The Sacrament of Confession actually works!

ImageI must admit, I am not a regular confession goer. I honestly forget most of the time, or I make excuses. “I’m too busy” “I don’t really need to go” “I’ll go next week” are often my go to phrases. When I teach about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I talk about how beautiful God’s grace is, how sinful we are, and how much we need to receive forgiveness from our Lord in the sacrament of penance. I always talk about how confession frees us from the bondage of sin, and restores us to communion with God.

I say all these things, but I don’t know if they really sunk in.

I make sure I go to confession at least one every few months, and sometimes if I feel guilt about a particular sin I will feel like I need confession. However, I always tell people ‘if you don’t go to confession often you will start to feel far from God’. I preached this, but I did not heed my own advice. So Senior year Fall semester is going by quickly, jam-packed with school, thesis writing, social events, and job applications. I never felt I did anything bad enough to accumulate enough guilt to make me feel like I had to go to confession. As time went on, I was feeling swallowed up by my life. I was overwhelmed by all the things I needed to keep up with, homework, exams, papers, household, work, relationships, rent, car insurance, life…. My prayer life was not at it’s peak, and I very suddenly realized what the problem was. I hadn’t been to confession in over 6 months.

This is how the Devil works. The devil is sneaky, he may not always come right out and smack you in the face with temptation. Sometimes he is slow and subtle. Without even alerting us to what is happening, he turns us away from God and toward much less important things. This effected the rest of my life. Everything was great, yes, nothing awful was happening, but I was feeling a little lost and very overwhelmed. It was like I was a magnet and everything in life was attaching itself to me, making me feel heavy and weighted down. This was causing me to be tense, and stressed.

Then I went to confession. It was like a switch turned off the magnetic field and allowed me to turn back toward the face of God and receive his amazing grace. All the little sins, the ones I tend to shove under the rug and forget about or justify, had built up and swallowed me down. The grace that God constantly pours out on me, without end, was being stopped by my preoccupation with my self and my life. It was the first time in my life that I realized just how strong the Sacrament of Reconciliation is. I truly felt reconciled with God.

I hadn’t even realized I was being separated from him. I didn’t hate him, or feel angry at him, but I was slowly getting far and far away. It was like he was my best friend, and as each day went by I forgot to call him back. With every missed call my relationship with him was getting weaker, but in my head I could still remember him as my best friend so I didn’t think it was that important.

Confession is so important. Being united with the God of the universe matters. This experience really solidified my love for the sacrament, and gave me a very real taste of the efficacy of grace. The sacraments really work, God truly pours out his grace through them to us!

If you want to learn more about my take on confession read this:

Confused about Confession

Are You Born Gay or do You Choose to be Gay?

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The Inspiration

I have been wanting to write on the topic of same-sex attraction for a while, but have been unable to find a way to do so. I was timid because I did not want to spark an internet debate, I only wanted to present my opinions and those of others. Then I attended a talk on Same-Sex Attraction given by David Prosen, a therapist who used to have same-sex attraction. That sparked my attention, and I now present to you my summary of his talk.

Identity Crisis

A person is not gay. A person is not a homosexual.  You cannot define a person by their sexuality, they are a human person created in the image an likeness of God. A person is a person. A person experiences same sex attraction, but same-sex attraction is not an identity.  However, this idea of homosexuality being an identity and a label is extremely prevalent in our culture.  This stems from the belief that people are born gay.

Are people born gay or do they choose to be gay?

The problem with this question is that it is most often asked as an either or. Either you are born gay, or you choose it. However, this questions needs to be separated into two distinct questions. Is a person born gay?  The answer is no. However, does a person choose to be gay? The answer, a lot of the time is also no.

Are people born gay?

So to tackle the first question, people are not born with same sex attraction. Boys are born boys and girls are born girls, and they are created for one another (boy for girl and girl for boy). There is no gay gene. Same-sex attraction is not inherited, it is not genetic. Just like there is no gene for a basketball player. However, there are genes that make a person more likely to choose to be a basketball player. Just as there are some genes which predispose a person to be tempted toward same-sex attraction. If you are a Christian, Scripture tells us it was man was not created for man, and woman was not created for woman. And if you are not a Christian, Science tells us that a man biologically isn’t created to fit with another man. There is absolutely no scientific proof that there is a gay gene.

