Archives for January 2010

No rush, take your time

I think a lot of us get so used to the concept of our (for lack of a better word) “time-frame” that we are fine with where we are. Some things could be a little better – we think about a newer car, more job security, or a bigger television. In general though, everything is fine.

Really OK. Not bad. Fine. Fine although we do not feel close to God. Fine although we place so much above Him, such as our job, sports, our passion for our political party, or even our favorite vice (which is not a sin at all in our personal theology).

Yup, mighty happy are we with our lives. If we think about that religious stuff, we know we can deal with it later. There are so many demands on us and so much we are interested in that this just isn’t the right time to deal with it. We have to keep our priorities straight. Going to church occasionally will suffice for now.

Consider it logically. What is the expected lifespan for our demographic? We should be able to make a statistically valid calculation on how much time we have left. We may feel slightly guilty ignoring God, but we can have fun now and get our act together later. There is time. We can have our cake and eat it too (whatever that means!).

Or maybe not. Deep in our hearts, we are uneasy. We do not know the time or place of our death. We do not like to think about it. Maybe it will be far in the future. Maybe it is tomorrow. One thing is for sure – after every hour of every day, we are one hour closer to it. A lot of hours have passed already. The only thing unknown to us is the exact time remaining on our clock.

Consider that many of us have life insurance. Why? For that same reason we can not wait until later to get serious about our relationship with God. This is the “time is running out” reason to get our act together.

Another reason, beyond not gambling on our lifespan, is true happiness right now — living as God commanded, loving Him and one another. Freed from the slavery of sin, life can be happy and considerably less complicated. It is in no way a burden, but quite the opposite. Sure, this does not please Satan, and he will continue to tempt us. With God’s help we can beat him, should we only care to try.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Each of us is living an incomplete life story. Early chapters, or even the current chapter, may chronicle lives far from God. The final chapter is not yet written and is still up to us.

The final paragraph of this post is this 2 minute video…

I met our Archbishop!

My daughter is a senior at a local Catholic high school. Last week she and other students were recognized for their academic achievements in the prior semester. We are proud of her as always, but I do not usually attend these things, as she has had a continuous string of them from the beginning.

I felt that my attendance at this one was important as it would be her last since she graduates at the end of this semester. The school always sends a nice invitation. It said simply:

Please join us for Mass
Honoring Principal’s List
and
Deans’s List Recipients
Thursday, January 21,2010
9:15 a.m.
Reception immediately following Mass

We left in plenty of time, but it rained hard that morning. When that happens, traffic around here always gets really slow and backed-up. Sitting in traffic, as the minutes ticked by, I began to estimate that we could not possibly be there on time. Maybe our attendance just wasn’t meant to be, but we went this far so we persisted. We got to the school only a few minutes early, quickly picked-up passes at the office and rushed off to the gym. We made it there a little wet and a little flustered but right on time and went in.

I wasn’t expecting anyone to be there to greet us. The lobby was fairly empty at that moment except for two priests assigned to the school and a calm, distinguished gentleman in bishop vestments including an amaranth red zucchetto (skull cap). It was Archbishop Wilton Gregory, personally greeting the arriving parents.

In that moment I was a little startled…   and unprepared. I was trying to think quick and remember how to address a bishop. “Your Excellency” would have been correct, but even “Father” is appropriate. I must have looked dazed – like a deer in headlights – so Archbishop Gregory simply shook my hand and said in a confident but gentle voice, “good morning.” The best I could offer was “good morning” in reply, but I could tell that was OK. I suppose this happens often when people meet him.

Archbishop Gregory celebrated the Mass. He is a very good speaker and delivered a powerful homily. One unusual part was the Eucharistic Prayer. I never thought about this before, but usually the celebrant will say “We offer them for Benedict our Pope, for {name of Bishop} our bishop, and for all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles. That would not fit when the celebrant is the bishop! Archbishop Gregory simply said at that point “for me, your unworthy servant.”

I was thrilled to meet Archbishop Gregory and delighted to attend a Mass at which he presided. The thing that impressed me the most, however, was that this bishop from the unbroken line of bishops originating with the apostles selected by Jesus, took the time in our large archdiocese, to visit one of our many schools and personally handout academic awards. At the dismissal he made all the students quite happy by saying “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget — whenever your Archbishop visits you get a free day!”

Bless me father for I have sinned

I was watching the calendar closely. Only 18 more days until I will be received into His Church! There is one, umm, “obstacle” – it has been many decades since my baptism, and I have never been to confession (a/k/a The Sacrament of Reconciliation – see Confession, getting out of deep trouble).

I was not planning on committing any mortal sins, of course, but I still didn’t want to have too long a period between my confession and February 7th just in case. For the first reception of the sacrament, it is recommended that an appointment is scheduled with a Priest. That way, no one is waiting in line behind you, and there is more time for Father to guide you through the process. Vince, our RCIA coordinator, told us it was time to schedule this now.

Not everyone does this, but I created a list. I was afraid my mind would go blank, and I would become a bumbling idiot. Along the same lines, I included acts of contrition with my list, so that I would not have to depend on memory or fumble for additional printed materials. Doing these things is completely OK.

