Archives for October 2013
True confessions time. I hate confession.
Not the personal kind of confession but the sacramental kind.
Well, hate is a strong word in relation to a sacrament. Let’s just say I’m in a slump and I have a hard time going to confession.
I’ve read what all the Saints say about confession, and I know I’m supposed to love it. I know how important and freeing it is. I’m just not feeling it lately.
Not for a while actually.
My return confessions: the salad days
When I first came back to the Church I had a different relationship with confession.
Even though I had much more to confess, it was simpler. After 20 years away from the Church, I had quite a laundry list of things to tell. I pretty much exhausted the examination of conscience and even went beyond it a few times.
I’ve never heard a harsh word from a priest in confession, but I’ve certainly gotten a few raised eyebrows and one double-take.
After that initial run on clearing out the sin closet, things got difficult.
I turned myself around and committed to living a Christian life. After a year or so, I no longer found my sins on the “biggie list” you get with a standard examination of conscience.
Had I stopped sinning? Hardly. I still felt very sinful. I just had to dig deeper to put words to my sins. They were mostly venial sins and faults. And, they were the same ones over and over again.
It’s interesting how you can get confession burnout from boredom. I know it’s not just me because lots of others talk about this. Does confession lose it’s appeal if you don’t have anything juicy to confess?
How ironic…interest in the sacrament that rids you of your sins thrives on a sinful life.
Confession as the Second Baptism
In the strictest sense, you’re only obliged to confess mortal sins.
Confession is the sacrament that restores the broken relationship with God. The Church Fathers called confession the “Second Baptism.” The first Baptism was by water, the second by tears of repentance.
This is why most examinations of conscience you find reference the Ten Commandments–these being the minimum requirement of right relationship with God. The Sacrament of Confession is still beneficial even after you’ve restored that relationship, however. It gives grace that’s targeted directly to the sins you’re confessing, so it helps you avoid them in the future.
Isn’t that nice?
Still, I do go to confession
Even though I dislike it, I still go to confession.
There’s lots of things I hate that I still do for my health. I go to the dentist every 6 months (do hate that). I go to the doctor for a physical ever year (really hate that…and sometimes I skip a year). My wife does mammograms and PAP tests (have to say, those don’t sound pleasant).
And, I go to confession every month or so. It’s not that it’s terribly unpleasant (not as bad as the doctor), but I would just rather do other things than bare my secret inadequacies and faults to another person…like go shopping.
But I have to admit, most of the time, after I go I’m glad I went. It does give me a good feeling…all fuzzy and warm inside. Also, it feels very good to know I’m forgiven. Even though I sometimes don’t feel forgiven or think I should be, I can be sure the sacrament worked. That’s nice. The good feeling is not the primary reason to go, of course. It’s a nice side benefit, though.
Perhaps someday, when I’m more fully converted, I’ll feel differently about this sacrament. I’ll rejoice in my weakness and celebrate that personal mini-redemption I receive every time I walk in the confessional. It’s the merits of the Cross poured out just for me, cleansing my soul through the ministry of the priest. That is powerful.
It’s something to look forward to. But for now…I just go.
So, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a confession to make.
This post originally appeared on my personal blog. Find more stuff there about catechesis, evangelization, and the awesomeness that comes from the intersection of the two.
There are two things which prompted me to write this article: the New Evangelization and Pope Francis’ insistence that believers must get out of their comfort zones and reach out to others.
German theologian, Heinz Zahrnt (1915-2003), wrote on numerous topics, but he is arguably most known for his writings on secularization and how Christians can still provide an effective witness in the midst of it. In order to lay the groundwork and provide context for my own comments on Zahrnt’s work, I think it is important to show why I think it is important to study the work of theologians like Zahrnt. First off, I think he rightly defines secularization and it’s spread throughout our culture:
In the modern age, secularization, the ordering of the world on it’s own terms, has overwhelmed every province of life like an avalanche…. The process of secularization has largely been complete and is the accepted characteristic of our whole life and existence (The Question of God).
Therefore, given this “accepted characteristic of our whole life,” Christians must be able to articulate the Good News in a world seeking to order itself on “it’s own terms,” a concept contrary to the Gospel (cf. Prov 16:3, MT 6:33, 2 Tim 4:2). Zahrnt believes Christianity has been presented a challenge:
Christian faith must be confronted in ruthless honesty with the changed reality of the world…and also the changed relationship of man to the reality of the world…” (The Question of God).
In his book, Gott Kann Nich Sterben (God Cannot Die), which was released in 1972 under the English title, What Kind of God? A Question of Faith, Zahrnt offers five presuppositions which he feels need to be accepted as givens when preaching the gospel in the modern world. While he outlines particular challenges associated with each presupposition, I can see there are also unique opportunities which Christians can benefit from individually and collectively. Additionally, I believe both Zahrnt’s challenges and the opportunities I outline help to create inroads for believers to share their faith.
