Tag Archives: Confession

Repent

March 22, 2019

0 Comments

“Repent” (Mk 1:15). In the gospel of Mark, Jesus began his preaching with this expectation. It is a shocking opening line. Jesus does not begin with a polite greeting like “my dear friends,” nor does he begin with a blessing like “grace and peace to you,” nor does he begin with a compliment like “noble citizens and good people of this country.” He did not mince words. He was a straight shooter. He struck early with a dagger to the heart. He was brusque and abrasive.

RepentRepent. It was a bold declaration. Jesus was saying to every one of his listeners, “You are a sinner.” It is not the sort of thing that people like to hear. Every person is guilty of evildoing. No exceptions. Each person has freely chosen to disregard God’s commandments, offended God in multiple ways, inflicted harm upon others, been a source of conflict, caused unhappiness, disregarded the standards of right conduct, and done things that are hurtful to self.

Repent. It was more than a statement of fact. It was an order: “Stop it!” “Quit sinning!” Jesus did not make a request. It was a demand. It is obligatory, not optional. Jesus insists on change. Wrongdoing must stop, and it must end abruptly, without a moment’s delay.

If a person wishes to stop sinning, it is necessary to realize that sin is present. Big blatant sins are easy to recognize, but there are many times that we are blind to our sins, minimize them, or fail to consider certain wrongdoing sinful at all. At one time a small sin bothered our conscience, but over time the same sin has been repeated so many times, and it has grown larger bit by bit, and it bothers the conscience less and less, and after a while the sin is overlooked as no big deal. Other times we go easy on ourselves, trying to convince ourselves: “What I did is not so bad,” or “What I did is not nearly as bad as what someone else did.” Another common error is to think that only bad deeds are sinful, while in fact, the failure to do good can also be sinful, and a person’s interior mental world of thoughts, desires, and plans can be wicked and immoral, sinful in themselves, and springboard for sinful deeds.

Two elements of repentance are contrition, sorrow for one’s sins, and a firm purpose of amendment, the intention or resolve to no longer commit those sins. Again, this is not so easy. We might be sorry for the sins, but not disgusted or revolted by them. If fact, we may think, “These sins are part of who I am and what I do; there is something rewarding, fun, or exhilarating about them; and I will probably repeat them again sometime.” True repentance is not only to be sorry for the sin, but to hate the sin, to consider the sin absolutely objectionable, deplorable, and unthinkable, to detest the sin so much that the idea would be swiftly and firmly rejected and the wrongful deed no longer an option.

Continue reading...

The Five Names of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

December 7, 2018

0 Comments

Sacrament of ReconciliationConversion. Conversion is to switch from one thing to another. Jesus asks us to “Repent” (Mk 1:15), to make a metanoia, a change of heart and direction, a conscious choice to quit doing one thing and start or resume doing another. Conversion is the shift from sin to grace, evil to good, wrong to right, vice to virtue, deception to truth, darkness to light, the flesh to the spirit, indulgence to self-control, and from personal gratification to pleasing God. Conversion admits an evil deed and makes a firm commitment never to repeat it, or breaks a bad habit and replaces it with a pattern of good decisions and behaviors. It is common to say, “I am sorry for this sin,” and then commit the same sin over again, because the person prefers the sin. True conversion is not only to stop the sin, but to detest the sin, and consider it unthinkable now and in the future.

Penance. Penance is to make “satisfaction” for sins that have been committed. There is nothing “satisfying” about sin. In this context, penance is an expression of sorrow for sin, a sign of a change of heart, an attempt to make up for sin, to make right a wrong, or to repair the damage. Peter wrote, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4:8). So does almsgiving (see Tb 12:9; Sir 3:29b). The four penitential practices are prayer; fasting, self-denial, and sacrifices; almsgiving; and acts of love, charity, and service.

Reconciliation. Sin causes alienation. Trust is broken. Relationships are weakened, damaged, and sometimes shattered. Sin separates a person from God, who has been disappointed, offended, or angered; from other people, who have been harmed or misled; from the community of the Church, that has been let down, and if the sin were known, would be shocked, scandalized, upset, or saddened; and from one’s self, estranged from one’s authentic goodness, blemished, and diminished by self-inflicted wounds. Reconciliation is to reconnect what has been separated, reunite what has been apart, settle differences, heal wounds, and restore wholeness; it is to make amends, restitution, and reparation.

