just as one does not believe in isolation, but only in communion with others, neither can one have faith out of one’s own initiative or invention.

I remain in the Church because I believe that faith, realizable only in the Church and not against her, is a true necessity for the human being and for the world.

I remain in the Church because only the faith the Church professes can save man. The great ideal of our generation is a society free of tyranny, suffering and injustice. In this world, suffering does not come only from inequalities in material wealth and power. There are those who would have us believe that we can realize our humanity without mastery of self, without the patience of surrender and the effort to overcome difficulties; that it is not necessary to make any sacrifice to keep compromises which we accept, nor to bear with patience the constant tension between what should be and what actually is.

In reality, man can only be saved through the Cross and the acceptance of one’s own suffering as well as those of the world, which find their resolution in the Passion of the Lord. Only thus can man become free. All the other “offers at a better price” can only end in failure.

Love is not simply aesthetic and uncritical. The only possibility to change man in a positive sense is to love him truly by transforming him gradually from who he is to who he can be. That is what the Church can do.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

Adult Confirmation Class Four

To help accomplish His mission of reconciling man to God, to redeem us and sanctify us, our Savior and Lord established the Church as His Holy Bride, two become one, and He gave us the sacraments, which are administered by the Church. Man was created as a social creature, intended to exist in relationship, not in solitude. Thus, Jesus also established the Church so that we might fulfill our purpose of being in communion with each other, as well as Him. To be one with Jesus, who is the one and only savior, means to be one with the one holy Church, which is also the Body of Christ. Accordingly, we see that both Jesus Christ and the Church are absolutely necessary for salvation.

To guide and protect the Church and us, Jesus sends us His Holy Spirit, thereby assuring that He will be with us to the end of time. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus provides us graces, both sanctifying and actual, including the graces of the sacraments. We are not merely spiritual beings, but also bodily creatures, who experience things and know things by the senses of our bodies. To help us understand the reality of the provision of certain graces, Jesus instituted the sacraments.

A "sacrament" is an outward visible sign of the invisible reality of grace being imparted. A sacrament is also an efficacious sign, that is, a sign that brings about that grace. By the use of certain words and matter upon the body, we are thus able to know and understand that the Holy Spirit of Christ is acting upon us. Without such an outward, tangible sign, we might not fully realize or appreciate that God has done anything or that we have actually received these graces.

A Sacramental Church

Jesus gave the authority to confer the sacraments on the Church. However, it is Christ who acts in the sacraments and communicates through the Holy Spirit the sanctifying grace they signify, not the priest or bishop administering them. Thus, the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness, or lack thereof, of the minister. On the other hand, the fruits of the sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one who receives them.
(1) Baptism. Sinful man is redeemed and saved from death by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. In Baptism, one is immersed into this death of Christ, so as to rise again with Him. This baptism of the Triune God gives us sanctifying grace, so that the stains of Original Sin and individual sin are wiped away, and we are initiated into the communion of the Church. (Mt. 28: 19) As Abraham was marked with the sign of the covenant, so too is the soul of the baptized person marked with the indelible seal of Christ.

(2) Confirmation. In Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Christ in love and truth. The Holy Spirit descends upon us, completing and bringing an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. Just as when the Spirit descended upon the faithful at Pentecost, we too are given the strength and grace and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. (Acts 1:8; 2: 11) If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you, and, like the Apostles, disciples, martyrs, and saints, you will be able to do that which is impossible to do on your own. The water and chrism oil of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are sanctified by Jesus and the Cross. The very being of recipient is radically altered as he or she is anointed and joined with the Christ, which means "anointed one."

