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Many of us who grew up in the Catholic faith were told that confession is good for the soul. However, as children preparing for the Sacrament of Confession, most of us were rather anxious about entering the darkened confessional booth and sharing our deepest, darkest secrets with the parish priest.
Once we entered the confessional, despite being nervous about using the correct liturgical wording and format, we quickly discovered that it was fairly simple and straightforward, and we wondered why we had been so fearful. Nevertheless, we were in no hurry to return to the confessional booth.
As Catholics, we are only obligated to confess our mortal (serious) sins to a priest once a year. Mortal sin kills our supernatural soul and severs our relationship with God. Although the number of Catholics partaking of the sacrament has steadily decreased over the past four to five decades, there has been a recent trend among Catholics to confess more frequently in order to sacramentally receive God’s sanctifying grace and thus deepen our intimate relationship with God.
Unfortunately, there has been great misunderstanding about the Sacrament of Reconciliation (the name to which it is most often referred) which has kept many Catholics from receiving this vital sacrament. Most of the confusion stems from the erroneous belief that Catholics are confessing their sins to a man (the priest). But, the priest acts in Persona Christi, that is in the person of Christ. So we are confessing our sins to Christ. In addition, during the past several decades people have developed a decreased sense of sin. Rather than acknowledging and admitting to sin people rationalize and deny sin. Not only does rationalizing mitigate and eliminate the perception of sin, but it often leads to more serious sin.
In Matthew 9:6 (NABRe), Jesus says of himself, “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus exercises His authority when He says to the paralyzed man, “your sins are forgiven.” This passage concludes by informing us that the crowds were awestruck and they glorified God, “who had given such authority to human beings.” Jesus was given the authority to forgive sins by His Father.
On the night of the resurrection, Christ appeared to the disciples and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23, NABRe). As we can see in this passage, Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the Church.
After the resurrection, Jesus knew that He would no longer remain with the Church in human form as He would be ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father; therefore, Christ conferred the power to forgive sins to His disciples in order for the Church (which would be the continuation of His presence until the end of time) to offer forgiveness to generations in the future. According to Archbishop Fulton Sheen in “Life of Christ,” “Just as Jesus’ own human nature was the instrument in His divinity in purchasing forgiveness, God would forgive sins through men, who were the appointed ministers of His forgiveness.” Therefore, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation has been acquired by the price of Christ’s blood.
Sin not only disrupts our relationship with God, but it damages our relationship with others in the community (the Church). Despite being cleansed of original sin through baptism, Christ knew that human beings by nature were imperfect and would continue to sin. Christ’s plan for rectifying this was to establish a sacramental mechanism for man to repair his relationship with God and with his fellow man (the Church) for sins committed after baptism.
In seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness, we sacramentally receive God’s mercy and grace. Grace is a gift of the Spirit that sanctifies us and justifies us. According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (“CCC”), “grace is participation in the life of God” and it “introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life.” When we partake in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we obtain the following benefits:
1. Through the examination of conscience, we are forced to recognize our shortcomings and faults. By confessing our sins aloud, we overcome pride. We are thus reminded that we are imperfect beings who need to rely on God in order to overcome our sins and to grow spiritually.
2. When we are forgiven, our guilt is erased and the heavy burden of sin is lifted from our shoulders. We are pardoned from eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins. In addition, we are remitted, in part, from temporal punishment for venial sins. Through the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation with God and the Church, our peace of mind is restored and we experience spiritual consolation.
3. Jesus’ call to conversion is made sacramentally present in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We regain our baptismal grace and heal our wounded ecclesial communion. This permits us to become more holy, more saintly, and more conformed to the image of Christ. Through sacramentally receiving Gods’ mercy, we are encouraged to be merciful to others.
4. With our conscience purified, we receive the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel, which enlightens us to resist temptation and evil and to make the right moral choices. When our self-control is tempered, we are more determined to follow God’s Will. This reinforces us spiritually for living the Christian life.
