Wednesday, 31 January 2007
"In the midst of this endless sea, two solid columns, a short distance apart, soar high into the sky. One is surmounted by a statue of the Immaculate Virgin, at whose feet a large inscriptions reads: 'Auxilium Christianorum' ('Help of Christians') . The other, far loftier and sturdier, supports a Host of proportionate size, and bears beneath it the inscription: 'Salus credentium' ('Salvation of believers').
"The flagship commander - the Roman Pontiff- standing at the helm, strains every muscle to steer his ship between the two columns, from whose summits hang many anchors and strong hooks linked to chains. The entire enemy fleet closes in to intercept and sink the flagship at all costs. They bombard it with everything they have: books and pamphlets, incendiary bombs, firearms, cannons. The battle rages ever more furious. Beaked prows ram the flagship again and again, but to no avail, as, unscathed and undaunted, it keeps on it course. At times, a formidable ram splinters a gaping hole in its hull, but immediately, a breeze from the two columns instantly seals the gash.
"Meanwhile, enemy cannons blow up; firearms and beaks fall to pieces; ships crack up and sink to the bottom. In blind fury, the enemy takes to hand-to-hand combat, cursing and blaspheming. Suddenly the Pope falls, seriously wounded. He is instantly helped up, but struck a second time, dies. A shout of victory rises from the enemy, and wild rejoicing seeps their ships. But no sooner is the Pope dead than another takes his place. The captains of the auxiliary ships elected him so quickly that the news of the Pope's death coincides with that of his successor's election. The enemy's self-assurance wanes.
"Breaking through all resistance, the new Pope steers his ship safely between the two columns; first, to the one surmounted by the Host, and then the other, topped by the statue of the Virgin. At this point, something unexpected happens. The enemy ships panic and disperse, colliding with and scuttling each other."Some auxiliary ships, which had gallantly fought alongside their flagship, are the first to tie up at the two columns. Many others, which had fearfully kept far away from the fight, stand still, cautiously waiting until the wrecked enemy ships vanish under the waves. Then they too head for the two columns, tie up at the swinging hooks and ride safe and tranquil beside their flagship. A great calm now covers the sea. "
Tuesday, 30 January 2007
The idea of a novena is to make nine days of dedicated prayer. Why nine? Because the days between the Ascension and Pentecost when Our Lady joined with the Apostles in prayer awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit were nine. (The bishops conference, by transferring Ascension to the Sunday, have rather ruined this connection.) So, the first novena is remembered when we join in those nine days of prayer each year. This became a tradition to pray for nine days for a particular need.
I'm a bit sceptical of the "try such and such a novena - never known to fail" approach. It smacks of superstition, that a particular form of words can twist God's arm to produce the goods. What a novena does do is show a particular act of faith, and a constancy in prayer, and that faith and prayer are never rejected by God. In that way, I suppose, they are never known to fail. That's not to say that our prayers will be answered in the way we want, but God will answer for our good. If you want a great source of novena prayers have a look on the EWTN website.
Monday, 29 January 2007
"This life of ours—if a life so full of such great ills can properly be called a life—bears witness to the fact that, from its very start, the race of mortal men has been a race condemned.
Think, first, of the dreadful abyss of ignorance from which all error flows and so engulfs the sons of Adam in a darksome pool that no one can escape without the toll of toils and tears and fears. Then, take our very love for all those things that prove so vain and poisonous and breed so many heartaches, troubles, griefs, and fears; such insane joys in discord, strife, and wars; such fraud and theft and robbery; such perfidy and pride, envy and ambition, homicide and murder, cruelty and savagery, lawlessness and lust; all the shameless passions of the impure—fornication and adultery, incest and unnatural sins, rape and countless other uncleannesses too nasty to be mentioned; the sins against religion—sacrilege and heresy, blasphemy and perjury; the iniquities against our neighbors—calumnies and cheating, lies and false witness, violence to persons and property; the injustices of the courts and the innumerable other miseries and maladies that fill the world, yet escape attention."Quite a good definition of paganism, don't you think?
The Holy Father has been very outgoing with the journalists he has encountered, thanking them for their work and helping them to focus on the moral basis of their work. Recently he spoke with a group of journalist reminding them to engage in a "sincere search for the truth and the safeguarding of the centrality and the dignity of the person."
