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Catholic Life | Catholic Prayer Theology Questions Life

Confession: Reconciliation Is Not Beauty In My Life

This is a serious and not at all sarcastic post. It is also an intensely personal post. I believe that whatever is not of faith is sin, and I also believe in the primacy of a well-formed conscience. That means that something could be sin for me, and not for you. References to sin in all posts in this series are only references what is sin in my own life, not assertions that the same actions (or failures to act) are sins in anyone else’s life.

When Michelle asked for responses on why we go to confession I took it as a challenge to answer as honestly as possible. The first answer that came to mind was that I go because I’m Catholic. As a currently practicing Catholic, confession is non-optional.

But that could not be the actual truth since one can be a practicing Catholic in good standing with the Church and only go to confession once a year. Besides, given my place in the world and in history, it would be pretty easy to simply not be a practicing Catholic.

So I must go for some other reason. I reflected on my life this past year, and in considering my actions the best answer I could come up with was that I went to confession because it forces me to really stop, examine my conscience, and clean up my spiritual life. I fail to do this properly (the Church suggests daily) and so I choose confession as a way of getting things back on track. As Michelle said, it is like the difference between a self-test and the midterm in the lives of her students.

The truth is that reconciliation, like Sunday Mass, is one of the very few areas of my life where I act out of obedience. I go to confession because at some point not going becomes a significant rejection of the Holy Spirit in my life.

I believe that I should experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation monthly in most seasons, but last year I only went four times. Once I felt that pure bliss, but otherwise it was the usual.

I hate participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation because of the tremendous gap between what I think that it should be, and what it actually turns out to be. My stress level still rises thinking about a certain priest who was exceptionally lacking in gifting as a confessor. I am fine with priests who are busy and run things quickly, and I am fine with priests who are wise, but oh how I hate to deal with those who sit in the seat of Christ and throw me into spiritual turmoil because of their own ignorance. One of the most helpful things in this area was stumbling across Teresa’s thoughts. Saintly wisdom explaining reality was a great gift in allowing me to practice my faith without random priests ripping it apart. They could still tug at my faith, but I could ignore them when I knew they were simply sharing personal opinions which lacked careful formation.

Because I know from experience that it does not work to expect parish priests to be spiritual directors, I do my best to make my confession as short and carefully packaged as possible. Occasionally I will encounter someone like the young Augustinian (did you know that they count officially as “young” if they are 50 and under, and they are raising the age?!) who asked me what my state in life was and completely threw me because I didn’t know if he was asking if I was married or working or what. But mostly confession is a struggle to go through the motions of a potentially wounding, and usually meaningless, spiritual exercise.

While I sincerely regret my unhealthy relationship with confession, it does have the one advantage of making me exceptionally reluctant to knowingly choose sin. When I go through a phase of not wanting to go to Sunday Mass I know that if I fail to do so I will not be able to receive communion the next day without first going to confession. My twin dislikes for confession and Mass without communion are always enough to get me out the door.

Why do you go to confession? Do you find it easy to encounter Christ there?

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Let’s Talk About Confession

No, really, let’s talk about confession. Or, more precisely, let’s talk about why people don’t talk about confession.

I wonder whether it is because we confuse the seal of confession (“Let the priest who dares to make known the sins of his penitent be deposed”) with a prohibition of discussion by those doing the confessing.

Of course it could just be that we don’t like talking about our sin, but that doesn’t seem likely since we all put our sin on display all the time, whether we know it or not.

Which leaves only the possibility that others have more interesting lives and thus don’t find the process of reconciliation all that interesting.

So, what is it?

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Pride and Arrogance

Note to those who think that it is not fitting to admit sin on blogs: please do not read, and certainly do not comment on this post.

This is a serious, and not sarcastic post.

Most of my (short) adult life I have been aware of an underlying sin of pride. I cannot describe it as a “struggle” because it is only on very specific occasions that I bother to struggle with it. As with most of the worst evils, it simply does not seem as bad as the lesser sins that attract more attention and demand to be stamped out rightnow.