Do people choose to be gay?

Does a person choose to be made fun of, to stick out, to be shunned? No. Some people may choose to be gay, but many people (I dare say most) could never recall a time when they actively chose to be attracted to the same sex. They have always felt this way, and they believe they have felt this way since birth. Despite the fact that their is no scientific evidence for a gay gene, there are many studies that prove that same-sex attraction can stem from many different events or occurrences in the way you grew up.

  • A weak masculine identity from lack of male acceptance.
  • A mother who is overly dependent, or is perceived as overly dependent.
  • A mother who is absent
  • A mother who is hurtful, or is perceived as hurtful
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Trouble making friends.
  • Poor body image
  • Unmet same-sex love need
  • Culture

Same-Sex Attraction is Normal

I want to address the last two items on the list above. Our culture is highly pro-choice. I am not talking in the realms of abortion alone, but what I mean is the idea that a human person can choose to do, act, and feel however he or she wants. Because of this our culture has become more and more tolerant and accepting of things that once were seen as sinful or shameful. Same-sex attraction is a normal healthy part of every person’s social experience. A man admires another man for his strength and his charm with women, and strives to be like him. A woman admires her friend because she is beautiful and talented. This admiration is a beautiful expression of appreciation for human relationships. However, when mixed with one of the above mentioned situations, a person may feel shame or self pity when admiring someone of the same sex. Sometimes this can lead from healthy admiration, to a sexualized feeling, especially during puberty when hormones are raging wild.  Here is where our culture comes into play. Instead of redirecting the misled feelings of sexual attraction to healthy admiration of member of the same sex. Our culture says, it’s okay to have same-sex attraction. Someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction is immediately reinforced by media, magazines, television shows, and especially psychologists that being ‘gay is okay’ and normal. When someone with unwanted same-sex attraction goes to a counselor, more often than not the therapist will tell them that they are coming out, and they need to accept it. The counselor will change the person’s values and beliefs in order to match the feelings of same-sex attraction. This is called gay-affirmative therapy and it is the norm for psychologists and therapists these days.  Well is there another option?

Gender-Affirmative Therapy

Unlike gay-affirmative therapy, gender-affirmative therapy doesn’t assume the person is coming out. They work with the person struggling with same sex attraction and guide them to explain their feelings in line with their values and beliefs. Gender affirmative therapy helps the person to develop nonerotic same-sex relationships, become more secure in their gender-identity, and enjoy heterosexual relationships. This may confuse people because due to our cultures misconception that you are born gay or you choose it, therefore there is no ‘cure’ for same-sex attraction.  However, this is wrong.

Is there a Cure?

Cure is a strong word, and I wouldn’t use it in this case. There is not a 100% sure fire way to ‘cure’ same-sex attraction. I don’t like that language, and instead I will use ‘redirect and heal’. There is healing to be found in therapy for same-sex attraction.  David Prosen struggled with poor body image his whole life, he had an absent father and he was constantly trying to get approval from other men. During puberty, this escalated and it turned into sexual feelings. David Prosen became a ‘homosexual’ and participated in same-sex relationships and behaviors. He didn’t want to be like this, and he didn’t choose it. But after a deep conversion in his life, he realized he wasn’t born this way either and he could change how he viewed men.  David Prosen has not completely eliminated his feelings of same-sex attraction, however they have greatly diminished. Not only that, but he now is attracted to women. In many studies done on gender-affirmative therapy, 30% of the people in therapy had completely eliminated same-sex attraction. Another 30% noticed a major reduction in the feelings of same-sex attraction.  (Bieber 1962; Clippinger 1974; Fine 1987; Kaye 1967; MacIntosh 1994; Marmor 1965; Nicolosi 1998; Rogers 1976; Satinover 1996). There IS proof that you can triumph over some same-sex attraction. Just like anything that anyone else struggles with, it does not define you as a person, it only hinders your ability to be the person you were created to be.

