Saturday, February 20, 2016

On Confession, by Fr.Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, OCD

This is the best thing I have ever read about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. By Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, OCD, in Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year

"Penance is the sacrament of Christ's Precious Blood in which God -- according to the eloquent words of St. Catherine of Siena -- "has bathed us in order to cleanse the face of our souls from the leprosy of sin." If mortal sin only is the necessary matter of this sacrament, venial sin is sufficient matter, since all Catholic tradition insists on frequent confession, even when one has only venial sins to confess. However, those who confess weekly must take great care lest their confessions become a mere routine, instead of the really vital acts which would enable these souls to profit fully from all the graces offered by the sacrament.

" 'Do not despise the Blood of Christ!' exclaims St. Cather of Siena. Certainly anyone who appreciates it will not approach the sacrament of penance lightly. To this end it is useful to recall that absolution is truly the pouring forth of the Precious Blood which, inundating and penetrating the soul, purifies it from sin, and restores sanctifying grace if it has been lost, or increases this gift if it is already present in the soul. The remission of sin and the imparting of grace are the fruits of the action of Jesus, expressed by the formula the priest pronounces in His Name: 'I absolve thee.' At that moment it is Jesus who is acting in the soul, either by remitting sin or by producing or increasing grace. It is well to remember that the efficacy of the absolution is not limited merely to sins that have already been committed, but that it even extends into the future. By means of the particular sacramental grace, the soul is strengthened beforehand against relapses and it is offered the fortitude to resist temptations and to carry out its good resolutions. The Blood of Christ is, in this sense, not only a remedy for the past, but also a preservative and a strengthening help for the future. The soul which plunges into it, as into a healthful bath, draws from it new vigor and sees the strength of its passions extinguished little by little. We see then the importance of frequent confession for a soul desirous of union with God, a sould which must necessarily aspire to total purification.

"When the soul in the tribunal of penance has only venial sins to confess, it is not necessary that it preoccupy itself with confessing all of them, either as to their number or their kind. This completeness is necessary only when there is a question of mortal sin. In other cases, however, it is much more profitable to fix the attention on deliberate faults first, then on those which are semi-deliberate -- even if they are only simple imperfections -- telling not only the faults themselves but also the motives behind them. Although this method is not required for the validity of the confession, it is certain that the soul will draw much profit from it since the accusation will have exposed the root of the evil. The soul will benefit too by its act of humility, which will be a stimulus to deeper repentance and will arouse in it a more ardent desire to amend its life, for this is the logical result of considering the motives -- usually not noble ones! -- from which our faults arise. Furthermore, an accusation of this kind helps the confessor to have a better knowledge of the penitent's weak points, and to suggest the most suitable remedies, a matter of special importance when direction is given with confession.

"In addition to its accusation, the soul must also occupy itself with sorrow for its sins because they offend God, who is infinite Goodness. This should be a sorrow ex amore, springing from love, the repentance of the child who is more disconsolate over the displeasure given to a father who loves it so much and to whom it should return love for love, than over the thought of its guilt and the punishment it deserves. For the validity of the sacrament, sorrow is necessary; if it is lacking, the absolution will be null. However, the more perfect the contrition, the more effectively will the absolution erase not only the sin but also the temporal punishment which it has incurred. The Blood of Jesus will purify, renew, and enrich the heart of the penitent with fortitude, charity, and grace, in the measure of his contrition.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Time to Stop Being a Baby

I don't generally make big penitential plans for myself during Lent. It seems the Lord likes to introduce His own program for me, and for my part I try to enter that. Right now it seems a big theme is to examine why I interact with people the way I do. This post is not a report; it is a dive. I'm going to dive into it and see where I end up.

Recently I heard a news report about the rising percentage of kids who show up in college and have significant difficulty dealing with stresses. Everything just seems to be "too much" and they don't have the coping skills to handle things and they come unglued.

Since my son has entered high school, I have thought to myself repeatedly how stress and anxiety became my motivators. When I didn't understand Algebra-Trig, it actually kept me awake at night with worry. I remember getting tears in my eyes with anxiety over my first physics test. It was enough to energize me to struggle and try hard, and it also taught me the joy of doing classwork that came easy to me and allowed me to express myself, like literature and writing. Anxiety would push me over the hump of Impossible to at least fall on my face on the other side.

Academic work was not the origin of my anxiety. I was a good student and for the most part got good grades without putting in much effort (which is a seperate problem). My anxiety was more a response to my sense that my world had gotten ripped to shreds through my parents' divorce and the alcoholism and mental illness in my family. Talking these things through was not yet fashionable when I was young, so in a terrible anti-Marian sense I kept all these sadnesses and pondered them in my heart. And I quickly learned that one of the less destructive ways I could deal with anxiety was to go about trying to solve all the problems I saw, especially the ones that weren't mine. I would take on more and more responsibility for things as a way of keeping chaos at bay.