I have often been confused by those of my acquaintance who are arrogant. And they are many, for while I love humble people, I am constantly attracted to those who are arrogant. I misconstrued their arrogance as the same as my pride, and so often wondered how they could be so careless about appearing stupid in their arrogance.

In the beginning of our relationship I would get upset (and I mean genuinely distressed, not angry) at Josh for being confident when he turned out to be wrong. At first when we disagreed over some factual matter I would be inclined to back down because he was so matter-of-fact about simply being right. Then, when it turned out that I had in fact been correct, I was unable to understand how on earth he could have been so dogmatic without actually being right. Why on earth would he not have at least allowed the possibility that he was mistaken?

It turned out that he was simply rather used to being right and did not find it worth his time to qualify statements that were always true. He was often perfectly willing to modify his view when it was shown that he was, in fact, incorrect. But since he was accustomed to being right it seemed natural to him to always presume that he was right.

The week before Lent Josh asked me about the guidelines for fasting and abstinence. I told him what I thought they were, with the appropriate qualifiers about my memory and went immediately to look the rules up online. When I read the actual rules to Josh he said something indicating that what I was reading was not necessary since it was only confirming what he already knew. I do not remember what I said to express my “what the?” about the fact that two minutes before he had been asking me about something which he now indicated he already knew. Josh clarified that he found the official source unnecessary because I had said that I was pretty sure of the rules and I was “always right” about such things. He already knew because I had just told him.

I was rather amused (though of course I should have been annoyed) that his arrogance had now extended to his view of me! I still think that I should verify anything that I cannot precisely remember from an authoritative source, and Josh now thinks that he does not even need to double-check things on which I am fairly certain!

On reflecting on my pride-arrogance relationship with Josh it is surprising to realize that the most obvious sin was rarely an issue. The same cannot be said for my interactions with arrogant e-friends. Something about the internet makes people stupid. It happens frequently on blogs, but I first realized the extent of the problem on Twitter.

Twitter is a 140 World of Arrogance. It is, of course, partly that like attracts like and I love arrogance, but it is also partly the nature of the sea-beast. Fast and concise tends to boil down to arrogance, or bring it to a boiling point, or some other boiling metaphor which you will already know if you are a part of my Twitter world.

Fairly soon after I started @VitaCatholic I saw pride in my own stream1 and so I began to make a point to undercut it. Whenever I saw a chance to stop the pride-game by admitting my ignorance or fitting in disclaimers I would do so.

And then pride really became a problem. I told Josh my dilemma. In trying to eliminate arrogance I had inadvertently fed my pride. Now others would say very stupid things to me because they assumed that my lack of arrogance reflected ignorance, and then my pride would kick in and I would wonder why anyone would be so stupid.

Josh offered practical tips. Apparently my version of concise non-arrogance was a problem for arrogant literalists. Josh told me to never say that I “knew nothing” about a subject in which I had taken a class or read a few books. To me it is a concise way of saying that I am aware that my view probably needs to be refined significantly and that I may not even be confident enough to do anything other than play devil’s advocate. But Josh thought it an obvious invitation for eager Arrogants to chime in with what I would consider to be less-than-nothing.

Practical tips were helpful, but I was still bewildered by others willingness to set themselves up for stupidity. When others challenge me and I know that I am right, I wonder whether they have access to something I do not. Perhaps they have read secret Vatican archives and I really should reconsider my view. After all, it is not like it would make any sense for them to tell me that I am wrong when I know that I have facts on my side, so there must be something that I am missing. It simply would not make sense for someone to tell me that I am wrong without so much as checking the catechism or canon law, or a few letters by Pater Deserto-Obscurus. If I thought someone was wrong I would first do a bit of fast fact-checking and then phrase my challenge in a way that made it clear that while I doubted their claim I was quite open to having it clarified and supported. After all, I assume that others are equally prideful and do not want to say things that are incorrect.