5. By placing ourselves before God and asking for His mercy, we are preparing ourselves for the particular judgment at the conclusion of our lives. According to the “CCC,” it is only through choosing conversion that we may be granted entrance into the Kingdom of God. Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the proper avenue for the forgiveness of sins and to reconcile us with God. Since we were created by God and for God, He wants to have an intimate friendship with us. When we understand that the Sacrament of Reconciliation restores us to God’s grace and full communion with Him, we should fully embrace the free gift that our loving God has bestowed upon us in this sacrament.
Una Marie Catania
is a military veteran and retired registered nurse who now enjoys freelance writing, nature photography, and caring for wildlife. Her main interests include Catholic apologetics, scriptural warfare, and promoting ecumenism with those of other faiths. Catania loves reading and studying scripture. She lives in New Port Richey, Florida.
‘I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel, who even at night directs my heart.’ —Psalms 16:7 For decades I have called myself a morning person, an early bird. I am drawn to the light for so many reasons. It reveals truth with such clarity. It renews hope. It warms the soul. On the contrary, darkness veils the earth and thus my life. I do not like having anything concealed. I cannot trust the darkness, because I cannot see clearly what is before or behind me. The murkiness of the night sky frightens me, because daylight does not muddle what is and is not real or true or good. So my heart, like my aching body, was recently jostled awake once our newborn made her debut into the world. All at once, I was thrust back into chaos with her erratic need to sleep and eat. It did not coincide with mine, of course. The party did not usually begin for her until nightfall, just as I was peacefully drifting into sleep. Agitated, I got up with her night after night, wishing for eight consecutive hours of sleep but knowing it would not arrive for months. I needed those eight hours so that I could tackle life and whatever surprises lay in store on a daily basis. Over time, I found myself loathing the darkness, willing it away. I dreaded dusk, because I knew sleep would be elusive, albeit temporarily. Then something unexpected, something graced, happened. The night feedings gave way to prayer, for me to bask in the rare silence that night afforded me; when everyone else slumbered, I had a sacred space for God. So I entered that solitude hazily at first, then hungrily. It was the only time each day I could cry out my frustrations to Jesus and then be still in His soft, gentle presence. After a while, the night became my day. I had forgotten the hidden beauty of darkness and how often holiness disguises itself from the naked eye. Night, darkness, reminds me that God longs for us to pursue Him as He pursues us—relentlessly, desperately, endlessly. Love—authentic, deep, abiding love—cannot be easily found. It must be sought, protected and fought for. It must be worth giving up our preference for security and assurance. It must be worth us changing, conforming to the One who waits for us in the stillness and silence that night provides. I may be clothed in darkness in this stage of life, but I anticipate the dawn. Life cycles through moments of concealment to revelation and back again. Whether we operate as early birds or night owls, God meets us and transforms us when all of our time—days and nights— becomes offerings of love for Him.
Know that the Lord is God! It is He that made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3). In many ways, this short verse sums up my—and every—vocation story. Whenever I consider how it is that I wound up entering the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful mother, the answer is always the same: God made me for Himself and He has spent my whole life drawing me back to Him. Looking back at my life, I see His design traced through the whole of it. When I first began to see this, I asked the Lord what I could possibly do to show my gratitude and He asked me if I would be set apart just for Him. That is the abridged edition anyway—God’s call on my life has not always seemed so straightforward. Raised Lutheran, my parents taught me about Jesus when I was young. I inherited from them a great love for the faith and for Christ, as well as a desire to do His will in my life. When I was fourteen, I followed my mom and brother into the Catholic Church, but shortly after that point I plunged into academic work and my relationship with God cooled as I stopped making time for prayer. In my sophomore year of college, a friend’s chance remark sparked a turnaround in my life. I had been running regularly with a classmate who would sometimes say she did not have time to run because she had to pray. I thought that was a terrible excuse. She said to me, “Emily, when you start making a daily holy hour, then you can tell me that there is always time for prayer and running.” That suggestion shocked me. Nobody I had ever known prayed for an hour a day, so I decided to take her up on the offer. I spent an hour a day with Christ. I would read Scripture, tell Him about my life, sit in the silence and whisper to Him my deepest needs. In that time, God graciously restored me to the first love of my childhood. By the end of that year, I stopped focusing so much on what I