On the other hand, as Cardinal Ratzinger he wrote in his book "Christian Brotherhood" that the Church "must not try to catch men with the word unawares, as it were, without their knowing it. She has no right to draw the word out of a hat like a conjuror. And she must recognise that there are places where the word would be wasted, thrown away, if it were spoken."
We must act according to the evangelical counsel: " ... shrewd as serpents, simple as doves." We have quite a lot of work to do in understanding an authentic secularity - the affairs of human beings seen from the perspective of objective truth, and in expressing that truth in both a secular and a Christian framework. Parents and young people are certainly at the forefront of this work. And we need journalists who will work with and for parents and young people, both supporting and challenging them to reach out for truth. This will require not just a change of attitude, but conversion of life on the part of journalists, presenters and media users. Will it be the media user or the media maker who will take the lead, or will they work together?
The media age has taken us all by storm. We have been unprepared for its invasion and we have allowed fallen human nature to guide its progress. As a consequence, "mass media society" is in a cul-de-sac and needs light to show the way out. I call on parents, young people and media professionals who are living in Christ to act together and become builders of a new media culture, one which is formative. One in which the truth about the human person, the truth about the family and the truth about human society are recognised and sought after. What a great media that would be!
Fr John starts off by setting the scene thus:
It's not often that junk television influences world politics, but it happened in mid-January in the case of the British program, "Celebrity Big Brother." During the course of the show one of the participants, Indian film star Shilpa Shetty, was repeatedly insulted by other members of the program, in particular by Jade Goody, a British reality-television star.
Instead of the episode just remaining another example of trashy television, Shetty's tormentors were accused of blatant racism. Subsequent polemics reached such a level that the program was brought up during a press conference held by British Treasury chief Gordon Brown while he was on a visit to India.
The Channel 4 program was the subject of tens of thousands of complaints to the British Office of Communications, the government's media authority also known as Ofcom. Ratings for the show also went up, and media commentators noted that the show's organizers may well have deliberately set the stage for confrontations in order to boost the program's flagging popularity.
In the wake of the event, commentators reflected on the implications of what the program revealed about contemporary culture. "Dumbing down is an assault upon the very concept of value," observed Howard Jacobson in the newspaper the Independent on Jan. 20. He noted that the ignorance demonstrated by Jade Goody, who emerged as a public star in a previous edition of "Big Brother," was celebrated and promoted by television.
The Irish Independent on Jan. 22 lamented the state of "hundreds of thousands of young women like Jade Goody," who have "never known standards in education, manners, decorum or speech." A culture that regards self-control as "repression," respectability as "authoritarian," and uncouthness as "honesty," has led to unprecedented levels of vulgarity, the paper said.
BBC South Asia bureau editor Paul Danahar reflected on how Britain and India compare, as the latter prepares to mark its 60th anniversary of independence. Writing on Jan. 22, he observed that "your average English-speaking Indian (most of whom have been through private schooling) is a lot better educated than your average English person."
Noting that this category of Indians probably numbers more than 100 million, he concluded that Brits who are concerned for the future should be more alarmed by the likes of Shilpa Shetty, a representative of a pool of well-educated people who will be stiff competition for Britain's native sons and daughter in the job market.
Concerns over television and its contents are not new, as evidenced by a letter signed by 110 teachers, psychologists, children's authors and other experts and published Sept. 12 by the British newspaper Telegraph.
The experts expressed concern over a number of issues affecting children, including the education system and junk food, but they also commented that too often children are "exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past."
"We are deeply concerned at the escalating incidence of childhood depression and children's behavioral and developmental conditions," the letter stated.
The experts also suggested that television itself could be harmful. The letter says that in order for children's brains to properly develop they need real play, instead of "sedentary, screen-based entertainment," together with "first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives."
And the spreading use of Internet by children and adolescents also means they can be exposed more easily to the type of racial and cultural intolerance typified in the "Celebrity Big Brother" program.
Brendesha Tynes, writing in the 2006 "Handbook of Children, Culture, and Violence," edited by Nancy Dowd, Dorothy Singer and Robin Wilson, warns that a "virtual culture" of racism is forming.