(3) Confession. While Baptism cleanses us of Original Sin, it does not abolish the weakness of our impaired human nature nor our inclination to personal sin. If we examine our conscience and confess our personal sins with a contrite heart and a determination to avoid further sin, through the Sacrament of Penance, by the Crucifixion and Resurrection, we are absolved of our individual sins and reconciled to God. Furthermore, grace is given, if we accept it, to avoid further sin. (Jn. 20:22-23)

(4) Anointing of the Sick. While He was present amongst us, Jesus healed many who were sick. After Pentecost, Peter and the other Apostles similarly healed the sick. The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing, if not physically, then spiritually. Mostly, the Sacrament prepares us for the final journey in order to join God in heaven. (James 5:14-15) This sacrament confers a special grace which unites the sick person more intimately to the Passion of Christ. It gives comfort, peace, courage, and even the forgiveness of sins if the sick person is not able to make a sacramental confession.

(5) Matrimony. Man, male and female, is not merely a relational creature, but a spousal creature made in the image of the Triune God, who exists as a loving communion of persons in one being. Similarly, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, a man and woman are two made one in a communion of persons by the power of the Christ's Holy Spirit of Love. (Gn. 1:28, 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6) This communion of persons is not only unitive, but fruitful and procreative, just as the love that is God is unitive, fruitful, and procreative.

(6) Holy Orders. Those who do not marry are still, by human nature, called to love. We all exist to love and be loved in truth. We are made complete only by and in love. Thus, if we are not called to marry, we may receive a calling to follow Christ, who is the fullness of Love. By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, instituted by Jesus calling His apostles, the Church is passed on to the generations throughout time. (Mt. 16:18-19; Jn 15:16) The one priesthood of Christ is made present in this ministerial priesthood. The anointing by the Spirit in ordination to this priesthood seals the priest with an indelible, spiritual character that configures him to Christ the priest and enables him to act in the name of Christ the Head. Episcopal ordination of a bishop as a successor of the Apostles confers the fullness of the Sacrament on him, including the offices of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling.

(7) Eucharist. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said that He would be with us always, to the end of the age. In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. (Lk 22: 19-20; Jn 6:48-58) The Eucharist as the source (beginning) and summit (end) of the Faith, inasmuch as this Blessed Sacrament is the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus, even though under the appearance of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, the substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being. This genuine transformation is called transubstantiation. As described by Pope Benedict, Christ takes possession of the bread and the wine, and He lifts them up out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order. Even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different.

Through the Eucharist in the one Mass, according to His Word, Jesus is with us, not merely spiritually or theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily as well as spiritually.

In a profoundly intimate way, we take His glorified Body and Blood into our bodies. The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is not the encounter of a friend or a mentor or a teacher. It is a parental and spousal encounter. It is because the Eucharist is the Real Presence that such an encounter is the most intimate of intimate touchings. The person literally takes Christ within him- or herself both bodily and spiritually, so as to become one with Him in a mystical fashion, as in marriage, which also involves entering into another bodily and spiritually so as to become one in a communion of persons (unitive) and so as to receive life (procreative).

Only in this way is the totality of our person, body and spirit, able to be one with Him, Body and Spirit, fully and completely. Again, because we are creatures of both spirit and body, to receive Him in the entirety of our person, it is essential that we also experience the Body and Blood of Christ, which can be received only at Mass, in addition to His Spirit, which can be experienced at home. In this way, the Eucharist can truly be called Holy Communion.

The consecration of the bread and wine at Mass to become the Blessed Sacrament is not a re-sacrificing of Jesus. There is only One Mass, and there is only One Sacrifice, which is re-presented, that is, presented again. Remember, God transcends time and space, so that, not only does He extend across our concept of linear time, but for Him, specific points in time continue to exist forever. Thus, the Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. In the Mass, in some mystical but true way, we transcend space and time and are made present at the Last Supper, we are made present at the foot of the Cross. And because we partake of His glorified Resurrected Body and Blood, so too are we made present at the Resurrection, and made One with He who rose to eternal life.
An Apostolic Church

In establishing His Church, Jesus called certain men as apostles, from the Greek word for "emissary." To the Apostle Peter, who was the first Pope, Jesus gave a special supreme authority. The original Apostles later appointed successors, whom we know today as bishops, and assistants, such as priests, who have the authority and power of administering the sacraments in persona Christi. Each bishop is the spiritual shepherd for a specific area, which is called a diocese, and he in turn delegates certain authority to pastors over a smaller area, which is called a parish.