This made me popular with employers, because when I finished my work, I would go looking for other unfinished work to help with. I would use spare time brainstorming contributions to others' projects. As a child, I would clean the house instead of worrying that the visitor my mom was expecting would have to see it as it was. When I wasn't sure she would be home on time to take me to my school concert, I would throw myself into a flurry of activity to make the time go faster.

(The interesting thing is that even though doctors pointed out to me that I was extremely tense and didn't seem to know what "relax this muscle" meant, it wasn't until I started cantoring for Masses that I realized I had any issues with anxiety. That's how natural it was to me.)

So, back to the kids in schools. Lots of them have Gen X parents. Lots of Gen Xers have stories like mine: lives ripped apart, coping skills often had to be on steroids. What is the natural expression of "love" in this environment? Here, let me do that for you. I'll take care of it.

Guilt says that kind of stuff. One feels at fault, so one tries to make amends -- for everything. And the offspring of such over-carers remain infantile, unable to cope with stressors.

Recently I found myself with a pain I didn't expect. I've been struggling with one of my kid's morning rising patterns, but have set a deadline by which time a goal has to be reached for a desired outcome to be possible for him. And to work towards it, I recently announced I would only issue at maximum one wake up call to him, and then if he was late to his classes, it would be on his head. My first day of working with this, I suddenly saw that even though I hate repeatedly nagging him, pledging to stop filled me with great anxiety. Somehow, my personal sense of safety and peace was shaken when I just left his responsibility to him and let him bear the weight of it.

But you know what? He did it. I had to sweat for awhile, but he hasn't been late yet. Oh, it's only been two days, but, you know...

Facing this in myself does not make me happy, that's for sure.

I've been thinking about all the references all over Paul's letters where he talks about Christians' need to grow up, to stop being mere babies, to go on to maturity. And for me, yeah, I'm down with that. I want to be super-Christian. Sure. But I realize that no one is ever super-Christian off in their own private world. Not even a hermit. By penance and by teaching and by interacting with people, Christians are to exhort others to grow up and stop being babies. And you know what? That provokes tantrums and hurt and accusations and bad feelings, and just a whole lot of loud complaints that growing up just is too much to ask. Provoking that is about as much fun as a room of noisy, crying toddlers. The good thing about toddlers is that you know in 20 years they'll be chronological adults. We have no such guarantee about Christians.

Love does not mean swallowing up all hurt so that other people can be indulged. I could swallow until I burst and it would never please or satisfy another person, and I'm left with an aching, hurting belly. Love means speaking the truth and letting Jesus fill both of us, even if it hurts both of us.

Well, I guess all that Scripture is the next thing I need to dive into.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple

 Photo from this blog

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God... (Luke 2:25-28)

When I pray the fourth joyful mystery, my mind gravitates towards Simeon. Scripture does not tell us that he was an old man, though he is generally depicted as such. We are told he had been waiting, at the Lord's promise, to see the Messiah.

My experience is that when the Lord personally quickens me to trust in a promise of something that is to happen in time, He does so to hollow me out. This stands to reason, because everything about our life in Christ is about being conformed to His death and resurrection, so that death may be at work in me and life in those God calls to whom God calls me to serve (2 Cor. 4:12).

I think of the perseverance Simeon exercised in waiting. Impatience boils over in us because waiting requires us to bow our control to the unknown factors of timing. You get up, you go through the day; your thing did not happen. You have another birthday, another anniversary; you remember your thing did not happen. You are called to faithfully, joyfully, undertake your daily duty despite the fact that your thing did not happen. This is perseverance.

But there is another aspect that comes into my meditation. Getting hollowed out means we are detached from our own desires, our own plans, our own sense of control. But this is not so that our souls fade into nothingness. No, Christianity does not beckon us into some kind of void. It prepares us for encounter. It frees us for union. It emboldens us for that moment of embrace.

Because one day, the waiting is over. Simeon has not become a placid zombie who just doesn't care anymore about his desires. He knows that the promise of the Holy Spirit will fulfill his life's desire totally. His desire has not been killed, it has been awakened, honed, sharpened, purified. On this normal day, Mary and Joseph enter the temple. They usher in the most profound miracle God has yet brought to earth: His only begotten Son, now in flesh appearing. And Simeon knows it.

He embraces the child. He sings to the Lord the song he was born to sing. He prophesies over Mary's future. He is now ready for dying and entering the next stage of union with God.

So don't let your perseverance lose its purpose. We don't persevere, nor do we exercise or pursue any virtue except love itself, for its own sake. They all find their end in union with Jesus.