Tag Archives: Penance

The Only Thing that Matters – September 11, 2017

Life is fleetingly short. The minutes and seconds of our earthly lives are trickling down inexorably like grains of sand falling through the hourglass. Christ on his judgment seat holds the hourglass for each of our lives, watching, and waiting for that moment when we shall, at last, appear before him. Only he knows how many grains of sand of time are left for us. We must be ready at any moment. That is why Christ declares “behold, now is the day of salvation.” In a world where “all is vanity,” we must cut through the fog of sin and meaninglessness, and seize the weightiest of matters, in fact, the only thing that matters – the salvation of our souls.

Jesus said what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? Our goal is not this world or this life. Our goal is eternal life in the world to come. Jesus spoke of this often, comparing it to a wedding feast. In the great revelation given to St. John, he was caught up into heaven and beheld the joy of the saints at the wedding feast of Christ. An angel spoke to him “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev. 19:9) St. John wrote about these blessed ones of the Church as the Bride of Christ, saying she “has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Rev. 19:8) The saints are ready because of the way they are “clothed.” But, what is this clothing and why is it “fine linen, bright and pure?” Simply put, this is the divine, sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ.

We must be covered and clothed with the supernatural grace of Christ. Those with the proper “wedding garments” are saved, and those without them are condemned. Jesus himself alluded to this in a disturbing aspect of the wedding banquet parable:

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ (Mt. 22:11-13)

Time is short to be ready for the eternal wedding feast. The only thing that matters is that at the moment of death we are clothed with sanctifying grace.

The opposite of being clothed is being naked. We find nakedness in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, Original Sin, their eyes were opened “and they knew that they were naked.” (Gen. 3:7) They were exposed and ashamed before God. There is a curious scene too, in another garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus was betrayed and seized by the Roman soldiers. As all this happened, scripture says, “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” (Mk. 14:51-52) Sin has left us all naked and exposed to damnation. St. Paul spoke of this too, saying “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked.” (2 Cor. 5:2-3) Yet, it matters not what sins we may have committed in the past. Nothing is beyond the mercy of God, as long as we sincerely seek his forgiveness through the repentance of our sins.

So, we must be clothed from on high by the Holy Spirit, but how?

Sanctifying grace is conferred onto us through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of the Church, which are necessary for our salvation. (CCC 1129) The seven sacraments of the Church are, of course: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. These are the means by which we put on our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure.

All of the sacraments are eminently efficacious and necessary for the life of the Church. However, I would like to focus here on just three sacraments, which are so necessary for the world today, and for our individual souls, and yet, are so sorely neglected. Jesus’ prayer from the Cross is apt “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Or, in our case, we know not what we squander.

As far as we know, St. John was the only Apostle to hear these words from the Lord as he was crucified. He remained at the foot of the Cross, and did not flee like the other Apostles. He was the disciple whom the Lord loved. He was entrusted with the care of Mary the mother of God after Jesus died. He rested his head close to Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the Last Supper. He was the only Apostle not martyred, and so, lived to a wise old age, reflecting deeply for his whole life on the words of Christ. This deep meditation poured forth in the pages of his gospel when he wrote about the sacraments, especially Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession.

In the third chapter of John’s gospel he writes about Baptism and being “born again.” The conversation, of course, is between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:5) Baptism is the basis for the whole Christian life and “the gateway to life in the Spirit.”

Three chapters later John writes about the Eucharist in the Bread of Life discourse. In it, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn. 6:53-54) The Eucharist is our food of immortality.

Later in his gospel he writes about Confession and the power to forgive sins. He says about the Resurrected Jesus: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23) This sacrament of divine mercy renders us into a state of grace. Baptism, the Eucharist and Confession are so vital, so necessary in the everyday life of a soul. These are the channels of sanctifying grace by which we put on the wedding garments of Christ. To neglect these is to neglect the state of our souls, and to jeopardize our place of eternal life in heaven.

