Mercy is for Sinners
Steve Skojec July 21, 2017 134 Comments
Elliott Erwitt: Confessional, Poland, 1964

I have a love-hate relationship with confession.
I hate it because it’s never very comfortable to admit the stupid, shameful, ridiculous things I do. I wait in the line with a head full of exaggeration, thinking of myself like a man on death row, waiting for the needle. In my desire to make a good confession, I rehearse what I have to say, how I should say it to be concise but thorough, going over it and over it in my head until I think I’ve got it just right, then herding the stray smaller sins that have scattered away from my attention as my mind has been focused on the main problem areas. Each time the door opens and the next person goes in, I feel both an increase in nervous anticipation and relief. I take a step closer. “I just wanna get this over with,” I think.

I love Confession because the truth is, no priest I’ve encountered has ever been unduly harsh, even if some of the more pious ones have expressed legitimate concern at my failings. Certainly, I’ve never experienced a “torture chamber” in the confessional — I do all the torturing to myself. I also love it because unburdening myself of my sins is cathartic and calming, and because without the graces provided by the sacrament I’m afraid I’d be on a continuous bender of self-indulgence, following my wants and whims on a daily journey away from eternal salvation. Confession not only cleanses, it strengthens. It prunes my selfish accretions back, giving room for my heart to be open to His greatness. And it has the truly incredible benefit of offering a clean slate, every time.
My last visit was no different, the war within me raging as I tried patiently to wait my turn. After several failed attempts to get to confession over the previous week and a half, I had finally made it. As I waited in the back of the line, a wedding party was just finishing up with their last photos. The photographer finally made his way back to the last pew, right next to me, and as he started gathering up his equipment, he suddenly said, “It’s a wonderful sacrament.”

I looked up at him, giving a polite acknowledgment but figuring he was talking about the marriage he had just witnessed.

“Confession,” he said, perhaps sensing my question. “I just went last week.”
He fitted his camera into a compartment inside a large case, and said more quietly without looking up, “To be forgiven…” His tone was wistful, almost incredulous.

He had a point. What a seriously amazing thing it is!
Who Are You to Judge?
There are times, in my various discussions and debates over the topics du jour in the Church — most notably an idea of mercy that requires no repentance or change of life — when I find myself wondering if those on the other side of the issue really think I’m just a cruel, heartless jerk. A sanctimonious and smug monster who somehow thinks I have attained a level of holiness that gives me the right to judge those who do not conform from within the purity of my sinless ivory tower.

I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.

If you had to have a passport to enter a confessional, mine would be filled with countless stamps. I drag myself there, time and again, embarrassed at how little time has passed since my last visit, chastising myself for bringing with me a litany of the same offenses I always do. The words of St. Peter often echo in my mind, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And then, just as quickly, another thought follows, “No! Don’t! Without You, Lord, I have no hope…”
After absolution, I kneel there before the Blessed Sacrament, not infrequently with tears in my eyes, ever with the same plea: “Well, Lord, here I am again. I hope you’ll help me to stop doing this same stupid stuff. Maybe this time’s the charm?”

The prayer of St. Augustine perhaps most eloquently expresses this lament:
BEFORE Thine eyes, O Lord, we bring our sins, and we compare them with the stripes we have received.
If we examine the evil we have wrought, what we suffer is little, what we deserve is great.
What we have committed is very grievous, what we have suffered is very slight.
We feel the punishment of sin, yet withdraw not from the obstinacy of sinning.
Under Thy lash our inconstancy is visited, but our sinfulness is not changed.
Our suffering soul is tormented, but our neck is not bent.

Our life groans under sorrow, yet amends not in deed.
If Thou spare us, we correct not our ways: if Thou punish, we cannot endure it.
In time of correction we confess our wrongdoing: after Thy visitation we forget that we have wept.
If Thou stretchest forth Thy hand, we promise amendment; if Thou withholdest the sword, we keep not our promise.
If Thou strikest, we cry out for mercy; if Thou sparest, we again provoke Thee to strike
Here we are before Thee, O Lord, confessedly guilty; we know that unless Thou pardon we shall deservedly perish.

Grant then, O almighty Father, without our deserving it, the pardon we ask; Thou Who madest out of nothing those Who ask Thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

V. Deal not with us, O Lord, according to our sins.
R. Neither reward us according to our iniquities.
Let us pray.—O God, Who by sin art offended and by penance pacified, mercifully regard the prayers of Thy suppliant people, and turn away the scourges of Thy wrath, which we deserve for our sins.
Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.
Dead Man Walking

There was a time, when I was young, when I thought I was doing pretty well. I was a scrupulous kid, I stayed away from most bad influences, I often spent my free time hanging around churches or with priests, and the Internet hadn’t yet arrived with it’s overflowing cornucopia of temptations. I rarely if ever had mortal sins to bring into the confessional, and I even remember at one point in time thinking, “How is it possible that this petty stuff I do was enough of a reason that You had to die for it, Lord? I just don’t see it.” Maybe I asked Him to help me understand. I probably did. That part’s hazy, but it’s stupid enough that it sounds like something I would have asked.