What about the 40% that can’t change? What about those who don’t want to change? Well this topic is large, and it is a very sensitive issue. I could write several more posts on the subject, and maybe someday I will. For now I will just simply keep it about the hope in the changes that people can make in their lives. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, I am simply summarizing a talk given by David Prosen. For more information:

http://www.catholictherapists.com/davidprosen/

http://theaquilareport.com/identical-twins-studies-prove-homosexuality-is-not-genetic/

http://www.islamawareness.net/Homosexuality/bornorbred.pdf

The Stalagmite of the Heart

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“Stalagmites are columns of limestone the form in some very old es when drops of limestone water fall from the ceiling. The drops are chiefly composed of water, which drains off, but a small percent of limestone in each drop is deposited and beings to form a mass with the preceding one. Over the course of centuries, a limestone column is formed.”

“My sins, from  the first to the last, had fallen into the bottom of my heart like so many drops of limestone water. The majority had been drained off, thanks to confession, Eucharist and prayer. But because the repentance had not been perfect, there remained a particle of ‘limestone’ each time – a bit of compromise, of resistance to God, of sin in short. This particle amassed with the preceding ones and, day by day, ended up creating a stalagmite. In an instant i understood then what the well-known heart of stone is that the Bible speaks about: It is the heart that we ourselves make, through small infractions of compromise and hardening of the heart.”

“How could i get free? I was immediately aware that I could not destroy the stalagmite by my will because it was precisely there – in my will. A new love was born in me for the blood of Christ then, because I understood that it is the only solvent that can remove the incrustation.”

Verses to Meditate On:

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Matthew 16:28

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9:14

This excerpt is from Sober Intoxication of the Spirit by Raniero Catalamessa, O.F.M. Cap.

Confused about Confession

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 The Problem 

    This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my family concerning sin. They asked me “If someone went to confession and immediately died, would they go straight to heaven?” I told them no, you would still have to go to purgatory. They didn’t like that answer and followed up with “but doesn’t confession and baptism take away all sin?” Yes, I answered, but then I was stumped. As often happens when I’m questioned about my faith, I know WHAT I believe, but I sometimes forget WHY. Or at least I forget how to eloquently state why. So hence this post.

Sin   

 I think the problem with understanding that question is rooted in the consequences of sin. Many people see life as a monopoly game, and if you go to confession you pull the ‘Go directly to Heaven. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200’ card. All the stops are pulled out for you and you skip purgatory do not collect the purification there and dance right through the golden gates. Unfortunately sin is a little more serious than monopoly.

    If we take a few steps back, past the Reading Railroad and even Mediterranean Avenue and we start at the first roll of the game, we might be able to understand more clearly the consequence of sin and the effects of confession. Adam and Eve go first and they royally mess up the game.  “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397).

  Before this Adam and Eve were full of original holiness, however now they have lost that grace. Along with them the whole human race has been marked by this first sin. The Human soul “is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405).

The Sacraments 

     That is why human beings need the Sacrament of Baptism for salvation. “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God.” This concept is also difficult to comprehend. If Baptism erases original sin, why do we need confession? Even though original sin is erased, “the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle” (CCC 405). Have you sinned after your baptism? Then you know why you must continue to go to confession.

  Sin has three effects on the human soul: guilt, stain, and punishment. All of these are washed away through Baptism and each time you go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God, in all his mercy forgives you for any sin you may commit. No sin is bigger than the love of God. However, through the Sacrament of Confession only the eternal punishment is taken away, not the temporal punishment.

 The Breakdown

  Think of it this way, a boy is playing baseball and hits the ball into the neighbor’s window and shatters the glass.  The boy goes to apologize to the neighbor who forgives him for breaking the window (eternal punishment). Hopefully, if the neighbor is Christ like, she will forgive the boy and not hold it against him for the rest of his life. Just as when we sin and go to confession, God forgives our sins and does not hold it against us. However, the boy still has to deal with the temporal punishment of his mistake. Even though the neighbor forgives him, the boy still must pay for the broken window. We too must pay for our sins through temporal punishment and if we do not do so in this life time, we finish the purification process in purgatory.