This is the only thing that matters: When we die, will we be clothed in the wedding garments of Christ, or not? This requires us to earnestly pursue the weightiest of matters: repentance, conversion, sanctity, holiness, and saintliness. We are men and women of God, called to strive to enter through the narrow gate, to pray ceaselessly, to cling to the truth always, and to serve one another. The way of the disciple is to renounce the vanities of this world and to embrace the Cross of Christ.

St. John quotes Christ in the Book of Revelation about keeping our garments white and clean: “He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Rev. 3:5-6) And again, concerning our garments and Christ’s Second Coming: “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!” (Rev. 16:15) It is up to us to keep our wedding garments of fine linen, bright and pure. We do this by taking refuge in the sacraments of the Church; and going to Confession frequently, and receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist often.

Running to Win the Spiritual Race – May 19, 2016

William Shakespeare famously wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” and so it is with us. Each of us “performs” each day on the world’s stage before the spectacle of our fellow man, and before the saints and angels in heaven, and under the watchful eyes of God. We act out our lives from moment to moment, for good or for ill, before the human and the heavenly audience. St. Paul says, “..we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9) The letter to the Hebrews depicts us as competing in a packed stadium filled with all the saints and heroes that have gone before us, cheering us on, competing in a race around the track. “..since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..” (Heb. 12:1) St. Paul urges us to shed “every weight” of sin that slows us down so we can persevere and win the race. The cloud of witnesses, the saints in heaven, are not only cheering us on but also offering personal intercession for us. (CCC 2683) St. Paul must have been a great admirer of runners and athletic competitions, such as the Isthmian and Olympiad Games; he uses the running metaphor a number of times in his letters. To the Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25) St. Paul compares the spiritual life to an athletic competition, in which we should strive not for a laurel victory wreath but for the crown of eternal life.

How should we compete for this crown of eternal life? Much in the same way that an athlete must plan his or her exercise regimen each day to prepare for the race, so should we plan our spiritual regimen each day. We can exercise our souls with a schedule of daily prayer. In this way we can grow in faith and holiness, pleasing to God, and on the path to eternal life. First, we must discipline and train our spiritual selves. This can be difficult. It can be so much easier to sit back and watch a TV show or surf the internet rather than pray. I can find a million excuses not to pray at any given moment, but I have found my day is so much better if I do pray. My day is given direction and satisfaction, and a sense of purpose and connection to God. It sacramentalizes my whole day. The best way to approach our spiritual training is to have a simple, fixed schedule of prayer. Basically, we need a plan. It should be a simple one, accommodating our individual circumstances and responsibilities. The key is to faithfully stick to the plan as best we can, and repeat it each day and each week. If we do this, we can “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17) We can become, as St. Josemaria Escriva described, “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”

Here are some suggestions for us to include in our daily spiritual exercises:

  • The Morning Offering upon waking up
  • Pray the Rosary
  • Attend Mass and receive Communion
  • Pray the Angelus at noon
  • Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (maybe at the 3:00 hour)
  • Small acts of penance or mortification throughout the day
  • Grace before meals
  • Attend Adoration
  • Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly, in the morning and evenings hours; see phone apps to assist with this)
  • Short conversations of mental prayer (a “heart to heart” talking and listening to God)
  • Spiritual Reading (Bible or other spiritual reading)
  • Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
  • A Nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition before bed

Of these, I have found it particularly important to never miss the Morning Offering or the Nightly Act of Contrition. These help frame our day and orient it completely towards God, sanctifying the hours of the day from morning to night. I also find saying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy particularly powerful, but this is my own particular spiritual affinity. Each of us should determine what we are drawn to personally.