And He did. He pulled back and let me trip and stumble and fall flat on my face, over and over and over again. He let me struggle to stay in a state of grace, or to even care to. He let me come close to losing my faith altogether.
Later, to my shame, the only thing I could say was, “I don’t remember the last time I didn’t bring a mortal sin to confession.”

If you’ve been there, if you know that feeling in your gut, in your soul, the one that changes when you cross that line and do that thing — whatever it is — that you’re just not supposed to do, and you don’t care, you know what I mean when I say it feels like you’re a “dead man walking.”

It’s an emtpy feeling. Dark. Angry. Disconnected. Like only the slightest temptation will push you right back over the edge into another big sin because your resistance is totally shot. You don’t want to pray. You don’t want to change. You become withdrawn and irritable. You vacillate between guilt and apathy as you attempt to grab hold of whatever grace God is giving you outside of the sanctifying grace that is the life of your soul. Because let’s face it, if He isn’t calling you back to the confessional, you’re not ever going to go. Once you’re gone, you’re fair game to demons on the prowl. Only His protection, His invitation, is going to keep you safe and bring you home.

If you’ve ever felt this feeling, you know. If you don’t come back soon, you’re going to drift further and further away. You’re going to dig a deeper and deeper hole for yourself. You’re going to get to a point where you’re too far gone to care, or make yourself so miserable you can’t bear to live with it.

You’ve got to come back to the land of the living. Nothing else is worth it.
Years ago, when I was on the verge of giving up, He reeled me back in. I was allowed to see the spiritual warfare I was engaged in for what it was, and then, I had something to fight.

But He still lets me fall. Still lets me remember I am nothing without Him, and that I can’t fight this battle on my own. In the midst of this work I’m trying to do for Him, for His Church, He doesn’t afford me the opportunity to be convinced that I’m anything great, but rather, to be chastened by my own weakness — a weakness that repeatedly knocks the foolish pride right out of my head before it can take root. I think here of the words of St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:

For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or any thing he heareth from me.

And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me.

For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me.

And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful.

See, the irony of me ever feeling like I’m on death row in the confessional line is that it’s precisely the opposite. It’s life row. For anyone standing in that line in mortal sin, you’re already dead — forever — and you just happen to be lucky enough to still be walking around. You make it to the end of that line, and you’ve been raised from the dead, just as surely as Lazarus was.

Love Demands Repentance
I was never a legendary sinner, but a dead soul is a dead soul. It only takes the guilt of one mortal sin to send you to Hell for eternity. There is no way back from the darkness I’ve just described without repentance. You’ve got to want to stop doing the thing that’s killing you. And if you can’t manage that, you’ve got to want to want it. There are no more excuses. There’s no more, “Well, I already messed up so it doesn’t matter if I give in to temptation again.” There is only that long march to the confessional, where you enter as a dead man, and emerge alive.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would want to deprive another soul of this rebirth. This cleansing and binding of wounds. For the priest in the confessional is, just as the Good Samaritan did, dressing and binding and curing what ails us. He is healing in the most profound sense of the word.
How could anyone ever tell a person who is living in sin, “You don’t need to stop doing that! God is merciful! He understands the complexities of your life”?
How could anyone ever say, “You might not be able to stop committing that sin, because by doing so, you might commit other ones”?

Why would anyone who loves a soul not see the danger it is in and say, as St. Maria Goretti did, “It’s a sin! God does not want it!”?

Or, perhaps worst of all, how could anyone tell a person living in sin with no intention to change, “You should receive the Eucharist, which is not a prize for the perfect, but medicine for the weak” — knowing that to do so is a sacrilege, another mortal wound on the soul of someone in need of conversion, healing, and Divine Grace? Even if you suspect the person is not fully culpable, the path to Our Eucharistic Lord is through absolution, not indifference. We already know what God wants from us. We return again to Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:27-31):

Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.

But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice.

For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.
Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep.

