The Value of Confession

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young

“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.” Light exposes all kinds of things – makes things clear. Often when I grill steaks, especially in the wintertime, it is necessary and essential to use my headlamp so when I cut into the juicy steak the inside is made visible – is it still too rare or just right! Light exposes what is inside – not in just a piece of beef but also our souls! Lent is a time the Church asks us to expose what is inside, expose those wicked things – sin – to not a flashlight, but to Christ, the light, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If these sins are not exposed, they remain and fester. Only when they are truly exposed – confessed – to the light of Christ through the encounter with Him in a Confessional are we set free. In the next couple of weeks there are all kinds of opportunities around the Sioux Falls area to go to Confession (dates will be printed in next week’s bulletin), so we can expose those sins and truly receive the light of Christ in our souls. Don’t miss the opportunity to be in the presence of God.

Dr. Scott Hahn said in his book on confession, “Confession keeps us from living and laboring under delusions about the world, about our place in it, and about the story of our lives (living in blindness). It brings the dark corners of our soul into the clear morning light of eternal day, for ourselves to see in the sight of God. That can be difficult, and it can sometimes be painful, but in the end it heals with the all-powerful touch of Jesus Christ.”

Pope Francis has often commented upon Confession and the healing and freeing power behind the Sacrament. He not only preaches and encourages us to go, but he too uses the Sacrament. Just last year, after giving an address on forgiveness in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, he walked over to a confessional and before all present, including the media, confessed his sins to a simple priest.

“Do not be afraid of Confession! When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession! I would like to ask you…when was the last time you made your confession?…Two days, two weeks, two years, twenty years, forty years? Everyone count, everyone say ‘when was the last time I went to confession?’ And if much time has passed, do not lose another day. Go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there…Jesus receives you, he receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to Confession!” – Pope Francis

 

The Church’s Wisdom is Imperative for our Time

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, For Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn And her victory like a burning torch.”

With the specter of so many worries hanging over the world today we must be vigilant and deliberate about which way we turn for consolation. The news in our city, state, nation and world is rife with bad news complete with all the sordid details. Open rejection of God and His Eternal Law is applauded with glee or met with a shrug of the shoulder. Saints and sinners alike are victimized by the way the world is going, which contributes to a sense of malaise that is increasingly difficult to avoid.

These days, it seems that any answer the Church gives is met with howls of derision and protest. There is an attractive convenience in the avoidance of truthful self-examination and spirituality based upon the Commandments of the Father and the Gospel of His Son; instead it is traded for a ‘don’t tread on me’ conception of freedom that demands liberty from any constraint or moral absolute. The Catholic Church teaches freedom for the truth … our culture continues down the path of freedom from the truth and we are experiencing the fruit of this philosophy now.

Pornography, perversion and anatomy is subject matter for cheap laughs on primetime television. Abortion providers are trumpeting the freedoms they have ensured for society and children think sexting is a grown-up way of acting. Lack of civility is rampant and the discord we all experience demands that God not be mentioned anywhere in the public arena. The United States Army this week was cowed into removing ‘For God and Country’ from their recruitment advertising. What are we so afraid of? Ordinary Time has returned to our Church calendar. Can we spend time studying and researching the vast treasure of wisdom as taught to us by centuries of theological thought emanating from Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Culture brands the Church as irrelevant for the modern world, as if the arrogance of progress and technology somehow trumps the same human nature that has existed since the fall of Adam and Eve. If we don’t recognize this lie, the price we pay will be high. The issues that the Church takes a stand on are not going away, nor will they be solved through legislation, popular opinion or keeping our heads in the sand. There is no doubt we are paying a price now. The bill already due is all over the news and all over the world. One ready example was provided by Pope Paul VI when he prayerfully predicted the fallout from widespread use of contraceptives over forty years ago:

· The general lowering of moral standards throughout society
· A rise in marital infidelity & divorce
· The dramatic lessening of respect for women by men
· The coercive use of reproductive technology on women

Vigilant and deliberate about where we turn for consolation means we are going to have to do more than complain about these problems or complain about those with these problems. The first thing we can do is eradicate any filth from our lives now. We must learn what our faith teaches and why. We ought to fast and pray for our nation and the world. Life is short and our judgment will be thorough, and while we do not discount the compassion of a merciful God, if we are careless enough to think His mercy is summoned like a car insurance commercial, we are in big trouble. Presumption is a sin and an effective weapon of Satan. Instead of trying to outthink God and the Church, it is imperative that we learn what She teaches and why … then live in the freedom Christ extends to us through Her. This freedom will enable us to live in the world and be untainted by it.

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Are Our Excuses Lame?

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

The blame game never works. Retribution against an opponent on the playing field is the act the referee  always seems to notice, not the instigation. Trying to shift responsibility onto bosses or co-workers for less-than-optimal performance or results  never looks good and is a weak defense. As we see in the Gospel today, it doesn’t work with Jesus either.