She explained in her article entitled "Children, Adolescents, and the Culture of Online Hate," she says that hate groups and racists deliberately target youth, creating a presence in the chat rooms and discussion boards they frequent. Racist groups build Web sites with ambiguous names, and organize their material in such a way so as to appear credible to a young student looking for information.
In turn, adds Tynes, spurred by the interactivity and anonymity of the cyberspace, children and adolescents can also give free rein to their own intolerance, without fear of any repercussions. Filter programs can eliminate some of the more extreme material, but they are only partially effective.
The Church has long warned about the media. The decree "Inter Mirifica" of the Second Vatican Council states: "Those who make use of the media of communications, especially the young, should take steps to accustom themselves to moderation and self-control in their regard."
At the time the decree appeared in 1963 nobody could imagine what the Internet and programs such as "Big Brother" would bring, but the principles set out are strikingly relevant today.
The decree explained that in defending the right to information and communication a conflict can arise between art and morality. The document, nevertheless, "proclaims that all must hold to the absolute primacy of the objective moral order" (No. 6).
The decree went on to explain that given the power of public opinionnote that narrating or portraying moral evil can even have some positive results in bringing about a deeper knowledge of humanity. "Nevertheless, such presentations ought always to be subject to moral restraint, lest they work to the harm rather than the benefit of souls," the decree warned (No. 7).
The document went on to explain that given the power of public opinion, all should strive to "fulfill the demands of justice and charity in this area."
Users of the media should choose materials noted for their goodness, knowledge or artistic merit, avoiding those that can cause spiritual harm, give bad example or promote evil, the decree continued. And in addition to suggesting that the media should be used with restraint, the decree recommended that young people should "endeavor to deepen their understanding of what they see, hear or read" (No. 10). Parents, in turn, have a serious duty to protect their children from harmful material.
Almost four decades later, in 2000, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications published its document "Ethics in Communications." It noted: "Great good and great evil come from the use people make of the media."
The Church regards the media and the means of social communication both as products of human genius and as gifts of God. Therefore, it is not some blind force, but something we can choose to use, either for good or for evil. Those making choices -- public officials, policy-makers, executives and consumers -- should serve human dignity, the document "Ethics in Communications" exhorted.
When it comes to the question of popular culture the document noted that critics often decry the superficiality and bad taste of the media. "It is no excuse to say the media reflect popular standards; for they also powerfully influence popular standards and so have a serious duty to uplift, not degrade, them," it concluded (No. 16).
With regards to how to make media choices, the pontifical council recommended applying a number of ethical principles. The fundamental ethical principle to remember is the human person and the human community. Communication should contribute to the integral development of persons, it urged.
Another important principle is the common good. The media should not set groups against each other, bringing about conflicts of class, races, nations, or religion. And while freedom of expression is important there are other elements to take into account, such as truth, fairness, and respect for privacy.
Both producers and consumers of the media have ethical duties in the choices they make, the social council observed. A duty too often shirked.
Saturday, 27 January 2007
The film shows the monks about their daily duties of prayer, work, study, and even the menial daily tasks. It is mostly in silence. You hear movements, the sound of the wood stove crackling, and the singing of the monks in choir, but there is only one moment where a monk speaks directly to camera. That privilege is reserved for a monk who has gone completely blind. He speaks of the joy of Christian life, and how sorrowful that the world has lost it's sense of God, for what reason can there be for living without a relationship with Him? He says there is nothing to fear in death. Then he mentioned a point which Fr Yanny, the Coptic priest (see below) said in his catechesis on Wednesday - we just see ourselves as we are now, with our cares and our worries, and our opinions, and our emotions. God sees the whole of our life from beginning to end as though in the present moment. The monk said we should therefore entrust our lives to God, for he knows the whole span of our life, and beyond our earthly life. The whole of it is present to him.