But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
Even this piece of divine wisdom has been excised from Catholic life. Not once does this admonishment not to eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord unworthily appear in the three year cycle of readings in the “ordinary form” of the liturgy — the Mass that the vast majority of Catholics around the world attend.
Why are we hiding this truth from the faithful? Why are we convincing ourselves that it is merciful to be their accomplices in sin? Why are we content to speak with the tongue of the serpent, who, when Eve told him that the punishment for eating from the forbidden tree was death, responded, “No, you shall not die the death”? (Gen 3:4)

We do not fight against the bizarre provisions of Amoris Laetitia because we are rigid and Pharisaical! We do so out of love — for the souls of those being led deeper into sin, and for Our Lord, who deserves never to have His sacramental presence profaned.

As I reflected on those feelings brought about by the loss of the life of grace in the soul, I was moved to pity for those prelates of the Church leading God’s little ones astray. How can they bear the loss? How can they be so indifferent to their separation from the fires of Divine Love that they not only do not care for their own souls, but wish to lead others away from Jesus? How can they be complacent in their perversions and deceits? We have become so accustomed to opposing them, to calling them to account, even to rebuking them. But we should also weep for them, because we do not hate them; they, like all of us, were made in His image and likeness and created to be with Him forever in Heaven, and they have turned away. And He has already warned them, so the fate they will suffer is terrifying to contemplate.

“But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt. 18:6)
May God have mercy on their souls, and on His holy Church! END QUOTES

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{catholic} “Communion Revels God’s Love for YOU!”} St. Peter Julian Eymard

Communion Reveals God’s Love for You
ST. PETER JULIAN EYMARD
Communion Reveals God’s Love for You
“I will write my law in their heart.”

Cf. Jeremiah 31:33

Not only does Communion enlighten our mind by a special grace, revealing to us, by impression rather than by reason, all that our Lord is, but it is also, and above all, the revelation to our heart of the law of love.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of love par excellence. Certainly the other sacraments are proofs of God’s love for us; they are gifts of God. But in the Eucharist, we receive the Author of every gift, God Himself. So it is in Communion especially that we learn to know the law of love that our Lord came to reveal. There we receive the special grace of love. There, finally, more than anywhere else, we acquire the practice, the virtue, of love.

First of all, what is love? It is a gift. That is why the Holy Spirit, who, as love, proceeds from the First and Second Per­sons of the Most Holy Trinity, is truly the Gift.

How do we recognize love? By what it gives. See what our Lord gives us in the Eucharist: all His graces and all His possessions are for us; His gift is Himself, the source of every gift. Communion gives us participation in the merits of all His life and obliges us to recognize the love that God has for us, because, in Communion, we receive the whole and perfect gift.

How did you begin to love your mother? Sleeping within you, without sign of life, was a seed, an instinct, of love. Your mother’s love awakened it; she cared for you, suffered for you, fed you with her body. By this generous gift you recognized her love. Well then! Our Lord, by giving Himself entirely to you, and to you in particular, proves to you invincibly that He loves you personally with an infinite love. He is in the Eucharist for you and entirely for you. Others enjoy Him also, to be sure, but in the same way that they benefit from the sun without preventing you from enjoying its rays as much as you wish.

This article is from “How to Get More out of Holy Communion.” Click image to preview/order.

Ah, such is this law of love engraved in our hearts by God Himself in Communion! In olden times, God wrote His law on tables of stone, but the New Law He has written in our hearts, with letters of fire. Oh, whoever does not know the Eucharist does not know the love of God! At most, he knows certain effects of it, as the beggar recognizes the generosity of the rich man from the few coins he receives from him. But in Communion, the Christian sees himself loved with all of God’s power to love, with all of Himself. Therefore, if you would really know God’s love for you, receive the Eucharist, and then look within you. You have no need to seek elsewhere for further proofs.

Communion gives us the grace of love. In order to love Jesus Christ as a Friend we need a special grace. Jesus, in coming to us, brings this grace at the same time that He places the object of it — that is, Himself — in our soul. Our Lord did not ask His disciples before the Last Supper to love Him as He had loved them; He did not yet say to them, “Abide in my love.” That was too hard for them then; they would not have understood. But after the Last Supper, He no longer says simply, “Love God; love your neighbor,” but, “Love me as a brother, intimately, with a love that is your life and the law of your life.” “I will not now call you servants . . . but friends.”

If you do not receive Communion, you can love our Lord as your Creator, your Redeemer, and your Rewarder, but you will never see in Him your Friend. Friendship is based on union, on a certain equality, two things that are found with God only in the Eucharist. Who, I ask you, would dare call himself the friend of God and believe himself worthy of His particular affection? A servant would insult his master in presuming to treat him as a friend; he must wait until his master grants him the right by first calling him by that name.

