Posts Tagged ‘Penance’

Reconciliation Monday

Monday, April 14th, 2014

I hope that our non-Catholic friends will pardon many of us Catholics today.  They will probably sense that we’re a bit jittery:  This is Holy Week, and, today is Reconciliation Monday throughout all five boroughs, Long Island, and seven counties north of the Bronx, reaching almost to Albany.  Sometime this week, especially today in the Archdiocese of New York, Diocese of Brooklyn, and Diocese of Rockville Centre (as every parish in those three dioceses has confessions available from 3:00-9:00) many of us will approach the sacrament of penance to conclude Lent and be ready for Easter.

So, we’re a little nervous.  Going to confession is like a trip to the dentist:  we know it’s good for us, and we sure feel better afterwards, but we’re anxious about doing it.

The simple truth is, we are sinners.  We Catholics – - like all Christians, and our Jewish neighbors – - acknowledge that our sins not only offend our loving God and harm ourselves, but that they hurt everybody else.

We claim to be people of love, and, I’m afraid, sometimes are hateful; we pretend to be selfless, and often are the opposite; we say we’re honest, and on occasion lie and cheat; we’re supposed to be for peace, and end-up fighting and arguing. We say we’re humble, but are all too often cocky and arrogant.  As is evident from what Pope Francis expressed Friday, we remain sickened and sorry for such a horror as the abuse of minors by priests, and negligence by bishops, however tiny a percent of clergy they may be.  We have disregarded the commandments, the beatitudes, the Bible, and the teaching of Jesus and His Church.  We admit it.  We’ve hurt God, ourselves, and our neighbors.  We’re sorry.

We know God forgives us when we ask Him to, because He told us so.  We experience that in Confession.  We find it hard at times to forgive ourselves.  And we ask those whom we have offended to pardon us for our failure to practice what we preach.

I guess that’s why we describe ourselves as “practicing Catholics,” because we keep trying to get it right.

So, this week finds us somber, as we recall what our sins did to Jesus that first Good Friday.  Jesus, on his way to His cross, fell three times, which means, in the Bible, “a lot.”  We slip and fall a lot too!

But, this Holy Week finds us ultimately joyful, grateful, renewed as we celebrate His resurrection from the dead this Easter Sunday.

Today finds us jittery as we prepare for confession on this “Reconciliation Monday.”

So, to our non-Catholic friends who read this blog, I say thanks for your patience with us, not only today, but every day, as we often stumble and fall in what I hope is our ongoing journey to follow Jesus more faithfully and generously.

And, to my fellow Catholics, I strongly urge you to take advantage of this most wonderful sacrament.  If you’re in New York, Brooklyn, or Rockville Centre, stop by any Church between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. today, and a priest will be waiting to hear your confession.  If you’re outside the New York metropolitan area, I am sure your local parish will have additional opportunities to receive the Sacrament.

Happy Passover to our Jewish neighbors!

Happy Holy Week and Easter to our Christian neighbors!

External Markers of Our Faith

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

It caused somewhat of a stir . . .

A few months back, you might have heard, the bishops of England reintroduced the discipline of abstinence from meat on Fridays.

Every Catholic mid-fifties and older can recall how abstinence from meat on all Fridays was a constant of our lives.  In 1967, Pope Paul VI relaxed this discipline, decreeing it no longer obligatory, but voluntary, while highly encouraged, on Fridays (except during Lent, when it remained binding).

This modification–the pros and cons still being debated–almost became the symbol of “change” in the post-Vatican II Church.

Whether one agrees with that decision or not, all must admit that penance and mortification–essentials of Christian discipleship, according to Jesus Himself–have sadly diminished as a trait of Catholic life.  Such was hardly the intent of Pope Paul VI, as is clear from his 1967 teaching, but, it is a somber fact.

