Friday, March 31, 2017

Communal Penance Services

This Lent, after much consideration and prayer, I have decided not to offer Communal Penance Services in the Area Faith Community of Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul. First, a little discussion about the forms. The normal form of Reconciliation is Form I - private confession and absolution. This includes everything, and celebrated between the penitent and confessor. Form II, primarily celebrated during the penitential seasons or retreats, is a prayer service with individual confession and absolution. The final form, which the Church does not see as common, but allowed, is Form III with a prayer service and the priest praying the prayer of Absolution over the entire assembly. sometimes called General Absolution.
In the past, I offered several Penance Services with Individual Confession and Absolution (Form 2). True, these were well attended, at least at St. Peter. I tried in several ways to make it clear that it was a penance service with individual confession. Despite this, no more than a quarter would come for individual confession. The rest attended the prayer service and left without receiving the Absolution. All the same, rumors were around that we offered "General Absolution". There was a large amount of confusion.
While the Church allows General Absolution in "grave necessity”, this usually means that those who attend these services are in imminent danger of death (such as war or natural catastrophe) during which they would not have ample opportunity to receive forgiveness of their sins. Should they survive, however, they are to go to a priest all the same and confess all mortal sins. The Church provides a model for these types of celebrations, but mainly because of the emergency nature of the emergency. No matter, the Church teaching is clear that the valid reception of Absolution requires that the individual is willing to confess of all serious sins. If the willingness to confess all mortal sins was lacking, the person would not receive the sacrament. Someone who attended a penance service with General Absolution is required to go to private confession (either Form I or Form II), before returning to a General Absolution service. Further, the Church’s documents note several times that Form 3 is not to become the norm, and that all confusion is to be avoided. Further, in the past, Bishop Nienstedt, and currently Bishop LeVoir both have affirmed the teaching that General Absolution not be used in our local circumstances. Without the Bishop's permission (except, of course, in those extreme cases), a priest does not have the authority to offer General Absolution. I am concerned that my offering even Form II services led to confusion that participants who left without entering the confessional have received the sacrament. My hope by not offering Form 2 services is that I can ‘reset' our perception and appreciation of the Sacrament. That is why I am offering only Individual Confession and Absolution (Form 1) this Lent.
The Church teaches that it is necessary to confess all mortal sins at least once a year (in order to receive Eucharist worthily). This means that the penitent is to confess ALL sins he or she remembers, not just one or two. If one purposely does not confess a mortal sin, one does not receive the sacrament validly. Some have shared anecdotes of penance services where the presider requested only one or two sins be confessed, and then proceed to either general absolution or private absolution. The protector of the sacraments, the Church, does not envision this 'form' of confession. At issue, in part is the nature of the confession - it is not part, but whole. By way of analogy, one could go to a medical doctor because of itchy skin, the main issue that is obviously a problem. If the doctor is not diligent, she or he might be too quick to prescribe an ointment for the itchy skin and fail to look further, perhaps find the itch is due to cirrhosis and possibly cancer of the liver. As far as coming to a Form II service and leaving without Absolution is like drawing up a bath, sticking your finger in and rejoicing in such a delight, and promptly draining the tub.

Hints for the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Be Prepared: Examine your conscience, and if it helps, make a written list. All serious or mortal sins (with the elements of a.) Serious act, b.) full knowledge, and c.) full desire) are to be confessed. Less serious sins should also be confessed to the best of one's ability. This examination can be done at home or even on the way to Church!
Be Prompt: do not wait until the last minute to come in to the confessional, especially if no one is in line.
Be Brief/succinct: You usually don’t have to go into the details or circumstances of the sins – just confess them.
Be Specific: Name the sins. “I did a bad thing” is going to require more.
Be Personal: Do not confess anyone else’s sins, but only your own.
Be Honest/Sincere: Share your sins as brutally honest as you can.
Be Consistent: Come on a regular basis, at least during Lent and Advent, bi-Monthly, or monthly.
Be Not Afraid: Know that the confessor is a sinner as well, and that even he has to go to confession!

How to Go to Reconciliation:
Before going to the Sacrament, examine your conscience for sins. As you enter, you may have the option of using the screen or going face-to-face. If you chose the screen, kneel. If face-to-face, sit down. Father may greet you with a handshake or other gesture.
Order of Penance Greeting: The priest says something to the effect of: May the Holy Spirit be with you as you confess your sins. R.: Amen.
“Revelation of State of life”: If you are unknown to the priest, he may ask some questions to help him help you. This should include when you last received the Sacrament and a little about yourself if needed. If it helps, Say, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (how long) since my Last confession. These are my sins…” Confession of Sin: you tell the priest all of the sins of which you are aware (be as thorough as you can.)
If you wish, end your confession with, “For these and all sins I cannot truthfully remember, I ask penance and absolution.”
Acceptance of Satisfaction: The priest will give a penance, most of the time a prayer or Scripture which will help you live in the grace you are about to receive in the sacrament and serve as a sign that you are sorrowful for your sins.
Prayer of Sorrow/Act of Contrition: you say a prayer out loud which tells of your sorrow for sin. This prayer can be spoken from the heart, or it can be one of many acts of contrition. For example:
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. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.
Absolution of sin: The priest extends his hands over you and says the Prayer of Absolution, to which you respond: Amen. Conclusion: The priest says: Give thanks to the Lord for He is good… R. His mercy endures forever. The Lord has freed you from your sins, go in peace. R. Thanks be to God.
At this, you are free to go to do your penance.