When the servant was called to account for his fearful inaction he decided his best defense was not true honesty or self-examination, it was to accuse his Master for somehow forcing him to bury his talent. Was the Master as terribly demanding as  the servant accused him of being? We can reasonably assume by the manner in which he doled out his possessions that the Master was prudent with his treasure and just in dealing with his servants. All three accepted their Master’s generosity. Unfortunately for the third servant, he just didn’t get it…the Master wasn’t just giving him a task, he investing in the servant; and that servant took the easy way out. He did nothing and then blamed the Master for his deficiencies.

The blame game may be a popular strategy, but that doesn’t mean it works well. True intellectual and spiritual maturity allows us to see our own culpability and shortcomings so that we can honestly assess ourselves and dissect the chain of events like the one  we experience in today’s Gospel. The responsibility of this episode was not due solely to the fact that the Master was a demanding man as the servant tried to contend. His excuses were lame.

Are our excuses lame? It is like the time the man enters the Confessional to confess his sins to the old Monsignor. He begins, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My wife……”

As we continue through the month  of November praying for the souls in Purgatory, we also remain focused on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. A good prayer point for reflection is an assessment on how much and how often we employ the blame-game to exonerate our own actions or inaction in order to shift responsibility to others. Remember the words of St. Augustine. “The more we pay attention to the sins of others, the less attention we pay to our own.”  Our spiritual life and the custody of our souls is the most important ‘talent’ the Lord has entrusted to us. Careful reflection upon our actions and desires in the daily situations of our lives is key to our growth, maturity and holiness. We will serve God and ourselves if we use this time well.

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Evolution

Confession from the administrator of BeopentoGod.com

Since I was a youth, I have always struggled with the idea of creation and wrote it off as a “man made” idea. As a youth growing into adulthood, I came to learn about evolution as a possible beginning that was explained through science. The following text summarizes a possible end to this mystery.

 

What difference does evolution make?

We must distinguish three meanings that evolution can have.

First: it can mean simply a theory about what happened – more complex species appeared on earth – and when, as shown by the fossil record.

Second: it can mean a theory about how this happened: by “natural selection,” “the survival of the fittest.”

Third: it can mean the absence of a divine design, as distinct from God using natural selection.

This third sense is not scientific at all, but philosophical and theological. One can accept evolution in sense 1 but not 2, or 1 and 2 but not 3. There is certainly a contradiction between the Bible and evolution in sense 3. But evolution in sense 3 is not a scientific theory at all.

If we evolved simply by blind chance, not divine design, then our lives have no overarching meaning, no preset divine plan, no script. The only meaning, purpose or values that exist are the ones we invent for ourselves. These can never be right or wrong, justified or not justified by a higher standard than our own desires, which created them. Thus there is no real reason to prefer Christian ethics to Stalinist ethics, for instance, except one’s own desires themselves. Desire (volitional faith) becomes its own reason, its own justification.

There is no logical contradiction between the Bible’s claim that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1 NIV) and the claim that once the earth was here, species evolved by natural selection. Science is like the study of the inner ecology of a fishbowl; the Bible is like a letter from the person who set up the fishbowl. Far from being logically exclusive, the two ideas of creation and evolution easily include each other or suggest each other. On the one hand, the Bible does not say that God “created” each species by a separate act, but that he said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” (Gen 1:24). On the other hand, a theory of evolution that confines itself to empirical science does not claim to know whether or not there is a divine Designer behind these natural forces. But surely such an elegant and ordered design strongly suggests a cosmic Designer.

There is also no logical contradiction between the Bible’s claim that the human soul (the “image of God”) is “breathed” (“spirited”) into us from God, and evolution’s claim that our body evolved from lower forms. Genesis 2:7 even suggests just such a double origin.

— Kreeft, P., & Tacelli, R. (2003). Pocket handbook of Christian apologetics. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

 

Recently I was asked “if you could describe yourself in one word, what word would you choose?” My reply was that I am “developing.” So are our scientific discoveries, developing, in hopes that we may know someday. Believing that God is Creator, we still seek to understand how he creates. The relationship between faith and reason give us the freedom to explore this fullness of creation.

Faith and reason.

 

The Steadfast and Just Way of Life

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

If you were to ask my brothers and sisters which of my father’s greatest quotes is most memorable we would all respond in unison…”Who said its gotta be fair?”. His pearl of truth led to more arm-flapping, wailing in consternation at injustices rendered and downright disbelief at the reality of the world than any other answer he ever gave us to our problems with people, places or things.  It was a masterstroke of his intellect. It is also an unfortunate reality.