The film is quite repetitive. Two phrases which keep coming up on the screen from the Scriptures are "No one can follow me without forgetting himself" and "You have seduced me, O Lord, and I have let myself be seduced". These two phrases give the fundamental meaning to the monastic life of contemplation of the Carthusian. In the first place it is a life of sacrifice, and maybe looking at the way of life that's what most strikes us. But the second phrase is key also: the monk is not denying himself because of a hatred of the world nor a self-hatred, rather it is for love that he enters and perseveres in the monastic life. God is the great seducer and the monk is the one who allows himself to be seduced, and to enter into a deep friendship with God through Christ. The repetition is seen in the revolving of the times of prayer, of food, and of relaxation (there's a great scene towards the end of monks on a feast day walk in winter sliding down a snow laden hillside). The film as a whole represents the day from beginning to end. But it also shows the year in the turning of the seasons. The underlying sense is that this way of life isn't for one season, but is a true way of life, and that it is almost in the inevitability of the revolving of the seasons and the pattern of the days that this life takes its shape.
Most striking is the simplicity of life in the monastery. There are none of the complications that modern secular society place upon us. There are none of the distractions of technology and media. Their lives are so simple, lived in communion with each other and with God, lived in communion with the natural world around them, lived in an integrity which comes from a life given over to one purpose in its entirety. It's very difficult for us to contemplate how that would be. I'm sure that many people would be put off from going to see the film because of the silence for three hours. We are surrounded by constant noise. On the train, in shops on a plane, in your home you are force fed with news you don't want to hear and advertisements. The only way you can escape is to make more noise yourself, or move far away from the city. It is hard to understand what such constant perfect silence would be like. I think we thirst for it really, but on another level we fear it. It's only in true silence that we meet the real God and meet our real selves, and for most of us that can be a frightening prospect.
I had a whole pack of stuff from CAFOD the other day about their Live Simply campaign. Indeed, Archbishop Nichols came to our chaplaincy to launch this campaign back in November. What he said to me then, and I think it is so true, is that the CAFOD campaign concentrates almost entirely on two aspects of living simply - living sustainably and living in solidarity. It completely omits living spiritually. Indeed I would go further and say that the first two are only a blind hope for most of us unless we start with the third. We will not be able to make our lives simple unless the grace comes from God first. Only once we have communion with God, friendship with Christ, which attracts to us immense grace, can we then have communion with others in solidarity and communion with the world and live sustainably. If you want to see real simplicity of life then, have a look at Into Great Silence. You'll see a way of life very divorced from our own. But these are men. Yes they are monks, but they are real men. With all the needs and temptations we have too. But they, through a particular vocation that certainly most of us don't share, can teach us something about how we should live in the secular world. Not only can they be a strength for the Church in the way they pray for the world, but also be a sign (and they insist in their conversation recorded in the film on the symbolism of their way of life) for us of how to live in the world but not of the world.
You won't see this film on at your local multiplex, so look out for it at smaller arts cinemas. It's certainly worth the almost three hours. Take a look at the website which has an English version.
...mostly we see how Christianity is in retreat, abandoning our towns and cities to the flood (St Augustine called it a tidal wave) of paganism. The old culture (of death) is very evident in York today. We saw this Headline from the local newspaper advertised in a newsagents near the top of the Shambles, and thought of the city's Viking past catching up with it again. The city of York is very blessed to have St Margaret Clitherow's shrine at its heart, but let us remember the call made to us all in Denver in 1993 by John Paul II:
"Do not be afraid to go out onto the streets and into public places as the first apostles did to preach Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel."
Friday, 26 January 2007
Thursday, 25 January 2007
Wednesday, 24 January 2007
The title of this first lecture is "The status of the unborn child in International Human Rights Law". Fr Fleming, as well having a great academic standing, is also very engaging as a speaker. There is an open invitation for everyone to come to the lecture, so if you are in the Birmingham area please come along. Or make the journey. I'm hoping that a University pro-life society might come out of this initiative, as part of the reason for setting up the lecture was to enable us to put forward a side to the whole argument which does not often get a place on the Campus.
The lecture takes place on Thursday 15th February, in the Vaughan Jefferies Lecture Theatre in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham's main Edgbaston campus. The lecture begins at 7pm. There will be light refreshments afterwards in the foyer. For more information you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org It would be great if this lecture had as many people as possible attending. The lecture theatre is a big place so let's try and fill it. Please also pass on the information to people who might be interested (hint to other blogmeisters).
Tuesday, 23 January 2007
Sunday, 21 January 2007
Saturday, 20 January 2007
Friday, 19 January 2007
- TV has become the faithful friend which airbrushes God out.
- Watching TV makes me selfish.