Confession. Confession is the disclosure of sin. We are prone to make excuses, dodge responsibility, and go easy on ourselves. Sometimes we are so mired in our sinful ruts that we become blind to our wrongdoing, grow callous and insensitive to our own sin, and fail to be honest with ourselves. The apostle John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 Jn 1:8). Honesty and humility are indispensable. Each of us has greatly sinned, in thought and in word, in what we have done and what we have failed to do. Once we realize our sins, it is necessary to take them to God through a priest, confess them, contritely acknowledge and name them out loud, and humbly ask for pardon.

Forgiveness. God forgives sins. God is “gracious and merciful … slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:13). Even though our sins are scarlet, God makes them white as snow (Is 1:18b); though they be crimson red, God makes them white as wool (Is 1:18c). God wipes away our offenses, and our sins he remembers no more (Is 43:25). It is by Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the Blood that he shed on the Cross, that the sins of the world are taken away (Jn 1:29). Jesus asked his apostles to mediate his forgiveness when he instructed them, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23). It is through the Holy Spirit that God absolves sins and grants pardon and peace. Forgiveness is an unmerited and undeserved grace granted by God out of his infinite love and mercy.

Continue reading...

A convert faces the confessional

July 6, 2015

0 Comments

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Most converts shrink from the idea of confessing their sins to a priest. Most Catholics, too, I suspect. Who doesn’t shrink from the confessional? A French philosopher once said it would do us all good to go about proclaiming our vices and weaknesses in the same loud voice we use to brag about our accomplishments and our virtues.

Well, here was my opportunity.

I was an odd convert. It was for confession that I had become a Catholic, among other attractions. I knew that the Protestant way was too easy. For me, at least, it was too easy to imagine a God who was not watching me too closely when I sinned or listening too closely when I asked for forgiveness. So, I had the double disadvantage of taking my sins more lightly than I should and not ever being quite sure I had been forgiven.

I was drawn to the idea of confession ever since I read the autobiography of the great psychologist Carl Jung, in which he admits that all he really did for people was to listen to them tell their story. When I thought about that, I realized that we have all experienced the power of someone else’s presence. Think of the times you were quietly depressed, all by yourself, and maybe not even really aware of how sad you were feeling until someone came over to you and asked you how you were doing, and you burst into tears. The presence of a sympathetic human being brings emotions to the surface, and in telling our story our inarticulate, half-understood thoughts and feelings become understandable to us because we are forced to utter them in words.

I knew that Jung was right and that the Catholic practice of confession must be keeping a lot of Catholics off psychiatrists’ couches. The Catholic way offered the sinner accountability, a palpable rite of forgiveness and the healing that comes of utterance.

When the time came for my first confession, I who had longed for the confessional found myself balking in terror. It wasn’t easy, at the age of 60, even to face a lifetime of one’s sins, let alone telling them aloud to a priest. With furious embarrassment I imagined holding up everyone else in line while I took forever to unburden myself, then emerging from the confessional, all eyes on this big sinner who took more than her share of time.

So it was with great relief that I learned I could make an appointment to see a priest in his office. I was more than willing to abandon my romantic image of myself as a mantilla-shrouded penitent kneeling in the cool anonymity of the confessional at dusk. The thought of that anonymity had been comforting, but in my mind, it hadn’t ever been sufficient. Disguise my voice? Go to a different parish to confess, where I am unknown? Best just to face the priest, look him in the eye, and face the humbling reality of my sinful nature.

So I found myself one afternoon sitting before a priest, Kleenex in hand, sobbing my way through my misspent life, while a pair of quiet, gentle, nonjudgmental eyes gazed at me in sympathy.

All of it? Am I truly forgiven for all of it?

There was someone in the room with me to say, yes — all of it. It’s God’s free gift. And, by the way, here’s your penance.

