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

Comfortable with Community: Our Tower of Babel

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The Original Call

God is very clear with his commands in the Old Testament. He told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Replenish could be translated as ‘fill’. God wanted man to fill the entire earth. His command called for man to spread out over the face of the planet and fill every place with his creatures. This is a scary concept, one must leave family and friends and a familiar place to go to an unknown land. God wants his people to trust him and rely on his providence, not on their own understanding. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5)

Didn’t you hear me the first time?

Unfortunately, as clear as God was, humanity didn’t quite get it. God however, the always patient father, reminds his children again of his command. After the flood, God again tells his people to spread out. “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Again, God is very clear. He wants his people to leave their comfort zones and rely on communion with God over communion with each other.

Let’s do it Our Way

So, like any rebellious teenager, humanity decided that they knew best. Instead of obeying God’s command and spreading out to fill the earth, they decided on a better plan. “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth”(Genesis 11). Heaven forbid they be scatter abroad over the face of the whole earth! Who would even suggest such a terrifying concept??

Don’t Make Me Come Down There

So God watches as his foolish people build this centralized tower. He laughs, as God often does at our attempts to outsmart him. And he takes charge Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11). God needed to show his children that obeying his command was the only thing that would give them what they needed. The people wanted communion with one another. They were terrified at the thought of having to leave what they knew and loved to go somewhere unknown. However, God knew something that they didn’t. If they did not first have communion with him, they could never enjoy true communion with each other.

Do We Trust God Enough to Move?

Often times in our own lives, we are the people who build the tower of Babel. We like to be comfortable, and surrounded by familiar faces and places. However, God has not called us to be comfortable. God has not commanded us to build a tower for our human relationships. God has called us to not dwell in earthly homes, but to keep our eyes fixed on him. Scripture tells us “Do not love the world nor the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). God wants us to fill the earth, and to depend on him not on other people or things. Nothing is sure, everything is temporal, everything but God. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Do we dare build our tower in earthly desires? Or do we obey God’s command to trust him as our source of communion, our source of happiness?

Suffering as Seen by the Father

24490_Father_And_Son_Walking_cn_b_smThe Problem With the General Consensus

Our culture today has a bad habit of seeing suffering as punishment. The general consensus of suffering follows along these lines: We suffer because God is punishing us. God oppresses us because we have sinned against him. We experience suffering because God thinks we deserve it.

There is a danger in explaining suffering in this way. First of all more than just the guilty suffer. A definition of suffering as punishment does not explain why the innocent suffer. Secondly, if God punishes and causes harm to his people who he supposedly love, it tends towards a disconnect between loving Father and abusive guardian. Finally, suffering may be punishment, but it extends far beyond it. To confine suffering to punishment slights the beauty of what suffering truly means.

The Proper View of Suffering

The question of why we suffer and how we should suffer is a topic which needs more than a simple blog post to explain. Nevertheless, I will attempt to give a quick explanation of the proper view of suffering. First, lets start of with a wrong view of suffering.

Many of us who suffer feel God treats us unfairly. We believe that God betrays us and abandons us to suffer in our human weakness. We blame God for our sufferings and challenge him. We ask him why he makes us suffer. Why do I deserve this? Why are you doing this to me? This way of looking at suffering gets us nowhere. Like Job we began to get fed up with our suffering. Job wishes at one point that he were never born saying, “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? (Job 3:11).

Pope John Paul II comments on Job’s position saying, “Job must look upon suffering with new eyes and realize that it must be accepted as a mystery beyond human understanding.”This is the proper view of suffering: Suffering is a mystery. 

Suffering as a Mystery

A mystery draws you in and inspires you to reflect in a deeper way. Mysteries change our perspective on life. Suffering is a mystery because we in our human understanding cannot grasp it’s meaning completely. In faith we can learn more about suffering, and by asking ‘Why?’ we are led into deeper contemplation of suffering.