It was only when I realized the importance of distinguishing pride from arrogance that I began to understand the situation. While others are more arrogant than I, they do not have the deep underlying pride which checks my words and sends me fact-checking. Others will off-handedly say presumptuous things because they are arrogant, but their arrogance is an acceptable personality trait. Being arrogant has its downsides, but it also enables one to share crucial information in a timely manor, to inform and correct others without doing a lot of work.

The problem is pride. Pride eats through what should be my soul and causes me to judge others for their arrogance. Pride prevents me from offering helpful tips about where others might find a fuller view of any given issue because I do not want to take the risks involved. Pride makes me shut up and shut out others.

And the oh so sweet irony is that the frequent remedy seems all too homeopathic. My pride is best defeated by risking arrogance.

1.Wait, there are whales in streams? No wonder they fail so often! Who came up with these symbols?!

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Pope Benedict on the Feast of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Virgin Mary

Taken from the 2009 homily for the Feast of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Virgin Mary, given in Yaoundé Cameroon.

How can we enter into the specific grace of this day? In a little while, at the end of Mass, the liturgy will remind us of the focal point of our meditation when it has us pray: “Lord, today you nourish us at this altar as we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph. Protect your Church always, and in your love watch over the gifts you have given us.” We are asking the Lord to protect the Church always – and he does! – just as Joseph protected his family and kept watch over the child Jesus during his early years.

Our Gospel reading recalls this for us. The angel said to Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home,” (Mt 1:20) and that is precisely what he did: “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Mt 1:24). Why was Saint Matthew so keen to note Joseph’s trust in the words received from the messenger of God, if not to invite us to imitate this same loving trust?

Joseph trusts God when he hears his messenger, the Angel, say to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Mt 1:20). Throughout all of history, Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust, even in the face of such astonishing news.

Dear fathers and mothers here today, do you have trust in God who has called you to be the fathers and mothers of his adopted children? Do you accept that God is counting on you to pass on to your children the human and spiritual values that you yourselves have received and which will prepare them to live with love and respect for God’s holy name? At a time when so many people have no qualms about trying to impose the tyranny of materialism, with scant concern for the most deprived, you must be very careful.

Do not let yourselves be captivated by selfish illusions and false ideals! Believe – yes! – continue to believe in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God alone truly loves you in the way you yearn to be loved, God alone can satisfy you, can bring stability to your lives. Only Christ is the way of Life.

God alone could grant Joseph the strength to trust the Angel. God alone will give you, dear married couples, the strength to raise your family as he wants. Ask it of him! God loves to be asked for what he wishes to give. Ask God for the grace of a true and ever more faithful love patterned after his own. As the Psalm magnificently puts it: God’s “love is established for ever, his loyalty will stand as long as the heavens” (Ps 88:3).

The first priority will consist in restoring a sense of the acceptance of life as a gift from God. According to both Sacred Scripture and the wisest traditions of Africa, the arrival of a child is always a gift, a blessing from God. Today it is high time to place greater emphasis on this: every human being, every tiny human person, however weak, is created “in the image and likeness of God” (Gen 1:27). Every person must live! Death must not prevail over life! Death will never have the last word!

“Hoping against hope”: is this not a magnificent description of a Christian? Africa is called to hope through you and in you! Each and every one of us was thought, willed and loved by God. Each and every one of us has a role to play in the plan of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Joseph, who hoped against hope; if exasperation or hatred seizes you, think of the love of Joseph, who was the first man to set eyes on the human face of God in the person of the Infant conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Let us praise and thank Christ for having drawn so close to us, and for giving us Joseph as an example and model of love for him.

Dear brothers and sisters, I want to say to you once more from the bottom of my heart: like Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home, that is to say do not be afraid to love the Church. Mary, Mother of the Church, will teach you to follow your pastors, to love your bishops, your priests, your deacons and your catechists; to heed what they teach you and to pray for their intentions. Husbands, look upon the love of Joseph for Mary and Jesus; those preparing for marriage, treat your future spouse as Joseph did; those of you who have given yourselves to God in celibacy, reflect upon the teaching of the Church, our Mother: “Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes and confirms it. Marriage and virginity are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with his people” (Redemptoris Custos, 20).