Penance! I had forgotten about that. And I learned about making amends, which would show God and my fellow creatures that I meant business, that I believed however falteringly in the possibility of Christ’s command to “go, and sin no more.”

It wasn’t long before I understood that for continuity I needed a single confessor. I needed someone who would come to know me, know my persistent failures, help me with my struggles, cluck sympathetically, “Yes, that again.” But most importantly, I confess (it becomes a habit), I couldn’t imagine broadcasting my sins among all of our priests. The idea of every resident priest knowing a portion of my depravity was more than I could bear. How this thought exposed and embarrassed my vanity!

I chose a confessor and came to meet with him for reconciliation every month or two. After the first few euphoric visits I began to feel discouraged. I heard myself confessing the same old sins over and over. What was the matter with me? Wasn’t I serious about reforming?

My confessor counseled patience and self-forgiveness. I thought he was being too easy on me. That was the whole thing about this Catholic God. He was too loving! He was a pushover for a penitent tear or two. But over the months, in wrestling with my resurgent demons, I gained insight. The battle lines were mostly drawn, and I was forced to recognize the true power of the old, ingrained habits I was struggling against. I took the measure of my enemy and it soon became apparent I needed to fight harder, and smarter.

It was also discouraging to discover I was more sinful than I thought. In preparation for reconciliation, I used various guides to the examination of conscience, and I discovered the looming reality of sins of omission. Here was a bottomless pit of potential sin. How ever could I do all the things love and conscience told me to do?

Yet, in a small way I began to do some of the things I was now aware I had been neglecting. Sometimes, truly, seeing is doing, and struggle is subverted. I learned that freedom from sin is not just a matter of avoiding doing wrong. It is also filling our lives with right actions.

There have been great benefits to my regular appointments with my dark side. Confession is the mark of my commitment to fearless self-searching, to conscious effort to become the person I want to be and to seeking spiritual guidance in this process of self-transformation.

And it works.

As in any struggle to change, it’s easy to feel I’m not getting anywhere until one day I notice that the view from my window is different, and it’s because I’m standing in a new place.

Each time I go to reconciliation, I am reminded that I have God’s unfailing forgiveness and support, the Church’s unfailing support, and the support of one wonderful holy person whose eyes are love. Once I even blurted out in the midst of my confession, “I can’t believe there’s a person whose job it is to do this — that alone is enough to make me believe in God!”

I have become more forgiving of myself because of confession. After all, I have a priest commanding me in the name of God to forgive myself! This is a sacrament of repeated forgiveness, of palpable, embodied forgiveness. I find myself again and again in the presence of this God who is just love, and whose love is truly unconditional. It makes me want to ease up on myself — and others, too.

I am returned again and again to my community. I am reminded that I am not alone in my troubles, and that my sins do not harm me alone, that reparations are in order, that I am important to the community and my good works are needed. I leave with a lightness of spirit, a feeling of having been released, filled with hope for the future and a sense of my place in the great and interconnected human brotherhood. (I also feel this way when I leave the dentist.)

I’m not much better at resisting sin, but temptation seems to come around less often, probably because I’m much better at throwing myself into the path of grace. As a convert, I am dazzled by the profusion of channels of grace in the Catholic Church. Channels and rivulets and cascades and waterfalls of grace! Of these, reconciliation is a wide river I drink from, an anchor point, a regular return to God embedded in my routine life, and it is one of the greatest gifts of the Catholic tradition. It is God inviting me to turn back toward him again and again, over and over, until one day I never turn my face away at all.

A few centuries again, when every self-respecting Protestant middle-class family had servants, it was well known among these families that if you wanted an honest, hard-working servant, you hired a Catholic.

And people knew why, too: Catholics had to face the confessional.

Virginia Chase Sanderson is a retired college instructor of literature and writing who lives in Minneapolis. The essay is based on a talk she gave at St. Stephen in Anoka.

 

Continue reading...

Stuck confessing the same sins over and over?