While I acknowledge there is fear about the Sacrament, this fear is not of God. When we face the fear, confess our sins in the great and healing Sacrament, we find freedom, healing, and peace. When we confess all of our sins with our mouth, not just consciously, we rob Satan of his power over us and receive assurance of forgiveness. Sadly, Satan deceives us that our sins will be inconsequential until we commit them, and then he enjoys telling us their consequences. The Lord knows the consequences of our sins, and forgives, but only when we are truly contrite and sorrowful. Individual confession also provides a great remedy for dealing with venial sins, especially if the confessor has time to address the roots of the sins. This allows us to grow in holiness. I hope that all of us may make frequent use of the sacrament.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Prairie Catholic Article: through the Cross

Lent is a season to reflect and ponder the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. The liturgical destination of our Lenten journey is the Sacred Triduum, when we celebrate the giving of the Eucharist, the Cross, and the Resurrection. It is tempting to ignore Good Friday, to view it as something simply ‘gotten’ through or around. Easter Sunday is easy to celebrate with joy. The gift of love that Christ leaves in the Eucharist as well as the model of charity in the washing of feet is happy. But it is Good Friday that ties these days and themes together and gives them their power to change our lives. Good Friday is difficult because we do not like the Cross or always understand what it truly means. We try to avoid it because it symbolizes suffering, sacrifice, and pain. Ultimately, Lent is about remembering that there can be no resurrection without the Cross.

It is the Cross that marks our lives on this earth. We are marked with the Cross at our baptisms; and this is renewed with each Sign of the Cross. Jesus instructs us to take up our cross daily. This is not an optional activity for a few followers, nor one that is a one-time deal, or when convenient, or on a limited schedule. Every disciple has cross, and it is part and parcel with following Jesus.

The cross is not light, in discussing or in fact. Crucifixion was cruel, slow, and methodical. People could be dying on the cross in excruciating (literally from the cross) pain for days. As one of our Eucharistic Prefaces (Preface III of Ordinary time) states, the Father “fashioned the remedy out of mortality itself”. When Jesus embraces and dies on the cross, He takes upon Himself the entire burden of the world’s sins. By His innocence and obedience, He puts sin and death to death. The Church Fathers and countless saints spoke of the cross and resurrection in terms of the re-creation story. Adam and Eve, by their disobediently taking of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge, cause sin to enter the world. In the Crucifixion, Jesus stretches out His hands not to take but to give. He is revealed as the New Adam, the Blessed Mother Mary as the New Eve who stands beside her Son. This makes the Cross the Tree of Life. How Jesus dies is not just incidental, a matter of convenience, simply chosen because crucifixion was the current tool of capital punishment by the Roman government. It was God the Father’s plan, His ultimate choice, from before all time. He intended that the wood of the Cross be the means of our salvation.

Jesus willingly gave His life, so that we could see how ugly our sins are to the Father by our looking at Jesus on the Cross. In the cross, he fulfills the promise of the Eucharist, the most blessed fruit of Tree of Life, which brings us eternal life in the Resurrection. But we must ponder our sins and allow them to be put to death, along with our own. We cannot go around the cross – we must go through it.

Instead of avoiding the Cross this Lent, we are to take up our cross and follow. He will put our sins to death. We submit ourselves in obedience to Him, and are to receive often and well of the fruit of Tree of Life: Jesus, the Eucharist. By doing so, we return to the Garden for which we were created, where we will walk with the Lord for the rest of eternity.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A season for unity

The season of Lent is one of intense preparation for the celebration of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The season has its roots in the ancient Church as adults preparing to be baptized and received into the Church entered the season as a sort of 40-day retreat, following the example of Jesus himself as he fasted in the desert. It is marked by three spiritual practices in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as well as some Protestant Churches: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as encouraged by Jesus (Matthew 6). What was good for those newly entering the Church was then seen as supremely good for all members, newly baptized and those whose baptism may be a distant memory. Fasting from food, and perhaps even certain foods such as meat, forces our wills to submit our bodies to a higher good as we are reminded that God is the giver of all sustenance, and body and soul experienced greater union. Prayer unites our souls and spirits and raises them to the Heavenly Father. Almsgiving, giving of money or acts of charity to the less fortunate, unite us to one another. Instead of isolating us, Lent is really about uniting us: us to ourselves, to each other, and to God. It makes sense, too. Christ’s Resurrection is the salvation of humanity from sin and death. It is the re-creation of the entire universe through His obedient self-sacrifice on the Cross. It undoes the ‘Fall’ of creation. As we read in the Creation account, sin entered the world because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and because of their sin, the rest of humanity is born into original sin where we are separated from the God who lovingly created us. The serpent lied when he said they would not die. Certainly physical death was not immediate, but death is more than physical (the separation of body and soul) – it is any separation. Man and woman were no longer comfortable in their own bodies, but were ashamed of their nakedness. Man and woman blamed each other and the serpent for their moral failures. They desired to hide from God. These Lenten practices seek to undo them. While it is through the sacrament of Baptism that we put to death this original sin, we still deal with its effects. The Lord desires to give us the grace to live united. Lent is about seeking greater union with Holy Trinity of the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to live in such a way that we bring unity to the world that has been divided by sin and death. May we live this Lent well, and come to greater union with Christ, one another, and even our own selves this Easter.

All are called by God to love Him.

All are called to serve Him.

Some are called to special lives of service,

to give witness to God's love through being a priest, religious brother, or sister.

Is He calling you?