But when God Himself has come under our roof; when He has come to share with us His life, His possessions, and His mer­its; when He has thus made the first advances, we no longer presume, but with reason call Him our Friend. So, after the Last Supper, our Lord tells His Apostles, “I will not now call you servants. I call you friends. You are my friends, because all things whatsoever I have received of my Father I have given to you; you are my friends, because to you I have confided the secret of my majesty.”

He will do even more; He will appear to Mary Magdalene and say to her, “Go to my brethren.” What? His brethren? Can there be a higher title? Yet the Apostles had received Communion only once! What will it be for those who, like us, have received Him so often?

Will anyone be afraid now to love our Lord with the tenderest affection? It is well to tremble before Communion, thinking of what you are and of Him you are about to receive; you need His mercy then. But afterward, rejoice! There is no longer room for fear; even humility must make way for gladness. See how joyous Zacchaeus is when our Lord accepts his hospitality! But see, too, how his devotion is fired by this kind reception; he is ready to make every sacrifice and to atone over and over for all his sins.

The more you receive Communion, the more will your love be enkindled, your heart enlarged; your affection will become more ardent and tender as the intensity of this divine fire increases. Jesus bestows upon us the grace of His love. He comes Himself to kindle this flame of love in our hearts. He feeds it by His frequent visits until it becomes a consuming fire. This is in truth the “live coal which sets us on fire.” And if we so will, this fire will never go out, for it is fed not by us but by Jesus Christ Himself, who gives to it His force and action. Do not extinguish it by willful sin, and it will burn on forever.

Come often, every day if necessary, to this divine Furnace to increase the tiny flame in your hearts! Do you think your fire will continue to burn if you do not feed it?

Communion makes us practice the virtue of love. True and perfect love finds its full expression only in Communion. If a fire cannot spread, it goes out. So our Lord, wishing us to love Him and knowing how incapable of it we are of ourselves, fills us with His own love; He Himself comes and loves in us. We, then, work on a divine object. There is no gradual passage or transition; we are simultaneously in the grace and in the object of love. That is why our best and most fervent acts of love are made during our thanksgiving; we are nearer then to Him who forms them. Pour out your heart to our Lord at this time. Love Him tenderly.

Do not try so hard to make this or that act of virtue. Let our Lord grow within you. Enter into partnership with Him; let Him be the capital in your soul’s traffic, and your gains will be doubled with the doubling of your spiritual funds. Working with and by our Lord, you will gain a greater benefit than if you tried to increase your virtues simply by multiplied acts.

Receive our Lord, and keep Him as long as you can. Make plenty of room for Him within you. To let Jesus Christ increase in one’s soul is the most perfect act of love. Certainly, penitent and suffering love is good and meritorious; but the heart is repressed by it, weighed down beneath the thought of the continual sacrifices it must bear. This way, on the contrary, the heart expands, opens fully and freely; it shows its happiness.

For one who does not receive Communion, these words have no meaning; but let him plunge into this divine fire, and he will understand.

No, it is not enough simply to believe in the Holy Eucharist; we must also obey the laws it prescribes. Since the Eucharist is above all the Sacrament of love, our Lord desires us to share in that love and draw inspiration therefrom. So come to Jesus out of love for Him! We must come humbly, to be sure; but let love, or at least the longing to love, be our ruling motive. Let us desire to pour out our heart in His Heart; let us give evidence to Him of our tenderness and affection. Then we shall know what depths of love are in the adorable Eucharist.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in St. Peter Julian Eymard’s How to Get More out of Holy Communion, which is available from Sophia Institute Press. END QUOTES

“On The Need to State the Obvious” …. re-blogged

On the Need to State the Obvious
NICHOLAS SENZ

One of the most subversive, dangerous, thankless, and necessary tasks is to state the obvious. Our mental filing systems tend to push things labeled as “obvious” into the back of our minds, leaving room in the front for more important and pressing matters. But things tend to get misplaced in that dark attic of our memories, and before we know it, “the obvious” has disappeared into that mysterious void along with our high school French classes and the combination to the safe. Then when it comes time to access that information again and our brain tells us “file not found,” we retreat behind the rampart of “that’s obvious, everyone knows that” and hide our forgetfulness. But no one likes to be reminded that they have forgotten something they ought to know, so the job becomes thankless.

The chore is also subversive because it works against the interests of those who would use our forgetfulness against us. Often a cause begins with purpose and energy, but in the course of events the purpose is lost, or twisted, or hijacked, and the energy is harnessed for a new end. A vague gesture is made toward the original impetus behind the cause—just specific enough to maintain momentum, but ambiguous enough to hide the fact that a bait and switch has taken place. Examples abound, from politicians who appeal to “American ideals” not found in the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution, to Catholics who advocate for spurious ideas but attempt to legitimize them under the authority of the “spirit of Vatican II.” (It is a nearly iron-clad law that any idea proposed under the aegis of the “spirit of Vatican II” will either be absent from or directly contradicted by the actual documents of Vatican II.) Thus nothing is more revolutionary than proclaiming aloud against established interests what any person could read in a book should they choose to go looking for it.