The Church was established not only to confer the sacraments, but to teach and proclaim the Faith to the faithful and the entire world. For example, at Mass, we also celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, and thereafter receive, in the homily, a teaching on the readings. Jesus not only calls certain men to be priests and bishops, who sustain and hand on the Faith, He also calls some to be religious sisters, who dedicate themselves to the Lord like Mary and Martha. And while bishops and priests have a special authority to preach, lay catechists are given authority to teach, and all the faithful are called to be a light of Jesus to the world.

Jesus told his apostles and disciples to spread the Good News and convert all nations, and He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide and protect this apostolic Church always, so that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against Her -- One Holy Church that exists universally, that is, "catholic" -- not only in history, but eternally and transcendent, not only horizontally, across nations, but vertically, a communion of the faithful in this world with the faithful in purgatory, and God and interceding saints in heaven above.

The Church, as Bride of Christ, who abides with us always, is protected by the Holy Spirit and is necessarily perfect, just as Her Spouse, Jesus, is perfect. And like Jesus, the Church does not hate; She has only love for all, including sinners. Members may and do sin, and in doing so, they may cause scandal, leading others to question the Faith or the Church, or to fall away from the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, we must be very careful in our words and actions, so that we do not reflect poorly on the Church and cause scandal.

The Church is Mother and Teacher (CCC 85-87; 2030-2051)

The Church is also Mater et Magister (Mother and Teacher), where the successors of Peter (the pope) and the apostles (bishops) are guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Faith is protected from error. That is, Jesus conveyed teaching authority upon the Apostles and their successors, commanding them to go and preach the Good News, while promising that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide and protect His Bride, the Church, from error.

The teaching office of the Church is known as the Magisterium. The teachings of the Magisterium, be they on matters of faith or morals, are not the personal opinions of the pope, and they are not the "policy positions" of the Church, although they are often erroneously described as such in the media. Because God is Love and Truth, the pope and the Church are bound in their moral teachings by love and truth. Moreover, because She was founded by Christ, we are not free to change the Church as we wish. Not even the pope is free to change the Church to suit his own tastes. Faith and Truth are not arbitrary, and they are not matters of opinion to be decided by majority vote. The Church is His Church before it is ours. She is the One, Holy, Catholic (universal), and Apostolic Church of Christ, not the "Church of do your own thing."

The Magisterium provides the authoritative interpretation of Divine Revelation, both Holy Scripture and Tradition, and assures the truth of the Faith by use of Revelation and right reason, i.e. truth, as guided and protected by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus calls us to holiness, to live a moral life of love of God and love of one another. Thus, in addition to helping to form our faith, another function of the Magisterium, as guided by the Holy Spirit, is to teach us and assist us in the formation of our consciences, which involves an act of reason, not feeling. That is, moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil. Whereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case.

In helping us to properly form our moral consciences, the Church does not really teach anything new, anything that was not previously revealed by God or is not already written as the natural law on men's hearts and therefore discoverable and knowable by reason. Under the natural law, the concepts of truth, justice, good and evil, and values of right and wrong are deemed fundamental, absolute, and transcendent. As a component of transcendent truth, morality is objective, not subjective, relative, or situational.

However, this call to holiness is a voluntary one. The Lord does not force it or the grace of the Holy Spirit upon us. We have the free choice of the will to decline His offer to provide a light to guide us on our way. But if we insist on doing things our own way, insisting that we can choose our own truth instead of that which is lovingly given to us by the Holy Spirit through the Church, we will find it much more difficult to find our way through life in the darkness. And if we resist the Light too long, if we do not turn back to Love and Truth before it is too late, we will find ourselves in the darkness forever.

