Saturday, June 30, 2012

On Confession (and the Priesthood)


[This is an extended and more in-depth version of the one available on the Knights of Columbus,  Tonti Council's Website]


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As I was praying with my rosary I began thinking about what it means to be a Knight of Columbus [an all-men group who dedicate themselves to fraternity, charity, support of their local churches, and support of priests and bishops]. I would similarly like you to think about what it means to be an adult and member of our Church. The qualities of loyalty, perseverance, and courage come to mind quickly. But as knights of our holy Catholic Church we are called to have an additional set of virtues which are faith, hope, and charity.
Check them out at their website: KOC

We and the Church by our efforts do a great deal of good, and I think we should be proud of that fact. Nevertheless we can also point to times when we're weak, forgetful, and sinful. This is where God comes in—he is our strength, our sword, and our shield. He gives us many personal graces but His greatest gifts are the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments.

And the key word here is that they're gifts. We don't have to pay for them and sometimes we feel like we don't deserve them but, all the same, they are given for us to take.
The Sacraments founded on the Source of Life.

Now the sacraments Baptism, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, Confirmation, and Holy Orders are not so much our concern here. What I want to focus on is the Eucharist and Confession/Penance/Reconciliation. Now, I trust all of us regularly attend mass—if not I encourage you wholly!— so my sincere urging this time will be to accept and embrace the gift of Confession.

Many of us readily accept the joy of Baptism and Marriage, and many of us stand before the altar to receive our Lord, but so many of us run away from the Sacrament that was central to Jesus' earthly ministry—that is to say forgiveness.

We all know the command that Jesus gave to His whole Church: go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this commission we are all 'ones who are sent,' which is to say apostles and disciples.

But Jesus gave a command to His priests, his Apostles specifically chosen from among the people just as the elders of Israel were assembled by Moses (cf. Numbers 11:16-17). This time, however, it was not merely a prophet but the divine Word that selected these men.

For those who would doubt the priesthood of the Apostles, her special function, and the validity of their successive line, consider the following:

He chose twelve men, eleven who remained, to reveal the Word to all by their preaching and priestly ministry. For Christ told them at His last supper “whoever receives the one I send receives me” (Jn 13:20). He selected them from among the people to reveal the meaning of his teaching and to be leaders to those they gathered. As they spread the Word, they also laid their hands and selected from among the many communities men of sound character and true faith to carry on their work. They had the people assemble those from among their own who were “filled with the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3) so they might be “appointed” for a specific task. Then the Apostles “prayed and laid hands on them” (6:6). These men here were deacons but priests (and even bishops) were also selected from the line of the Apostles. For St. Paul tells Timothy (a bishop himself) to “stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6). That gift is the priesthood specific to the Apostles. Even Paul himself was “appointed [by Christ] as preacher and apostle and teacher” (1:11). Furthermore he praises presbyters [Greek word for priest or elder] who preside well. All the same he warns him, “do not lay hands too readily on anyone [so as to confer this priesthood on them]” (1 Tim 5:22).
The seven men first chosen by the Apostles, men whom they laid their hands upon.

A tradition which continues today.

Truly, let anyone who denies a specific and holy priesthood among the faithful consider these words.

As such Christ selected his Apostles from among the many others he met and set them apart. Christ commanded them: Go and forgive the sins of my people and lead them to me. Be to them as I am to you (and so share the burden of my mission in a special way), give them my Body and Blood and give them forgiveness of their sins.

The Apostles stand as both a representation of mankind in that they are and were like us: weak, fearful, and doubtful. But they stand apart in that they were raised by Christ to bear His name and participate in his royal priesthood. He “gave them authority over unclean spirits and every illness” (Mt 10:1) and to give this gift freely (cf. 10:8). Furthermore, when Christ forgave the sins of the paralytic those around him questioned him and accused him of blasphemy. Yet to prove that He could forgive sins he healed him as well. But, at the end of this passage it states: “But the crowds, seeing this, were awestruck and glorified God who gave such authority to men” (my translation from the Greek, Mt 9:8). A fuller treatment is necessary, but not here. For our purposes it is worth reflecting on why the plural was used by Matthew and that the authority in question was the forgiveness of sins.
All that effort and Christ decides to heal him of his sins first.

This is where Confession is so important. This is the sacrament of healing, the healing of one's sins. And this sort of healing was preferred to the healing of the body (cf. The story of the paralytic, Mt 9:1-8). My brothers and sisters, it is easy to be courageous against a shared threat and it is easy to be courageous against something from the outside. But even truer courage comes from recognizing the threat inside of us: the stain of sin and how we, at times, let the enemy into our gates.

Yet as knights, that is to say faithful Catholics, we are to protect our priests and protect those who are as “sheep among wolves.” We can only be strong when we are weak, that is to say that we must humble ourselves. We can only show others how to convert their hearts when we convert their own. By allowing Christ into our hearts through the Sacraments we are transformed by that grace. We allow, humbly and with joy, simple and concrete realities to effect a great change in us. For in the same way Christ effected a great change in the world by adopting our frail and small humanity—something we received with joy.

Jesus said that we should not fear those who harm our body but rather the Enemy who can harm our soul (cf. Mt 10:28). Confession is a gift that remains unopened and unused, especially here in the United States and Europe. If no one goes, no one cares or notices. I encourage you all to strengthen your soul by a regular reception of the Eucharist and an attempt to regularly receive this great sacrament.

As we walk before the altar we ask for the greatest gift ever given. In Confession we are prepared to stand before the altar, we are instructed by holy priests (find one you know and trust!) to recognize sin and our sinfulness, and we are given Christ's peace. How often is it that we believe we know our own hearts—yet it turns out we live in self-doubt, darkness, and ignorance. This is the true gift of friendship, of good people, and good priests! They will help you know yourself.
"Show me the way to Ars and I will show you the way to Heaven." ~St. John Vianney
A priest, one whom you can trust and one whom you can be honest with will do more for your soul than any personal prayers could accomplish. Personal prayer should never be abandoned, but neither should your priests—let alone the whole body of the Faithful!

Remember that “he who conceals his sins prospers not, but he who confesses and forsakes them obtains mercy” (Prov 28:13). How easy it is to 'conceal our sins' by keeping them to ourselves, saying them only in our head. Even this can be hard. How much harder, yet more freeing, is it to confess openly and in person? But the person you are confessing to is one completely and readily willing to forgive those who seek conversion and absolution. This is because he was commissioned by Christ, installed by His holy Apostles through Him, to help 'share the burden of the people of God.'

Stand up for those who are afraid and ignorant of their own sinfulness and confront your own. It is by the strength of all the Sacraments of the Church—gifts of God—that we will flourish!


Yours in Christ and a sinner like you,

M