The task of any Old Testament prophet could well be summed up by the phrase “stating the obvious.” The kings and people of Israel had been given the Law of Moses and knew full well what their obligations were, yet, as we all do, they routinely fell short of them, and even worked against them. The prophets were called upon by God to state the obvious to Israel, and they were usually thanked for their efforts by being murdered. Few occupations are as dangerous as the prophetic, precisely because they tell people what they already know but don’t want to hear.

A small mistake at the beginning will lead to a large problem farther on, as Aristotle noted. A deviation of one degree at the start will create an obtuse angle after a while, leading us in the opposite direction of where we ought to be going. Course corrections can still be made, but it sometimes requires stopping our momentum, turning around, and back tracking. Stubborn creatures that we are, most of us would rather keep going in the wrong direction than have to tear up all of our work and start over—which is not a bad definition of the modern notion of “progress.” To state the obvious, to state the principle that set us on our way in the first place, is necessary if we are to turn away from the shiny objects that distract us and reach our intended destination.

With this all having been said, it can be hoped that the following words will not be summarily dismissed as “obvious,” but can serve as a reminder of what we are about in the midst of all of our battles—in other words, what we are fighting for.

God created human beings to enter into loving communion with him, to be incorporated into Christ and transformed by the grace merited by his passion, death, and resurrection into adopted sons and daughters of God, that we might become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is our end, our purpose, our reason for being.

To aid us in reaching that end, Christ gave us the Church, founded on the pillars of the apostles, who charged their successors the bishops to carry on the task appointed to them by Christ: to teach, govern, and sanctify his people—to lead them into the truth and protect them from error, to order the affairs of the community, and to dispense the sacraments, the means of grace—the gift of God’s own life.

We need this because we are fallen creatures, with a tendency to sin, to put ourselves before God, our own desires before God’s desires for us, our own thoughts before God’s thoughts. Our wills, intellects, and passions are disordered, and need the help of God’s grace to be brought back into harmony. Ideally, we would know the truth of things, desire the good, and choose the means to achieve it, thus living out God’s love. This is the task of our everyday lives.

This is the outline of our situation—all points that are or should be “obvious” to us. These are the stakes over which we fight our internecine quarrels. We battle over doctrinal formulations because words matter: they shape our thoughts which guide our actions. The truth sets us free, and error enslaves us to a false view of the world. We battle over Church discipline because the rules we set for ourselves are a reflection of what we understand to be true about reality and good for human beings, so that some disciplinary changes could in fact be reflective of a false view of the world, and thus would not be in accord with the love of God. We battle over the celebration and reception of the sacraments because they are our sources of divine life, the medicine that heals our souls. And like any medicine, if taken incorrectly, they can actually do us harm—if taken while not in the state of grace, if celebrated in inappropriate ways that drive people away from the Church rather than drawing them to it, and so on.

Let this serve as a reminder to all. To those who roll their eyes at the “liturgy wars,” or eschew doctrinal discussions as needless hair-splitting, or are all too willing to throw virtuous babies out with disciplinary bathwater, remember the stakes involved: nothing less than the salvation of souls. Watering down the truth and relaxing certain disciplines will have the same effect on our spiritual health that a crash diet and no exercise will on our physical health: it will leave us malnourished and atrophied. Likewise, let those whose fight for truth and virtue remember that pride is at the root of all sin and a danger to us all, and that they must take care not to put their own self-satisfaction in their position overwhelm their regard for their neighbor’s well-being and salvation, that truth expressed without charity will bear no fruit in another’s life, that rituals and disciplines practiced without form or devotion really can become vain repetitions—in short, that while “Pharisee” can be a lazy charge, it can also be an accurate one.

This may seem obvious, but someone has to say it.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail from “Sermon on the Mount” painted by Carl Bloch in 1876.

The Church of the Perfect by Dr. “Italy”

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio

The parable of the wheat and the tares or weeds is Jesus’ response to those who want to cleanse the Christian community of the impure and imperfect. The Church, in this world, is more a hospital for sinners than a club for saints.
At one time or another, we’ve all dreamed of a perfect world. Imagine a company where everyone is productive, a government full of honest politicians, a church where all are saints.