wanted to do with my life and started seriously asking God what He might want me to do. I began to desire what He desired as He began to reveal His great love for me—a love far greater, stronger and wiser than the love I had for myself. In this way, God primed my heart for His first prompting toward religious life, which came through a study group about Saint Catherine of Siena, run by the inimitable Sister Mary Michael, O.P. Through Sister’s witness and our study of Saint Catherine, Christ began to heal some of my wounds of cynicism and distrust. At the same time, I found myself drawn to Sister’s life—she was so free to be Christ’s at every moment. I worked up the courage to ask her what one might do if one was interested in visiting her community (The Nashville Dominicans), to which she responded (to my shock) by giving me the cell phone number of her vocations director! My week in Nashville was filled with beauty. I was totally swept off my feet by the whole experience, but something held me back from giving any solid commitment to that place. I returned home intoxicated by the beauty of their life and the Church that facilitated it and wondering what the heck I was supposed to do! The summer following that week was one of the most painful times in my life. It was my first experience of the desert —of isolation and aloneness. I was struggling on a personal level, prayer was dry and I was not totally sure that Christ really desired me to be His. I felt inadequate and unworthy—I am vain, proud, harsh and blunt; certainly there are better candidates out there! I struggled. At the halfway point of the summer, I got to go see some friends for the weekend. As I drove home, all of my frustration with the way things were going came to a head. I was just so tired—tired of feeling alone in my struggle, tired of being unsure about what Christ wanted for me—so I told Jesus all my hurts. When I was through, I said, “Look, Lord, I cannot do this anymore. I am done with discerning, done with this whole lifestyle … unless you make it clear that you want me to continue. I need some sort of encouragement.” The encouragement came. The next day at mass the reading was from Hosea: “So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart …” The priest spoke in his homily about how God brings us into the desert to show us that He was the source of all the earthly joys we had experienced, to draw us into His heart. He ended by saying, “all you have to do is say, ‘Lord, I know how much you love me. Here, take my life.'” I feel that homily was Christ’s proposal to me. Since then, I have tried to be “espoused to Him forever: espoused in justice, in love and in mercy and in fidelity,” as Hosea says. There was still the question of what that meant, when that meant and where that meant. While at Nashville, I remember the vocations director asking me if I was planning on visiting other orders, and I mentioned the T.O.R.’s reflexively, though I had not actually thought about visiting them before. I decided to try their vocations retreat. I first met with Sister Thérèse Marie, the vocations director. I had the weirdest feeling going to the monastery—like I was going somewhere I knew. I was very excited for the retreat. When the day finally came, I knew that things would be different in my heart from then on. everything about the sisters’ life resonated with me. It was strange because I never expected that. I expected that the sisters would be somewhat alien to me. After all, I was an intellectual, a cynic, a scholar. yet, being with the sisters was like surfacing after being under water for too long. It was like coming home after an exhausting trip. It was like breaking fast with a warm meal. I drank in the whole ethos of the place. Then I had to leave. I spent that semester getting to know the sisters. I went to another Lord’s day and another, to a “mailing party” and to a dinner and recreation—and I could not get enough. I was deeply happy in the rest of my life, but I would have spent every weekend at the convent if I could have. After my plans to go on a “come and see” over Christmas break fell through, Sister Thérèse Marie lent me a copy of the Constitutions of the community. I read it nearly short of breath with excitement; it was like reading my own heart. Many things were written into the Constitutions that had become a part of my life in the past year or two that I had never guessed were also part of the T.O.R. way of life! My first come and see fell on a snow day. This would have been fine, except the roads were closed and my visit was postponed six hours or so. I thought those six hours were going to kill me, I was so antsy! Finally, I took to the roads and went out to Toronto. Driving out to Our Lady of Sorrows was, against all odds, like going home, and I still have that feeling every time I drive up our road. Working, praying, playing and just being with the sisters was freeing and enlivening. I felt like the time I spent in the convent made me more myself. I remember realizing that I did not feel like a guest and experiencing a profound peace that has not left me. By the end of that visit, I was certain I wanted to apply to the community, that Our Lady of Sorrows was made for me, to be my home. Actually, I did not want to leave and now I do not have to! I entered candidacy on August 21, 2010. Please pray for me as I continue my walk with Christ and Our Lady. Peace and all good! Remember, the Lord will never be outdone in generosity!