Suffering is used to discipline, to convert, to rebuild goodness, to express Divine Mercy, and to overcome evil that lies dormant in us.  I think the best way to explain this notion of suffering is through an analogy.

The Breakdown

Think of an experience as a young child when your parents refused to let you have something that you wanted. Or perhaps a time where your parents took away something you had. Maybe they took away play time in exchange for timeout, or maybe they didn’t let you have candy before dinner.  You may have cried and through a tantrum, but young children rarely hold grudges and the next second i’m sure you had forgotten all about it. In these early years children completely trust their parents and don’t question their authority. Parents set guidelines for their children to protect and instruct them in life.

Now think of an experience during your teenage years when your parents refused to let you have something that you wanted. Or perhaps a time where your parents took away something you had. Maybe they wouldn’t give you money to pay for movies, or maybe they grounded you for underage drinking. In this circumstance the majority of teenagers rebel from the authority of their parents. When a parent sets a guideline, it is now seen as a punishment. From the eyes of the son or daughter, the parents are oppressing them and causing them to suffer. In their minds they are missing out on some perceived good, so they suffer because of it. They ask, why are you punishing me? Why do I deserve this?

Even a child who hasn’t done anything wrong can still ‘suffer’ on account of their parents. It might be a difference of opinion, or a misunderstanding. In our culture today people have an awful habit of being repulsed by authority. We grew up in a wold where we can ‘do what we want’ and no one can tell us otherwise. It’s a very individualist society and we do not like to be punished. We see punishment as bad, evil, awful and suffering.

However, when a parent sets a guidelines they do not view them as punishments. Even when they do ‘punish’ it’s never because they want their children to suffer but it’s because they know what is best for their child. A child doesn’t see the big picture of life yet, and a parent tries to illuminate their path.

God As The Perfect Father

To translate this relationship of ‘Parent and Child’ to ‘God and Human’ is easy. God is Our Father. “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). This Father knows even more than an earthy father does. His wisdom exceeds out imaginations.  God sees the entire universe and all reality in one instance, so of course he knows better than us.

He wants us to come to him when we suffer and ask ‘Why?” just as a teenager asks his mom ‘Why?’. Simply by asking ‘why am I suffering’ shows that you truly do trust God and you believe he has the answers. If your parent punished you and you turned around and walked out on them, claiming that they do not know anything and they are being unfair and you run away, your parents would be devastated. It was not their intention to punish you so you would walk away. Instead they truly care and want you to open up to them. God wants the same from us. As children of God we should be open with him about our feelings of confusion or despair.

When we ask God to answer our questions we assume that he is there, truly present to give us the answers. Suffering may seem unbearable, but like any good parent, God knows what his children can handle and would never as too much from us. We need to view suffering through the eyes of God. This is what God wants for us, to participate in his Love and see that suffering for love of him creates in us a new heart.

We must trust that God sees more than we do and that our suffering serves a greater purpose. Perhaps it is to form our wills to conform more with the will fo God. Perhaps it is so that we are made stronger for events to come. Perhaps it is God asking us to come closer to him and dwell in his own suffering.

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.

Love of the Giver

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“The wise lover regards not so much the gift of Him Who loves as the love of Him Who gives.”

 (Imitation of Christ)

The most famous bible verse in the world begins with “For God so loved the world, that he gave…”. (John 3:16). This emphasizes one quality of God that we look to the most. God as Giver. We pray and ask him to help us, to give us peace or strength. We ask him to give us financial relief, or give us good health. We ask him to give healing to our friends and families. We pray to God as The Giver.

It is a beautiful dependence to cultivate. To trust that God will give you all you need is a prayer that is very familiar to us. In the Our Father we pray together, hopefully more than every Sunday, for God to ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ This petition is a humble acceptance that God will give to us all that is necessary for us to survive. Christ taught us the Our Father so that we would become like children and trust in his care. He reminds us through this petition that if we trust in him as a child trusts his parents to give him food, God will provide for us.