Pre-Marital Sex – A Secular Stance

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I believe there is an ever-increasing need to use a secular way of explaining spiritual matters. In our day and age many people, even Christians, do not accept argumentation based on ‘Spiritual’ or ‘Biblical’ reasoning. One very spiritually based controversial topic is pre-marital sex, and I have learned that many people do not accept ‘God says no’ or “Theology of the Body”as a legitimate reason.

This statement is normally the basic ground I take to convince secular people that sex should be reserved till after marriage: “Those who are monogamous and wait till marriage have the best sex they ever could – because its the only sex they’ll ever know.”

Why wouldn’t you want the sex you will have forever in marriage to be the only sex you’ll ever know? Sex is very powerful, as anyone who has had it can attest. It is psychologically, emotionally, and physically consuming and creates strong levels on attachment and attraction toward another person.  To have this before marriage is very dangerous. When you have premarital sex there are 3 negative effects I can explain without using anything Religious to dissuade people who believe there is no fault in it.

The Memory of the Past

If you have sex before you are married you are creating strong memories that will last your whole life. As I said, sex is very powerful and it creates strong bonds between two people. You also can prefer one persons ‘lovin’ more than another. The psychological difficulties which develop from such carefree sexual activity can be very damaging for a marital relationship. When you are having sex with your spouse, the person you will be having sex with exclusively for the entirety of your life, you will involuntarily be comparing your spouse’s performance with your past experiences. Not only does this cause a very weird imbalance for your psychological feelings and emotions, but it creates an unstable relationship. Your spouse is insecure that they do not measure up. Or you find yourself having flashbacks of previous relationships while having an intimate experience with your spouse.

Your Own Gift

You can only give yourself away for the first time once. Now this might sound cheesey, but when you think about it makes sense.  Virginity is exclusively yours and it is the one thing you can give to someone totally and completely. If you have sex before you are married with one or even multiple partners you have already given away all you can. It isn’t special anymore. It is a gift that has been re-gifted, and no one likes to receive a gift that’s already been opened dented and then re-wrapped haphazardly.  Think about this concept. When you meet ‘The One’, the person who makes you feel as none have felt, the person you cannot live without, don’t you want to do everything you can for them. If you’ve ever been in love you know the intense feeling of self-gift that overwhelms you. However, if you are too hasty and too quick to give that gift, then it might be wasted. That is why is is so important to wait till after marriage to have sex, you truly can give a UNIQUE and SPECIAL gift to your spouse that is exclusively his.

Relationship for Sex or Relationship and Sex

When two people come together in a relationship they have two options: wait till marriage or indulge now. Most of those who choose to indulge now sacrifice a lot in doing so that will continue to affect them the rest of their lives. However, those who wait till marriage may have to sacrifice for the time being, but they will be heavily rewarded in the long term. When you decide that sex is off limits, the relationship can truly be built on virtues: on patience, self-respect, self-sacrifice, trust and responsibility. The relationship will still be fueled by the desire to please the other person, however the two people are working toward a common goal. Meanwhile they can enjoy every touch, every embrace, every time they hold hands individually. When they do finally achieve that goal and get married, sex is a reward that is beyond their dreams. Their wedding night is everything romance should be. The two of them will truly be turning two lives into one, giving each other themselves unreservedly, and committing themselves to the other mind body and soul. If you’ve been having sex the whole relationship, sex is already old hat by the time the wedding rolls around. The wedding night is special, but definitely not as special as it should be.

To Sum it Up

Without mentioning God at all, which as a theology major pains me because this explanation can be enhanced greatly with his Wisdom, I think it is easy to see why “those who are monogamous have the best sex they ever could – because it’s the only sex they’ll ever know” is definitely not a negative thing. There are statistics that prove that Christian couples who wait till marriage for sex truly will enjoy sex with their partner more fully and longer than the couple who has had sex with multiple partners and not worked hard together to grow in other ways before enjoying the completeness of the other person.