- God is not very manifest in western TV culture.
- Attachment to comfort - eg TV - gets in the way of getting closer to God.
- Giving up TV is a personal challenge.
- It makes space for God.
At the moment I'm spending a lot of time at home with my mother, as my sister is very ill and is a cause for concern. Being back in a house with television reminds me what I'm missing. Last night I went channel hopping, only to find 'Big Brother' was watching me. No. I had not been transported to a house full of racist loud-mouthed self-obsessives. But they - and endless commentary on them - had been transported into the living room. How could I escape it? One simple answer...the standby button. I find the fact that so many people spend so much time talking about what happens on the television to such an extent that it governs the way they think, governs the agenda for their conversations, and even takes over what they read in the newspapers, is not only nauseating, but very alarming. It's as though people's lives are so boring that they feel the need to live someone else's life - soap star, reality prog do nothing celebrity, latest X-Idol talent vacuum victim - vicariously to make their own more interesting. And if that were not enough, the media ideologues use this gogglebox to promote whatever 'values' or 'anti-values' they have in season. So, it is now impossible to have a news item on extreme weather conditions without the follow on of an indoctrinating item on climate change. Now, I accept that we our selfishness is causing the climate to change, but I find it disturbing that the 'new orthodoxy' being preached at every available opportunity disturbing. What is worse is when every scientific "advance" in, for example, embryology research is followed by heart-tugging scenes of the people with incurable illnesses who will no longer suffer once the law has been pushed even further into the culture of death. Strange that the thousands of embryonic human lives sacrificed on the altar of embryo stem cell 'harvesting' have produced no significant medical advance, except the inflation of the egos of the high priests of play God science.
Yes, it looks like I'm on a rant again...well if the cap fits... So do the decent thing. Ditch the telly. You'll find so much time for other things. Like creating your own New Evangelisation blog. I wonder how many of the saints would have achieved the establishment of new orders in the Church, the renewal of the Church in every age, and their own personal holiness if they had had television wasting their precious wakeful hours. No? Well it's hardly going to bring about your holiness either.
Thursday, 18 January 2007
Tuesday, 16 January 2007
"Whoever wants to be a friend of Jesus and become his authentic disciple – be it seminarian, priest, Religious or lay person – must cultivate an intimate friendship with him in meditation and prayer. The deepening of Christian truths and the study of theology and other religious disciplines presupposes an education to silence and contemplation, because one must become capable of listening to God speaking in the heart."
Monday, 15 January 2007
As Fr Stephen says, the key to understanding this film is not large amounts of bloodshed (though it has to be said Mel Gibson does seem to glory in gore), nor the violence, nor the wild animals jumping out of the screen at you. Nor is the key the evident anachronisms, including the fact that the "great" Mayan civilisation had "mysteriously" become all but extinct by the time the Spaniards arrived. The key is the quotation from the historian-philosopher Will Durant, given at the beginning of the film, "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within".
What we see clearly in the film is the way in which the city culture, caught up in the hideous decadent pagan excesses of human sacrifice, but also the prevailing culture of death which devalues the weak and the old, has already within itself the seeds of its own destruction. There is no great city here, but a wearying environment where life does not flourish. A friend of mine, just last week, who has moved from Birmingham to York, said how difficult it is for so many people to live in our cities because they are so culturally oppressive.
We are living in an oppressive culture of death. Our society may not be so crass as pagan Mayan culture, but we see around us the evidence of the culture of death, most especially in the ever increasing bloodshed of the unborn who never see the light of day, because they are inconvenient, unwanted, or have simply been created in order to have cells harvested. Equally in the way in which we treat the world around us such that it may not be fruitful for our future generations (alluded to in the film).
We need to learn the lesson of Apoclaypto. Young people are the generation that needs to stand up against the culture of death and fight and witness for life. The problem always - just like in the Mayan civilisation - a civilisation which has been great but has fallen into decadence believes that it is still great. It does not realise how close it is to self-destruction. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Our culture of death cannot last, for it is against nature.
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." (Deut 30.19-20).
Sunday, 14 January 2007
Saturday, 13 January 2007
Friday, 12 January 2007
PS It's good to have Fr Richard back and in full flow. I can put my blogging feet up for a few days. As if...