January 30, 2014

0 Comments

Better to ask for "the usual" here than in confession, where it's not such a good thing to come in with the same list of sins time after time. A good place to get "the usual." Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives.   Licensed under Creative Commons

Better to ask for “the usual” here than in confession, where it’s not such a good thing to come in with the same list of sins time after time. Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives. Licensed under Creative Commons

If a regular customer sits down in a diner and says “the usual”, an experienced waitress will bring their eggs exactly to order without any more questions.

I feel like if I said “the usual” to my confessor he’d know my list of sins as well as the diner waitress knows her regular customers’ orders. When I go to confession it sometimes seems a lot like the time before.

I commit the same sins over and over. It’s some consolation that I’m mostly not out inventing new sins but sometimes when I kneel in the confessional I don’t feel like I’m making much headway.

I guess what I should ask myself  is, do I really want to get these sins off my list and what am I doing to make that happen?

Conversion

What it takes is interior repentance, according to the Catechism. “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.

“At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). “(CCC 1431)

According to one priest, the way to overcome sin is to “look at the causes of it in ourselves, address them, and avoid what leads us into temptation.” He suggests making an examination of conscience at the end of the day to look at each sin in context, ask for God’s mercy and grace and make a resolution to avoid those sins the next day.

Another suggestion is to journal about it and then go back to find patterns that could lead to a trigger or circumstance causing the sin. That can give clues about how to deal with those circumstances to respond differently the next time.

Desire to overcome sin

We have trouble doing  what we know is right because the enemy convinces us to give up the desire in our hearts to be good. If we don’t have the energy to please God, we won’t try very hard.

The solution is to ask the Holy Spirit to heal us and give us back the desire to please God.  A good goal is to ask God to help us eliminate one sin each year.

It is harder to work at avoiding sin than it is to say “the usual”  in confession partly because we’re kind of comfortable with those sins. They’re always there unless we decide we want to get rid of them. But change happens, if we want it.

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew in me a steadfast spirit. 

Continue reading...

Is Confession valid if we don’t do the penance?

April 30, 2012

0 Comments

Forgetting to do your penance doesn't invalidate the confession but refusing to do it does. Photo/liquene. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Have you ever had to leave right after confession, intending to do your penance as soon as you could—but then you forgot? Or has a priest told you to do a charitable or self-sacrificial act for your penance instead of saying a prayer and because you couldn’t do it at that moment it slipped your mind? In both cases is the absolution valid?

The answer is, it depends.

As with many of the laws and norms governing the Christian life, your level of culpability depends on where your heart is. According to canon law, “the confessor is to impose salutary and suitable penances in accord with the quality and number of sins, taking into account the condition of the penitent. The penitent is obliged to fulfill these personally.” (Canon 981)

What makes a confession invalid

We’re obliged to do the penance, but what  if we accidentally don’t?  The conditions below make a confession invalid, according to a book co-authored by Cardinal Donald Wuerl:

  • No true sorrow for sins and lack of intention to avoid grave sin in the future,
  • Deliberately neglecting to confess all grave sins, or
  • Refusing to do an assigned penance.

So it seems that forgetting to do a penance doesn’t carry the same weight as willfully refusing to do it, and therefore doesn’t invalidate the absolution. But Father John Hardon points out that through centuries of Church teaching, the following have been required of those who receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation:

  • They must be truly sorry for their sins, at least out of fear of God’s punishments;
  • They must confess their grave sins, or (if there are no mortal sins) at least some venial sin(s) from their past life; and
  • They must perform the penance which the confessor gives them.

Importance of the penance

Receiving absolution isn’t the whole story, however. When it comes to making amends for our sins, the penance given in confession plays an important role.

The Catechism states: “Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’” (CCC 1459)

I’m not quite at the point where I’m tying strings around my fingers to remember things like Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life but I have forgotten to do a penance – or worse, done it half-heartedly. I guess in those cases it might be good to think about why we’re going to confession and who we’re apologizing to.

Continue reading...

Waiting in line for confession? What to do and not do

March 26, 2012

0 Comments

In line for confession at the Vatican or anywhere else, make the most of the wait time. Photo/rufty Licensed under Creative Commons

I plan on going to confession before Easter and I know I’m not alone. No matter how often Catholics receive the sacrament, many find this is an especially good time to seek forgiveness and healing in preparation for Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection.