A CHURCH OF THE PERFECT

Dreaming about such things is natural; expecting such things is dangerous. Unrealistic expectations lead to discouragement, despair, even cynicism. That would be bad enough. But the expectation that the Church is only for the holy has led people to embark on some very misguided projects throughout history.
Consider those who burned witches and heretics to cleanse the church of evil. Or the Puritans who were so appalled by ecclesiastical corruption that they planted a purified Church of the saints in a new land, legislating piety and subjecting the lapsed to public humiliation.

HOSPITAL FOR SINNERS

Jesus’ own example should have prevented these errors. First of all, Jesus himself was criticized by the Pharisees for dining with the unclean. He accepted tax collectors and sinners as disciples. He knew the flaws in Peter, Judas, and the others, but he chose them anyway. And just in case his own actions weren’t enough to get his point across, he told the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24ff).

All this is not to say that Jesus was soft on sin. He commanded the adulteress to go and sin no more and sharply rebuked the apostles numerous times for their pitiful lack of faith. But he did not dismiss them after their numerous blunders. He had come for the sick, not the healthy. His church was to be a hospital for sinners, not a club just for saints.

Of course a hospital exists not to keep people sick, but get them well. If patients want to be admitted, they must be willing to accept treatment, occasionally even severe treatment. Harsh medicines must be used to fight deadly diseases such as cancer. Other times cancerous organs even need to be cut out. Electric shock therapy has even been employed to bring people out of depression.

EXCOMMUNICATION & COMMUNION

This brings up an objection that has caused heated debate in recent years. If the Church is meant to be inclusive as the parable of the wheat and tares suggests, then why do we still have the penalty of excommunication on the books? Why do some clamor that Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should be denied holy communion? Isn’t this just a mean-spirited sort of Puritanism?
Not in the least. Withholding communion is done for two reasons. One is that the reception of Holy Communion means not only that one wants personally to receive the Eucharistic body of Christ, but that one is in full, visible communion with the ecclesial body of Christ, which is the Church, fully accepting its teaching and submitting to the authority of its pastors.

To receive communion while living in a state of grave sin or brazen dissent from church teaching causes tremendous confusion. It could mislead observers into concluding that the sin or error in question is not so serious after all and induce them to also indulge in it. Secondly, it could also lead the communicant to the same conclusion–that his or her actions or opinions really are acceptable and fall within the boundaries of what is spiritually healthy.
SEPARATING TARES, UPROOTING WEEDS

Excommunication is not snotty Puritanism. When employed, it is intended as a form of shock therapy. The patient is delusional and needs to be woken up to reality before it is too late. If we don’t act to bring the patient back to his senses, he will likely do himself in and perhaps even take others with him.
When to employ such therapy is a matter for Pope and bishops to decide. Our responsibility is not to worry about how to separate the evil tares from the wheat of the church, but how to uproot the weeds of wickedness from the field of our own hearts. That task is big enough!

This post on the parable of the wheat and the tares or weeds focuses on the church as a hospital for imperfect sinners and the role of discipline, withholding communion, even excommunication. It is a reflection upon the readings for the sixteenth (16th) Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 Psalm 86, Romans 8:26-7; Matthew 13:24-43). END QUOTES

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio
From a colorful and varied background as a professor of theology, a father of five, business owner, and professional performer Marcellino D’Ambrosio (aka “Dr. Italy”) crafts talks, blog posts, books, and videos that are always fascinating, practical, and easy to understand. He is a TV and radio personality, New York Times best-selling author, and speaker who has been leading people on a journey of discovery for over thirty years.

How We React to the Storms in Our Life …. Re-blogged by Brother Issac Hughey

How We React to the Storms in Our Life

Every morning at Matins (morning prayer) our monastery prays Psalm 148.  Seven times a week we pray

“Give praise to the Lord from out of the earth,
you monsters, and all you depths!
Fire and hail, snow and ice,
Tempestuous wind, who obey his word;”
(Psalm 148 7:8)

Recently, however, I think all of us in the community individually prayed these two psalm verses at Vespers (evening prayer).

Why at Vespers?

Well, we had just started Vespers and Fr. Paiisi was reading Psalms.  At this point he was audible.  In a few minutes, he went from being audible to being completely drowned out by the hail outside.  Hail was pounding against the sides and roof of the Church and making the declaration that it was giving praise to the Lord as it says in Psalm 148.  A few seconds later the village tornado siren decided to partner up with the hail in a duet.  (The siren may have been loud, but the hail still maintained its position of singing lead.)

The overwhelming noise of the hail, the siren announcing a tornado warning, combined with the history of the building we live in made us realize that we should take cover.  In 2000, before we had moved into the building we are in, the village had been hit by a tornado. Part of the monastery roof had decided to run away with the whirlwind; we knew it was a possibility again.