Once more, I wish to extend a particular word of encouragement to fathers so that they may take Saint Joseph as their model. He who kept watch over the Son of Man is able to teach them the deepest meaning of their own fatherhood. In the same way, each father receives his children from God, and they are created in God’s own image and likeness. Saint Joseph was the spouse of Mary. In the same way, each father sees himself entrusted with the mystery of womanhood through his own wife. Dear fathers, like Saint Joseph, respect and love your spouse; and by your love and your wise presence, lead your children to God where they must be (cf. Lk 2:49).

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John Paul II on Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer

1. “Here is the wise and faithful servant, whom the Lord has put in charge of his household” (cf. Lk 12: 42).

This is how today’s liturgy presents St Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer. He was the wise and faithful servant who, with obedient docility, accepted the will of the Lord, who entrusted him with “his” family on earth to watch over it with daily devotion.

St Joseph persevered in this mission with fidelity and love. The Church, therefore, offers him to us as an exceptional model of service to Christ and to his mysterious plan of salvation. And she calls upon him as the special patron and protector of the whole family of believers. In a special way, Joseph is presented to us on his feast day as the saint under whose powerful protection divine Providence has wished to place the persons and ministry of all who are called to be “fathers” and“guardians” among the Christian people.

2. “”Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously’…. “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?‘” (Lk 2: 48-49).

In this simple, family conversation between Mother and Son, which we heard a few moments ago in the Gospel, we find the characteristics of Joseph’s holiness. They correspond to God’s plan for him, which he, being the just man that he was, would fulfil with marvellous fidelity.

“Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously“, Mary said. “I must be in my Father’s house“, Jesus replies. It is precisely these words of the Son that help us to understand the mystery of Joseph’s “fatherhood“. In reminding his parents of the primacy of the One whom he called “my Father”, Jesus reveals the truth about Mary’s and Joseph’s role. The latter was truly Mary’s “husband” and Jesus’ “father”, as she affirmed when she said:  “Your father and I have been looking for you”. But his being a husband and father is totally subordinate to that of God.

This is how Joseph of Nazareth was called, in turn, to become one of Jesus’ disciples:  by dedicating his life to serving the only-begotten Son of the Father and of his Virgin Mother, Mary.

It is a mission that he continues to carry out for the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, to which he never fails to give his provident care, as he did for the humble family of Nazareth.

Monday, 19 March 2001


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Saint Teresa of Avila on Devotion to Saint Joseph

I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and she will see by experience what great advantages come from her commending herself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him. Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach her how to pray, let her take this glorious saint as her master and she will not go astray.

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Saint Josemaría on Devotion to Saint Joseph

I almost posted this without commentary as an act of penance, but I am also working on being less confusing for the poor souls who stagger by my blog expecting it to be normal.

Saint Josemaría is, in fact, a Saint. Yes, some of his devotees are significantly less than Christlike. But good should be appreciated, regardless of how much evil surrounds it. Just like evil should be eliminated, no matter how much good surrounds it.

That said, enjoy this clip. It is good.

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Litany to Saint Joseph

I already posted a litany to Saint Joseph, but this is too lovely to not share.

From Echoes of Ephesus

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Saint Joseph: Novena for a Special Need

Glorious Saint Joseph, tenderhearted father, faithful guardian of Jesus, chaste spouse of the Mother of God, I ask you to join with me in praising God the Father through his divine Son who died on the cross and rose again to give us sinners new life. Through the holy name of Jesus, pray with me that we may obtain from the eternal Father the favor we ask. (Here state your intention.)

Taken from Saint Joseph Prayers and Devotions

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Saint Joseph: A Hidden Life

Fr. James Martin, S.J. explains why you should care about Joseph.

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