"It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow, to the dear breast of whose friendship, amidst the many troubles of the world, you can safely retire. ... A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart."
Indeed, so evangelical was Aelred's leadership that there were more than five hundred monks living the Christian life at Rievaulx during his time as Abbot. We know from St Aelred's writings that he loved Christ and had a profound knowledge of Scripture. It was this love and knowledge which flowed into the community which he ruled, a community which was marked with sincere joy; the joy that comes from friendship with Christ.
As a young man Aelred was very influenced by Cicero’s De amicitia and quotes from it admiringly in his own work; but he makes the distinction between Christian and pagan friendship very clear.
His book, divided in 3 parts, with a long gap during its composition, takes the form of a dialogue between himself and three monk-friends: at first Ivo, then much later,
Walter and Gratian. This device with its questions and responses enables the author to consider and refine what true spiritual friendship is about.
Daringly, he changes the statement ‘God is love’ to ‘God is friendship’, an ideal to which all human friendships should aspire. Those friendships which are self-serving or based on flattery or which do not seek the other’s greatest good, are rejected as false friendships, to be shunned or terminated. If friendships can be virtuous, for Aelred they can also be ‘vicious’. This is fighting talk, but he is nothing if not human, delighting in ‘companionship of soul’ – anam chara in Irish – and recognising that despite human defects, having once received a person in his friendship ‘I cannot do
otherwise than love him’. Only betrayal will ruin friendship - as Judas discovered.
But Aelred insists, following his divine Master, that love should remain even when the friendship is destroyed, for we must continue to will the ultimate good of our erstwhile friends, viz. their salvation. [...] Should we admonish our friends when we see them falling from grace? Quoting St Ambrose, the author believes ‘the wound inflicted by a friend is more tolerable than the kisses of flatterers’. Behind the spiritual friendship of two people there is always, for Aelred, ‘the sweetness of Christ Himself’ – the perfect friend who mediates the charm and consolation of our human companions.
Tuesday, 9 January 2007
On the FWC retreat weekend with the girls we got round to talking about our favourite saints. You'll see that we've recently added a substantial list of patron saints for our blog. It took me some time to think of all the saints I love, and to make a list of the top ten (we didn't include Our Lady as she HAS to be everyone's favourite, so we took her as read). I'm afraid my list certainly looks like male domination, and they're quite a clerical bunch - and I think I scandalised some people by not including St Therese of Lisieux... Anyway, for better or worse, here's my top ten, in no particular order:
1. St Paul (The centrality of the mystery of Christ)
2. St Augustine of Hippo (Anti-Pelagian and anti-Donatist hero)
3. St Ignatius of Loyola (Apostle of Friendship with Christ)
4. St John Marie Vianney (Model holiness and humility for priests)
5. St Peter Julian Eymard (Apostle of the Eucharist)
6. St Charles Borromeo (A model pastor for his people)
7. St Maximilian Kolbe (Martyr to friendship with Christ and others)
8. St Anthony of Padua (simply for his ability to find lost things)
9. St John Fisher (How we need bishops like this today)
10. Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity (We are in our lives the praise of God's glory)
I'm afraid that when Ven John Henry Newman and the Servant of God Pope John Paul II are beatified a couple of these will have to drop out to make way.
Do feel free to contribute your list of favourite saints - could be interesting to compare notes!
PS Please pray for my eldest sister who has just been diagnosed with cancer - her name is Mandy. Thanks.
Monday, 8 January 2007
Happily, many people are discovering again the rich peace and the great blessings of frequent Confession.
For a while, things were very bad. In many huge parishes, thousands of people went to Communion every week, while almost none went to Confession. There were serious reasons to wonder it many anxious and unhappy people were going to Communion, and even that there were too unworthy and
Many more were communicating without the peace and deep friendship with Christ they really desired. For many, Communion no longer seemed to bring growth in faith and friendship with the Lord, because they ceased to have repentant hearts. They ceased to have that peaceful friendship with Christ, that we sinners can have only when we have tasted personally and deeply of his forgiving mercy.