Referees weren’t fair. Teachers weren’t fair. The taxman, tests, traffic laws, bosses, and not being allowed to go to every party was unfair. His response each time brought a howls of protest from his child and a wry grin of triumph to his face… and darnit, he was correct.

Fairness is a wonderful concept, yet rarely is it a complete reality. Someone always gets the short straw it seems..and boy do we get indignant when it happens to us.If we were as good at being fair in our day to day affairs as we are at keeping score about the times we were somehow shortchanged by being treated unjustly maybe life wouldn’t seem so unfair at times.

‘Steadfast and just’ is a description we hear many times attributed to St. Joseph. His adherence to this way of life was a cause for joy that we can experience as well. It is not the kind of joy that makes us hoot, holler and celebrate though; it’s the kind of joy that perpetuates itself by seeking the same thing over and over again because it resonates with and finds its roots in what is good, true, just and beautiful… and these are the hallmarks of God.

Our resolute mindset  in living the steadfast and just way of life is the only real protection against the disappointment and indignation  we experience when treated unfairly or unjustly.

The steadfast and just way of life is our safety net when we react poorly at first to these disappointments as well. It helps us shake off the anger and betrayal we may feel toward the perpetrator of the offense, even when we accuse the Lord for being the offender.

I can never blame the Lord for my woes. It always comes down to the way I use/misuse my freedom or the way in which my neighbor has. The steadfast and just way of living protects us in both instances and helps us to carry on for the sake of our true and ultimate purpose: to know God, live his ordinances and strive for virtue.

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Prayer of Abandonment

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucald

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A Meeting Encounter with Christ in Confession

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

Jesus put a lot of leg work into his mission of mercy and redemption, didn’t he? He was all over the place preaching, healing and revealing the joys of the Kingdom. Great throngs gathered in His presence, and His simple, truthful message of love and justice revealed not just His power as God, but the will of His Father.

Seeking the Kingdom of God is not merely a spiritual exercise; it takes some leg-work as well, confirming our intention through action. We physically arrive at Mass, expend energy in our worship, drive to visit the sick, perform works of mercy for others, etc. This spirituality in action is an expression of our humanity, the synergy of body and soul that orients and impels us to heavenly pursuits.

Confession is a heavenly expenditure as well. It is a meeting encounter with Christ that avails us to his healing and grace, not to mention the joys of a clear conscience. Frequent confession is a valuable tool in our quest for holiness, since we are forgiven our sins, returned to a state of grace and aware of our personal weakness that led to sin in the first place. In other words, we are put on guard by the grace of the confessional. Frequent confession is not an admission of anything more than your good intention and desire for holiness.

At the same time, be wary of viewing the Sacrament of confession in the same light as a trip to the dentist office or getting the oil in your car changed. Confession is not a check-up or a clearing of the air with the Lord. It is a tool and a gift that keeps the bond of charity between us and God taut and strong. Mortal sin breaks that bond, and denies our proper reception of the Eucharist. In other words, we don’t receive Communion if we know we are in a state of mortal sin.

If our sins are venial in nature, the Sacrament of confession remains a valid and effective way to safeguard against more serious sin. The best remedy for sin is the Eucharist itself; so ensuring our proper reception of this grace-filled gift is paramount to our pilgrimage. Please turn to the confessional; it is a Sacrament of great grace. It clears the head, opens the heart and keeps our eye on the prize of heaven.

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Integrity of Being and Action

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

Ontology is the study of Being. It is derived from the Greek word ontos; it points to reality and its truth, as opposed to what is false or the result of conjecture and false reasoning. Ontology is the backbone of philosophy; and philosophy is the foundation and handmaiden of theology. In other words, why we believe what we believe.

Our beliefs, while driven by faith, are predicated upon the sound and firm foundation of our Being; who we are, what we are, that we are. Our immortal souls are that place where our Being and the Truth of God are joined. This is where the Eucharist feeds us, our sins are forgiven and grace operates.

Our Being precedes our doing….hopefully. We are not defined by what we do; we are defined by who we are. This is the reasoning behind the theological adage ‘action follows Being’. When there is a disconnect between the two, trouble begins. We expose ourselves to the scourge of temptation and sin because human nature and its woundedness begin to drive everything from thought to word to action.

Integrity is not an action, it is a quality. When we speak of integrity in this sense, we are speaking of actions that flow from our Being into action. A truly integrated human is one who seeks perfection of the heart that expresses itself in action. Whether we call it our soul, conscience, heart-of-hearts or something else, we have a refuge from frustration, a wonder-counselor and friend in this place where God is always with us.

In today’s Gospel we encounter Christ beginning the ‘doing’ phase of His incarnate mission. As we continue to press on in Ordinary Time, He exemplifies how a well-ordered spiritual life can bear fruit. Our Lord was active in pursuit of expressing His being through doing, and this lesson is crucial for our lives as well.