That’s one of the reasons the bishops of Great Britain have reintroduced the discipline, calling their brothers and sisters, faithful to the Gospel, back to external acts of penance, so necessary to fight the reign of sin so evident in our personal lives, in the world, and even within the Church.

Another reason that usually surfaces in any discussion of this issue is the value of what are called external markers enhancing our religious identity.

Scholars of religion–all religions, not just Catholic–tell us that an essential of a vibrant, sustained, attractive, meaningful life of faith in a given creed is external markers.

The essence of faith, of course, is the interior, the inside life of the soul.  Jesus, for instance, always reminds us that it’s what’s inside that counts.

However, genuine interior religion then gives rise to external traits, especially acts of charity and virtue.

Among these exterior characteristics are these markers that the scholars talk about.

For some religions, it might be dress; others are noted for feastdays, seasons, calendars, music, ritual, customs, special devotions, and binding moral obligations.

Islam, for example, is renowned for Ramadan, the holy season now upon them; dress; required prayer three times daily; and obligatory pilgrimage.

Orthodox Jews are obvious, for instance, for their skull caps, for the seriousness of the Sabbath, and for feastdays.

What about us Catholics?  For God’s sake, I trust we are recognized for our faith, worship, charity, and lives of virtue.

But, what are the external markers that make us stand out?

Lord knows, there used to be tons of them:  Friday abstinence from meat was one of them, but we recall so many others:  seriousness about Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; fasting on the Ember Days; saints names for children; confession at least annually; loyal membership in the local parish; fasting for three hours before Holy Communion, just to name a few.

But, almost all of these external markers are now gone.  Some applaud this; some mourn it.  I guess some were helpful, while others were not.  Besides the black smudge on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, is there any way we Catholics “stand out” as distinctive?

Debate it you may.  But, the scholars tell us that, without such identifiable characteristics, any religion risks becoming listless, bland, and unattractive.  Even the sociologist Father Andrew Greeley, hardly some nostalgic conservative, concluded that the dropping of Friday abstinence was a loss to Catholic identity.

And that’s another reason many welcomed the initiative of the bishops of England as a step in the right direction:  restoring a sense of belonging, an exterior sign of membership, to a Church at times adrift.

Is it fair and timely to ask if we “threw out the baby with the bathwater” when we got rid of so many distinctive, identifying marks of Catholic life five decades ago?

I’m not saying we should re-introduce any or all of these markers.  The toothpaste is probably out of the tube.  I’m just suggesting that this is a conversation well-worth having.

Perhaps the pivotal question is:  what makes us different as a Catholic?

A balance is good:  if all the emphasis is on these external markers, the danger is hypocrisy and scrupulous observance of man-made laws.

But, if all the emphasis is on the interior, with no exterior sign of identity, the risk is a loss of a sense of belonging and communal solidarity.

We sure need both.

So, I ask again:  what makes us different as Catholics?  Are the bishops of England on to something?

Fasting & Penance

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

We are just about half-way through Lent, making this the perfect time to recommit ourselves to a real spirit of prayer, fasting, and charity.  My column this week in Catholic New York, the Archdiocesan newspaper, is all about Lenten Penance.  Here’s an excerpt:

Jesus doesn’t really tell us what we should exactly do for penance—although He does extol fasting, cutting down seriously on food—but He sure insists that we undergo some   self-sacrifice.

Yes, it may be eating less, giving up certain foods, or doing laudable acts we find tough.

All you need to do is look at me to conclude that I’m hardly an expert in fasting. But, believe me, I highly appreciate its value, take it seriously in Lent, and realize that it is a   big boost to my spiritual (and physical) health.

On my weekly program, A Conversation with the Archbishop, heard on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, I speak with Monsignor Charles Murphy, author of the The Spirituality of Fasting.  (The program airs today at 1:00 p.m. eastern time, and is repeated several times over the weekend.)  Monsignor Murphy is a priest of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, and one of my predecessors as Rector of the North American College.  I highly recommend his fine book.