Confession deepens personal faith. But it takes faithful energy to be faithful to go to Confession regularly. And many fell away from Confession. First, they went less often. Then much less often. Then hardly at all. Only gradually did they begin to realize that they were losing the warmth of their friendship with Christ and ceasing to be entirely honest in their relations with their God. Only gradually did they realize that they were drifting into the worldly and sensual ways of the mass media,
the broken ways of the world and losing the joy of a strong life of faith.
[...] There are many excuses for not going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We can say (even though it is not true) that the Second Vatican Council discouraged frequent Confession. We can say (though the Church and the saints and the Scriptures always taught the opposite) that mortal sin is very rare, and that people as good as I need never worry about falling into grave sin.
Since it does take effort to go to Confession, I can pretend that it is useless at least for those who now have no mortal sins to confess. The saints have always reminded us how important it is to receive this
sacrament often. The Church has always urged its priests, religious and faithful to confess their sins often. In Confession, we learn trom Christ Himself that repentance which deepens our faith and gives deep roots to our love. But we can say (why always tell ourselves the truth?) that there is no special advantage in going to Confession. Then we will be able to escape the bother of it all. But we lose much more than bother. [...]
In this sinful and broken world there is much mortal sin. People, even Catholics, do commit horrible crimes: abortion, adultery and terrible crimes with the power of money and the cruelty of drugs. But there are also mortal sins of a less spectacular kind: lustful deeds deliberately undertaken and deliberate lustful desires to which this fallen world leads one. Ordinary people sometimes do hateful and cruel deeds. They are surprised at themselves for falling into these things, especially if they stop receiving the Sacrament of Penance regularly, which gives them the power they need to keep from sin.
If we have committed mortal sin, Catholic Faith teaches that the only ordinary way to escape the tragic separation from Christ that mortal sin means is by a good Confession. Even perfect contrition does not help, if we do not accompany our sorrow by a willingness to do what Christ requires: to get promptly to Confession, and to confess and receive from Christ (through his priest) the absolving words of forgiveness... We who have the gift of Catholic Faith possess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation a great personal gift of Christ - this best way of coming back to grace. And this is the one way we have to get back to grace, as all Catholic Tradition insists rightly. There are rare exceptions: when Confession is impossible for us, God makes other ways possible. But Confession is the only ordinary way. Those who have sinned mortally after Baptism must go to Confession if they wish to come back to the Lord in the Eucharist.
Even when, happily, God's mercy keeps us from grave sin, we benefit immensely from frequent Confession. As Pope John Paul reminded us, the frequent use of Confession is in many ways the safeguard of love and peace. We must not lose the sense of sin or we will rationalize all our selfishness and wrongness of heart. But it is also true that we must not focus too much on sin or we will become bitter and harsh. What we need to do is remember our sins in the very sacrament of healing in which Christ touches us with mercy. Here He teaches us to turn sorrow into love and our own being healed into the forgiving of others.
Confession leads us to the kinds of acts that make hearts repentant: to remember honestly before the good Lord how frail we are, so that we can trust in his mercy with greater determination. Confession requires us to make serious resolutions in our hearts not to offend those we love, to forgive those who hurt us and to do those things our life needs, but the world does not incline us to do.
Confession creates personal friendship with Christ. In this sacrament He personally touches our lives. We speak to Him and He makes us realize (as we seek more faithfully to receive the sacrament well) how deeply concerned He is to bless our lives with grace and healing. When the priest speaks words of absolution, our faith knows that it is the Lord who now, personally, speaks mercy and does mighty and merciful deeds in our lives. He enables us to see through the deceptive images woven by the media
world, to begin to realize the really important things of life. He enables us to taste his power: to see that it is not impossible or saddening to keep his Commandments and to walk in his ways. [...]
For each one of us, it is important that we seek out and find a good confessor and learn again, as the Church urges us, to confess our sins with faithful frequency.
Remember, the power to walk God's ways and find his peace; the power to turn from selfishness and sin; the power to forgive those we want to love - all this power is a gift of God, not a natural endowment of our nature. And Christ, touching us in his sacraments, is the one who heals us
and gives us his mighty Spirit to give grace and joy to our lives. Nothing substitutes for thc sacraments. In them the Lord personally touches our lives and heals us. [...]
People often ask me how often to go to Confession. I used to be timid and say maybe four times a year. But really that's not enough. If we take our friendship with Christ seriously we should be aiming at monthly Confession at least.