The Last Things - Salvation . . . or Not (CCC 988-1065)

In Love and in Truth, God created us. The meaning of life, the purpose for which we were made and the reason we exist, is to live in and for truth and love. In God, who is Love and Truth, all things are possible. Love and Truth can even defeat death and, so, part of our purpose for being is to live with and in God's love for all time. Thus, we proclaim our faith and hope in "life everlasting."

Our life on this earth is not the "be all and end all," but is a preparation for eternal life with God. The eternal life can even begin now if we definitively choose to respond to God and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that many of us do accept God, but not definitively, and we then go on to be unfaithful to Him. But, we must return to Him while there is still time. Indeed, the time for making a definitive choice to accept the grace of salvation is during this life -- it ends upon death, which, as Jesus reminds us, could come at any moment. At the moment of death, each person is subject to a "particular judgment," whereby if you die in mortal sin and unrepentant, having failed or refused to seek and accept God's mercy and forgiveness, then you will have necessarily not chosen eternal life, but eternal death instead.

Hell exists as an actual state of being, although precisely what Hell is like is a mystery. Given that we are bodily creatures who experience things by our senses and understand things in a physical manner, scripture describes Hell in various physical terms, such as physical pain from fire or coldness and darkness. Whatever else Hell may be like, the worst aspect of it is eternal separation from God. And it is not God who sends us to Hell, we necessarily send ourselves there.

Why would anyone choose Hell?

Well, by rejecting God, by saying "I don't want God, I never want God," by dying in mortal sin, which separates us from Him, one necessarily chooses to be separate from God. And since true love is never imposed upon someone, God being Love, He does not impose Himself on anyone against their will. He does not save them against their will. He does not force them to spend eternity with Him against their will. One need not actively hate God or directly reject Him; by choosing to remain in mortal sin, by choosing not to be restored to a state of grace, one necessarily chooses to be apart from God, and that is what Hell really is in its essential aspect, that is what damnation is -- eternal separation from God -- God who is Love and God who is Truth, in Whom is Life itself -- eternal separation from love and truth and life. But God does not cause that separation, God does not cause that damnation out of a petulant fit of pique, He does not use His divine boot to crush, like ants, those that tick Him off. That is not who or what God is.

God is Love, and He remains Love whether you are a saint or a sinner, whether you love Him in return or whether you hate Him. God does not return hate for hate, or anger for rejection. He will always remain faithful to you and offer love in return for your infidelity, but He will not make you take His love. If you are willing to accept His love, including seeking and receiving the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession, such that, upon death you are not in a state of mortal sin, God will always extend to you mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and the joyous gift of eternal life with Him in Heaven. The Lord delights not in the death of anyone, He is a God of the living and desires that all be saved and reconciled to Him.

Now, in order to be able to enter the perfection of Heaven, we must ourselves be in perfect grace, or made perfect. If we are not already totally pure when we leave this world, if we are not in a perfect state of grace, we must be purified. If you die in the grace of the Lord, but with the stain of some "venial" sin, if you sincerely seek to conform yourself to God's will, yet die without full healing and repentance from sin, then the fire of the Holy Spirit must purge that imperfection from you. However, purgatory is not a "second chance" to choose to be saved after death. The time for choosing is here and now.

Although we must choose God to be saved, we must be clear that our mere choice is not the cause of salvation. We are not our own saviors (that is the error of the fruit of the Tree), we cannot earn salvation, and we cannot justly demand salvation as a right. Nothing we do, think, or believe, merits forgiveness and salvation. Only Christ is our Savior, and redemption is a completely gratuitous gift. But salvation, like love and forgiveness, is not a unilateral action. It is a transaction. The graces of salvation and forgiveness are something that is offered and given, but to be complete, they must be accepted. We must choose to accept and then actively accept forgiveness and the salvation of being with God eternally. If someone is disposed to reject what is offered, and not make that choice of being with God, then they have necessarily chosen to be apart from God. And He will respect and grant that choice.