Holiness is not passivity, nor is it a bull in a china shop. It is the integration of our souls in action, properly ordered. Penance and Eucharist, prayer and the exercise of virtue are the tools to the integrity of Being and action. Our salvation is won through Christ and is played out in the concrete, ordinary circumstances of our daily lives. When we live in this manner, time isn’t as excruciating, nor does our neighbor harm us as much as we think; this is because our hearts are with Christ, our actions are buoyed in the Spirit and our
eyes are on the prize of heaven.

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The Precious Role of the Elderly

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also a waiting for Him to truly come again at the second coming. We are all waiting, waiting for Christ to come. As I try to picture how we as a people should be waiting and not being so busy and going all the time, I think to the many parishioners and family members who currently rest in retirement and nursing homes waiting…really waiting for anyone to come through
their door to visit them. As priests, we have a responsibility and obligation to visit our homebound and those living in nursing homes. This is also a responsibility each of us have, to be Christ to the homebound, many who are elderly and even our own family members, to visit them and care for them in this their time of need.

Last week Pope Francis gave a very challenging daily homily reflecting on the Book of Maccabees where he recounts the story of Eleazar, who was a 90 year old man who was provoked by the authorities to eat pork which was against the Jewish Law. He refused this order and preferred to suffer and die than to go against the Law of God. Eleazar wanted to hand on and show to the future generations his faithfulness and trust in God, even
at the cost of his own life. He wanted to leave behind a noble and true inheritance to the next generations. Pope Francis used this witness of Eleazar, an elderly man, to point out the important and invaluable role that our elderly have played in the life of the Church and society. Unfortunately, these contributions and sacrifices are often overlooked and forgotten. He stated, “We live in a time when the elderly don’t count. It’s unpleasant to say it, but they are set aside because they are considered a nuisance” yet “the elderly pass on history, doctrine, faith and they leave them to us as an inheritance.”
We owe a great debt of gratitude to our elderly, many of whom belong to the Greatest Generation.
Pope Francis stated that we should exalt the precious role of the elderly in the Church and in society. They should not be forgotten or sidelined or left in nursing homes often abandoned. This Advent, let us remember to visit our loved ones, our parishioners or even a stranger who is homebound or living in a nursing home. When we visit them we recognize and remember their contributions of how they handed on to us the faith, how they sacrificed for freedom and how they upheld the moral fabric. To not do this would truly be an injustice. Pope Francis pointed out that, “A people that does not care for its grandparents, that does not respect its grandparents, has no future.”

“We should do well to think about the many elderly men and women, about those who are in rest homes and also those…who have been abandoned by their loved ones. Let us pray for them that they may be consistent to the very end. This is the role of the elderly, this is the treasure. Let us pray for our grandfathers and grandmothers who often played a heroic role in handing on the faith in times of persecution. Especially in times past, when father
and mothers often were not at home…grandmothers were the ones who handed on the faith.”

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Pride and Lukewarmness vs. Gratitude and Love

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

It is not convenient or pleasurable to think or talk about the Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. We like to sweep these questions underneath the rug and manifest the ability to overlook the contradictions in our life and actions with that of Christ’s Gospel. Part of this is human nature of course, but at the same time it is
symptomatic of a dangerous combination that hampers spiritual growth and maturity: pride and lukewarm faith.

Pride…everyone has it, some more than others. Now, if we didn’t have SOME pride, what would we ever amount to? We can be proud of the home team, our garden, even our accomplishments. Pride becomes a bad word when it governs our conscience and leads us to believe we are somehow above or exempt from the high bar our Lord has set. We know pride to be a Capital sin, because it engenders so many others.

Pride and narcissism affect our conscience because when the world revolves around us, the knowledge and practice of the interior law that our conscience should defend is instead preoccupied with ensuring our that actions obtain our whims. We choose in accord with our conscience, and when the conscience is me-centered, charity never prevails. We can’t serve two masters, and when our goal is heaven only one master can prevail.

In a world where putting words in Christ’s mouth is nearly as common as outright defiance of God and His Natural Law, we should carefully heed Christ’s teachings and actions in this month’s Gospels. There will be a judgment, and the way to prepare is to recognize His Cross while discarding our idols; starting with the way we all sometimes idolize ourselves.

Pride and lukewarmness are huge obstacles to prayer and a life of gratitude and love. Frequent sacramental Confession and reception of the Eucharist are great weapons in the battle against these sins. We have at our disposal in the confessional what is no less than a meeting-encounter with the mercy and grace of our Lord, and the Eucharist is His food for nourishment on our pilgrim way.

The way to conquer what ails us is found in going beyond taking and learning to receive and give. We receive what is good and true from the Lord and share it with others. It’s the way to live in competence and confidence as the children of God.

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