“He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45

God is generosity itself. It is in his very nature to provide to his children all they need. When we pray to ‘give us this daily bread’ it does not necessarily mean we are asking him for something, but rather that we are praising him because we truly know he will take care of us.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:25-27)

We live in a culture where a feeling of entitlement is felt in almost every heart. We feel as if we deserve something, and we especially feel this way toward God. This cultivates an unhealthy relationship with the overly generous God. We bargain with God telling him to give us something we need if we pray this prayer or sacrifice this habit. unfortunately this leads to disappointment when we do not receive what we want.

To add to this disappointment, the sin of jealousy rages inside our hearts alongside our feelings of entitlement. We feel others ar rewarded for doing nothing, and we feel slighted by God.

What we must come to realize is the glory of Giver and not the gifts. This quote from the Imitation of Christ sums it up: “The wise lover regards not so much the gift of Him Who loves as the love of Him Who gives.” When we take a moment to look around at the gifts God has given to other people, we must teach our hearts to be in awe of the Giver and not envious of the gifts. When we turn our hearts away from the material and toward the immaterial, we are rewarded.

We may not get  exactly what we wanted, but it gives God greater glory when we praise him as a Giver instead of thanking him for the gifts. “Labor a little now, and soon you shall find great rest, in truth, eternal joy; for if you continue faithful and diligent in doing, God will undoubtedly be faithful and generous in rewarding.” (Imitation of Christ)

America: Home of the Free?

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With July 4th just two days away the theme of freedom waves over our nation. America is the “Home of the Free” but what I write about today begs to differ. What is true freedom? Where does it come from and how does it free us? In our culture today freedom is longed for, desired, encouraged.  I am delighted by the ironic timing of this article because it coincides with the new song by Miley Cyrus called “We Can’t Stop”. Although I find it to be repulsive, the song is huge and young people all over turn it up and sing along. Why is this you ask? The song boasts of a freedom of “Doing whatever we want” and forgetting about “the haters” because be “like to party” and “we can’t stop.”

What an attractive message Miley Cyrus promises. So many songs mirror the epidemic of a true loss of freedom our culture is undergoing. Artists sing of being “young and wild and free” and doing whatever they want. Isn’t that what true freedom is, you ask? Many people criticize the Church because they believe her to be constraining and overbearing. Many see her rules and laws to be overprotective and unrealistic.

I say to all of these questioning minds, that I am a Catholic who obeys the law of God and the Church and I am truly free. People may laugh at this. They think I am a fool who has been brainwashed to believe that following orders and feeling free is a paradox that cannot exist. We have been raised in a culture which encourages youth to rebel against rules and glamorizes being scandalous and immoral. Following the Ten Commandments? Psh, that infringes on my freedom. Listening to the truth of the Church? Nah, I am my own person, The Church can’t tell me what to do. Unfortunately this mindset is so common, and so terribly wrong.

To begin, we must start at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start. Where does freedom come from? Who is the author of our freedom? Well the creator of Man was a fellow by the name of God. And God did not place Man in the world as a robot, required to obey everything that God said or asked for. “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions.” God, a very intelligent being,  created Man with FREEDOM. True freedom.

Why did God create man with freedom? Well that is a very very long explanation that goes in depth into the theology of free will. However for my purpose in this post we will keep things simple. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel” and here is the key part “so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”

Woah. So God created Man to be free so that man could freely choose to be free in God. God created Man with a deep longing and desire to seek his creator. Each and every one of us desires to know where we come from and where we belong.  Man desires to attain God’s full and blessed perfection. When Man sees God he is enamored by Him and wishes to be like him. This is the desire of the human heart, to attain God’s perfection. What a lofty goal, a lofty pursuit. But it is a holy and blessed journey.

In order to do this, to quench the thirst for true self satisfaction, Man must submit himself to God. So I haven’t mentioned freedom for a while. You may now be wondering, how did I get from freedom to submission. It is quite the paradox. Freedom means being free from shackles and chains that tell me what to do! Oh nay, nay. This is where you realize that true freedom lies in Christ.