I don’t know if there will be a long line at my church when I go but I’m guessing I’ll  have to wait. I don’t like it but it’s a great way to work on patience–a virtue that comes up often when I’m in the confessional.

If you’re like me and you sometimes do your formal preparation for confession during the car ride to church, waiting in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation offers the chance to slow down and really think about what I’m doing.

If you get to church and find a long confession line, maybe the first thing to ask is, do I really need to go right now? If you’re confessing venial rather than mortal sins, confessing them is a good idea but when many others in line may have more serious sins to confess, you can seek forgiveness during Mass, as Father Zuhlsdorf suggests in his blog.

Ways to prepare for confession while waiting

  • Pray: Ask God to help you make a good confession. Pray the rosary for His guidance. One friend prays that he can be honest and confess all the Lord wants him to, and also that he’ll be receptive to what God wants to reveal to him through the priest. Here are some pre-confession prayers.
  • Prepare: This site offers a good guide for making a confession and Catholics Come Home offers a number of resources.
  • Examine: If you’re not sure everything came to mind during your car examination, make a more thorough examination of conscience now. Check one of these sites while you’re waiting:
    Here’s one that offers both preparation for the sacrament and an examination of conscience.
    This one might be hard to read on a phone but I think it’s good.
    Father John Hardon offers an in-depth examination of conscience.
    This examination is also thorough.
  •  Reflect on your sins and seeking forgiveness. Read the bible. Some churches offer guides with prayers or reflections near the confessional. Orthodox priest Father Ted Bobosh offers a beautiful meditation on confession and the wisdom writings in the book of Sirach on his blog.

A  few things not to do in line

  • Talk:  This is not the time to get to know fellow parishioners. You disturb others who are praying and concentrating on receiving the sacrament.
  • Text, Surf or play games on your phone: Using your phone or iPad to pray or do an examination of conscience will help prepare you for the sacrament but texting or using other apps won’t. Try turning it off if you’re not using it for preparation.
  • Sing or pray out loud:  Find another place in the church for this if it helps you prepare.

The idea of going to confession makes some people anxious enough without adding a long wait in line. If we can see this wait time as a gift rather than an early penance we can go into the confessional the same way we leave it–with peace.

Continue reading...

“Do Not Be Afraid!”

March 25, 2012

3 Comments

March 25th marks the date of the Annunciation. It is the day that Gabriel proclaimed the good news to Mary that Christ would be born within her. This year – because the date lands on a Sunday – we are celebrating that feast on March 26th.

I don’t normally see this blog as a place for my personal stories but this day is special  – so bare with me.

It was on March 25th some nine years ago Christ was born within me too.

In 2003 my children were attending a Catholic school.  As part of the Lenten practice, they were offered the sacrament of reconciliation as part of their school day.  Though I was a cradle Catholic and my children attended Catholic School, I had not visited that sacrament since my Confirmation. For me that was when I was in 4th grade!  Prompted by what I now understand as the Holy Spirit, but at the time felt like the guilt of expecting my children to go to confession when I didn’t go myself – I made an appointment to visit the new priest at our church.  The objective of my appointment was to argue with him the teachings of the faith.  Filled with misconceptions and pride,  I descended on this poor priest as if I would be able to convince him to “set the church right.”  At that time I rarely went to Mass, never prayed and and I certainly didn’t know that the date of my appointment fell on the feast day of the Annunciation. I didn’t know what a feast day was and I would have had to look up the word “Annunciation” if I even knew how to spell it.

I would have then called myself a Pro- Choice Catholic! (Who knew that 6 years later I would be working on the Archbishop’s staff as the Respect Life Coordinator.)

What happened at that meeting changed my life.  As Father patiently waited out my arguments on contraception, abortion and the anti- woman establishment that I saw as the Catholic Church, he offered some education, but most of all he offered me compassion.  At one point I remember getting up to leave – I didn’t want to hear what he had to say.
Out of no where he said to me, “Sharon, what are you afraid of?” The words hit me like a ton of bricks.  I sat back down, cried for 5 minutes and entered into a confession – a real confession; a confession of my life, of all my fears and my pain.