It does not take much time to speak to God each day, even mere minutes. Yet, it can still be difficult. Much like our regular muscles, we need to exercise our prayer muscle to improve. The more we exercise our prayer life, the stronger and easier it will become. Prayer is our connection to Him. Our relationship with God will take on a much more personal flavor and commitment. God calls us friends and His children. He is personally interested in us, even down to the most minute details of our lives. Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Mt.10:30) This should give us comfort. God knows our hearts and thoughts. He hears everything we ask and tell Him. He cares about us more than we could ever imagine. We just need to make the time to speak and listen to Him. Our daily prayer schedules are part of our commitment to Him, and proof that we love Him. If we live this way, each and every day, and continue this over our lifetimes, a “compounding interest of prayer,” if you will, this is the stuff of saints. Then, we can come to the end of our lives, the end of our race and competition, and declare as St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)

 

The Sacrament of Divine Mercy – October 9, 2015

“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Gen.2:7)

“When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn. 20:22-23)

The sacraments are the very heart of Christianity. They are the manifestation of Christ in the world. In them, Christ truly becomes present to us. They are the visible sign and the real symbol that are the very inward grace they signify. They signify the grace they cause, and cause the grace they signify. God’s grace is present efficaciously. (CCC 1084) They are our gateway to communion with God as well as our lighted guideposts to remain in communion. To stray from them is to risk walking in darkness and death. For, the seven sacraments are imbued with the sanctifying grace of Christ’s eternal act of redemption. In receiving the sacraments, that sanctifying grace of redemption is applied to our soul. It is the supernatural power that God uses to act in our lives. Sanctifying grace is what saves us. In the sacraments, Christ’s redemptive act is transmuted into a symbolic reality and transferred directly to our souls. This is miraculous and amazing. It is also the foundation of orthodoxy. The Church, as the administrator of the sacraments, is the holder and the dispensary of Christ’s miraculous grace. Although the priest acts in persona Christi, we know that it is truly Christ Himself, through the priest, who confers sanctifying grace. (CCC 1088)  This sacramental grace allows us to enter into an immediate relationship with the living God.

Yet, the application of that redemptive grace varies from sacrament to sacrament. In Baptism, we gain our initial entry into Christ’s salvific action. Our souls are cleansed of Original Sin and incorporated into His death and Resurrection. It is our entrance into eternal life, and makes possible our lifelong communion with God. In the Eucharist, Christ’s redemptive grace actually comes to us in bodily form. The very body and blood of Jesus are made present physically. In consuming Him, we are continually sanctified and remade into His mystical body. He is literally our sustenance to eternal life. In Reconciliation, Christ’s sanctifying grace restores our relationship to God and the Church through the forgiveness of our sins. In our fallen human nature, still beset by frailty, weakness and concupiscence, we regularly regress back into sin. Christ knew our nature, and so, afforded us His sacrament of forgiveness. Repentance becomes linked to life. In the book of Genesis, it says God formed man from the ground and breathed life into him. The Hebrew word used for breath is רוח (ruach), which also means “spirit.” When God breathed into man, He made him a living spirit. We see that same word רוח repeated when the Resurrected Jesus appears to His disciples and He “breathes” (רוח again) on them, and thus, institutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus is implicitly, or some might say, explicitly, linking His sacraments and the Holy Spirit with God’s life giving spirit at Creation. Immediately after He breathes on them, He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and any sins you forgive are forgiven, and any you retain are retained. Jesus transfers His divine power, the power to forgive sins, to His Apostles. Now, with the capacity to forgive sins, the Church has another restorative power to heal our spirits. Just as Adam was, originally before the Fall, a living spirit, a pure man in communion with God, so too now, we can be restored as living spirits through our Redeemer. We pass from death into life as new creations. God again breathes into man and reanimates us. Through grace in the sacraments He not only brings us to life, but also, sustains that life with His on-going and unlimited forgiveness found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