The first presupposition is: there is a scientific explanation for most of our experiences in the world. Whether it is the weather, medical cures, fortunes/misfortunes of individuals, or victories in war, there are explanations for these things, and almost all other phenomena, which do not require any reference to God (I say “almost” because miracles still happen). Many people left the Church over the centuries because their faith had been damaged by the discovery that a reference to the divine is not required in order to know or understand how things work in the world.
There are some who like to create a “tension” between religion and science which, in reality, does not exist. A scientific explanation for many of the phenomena in the world, formerly attributed to God, provides the opportunity to invite people to a more personal, inward encounter with God. People who seek God in secondary effects (e.g. thunder, financial reward) are missing the point of the Incarnation: God has invited us into a personal relationship with him (that is a phenomenon (an experience) science can’t explain).
People don’t (or at least they shouldn’t) maintain close, earthly relationships because of what the other person can do for them; they maintain them because they want to be in relationship with the other person. So too with God. People should want to be in a relationship with him and not just see him as their “genie in the bottle,” granting wishes or showing off his limitless power.
The second presupposition Zahrnt offers is: people’s concept of authority has changed. Nothing is accepted as “true” any more without being subjected to the judgement of reason. No longer will people accept, “because it’s in the Bible” or “because the Church says so” as sufficient justification for anything.
The opportunity now available is Christians can deepen their faith, truly trusting in God with their whole heart, and not only when good fortunes are plentiful (cf. Job 2:10, Mt 5:45). People are not slaves, in the sense that they have no will of their own. Believers can take their faith to greater depths because of what they learn. Consider what Thomas Aquinas writes on this subject:
Reason and intellect in man cannot be distinct powers. We shall understand this clearly if we consider their respective actions. For to understand is simply to apprehend intelligible truth: and to reason is to advance from one thing understood to another, so as to know an intelligible truth. And therefore angels, who according to their nature, possess perfect knowledge of intelligible truth, have no need to advance from one thing to another; but apprehend the truth simply and without mental discussion, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. vii). But man arrives at the knowledge of intelligible truth by advancing from one thing to another; and therefore he is called rational (ST I, Q.79, A. 8)
Christians should not persist in having a “blind faith.” There may be a time when a person first accepts the gift of faith (CCC 162) that their faith is “blind,” in the sense that it has not matured through the use reason. However, Christians are to progress in their faith, deepen it, through the use of their reason and intellect (cf. Rom 12:2, 1 Cor 13:11, 1 Cor 14:20, 2 Pt 3:17-18).
The third presupposition pointed out by Zahrnt is people today are more critical of ideology. The modern world, with all its technological advancements (especially in communications), is able to see the social misuse of religion by individuals or by groups, both inside and outside the Church. The most obvious example is the scandalous actions of some priests brought to light in the last 15 years even though most of the incidents occurred 30-50 years ago. The complicity of their bishops, an arguably even worse crime, who used their power to protect an unjust status quo is what creates and nurtures the distrust of the Church’s leadership. People will not accept a lack of transparency justified by a claim to divine right to protect those who have broken the law.
However in the midst of this there is an opportunity for both individuals and the Church. People should walk before God, and before temporal rulers, with their dignity intact. There is a possibility to (re)discover what it means to be “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the “image of God” with an intrinsic and undeniable dignity (cf. Gen 1:27, Ps 139:14, CCC 1700). Additionally, the Church should focus on it’s primary mission of saving souls by introducing them to love, which is most perfectly expressed in the relationship of the Trinity (CCC 850). I definitely see this message coming through loud and clear in Pope Francis’ pontificate.
Zahrnt writes, as his fourth presupposition, that men and women in modern society are more focused on the here and now and not the hereafter. Modern society recognizes, even promotes, the autonomy of earthly structures (e.g. science, academia, politics, etc.) from religion. The Church will continue to makes its voice heard on issues within these structures, but the days of the Church having any real control, or influence, in those realms is gone, or at least is quickly fading.
However, there is great opportunity in the midst of this reality. Believers can now look at how very intimate God wants to be with his people. God does not want to be the metaphysical “big brother,” enforcing his will through temporal means (e.g. government); that is not what it means to be in a relationship. Additionally, God offers his children opportunities to deepen their relationship with him and to experience the depths of his unconditional love in the midst of secular society, not through its structures. Consider what the Council Fathers taught during the Second Vatican Council:
This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is nourished by spiritual aids which are common to all the faithful, especially active participation in the sacred liturgy. These are to be used by the laity in such a way that while correctly fulfilling their secular duties in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate union with Christ from their life but rather performing their work according to God’s will they grow in that union (AA #4).
The fifth and final presupposition Zahrnt mentions is modern man’s orientation to the future. People today don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the past. In fact, today it could be argued progressivism is regarded as some kind of universal virtue. One of modernity’s critiques of religion is that it is too rooted in the past: rituals used to worship deities are antiquated, steeped in tradition. In today’s culture, even the very idea of God’s existence is considered by many as out-dated. Modern man claims people must move beyond the childish idea of religious superstition (i.e. first presupposition) and recognize the brightness of man’s future can only be dimmed by mankind’s refusal to let go of religious belief.