When angels appear in the bible – it seems they always start out with the phrase “Do not be afraid. ” Our common idea of angels is  cute little cherubs or gentle looking young men with wings.  But angles – must be awesome – and I don’t mean in the way that we say pizza is awesome.  Fired by the Holy Spirit and carrying the message of God – they appear to us as something we ARE afraid of. Is it the wings of fire, glowing with bright light or with a voice that booms of an orchestra or organ?  What is it that we are afraid of?

Ultimately, I think we are afraid of the message that they bring; the message of knowing ourselves and of seeing ourselves as who we really are.  We are afraid because we cannot comprehend the idea that if anyone knew the real us – the us that only God knows – that we could really be loved in return.  We also are afraid of what God may ask of us if we accept that love and try to return it.

On the day that the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said “Do not be afraid” Mary carried Christ within her for nine months. She carried her love for Him through his death on the cross.

Was she afraid of what God might see in her heart?

Was she afraid of what saying yes to God might mean?
I don’t know, but her  “Fiat” meant that not only would she carry God within her womb, but that God would carry her and would always be with her.

I realize now just how unprepared  I am to carry God within me to anyone. I realize how unqualified I am to work for Life.  I realize how unworthy I am to even receive the Eucharist at Mass. But when I say ‘Yes” I don’t have to be afraid, because like Mary – God carries me too.

So this Lent, I ask – how long has it been since your last confession and “What are you afraid of?”

Continue reading...

Confession – Penance – Reconciliation: Call it what you will, it’s not that hard to go back

February 21, 2012

0 Comments

An examination of conscience made easy

You don’t rob banks. You haven’t killed anyone. You go to Mass weekly.

This Lent, try going to confession anyway. Or the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Or Penance if you’re an old fogy like me. No matter what you call it, you’ll be glad you got up the courage.

Let’s even make it easy — here’s a quick list of questions to ask ourselves — you remember, an “examination of conscience.” These are some good things to talk to the priest about. Think of them as places in your life’s journey you want to improve, and your conversation with the priest is inviting him to help you do that.

  • Have I made time for my relationship with God — for Mass and prayer?
  • Have I failed to forgive?
  • Have I shown others anger way out of proportion?
  • Have I been a gossip, spread rumors, been critical of others without really having all the facts?
  • Have I been jealous or envious of other people?
  • Have I been a bad influence on others, even an enabler of other’s sins or addictions?
  • Have I failed to use the talents God’s given me because I’ve been lazy?
  • Have I made excuses for my own addictions or over-indulgences?
  • Have I given in to temptations that I know are sinful?
  • Have I missed chances to use my gifts and talents to help others?
  • Have I failed to see Jesus in the eyes of others?

The grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation will do you good, and you’ll feel a weight lifted off your shoulders, even if the total of your sins don’t add up to much.

And need a daily tug on your sleeve? Click here to sign up to get one e-mailed every day during Lent.

 

Continue reading...

Sewing My Best

December 13, 2011

4 Comments

Photo/Sewing. Licensed under Creative Commons

I like to sew. When my children were little – I would sew them cute little outfits and took pride in how they looked. Even though I enjoy sewing – I would not call myself a seamstress. A good seamstress will make the inside of the garment as beautiful as the outside. The things I made looked good on the outside, but inside the seams were uneven, the stitches bumpy – there were flaws. Years ago I decided to enter an outfit I had made into the competition at the county fair. It was by far the best sewing job I had done.

The shorts set I made for my daughter had a cherry appliqué and rick rack trim. It was darling. When I brought it before the judges however, they turned it inside out and looked at all the flaws. It is funny how I felt embarrassed at that moment, having my mistakes being examined.

I started sewing again recently and came upon a similar experience and it got me wondering about how we like to only show our “best side” and how incredibly humbling it is to allow someone to see our mistakes. Even in the sacrament of confession, I find myself wanting to show only my “good” side. Some sins are easier to confess – or better yet I can easily delude myself into thinking that I look pretty good – from the outside. But if I were to examine closely the insides of my garment – I would see the flaws. Bumpy stitches, uneven seams and all.