One of the most poignant stories in all of scripture is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. It is so poignant and moving because Jesus gives us a glimpse in detail of the immense and unconditional love God has for us. In the parable, a son takes his inheritance early from his father, goes off to a distant land, and spends it all on “dissolute living.” After he had nothing left and was dying from hunger, he finally comes to his senses. He decides to repent of his sins and go back to his father’s house. As the son says, “I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” (Lk.15:18) As the son is penitent and returning to his father’s house, we see the great mercy of the father: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk.15:20) Even as the son was “still far off,” the father hurriedly went out to embrace him. And Jesus shows how great is the mercy of the father, who is superabundantly generous to the son. He says: “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Lk. 15:23-24) Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is rich in the underlying truths of forgiveness and divine mercy. In the parable, we are the prodigal son, and God is the father. We, through Original Sin and committing sins during our lives, have lived lives unworthy of God, and consequently, squandered our inheritance, that is, eternal life. We were dead in our sins; outside of the Father’s house. Yet, when we recognize our own destitution and repent of our sins, God notices this, even while we are still struggling with sin “far off.” As soon as we repent and turn back to God, the Father embraces us immediately. As the son did, we must admit and confess our sins to Him with heartfelt sincerity. We should confess to God as he did, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Then, look at the response of God to our repentance and confession. God immediately welcomes us back into His divine friendship and adorns us with grace. This is represented in clothing the son with his best robe, putting a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet. God immediately calls for a celebration. He orders the fatted calf to be killed so they can have a great feast. Jesus gives us a revelation.  He reveals God’s reaction to our repentance: He is ecstatic. Jesus mentions this in similar parables, on finding the lost coin and finding the lost sheep, that there is so much “joy in heaven,” even over one sinner who repents. (Lk. 15:7) We were dead in our sins, but when we repent, are made “alive again.” The prodigal son parable shows the compassion and forgiveness God offers us. It reveals the superabundant grace God waits to lavish upon us, if we but turn back to Him.

The Christian life is one of constantly turning away from sin and back towards God. The bible uses the Greek word “metanoia” [μετάνοια], or “a turning away” from one’s sins. We are called to a constant state of conversion. In Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, “Rich in Mercy,” he describes how when we come to see God’s tender mercy, we “can live only in a state of being continually converted to Him.” (DM, 13) This should be our “permanent attitude” and “state of mind.” Our consciousness becomes increasingly branded by our offenses against God, and this should lead us to repent. In the analogy of the prodigal son story, the son says to the father “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk.15:19). As Pope John Paul II points out in the encyclical, we begin to realize our lost dignity in the severing of our relationship with the Father. He writes, “at the center of the prodigal son’s consciousness, the sense of lost dignity is emerging, the sense of that dignity that springs from the relationship of the son with the father.” (DM, 5) So too, should our consciousness reflect that deep connection between our sinfulness and lost dignity. Our sins sever us from our relationship with the Father, and we lose that inherent dignity as children of God. In the same way, turning away from sin, repenting, restores our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Jesus Himself preached this saying, “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk.1:15) Jesus calls us to an interior conversion of the heart; a contrite heart moved to penance and renewal, in order to be reconciled to God. (CCC 1428) So that, in this way, we can “be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27), and “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt.5:48)

But, how do we do this? The most effective, secure and efficacious way is to receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the sacrament, we know that Jesus is truly present. We know it is an act that embodies our conversion, penance, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. (CCC 1423-1424) These are Jesus’ requirements to regain eternal life. In Reconciliation, we receive sacramental grace with the absolute assurance of the forgiveness of our sins. In the Gospels, Jesus gives Peter and the Apostles the “keys of the kingdom” and the power to “bind and loose.” Jesus said to them, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt.16:19) As such, the Church has the authority directly from Christ to forgive sins. It is Christ, under the guise of the priest, there in the confessional who forgives our sins. How much better is life if we maintain that intimate friendship with God by regularly turning away from sin and turning towards God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Here, we find divine mercy. We are like the paralytic who Jesus healed, and whose sins He forgave. “He personally addresses every sinner: ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’” (CCC 1484; Mk.2:5) What a wonderful assurance!