Satan is the father of lies, clever yet deceitful, hating God and all God loves. He leads the charge in the spiritual battle that exists for our souls, opposing God at every turn and trying to turn us against Him. yet, God has given us a glimpse of Satan’s playbook in the first three chapters of Genesis so we can better know our enemy and recognize some of the ways he has continued attacking humanity since the beginning. The Sacredness of Creation and dignity of man In the beginning, God created all things good. God blessed the living creatures (Genesis 1:22) as well as man (1:28), revealing the sacredness of all life. To man, God gave dominion over the living things (1:26f), demonstrating the hierarchy of life. man was also a unique creation in the material world as he was made in the image and likeness of God (1:26), being given the gifts of reason and free will. God breathed His own life into man (2:7), further elevating the dignity of the human person and bestowing into man His own divine life. Man and Woman—For marriage and Family In the creation narrative, the only time God says something “is not good” was when man was alone. God revealed man was created to be a social creature but the relationship with animals was not adequate. The relief for man’s solitude was another human and particularly a woman (Genesis 2:18f). To be in a relationship with this woman, man had to be willing to give up everything for her, even giving his own life in loving protection. With His consent, God formed woman from the side of man—not from his head to be superior to him, nor from his feet to be subjugated to him (2:21-24). They then formed an indissoluble covenant with each other (becoming one flesh). This relationship was not one of pride, selfishness, egotism, possession or subjection. It was to revolve around love, not lust (2:25). Made for Communion with God In the Garden, God walked with Adam and Eve (3:8), revealing a harmonious friendship. This relationship with God was what man was ultimately made for, but God wanted this communion to continue for all eternity. For man to fulfill his purpose, he only needed to respond to God’s love with love. Wanting to illuminate the path for man to achieve this, God gave man a few laws, not acting as a dictator but as a loving Father (2:18). These commands were: ◗ Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it (1:28). ◗ Man was to guard and labor in the Garden of Eden (2:15). ◗ They were given access to everything in the Garden of eden with one exception; they were not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil or else they would die (2:16-17; 3:2-3). Losing Trust and the Slippery Slope of Sin Genesis then shows how Satan cleverly and deceptively entered into the life of this first man and woman (3:1), hoping to lead them to doubt God and His loving plan (3:5). In their interaction, the devil immediately distorts God’s truths (3:1), implying God is a liar (3:4-5). Satan insinuated God was restricting their access to goodness, pleasure, power, wisdom and the fullness of life (3:4-6). Satan distorts the nature of God and the truth of who God created man to be. Satan wants them to revolt so he tries to convince Adam and eve that God is a despot. Satan prods the pride, selfishness, greed and envy within man, telling them there is something they deserve to have (to be like God) that God is withholding from them (3:5). Satan also demonstrates that part of his plan of attack is to destroy their relationship with each other. First, he humiliates Adam by the sheer fact of his presence in the garden because this indicates a failure in Adam to lay down his life in loving protection of eve. Then, even though both Adam and eve are present in the garden, the serpent isolates them by speaking only to eve (3:1). Satan also tries to manipulate Adam and eve by convincing them there are no negative consequences to their actions. The sly serpent tells them, despite God’s warning, if they eat of the forbidden tree, “you will not die.” No, rather “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:4). Satan, having rejected God, personally knows with certitude what happens when you turn away from God, yet this truth must remain hidden in order achieve his goal. Instead, he veils his lies with the appearance of compassion and concern giving the illusions: God lies. There is no truth. Satan, not God, has the means to our happiness. Adam and Eve freely succumb to the temptations of the devil. But the impact of Satan’s war does not stop with this act. Immediately after they sin, their guilt causes them to hide from God or, as in the Hebrew chaba, to withdraw from God (3:10). Rather than repent, they refuse to accept responsibility for their disobedience, merely blaming one another (3:12-13). Finally, prior to the fall, Adam and eve did not bear children as God had commanded so this encounter with Satan impacts all their descendants—though not inheriting the guilt of the first sin, all humanity will experience the consequences. Deceptive Snares Then and Now Our first parents fell into Satan’s traps