The Catechism defines freedom as “The power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility.” Now this is a definition I believe most people, even secular, can agree on. I think most can also agree that a person who is doing something, not out of a free choice, but because they feel obligated or feel trapped or feel dependent on the action is NOT free.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galations 5:1) So freedom lies in Christ, and slavery lies in sin. This ‘yoke of slavery’ the bible speaks of is the chains that drag us down and trap us in ourselves.

Sure you can ‘use’ your freedom to choose to sin, and use your ‘free choice’ do do whatever you please. However, this will not lead to freedom. This will lead to chains and shackles that weaken your own will and in turn your true freedom. Your will is weakened by choosing to commit sins. The more sins you commit, the more you let go of your reason and become a slave to the sin. There is no freedom when your material being drives you to consume more than you can handle.  There is just no judgment of conscious.  There is just a response of the will. You believe that you are ‘doing whatever you want’ but in reality you are a slave to your flesh. Your beautiful mind and all its capabilities for selflessness and love has been shut off and your fleshly desires and passions rule you. This is not true freedom.

On the other hand. “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin.”

“John Paul teaches that there is no true conflict between human freedom and God’s law. The true end of human freedom is growth as a mature person into how each is created by God. Furthermore, God’s divine law governing human behavior is not opposed to human freedom, but rather “it protects and promotes that freedom.”

Who knows better how to protect our freedom than the very creator of it? God knows that we are not individuals who are “fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods” Although we proclaim this as truth and lie to ourselves by calling this true freedom. God created us for a higher purpose, and until we realize that call and move toward a mature growth in personal self-mastery, we will never be truly free.

The Mass: Part 3; The Fiery Serpent

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Take a look at this stunning picture and recall the story from the book of Numbers. The Israelite people complained about being in the desert and doubted God’s plan for them. The Lord in turn sent them serpents. Appreciate for a moment the stern parenting of the Old Testament God, he really is trying to teach his unruly children to trust him. Anyways, the people then repent and go to Moses for help. Moses asks God for forgiveness for his people and God tells him “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived” (Numbers 21:8-9).

Now I want you to put yourself in the shoes of the Isrealites.  You have been given a life full of good things, and you come across some hardship. You doubt God, and you speak ill of his path for your life. Things get worse for you and you are ‘bitten by the snake of sin.’ Where do you go? Well if you have been reading along, you’ll know I’ve been writing about the Mass. The Mass is the answer. When you look at the staff with the serpent on it, you are healed. In our case, there is no fiery serpent at Mass. However, there are two symbols of this Old Testament story that will help you truly appreciate the healing power of Christ.

First, when the Priest (or Deacon) goes to read the Gospel he does so in a very ceremonious way. He lifts up the book from the altar and raises it above his head. At this moment I always think about Moses holding the staff with the serpent. The book is the Gospel, and the Gospel is the Word of God, and the Word of God is Jesus Christ himself. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Christ is our healer, our savior, and or deliverer. We must not let such a beautiful sign pass before out eyes without taking notice of it.  When the priest lifts up the book, he is lifting up Christ. Be present in this moment. This is in a symbolic way, not in the same way as the priest lifts high the Eucharistic Host.

Which brings me to my second point. The symbolism of the story of Moses as seen through the Eucharist. The Eucharist has saving power. Just as the serpent was held high on a staff, Christ is held high on the cross to cure us of the snake bites that we suffer from.

I will stop talking about the Eucharist now, before I get carried away. Look for my next post on the altar, it will contain more Eucharistic goodies.

To close, I want to remind you about how beautiful the connections between Old Testament and the Church today truly are.  Don’t miss out on how full of tradition an hour in Mass is. Also, to point out something interesting. The next time you see an ambulance look closely, you’ll see a staff with a snake. God reminds us that he is very present in our world through the little things in life

Med Unit