Matthew 23:18 says it “Even so on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”

God already knows my flaws and if I don’t examine them– I will never learn to become a better seamstress.

Preparing for a thorough confession is humbling, humiliating in fact, and it takes courage. (Not unlike bringing my garment before the judge) But God responds with mercy, the Holy Spirit responds with love, Christ forgives us and guides us.

Advent is a perfect time to revisit this sacrament. Many parishes are offering additional times for hearing confessions.
If you haven’t been to this beautiful sacrament in a while or would like help preparing for confession check out Catholic.org – http://www.catholic.org/prayers/confession.php

I may never be a seamstress – but I am reminded that my ultimate goal is not to sew the perfect garment, but to grow in holiness.

Continue reading...

What are indulgences and why do we need them?

September 7, 2011

0 Comments

kids climbing

Indulgences give us the chance to receive a "hand up" from Christ and the saints as we seek remission of punishment for our sins. Photo by Jo Guldi. Licensed under Creative Commons.

What if the government worked out this solution to the personal debt crisis:  All Americans would contribute everything they made, beyond their personal needs, to a common treasury. The wealthy would put in their billions, and everyone else in lower tax brackets would put in what they had.

A trustworthy administrator with authority would give those who had maxed out their credit cards the opportunity to pay off their debts from the common pot if they showed remorse and determination to learn better financial habits. The treasury would always be full because of one super contributor and because others were constantly adding to it.

This may sound like a great socialist scheme but in reality, it’s an image that helps describe how indulgences work in the Church. By drawing on the merits of Christ and the saints, an indulgence enables us to obtain remission of the temporal punishment (which has a beginning and end, unlike eternal punishment) we incur when we sin.

When we confess our sins to a priest in confession, receive absolution and do the penance we’re given, our sins are forgiven. But just like sincere contrition alone wouldn’t fix a rear-ended car, forgiveness of sin alone doesn’t satisfy God’s justice, according to Church teaching.

All sin, including venial sin, involves unhealthy attachment to creatures, from which the sinner must be purified before entering heaven (CCC 1472). That purification of temporal punishment happens either on earth or in Purgatory.

Inexhaustible storehouse of merits

Typically combining works of piety, prayer and the sacraments, indulgences are granted by the Pope, who presides over the Church’s treasury of satisfaction: her inexhaustible  storehouse of the merits of Christ, the Blessed Mother and the saints.

Indulgences are not permission to commit sin, pardon of past sin or forgiveness of guilt. They suppose that sin is already forgiven. They’re not an exemption from any law or duty but a more complete payment of debt owned to God.  And above all, they’re not an attempt to purchase pardon in order to secure salvation or release a soul from Purgatory.

“He who gains indulgences is not thereby released outright from what he owes as penalty, but is provided with the means of paying it,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas.

Besides being in the state of grace, those who seek indulgences must do the works prescribed for the indulgence, love God, place their trust in Christ’s merits and believe strongly in the great assistance they receive from the Communion of Saints, Pope Paul VI wrote in his Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences.

There are two types of indulgences: A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven. To obtain it, a Catholic must do the work attached to the indulgence, go to confession, receive Holy Communion and pray for the Holy Father’s intentions (at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary).  A partial indulgence removes part of the punishment and requires that the act attached to the indulgence be performed contritely.

Facts about indulgences

  • A Catholic can obtain one plenary indulgence per day, but more than one when at the point of death.
  • It’s possible to gain more than one partial indulgence per day.
  • The faithful can obtain plenary indulgences quite easily at least twice a year, once for their church’s titular saint day and for Portiuncula (August 2), the first plenary  indulgence granted in the Church.
  • A plenary indulgence, applicable only for the dead, can be acquired on November 2.
  • See the Catholic Answers website for more information on how to obtain indulgences.

Knowing the great wealth Christ and the saints have deposited in our Church’s treasury of satisfaction–and how much we need it–we have good incentive to take the grace of indulgences seriously.

 

Continue reading...