but we continue to hear echoes of these same deceptions in our lives today. Just as Satan distorted truth about God from the beginning, lies and deception continue: ◗ “There is no God. We are here by chance.” ◗ “Religion consoles and comforts people but it is not based on truth.” ◗ “Even if there is a God, He cannot be good and loving since there is so much suffering and evil.” ◗ “I believe in God but He has done nothing for me so why should I listen to Him?” Just as in the Garden Satan attacked who it was God created man to be and the dignity of human life, this is still under attack everywhere: ◗ “Humanity is depraved, wretched, unredeemable.” ◗ “Dog, cow, man, we are all the same. A creature’s level of consciousness or his usefulness to society determines its value; therefore, pigs and chickens are more valuable than a human fetus or newborn.” ◗ “Pregnancy is an inconvenience, a burden, a mistake.” ◗ The fetus is simply a clump of cells.” ◗ “A woman has a right to do what she wants with her body since the child in the womb has no rights of its own.” ◗ “A person should have the right to end his or her life if he or she feels his or her situation is too burdensome.” ◗ “Once a person is merely a burden on society, we have the right to end that person’s life.” As with Adam and eve, the reality that it is God who is the source of our goodness and happiness has been rejected in favor of a counterfeit idea that we are to take what we desire and find happiness apart from God: ◗ “Seize the day. Do what makes you happy.” ◗ “What is true for me may not be true for you but let’s live and let live.” ◗ “If you hold to universal moral truths, declaring what is right and wrong for all, you are an intolerant bigot.” ◗ “Don’t impose your views on me.” ◗ “God’s moral laws are examples of imposed tyranny, you do not need to succumb to this.” ◗ “You do not need God or any church to do be happy.” We hear a constant attack on marriage with propaganda denying the complementarity of the sexes: ◗ “If you marry, divorce is always an option if it does not work out.” ◗ “Why get married at all when I can enjoy the benefits without the commitment?” ◗ “It is about me and my body. Why not explore the different options? There should be no limits on satisfying my needs.” ◗ “There is no such thing as complementarity of the sexes—it is just whatever feels right in my marital relationships.” ◗ “There is no such thing as being born male and female, you get to decide for yourself.” Since the beginning, Satan has been promoting a denial of the reality of sin. As we see in the Garden, this often leads to a refusal to repent: ◗ “Sin is when I go against my own personal values. You cannot decide for me what is and is not sin.” ◗ “You are an intolerant bigot for even suggesting what I did was wrong since it is only wrong in your eyes.” ◗ “A loving God would want me to be happy. He would not condemn me for living however I see fit to achieve this.” ◗ “God is a loving Father. I cannot imagine He created a place like hell but, if He did, my merciful Father would not send me there.” ◗ “That wasn’t my fault.” Knowing our Enemy We see the fingerprint of Satan throughout history and all around us today. He is powerful and cunning, always trying to convince us to doubt and lose trust in God like with our first parents. Father Vincent miceli, in his book “The Antichrist,” writes, “The intention of Satan is to make a physical and spiritual wreckage of all God’s creation.” We must be aware that Satan always mocks God, breathes contempt on anything sacred and ridicules all God has revealed. The father of lies wants us to believe he will lead us to true happiness more than any teachings of Christ. Father Miceli describes how Satan, with the help of men and his demons, has “succeeded in contradicting scripture, denying dogma, popularizing immorality.” He will try to deceive us in subtle ways, hoping to lead us further and further away from God, so we can never become presumptuous or let down our guard. Wanting to help us take care to not fall into Satan’s snares, God has given us many warnings and insights into Satan’s playbook, with one example being in these first three chapters of Genesis. As we become more aware of our enemy, we then must heed the words of Saint Pope Leo the Great, in his Sermon 39 on Lent (III): … let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents. But ‘stronger is He that is in us than he that is against us’ (1 John 4:4), and through Him are we powerful in whose strength we rely: because it was for this that the Lord allowed Himself to be tempted by the tempter, that we might be taught by His example as well as fortified by His aid … He fought then, therefore, that we too might fight thereafter: He conquered that we too might likewise conquer. For there are no works of power, dearly-beloved, without the trials of temptations, there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict. This life of ours is in the midst of snares, in the midst of battles; if we do not wish to be deceived, we must watch: if we want to overcome, we must fight.