We headed to the basement for safety.  Fr. Paiisi kept reading the Psalms as he processed to the basement.  Other monks brought all the books necessary for the rest of Vespers.  If the hail and tempestuous winds were going to give praise to the Lord, so were we.  As it turned out, there was an old crucifix on one of the walls which our Abbot turned towards to lead us in prayer.  We even found an extra light to turn on during the Lamp-Lighting Hymn.

While we were still listening to the hail slam into the monastery, albeit muffled since we were in the basement, we sang an ancient hymn dating back to the third or fourth century.  St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, who lived from 330-379 spoke of it and was unaware of its origins due to it already being considered an old hymn.

“O joyful light of the holy glory of the Father Immortal; heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ!  Since we have come to the setting of the sun and have seen the evening light, we praise God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It is proper for You to be praised at all times by fitting melodies.  O Son of God, Giver of Life, therefore the world glorifies You!”

We finished Vespers in the basement.

It was beautiful!

Sure, the aesthetic of the Church with the icons, iconostasis, candles and so forth is more inviting than the basement with shipping materials and other signs of our newly embarked upon venture of selling coffee.  Being reminded by the elements, of just a tiny bit of God’s power, helped to lift one’s mind up in prayer.  There was a palpable beauty in that.

It was a memorable Vespers.

One of the monks told me that he had heard that a tornado had formed over St. Nazianz but did not touch down.  The village had survived, and the monastery building survived.  There was a good amount of damage to windows, cars, roofs, and a few trees in the village even fell over.  Everyone’s roof, even if damaged, was still connected!

In the days after this event, I started reflecting on the storm.  It got me thinking about the different ways we react to the storms in our life.

The community here reacted to the storm by continuing our prayer.  We moved down into the basement for safety, but we did not give up our prayer.  The storm did not cause us to run away from prayer for our safety.  In some ways, it led us deeper into our prayer.  It made us aware of the elements of the earth obeying the Lord and giving Him praise.  This allowed us to enter more deeply into prayer.  It reminded us of God’s power which caused us to enter more deeply into our prayer.  It moved our location which caused us to break out of any routine we were in calling to mind and putting the emphasis on our prayer.

Is this what happens when we encounter storms?

Do I react the same way?

The honest answer is, unfortunately, sometimes.  Sometimes though, I run away from the storms.  When storms confront us, whether/weather (pun) they are storms of anger, frustration, anxiety, lust, loneliness, pride, covetousness, physical sickness, or anything else that can throw us around, where do we take shelter?

Often we take shelter in unhealthy ways.  Shelter can be taken in the form of watching television mindlessly, being a busy body, gossip, self-pity, abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex, and many other unhealthy ways.  These ways may shelter us from the immediate storm, but in reality, they leave us more open to being damaged by the elements.  They are self-defeating.  Instead of running towards God, we run towards the immediate ‘safety’ of not dealing with things.  We are running away from God. I’m as guilty as anyone of doing it.

During my life, I’ve probably tested all possible ways to run away from the storms besetting me.  In the monastery, I’ve noticed that I usually fall into one of two unhealthy ways of taking shelter from the storm.  One way is by talking out loud.  This usually happens when I’m feeling uncomfortable and scared to confront the storm.  I will just say a random phrase out loud hoping that it leads me to not thinking about what is bothering me.  It usually ends up with me laughing myself because I realize the ridiculousness of blurting out something about doorknobs or some random thing.  The second is more harmful.  I will find myself complaining as a way of not dealing with the storm.  Complaining turns my attention away from the issue and focuses negatively on something or someone else.  This negativity separates me from God and makes the storm worse.

How then should we react?

We should react just like the monks of the monastery reacted during Vespers.  Instead of going down into the basement we should go down into our hearts.  We should enter deep into the center of our hearts and begin to pray from there.  The deep heart is where we are both the most vulnerable and the safest.

We are the most vulnerable because the prayer leaves us open to change. It is this change, the confronting and rooting out of our ‘false-selves’ that is scary and makes us vulnerable.  In ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ Lucy asks if Aslan is safe.  Mr. Beaver replies, “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Of course he isn’t safe, but, he’s good.”  Calling on Christ and entering into our hearts puts us face to face with He who will move us away from our comfortable stubbornness and out from our pseudo-shelters.

At the same time, however, we are the safest in our deep heart meeting with Christ because we then depend on God.  We are there calling on and depending on the God who wills our salvation.  We are calling on and depending on the God who desires what is good for us even if we do not in any way understand it.  Paradoxically, our safety is dangerous.

Storms allow us to cling to God.  They call us to grow closer to the God who loves mankind.  With God, even the darkest of places, and the most violent winds may serve to blow us closer to Him.  That is how we respond.  We run and cling to God.  We grow in love towards Him.  We allow Him to transform us. We praise Him.

“Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”  (Psalm 150:6)

Pray for me that I run to God instead of away from Him when storms beset me.

Pray for me.

I’ll pray for you.

The Groaning of the Christian Life by Father Nnamdi Moneme, OMV

 

The Groaning of the Christian Life

Our Lord Jesus Christ used the image of a woman in labor to speak to His disciples of the imminent grief and joy that they would experience from His Passion and the arrival of the Holy Spirit: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” (Jn 16:20-21) As certain as the labor pains are for the woman in labor, so is the joy of new life that comes after the pain.

The woman in labor can only experience of the joy of the new life to come by embracing and enduring the labor pains of the present moment. Likewise, the disciples will never know the joy of the Resurrected life of the Spirit without embracing the pains of the present moment. The Christian life is the new life of Christ within us by the power of the Spirit and this life is meant to grow through the trials and pains of life, striving to be brought to perfection and maturity in the life to come. On its journey to glory, the Christian life is one of constant struggle to do and to endure many things so that word of life grows within us.

St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s Second Reading that because of this new life that we have now, we are certain that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed for us.” He then uses the same image of the woman in labor to depict the spiritual life: “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

Today’s Gospel shows us three ways in which the Christian groans today so as to enter into the joy of new life tomorrow. First, there is the groaning that arises from our constant struggle to grow in our faith and to withstand temptations from the devil: “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.” The evil one targets the new life of grace in us to destroy it by making us lose our faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us and our new status as God’s beloved children called and equipped for holiness now and eternal glory in the life to come. This is why those who have the new life of Christ are constantly tempted by the devil.

Secondly, there is the groaning that comes from the trials and persecutions of the world, “The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy…But when some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away.” We do not find joy by turning back or by compromise with the world when persecuted but by our perseverance through it all, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”(Mt 10:22)

Lastly, there is the groaning that comes from that constant struggle to resist anxiety from worldly desires, “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” We groan as we strive to keep our hearts grounded in God and His love for us and not in earthly things and pleasures.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we face those nagging temptations that we cannot break free from, when we are unjustly treated, persecuted, or face trials, when our future looks bleak or hopeless, it is so easy for us to think that we have been abandoned by God or to think that we are facing divine punishment for our sins. On the contrary, these things come our way because we have this new life of the Spirit within us. This new life must grow, mature, and be made visible by the things that we do and endure through the trials and hardships of life. We are no strangers to the groaning and anguish of the Christian life even as we have the certain hope of eternal life to come.

We must recall that the entire life of Jesus was one of groaning and pain. King Herod persecuted Him before He spoke a single word and caused Him to flee into Egypt as an infant. Jesus would later summarize his entire life in these words, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.”(Lk 12:50) Even His prayers were not lacking in that anguish of heart, “In the days when He was in the flesh, He offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save Him from death.”(Heb 5:7) He entered His Passion in the Garden of Gethsemane with this anguished heart, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.”(Mk 14:34) All this anguish was His because He alone is “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” bearing that life of communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit and He desired to bring this life to fruition and communicate it to us by His death and Resurrection. He faced the groans of the present for the sake of the new life to be manifested in us in the future, “For the sake of the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross.”(Heb 12:2) How then can we bear the life of Christ Jesus within us and still hope to be free from the groaning of a new life that grows and matures in a world of pains and temptations?

Our Lord Jesus knew our weakness, reluctance, and fright to embrace the groaning of the new life. That is why He gave us His own mother Mary at the cross to be our own spiritual mother too. Mary is that “rich soil” who bears the greatest fruit, Jesus Christ, in all conditions of her earthly life. She received the Word Himself by her immense faith. She is the New Eve, the woman of Genesis, who has the power and the mission from God to crush the head of the devil. Mama Mary is the one who shared so deeply in the suffering of Christ throughout all the mysteries of His life, groaning with Him till His last breath on the cross so that His life may be in us too. In short, she is our Mother who continues to labor today to nurture the life of Christ in us. Mary has been tested and trusted to help us in our groaning as we grow in the life of Christ. She did not disappoint the Father who gave her His only begotten Son and she will never disappoint us too if we take her as our Mother, advocate, exemplar, and guide in the Christian journey.

Our Eucharist is always an encounter with Jesus Christ, who never ceases to sow His words of life in our hearts. Temptations, trials, tribulations and worldly anxieties may have quenched His words in our lives in the past because we were reluctant to groan as these seeds grew in us. But Jesus continues to sow His seeds of new life in us. Let us never strop striving today to let this seed of new life grow within us continuously even as we groan now so that we will experience the joy of the Lord to come.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!