Within modern man’s obsession with progressivism there is an opportunity for Christians to create new expressions for belief in the eternal dimensions of their faith. Do Christians take seriously Jesus’ eschatological promises: that he will come again to judge all of mankind and that he is preparing a place for his friends in heaven (cf. Mt 16:27-28, Mt 25:31-46, Jn 14:3)?
This idea of a “final judgement,” which often carries a negative connotation, can be showcased positively in light of the previous points made here; specifically, the eternal dimension of faith can begin right now by accepting the invitation to an intimate, loving relationship with God.
Looking for training for catechists in plain English? Veteran educator Joe Wetterling has relaunched his catechetical website, Ho Kai Paulos. That bit of Greek means something to a few of you, and the rest of us can look here for the explanation.
I know Joe from his excellent presentations for the Catholic Writers Guild. He’s on my favorites list because he’s well-read, and insightful, and hilarious, and a nice guy into the package. He re-opens his site with a 101 on Objective vs. Subjective. If you need to bring a catechist up to speed, or refer someone for a review of the essentials of the faith, this is the place.
Here’s an example of how I take a new bit of information, fit it into my existing lesson plan, and format it so the 6th-graders can figure most of it out themselves.
“That very day two of them were going to Emmaus and talking about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding?” 18 Cleopas answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened?” “What things?” “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, and how our chief priests and rulers crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”
In catechism class I always thump on that last line. It reminds us that the disciples were average guys; and unlike scribes and Pharisees, didn’t have wads of Scripture committed to memory. They didn’t spend their workdays thinking about Isaiah; they thought about, oh, catching fish. Nor would it be obvious to even an expert that golly, Jesus sure has fulfilled an awful lotta Scripture on this, the very first Easter Sunday! So Jesus had to explain it all from God’s viewpoint as they were walking; and he probably needed every minute of the journey to do so.
“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 29 but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30* When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.”
And I jump on that as well, and y’all are familiar with it. The bread-breaking is a big deal, because that’s the moment Jesus was recognized, not merely seen. In other words, anyone can see, but does everyone understand what they are seeing? Of course this alludes to Mass, and the necessity of not just seeing what things may look like, like, you know, bread; but recognizing what they are.
But Cumbie also pointed out that not only was Jesus recognized when he broke bread, but that he was not recognized during hours of Scripturally enlightening the two disciples about himself. And the two disciples seem surprised at that: “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” Yeah….wouldn’t that have been the time for recognition? Nope. They knew Jesus when he broke bread; not when he showed them how all Scripture had been fulfilled in himself. Huh.
I never noticed. But boy howdy, I am using it in catechism class when we cover this passage in March. I expect to Go Negative, like so:
“Later on Easter Sunday, Jesus ran into a couple of sad disciples. Why would they be sad? ‘Cause they thought Jesus was dead. Yes. Let’s listen to Luke’s Gospel: “That very day two of them were going to Emmaus and talking about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.” But y’all just said Jesus was dead. He’s alive again, it’s Easter! Oh, oh yeah, that’s right. “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Who kept them from recognizing Jesus? Umm, I guess Jesus did. Yes, why? I don’t know. That’s ok, let’s see if you can figure it out. Then Jesus said, “What is this conversation which you are holding?” 18 Cleopas answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened?” “What things?” “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, and how our chief priests and rulers crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company were at the tomb early in the morning 23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.” Who are they telling Jesus about? They’re telling him about himself! Yes! Do they know who he is yet? No! Right! And Jesus said, O foolish men, y’all don’t understand all the stuff the prophets predicted! Prophets like who? Isaiah! Yes. But are these guys Bible experts? No! Right, they need a little help: “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Now once Jesus explained everything to them, did they recognize him? Yes! No! Trick Question! Jesus walked with them most of the day explaining how he fulfilled all those prophecies, but they still didn’t know who he was!
“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. The disciples said, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.”
“So tell me about it. They knew he was Jesus. Yes of course, but tell me how they knew. Jesus let them see. Yes, but why did Jesus let them see now? Why didn’t he do it when they were having Bible Study all day [going negative]? OK, hard question? Y’all listen again and tell me why he waited: “he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes-” It’s like at Mass! Yes; what’s like at Mass? That’s what we say at Mass. Yes, what the priests says. So try again: why didn’t he do it when they were having Bible Study all day? He wanted to wait until the bread stuff. Yes, good. Now can y’all recognize Jesus in the Bible? Yes. And can you recognize him at Mass? Yes. But which one of those ways is Jesus emphasizing in the story? Mass! Yes! And even the disciples are surprised: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” See, even they notice that Jesus didn’t let them recognize him until he “blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to them.”
The Bible never runs out of Catholic ideas.