“Pray for a miracle and it will happen.” Throughout my life I have heard that phrase many times. To be honest, I have been skeptical. In the past when the mention of a miracle pops up, I normally smile back at the other person in neither belief nor disbelief, but usually with a bit of indifference. My problem is that I am too practical. This practical gene that flows throughout my body has definitely benefited me many times during my life, but when it comes to my faith, it has not exactly been helpful. I have issues with the word “miracle.” At times the mere mention of the word has even made me wince a bit. Sorry, but it is true. The word just seems, well, too easy. Recently, when my mom had a severe stroke the word “miracle” was uttered to me a lot. When I informed those closest to me of my mother’s stroke, I felt that many people brushed over the seriousness of her condition with what seemed like an easy request for a miracle. “Alan, pray for a miracle and she will be healed.” Do not get me wrong, I also wanted a miracle to happen. I prayed, I begged and I pleaded for a miracle. Many of the people I spoke with seemed convinced that I would witness a wonderful miracle take place before my very eyes. A miracle that would not only heal my mother, but help me to be stronger, perhaps even help me to trust and love God more. So, I prayed for that miracle. For months. Every day. And that miracle, well, it never came. Not only was my mother not healed, but also in the subsequent months since her stroke, her condition became worse. Somewhere along the way my belief in miracles felt shattered. I started to feel unworthy of a miracle. Perhaps I did not pray hard enough. Perhaps I did not have enough faith. Perhaps I did not believe enough. And after a while, realizing that this miracle was never going to come, my prayers for my mother’s healing changed. My prayers became less about her recovery. My prayers acknowledged the inevitable and became more focused on her soul and less about her health. Prayers that focused on her eternity. I also prayed that my mother’s past cynicism toward religion and her anger for a past that did not turn out the way she had hoped would shift and turn to a focus and love for God. That was the hope for my mother that I began to cling to. Since the stroke, it was very hard to understand my mother's speech. In fact, I normally comprehended about twenty percent or less of all that she said. But, some time after, my mother began to talk about some specific things and, to my surprise, I was able to understand her. She began to speak of her past regrets. She began to speak about forgiveness. She began asking me questions about God. She began asking me questions about my Catholic faith. These were never topics of discussion with my mother in the past. It turns out that the miracle I was looking for was not her recovery. On May 2, 2017, my mother, Margaret Rose Himmelright, was received into the Catholic Church. Even though she could barely speak, was unable to read or write, and was often very confused, for this she was lucid, clear, and very accepting. My mother's faith and her soul are the miracle. I have prayed for many years for my mother to grow closer to God. I was often left feeling like it would never happen. For her to want to know and love God more— even in the midst of pain and suffering—is nothing short of a miracle. Perhaps not the miracle everyone had in mind though, including myself. I now know there are different kinds of miracles. Miracles that present themselves in unforeseen ways. We just have to be able to recognize them through the disappointment of not receiving the miracle for which we had originally hoped and prayed. I had to free myself of the false notion that miracles only come in magnificent gestures of divine intervention. In reality, sometimes miracles dwell even where there resides grief and sadness. Do I believe in miracles? Yes, I do. Just not the way I did before.
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