On Wednesday I called the parish office not knowing what to expect. I thought about what I would say when the phone was answered, but I got a voice menu. I considered the options and chose #5 to connect with the office. No go, just the “general mailbox” at this time. That did not seem like the best choice. I called back and chose #2 to connect to a Priest. Maybe they have someone who handles their schedule. Nope, another choice to be made – #1 for Father {pastor}, #2 for Father {vicar}, #3 for Father…   I hit #1 and received our Pastor’s voice mail. A little flustered, I left a message. It was, I think, potentially coherent.

So far, so good. I felt a little relieved in that I didn’t have to talk to anyone at the moment or commit to a specific date. Delay is good, right? Our priests are very busy, so I expected to call back again in a day or two. That hope was quickly dashed only a couple hours later when Father Paul returned my call and offered to see me the next day. He was very gracious, and I quickly felt at ease. We were on for 2:00.

When a Catholic comes from confession, he does truly, by definition, step out into that dawn of his own beginning…   in that brief ritual God has really remade him in His own image. He may be grey and gouty, but he is only five minutes old.

G.K. Chesterton

Father had warned me he might be a little late, so I had additional time to look over my list and further examine my conscience. We proceeded to his office, a very comfortable environment, and got started. Father said a prayer and gently explained how to proceed. I felt completely at ease and was ready to jump right in.

One thing you might be wondering about is the wooden confessional as seen on TV. These are indeed still present in older churches, but these days most confessions are (so I understand) either behind a portable screen or just face-to-face as the penitent prefers. Face-to-face will be my preference.

After thinking about this for weeks I felt that, with the aid of my list, that I would not be too nervous. It was in fact easier than I anticipated. It was nothing like being called to the Principal’s office (for example) to explain your misbehavior. It was a lot more like speaking with a dear and trusted friend.

Father spent a few minutes when I was done giving me advice and a very appropriate penance. I then read an Act of Contrition. Father made a prayer of absolution, and we were done.

I didn’t look at my watch, but I think it was about 20 minutes or so, which I read is roughly typical for the first time. It turns out that Father Paul did not immediately have another appointment, so we just talked for about an hour more! We talked about our childhoods, views on various Church issues, our likes and dislikes, our vocations and so on. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other.

The Catechism, the Catholic playbook

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the primary reference guide for the Catholic faith (after the Bible, of course). The current version dates from 1985 through 1997 and is the first major update in 400 years. It is the first book I read when I became seriously interested in joining the Church. I read it daily for hours, over a period of 2 weeks, until I was done. At over 750 pages it is not a “quick read.”

Not everybody reads the Catechism from cover to cover, preferring instead to use it only as a reference text. It is certainly great for that, but I found it to be highly instructive as a book. I would get situated in my favorite reading chair, open it up and continue where I left off. Usually it was hard to “get into it,” at least for the first 15 minutes or so. After that it was increasingly engrossing and hard to put down! The Catechism not only presents Catholic beliefs but also explains why and gives generous biblical and other references. There is a summary In Brief recap after each topic.

As a reference guide, the Catechism is extremely well organized. It is divided into four parts:

  • The Profession of Faith – Revelation and a detailed examination of the Nicene Creed
  • The Celebration of the Christian Mystery – the liturgy and sacraments
  • Life in Christ – Christian morality, with emphasis on the Ten Commandments
  • Christian Prayer – communicating with God

Every paragraph is numbered (from 1 to 2865) and linked to related paragraphs elsewhere in the book by liberal references in the margin. External references to the Catechism are conventionally via these paragraph numbers (e.g. “CCC 1234”). There is a 16 page table of contents and a comprehensive 66 page subject index. The Catechism is translated into many languages and is widely available for under $10 in paperback.

The Catholic Church is quite large with over a billion members. To engage people across the world, the Church permits their inclusion of local traditions and customs that are consistent with the faith. For this and other reasons, local catechisms are permitted as long as they are fully consistent with the CCC. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is ours.

I purchased the US Catechism after I had already started the CCC. My plan was to read it also before I am received into the Church. Alas, I have run out of time. My new plan is to read it at a slower, more thoughtful pace throughout the year. It is organized similarly to the CCC and covers most of the same material but sometimes from a different perspective. Glancing through it I can see it is less suited as a reference (I have never seen it externally referred to), but it looks to be easier to read. I highly recommend that you read either the CCC or the US Catechism.

While not a replacement for the catechisms, the book Catholicism for Dummies is highly regarded. It is “only” 432 pages – easy to read and covers the faith well. One warning: do not confuse this book with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Catholicism that is not highly regarded and may be misleading.

The good side of purgatory

Purgatory has a bad rap. Often it is considered synonymous with hell, and it is quite the opposite. Purgatory is not in Satan’s domain. Even when people understand that, they often label it as one of those “weird Catholic things.”

Let me ask you a question. Consider if, while you are reading this blog – heaven forbid – you were to have a fatal stroke. Are you ready to enter heaven right now? Put another way, what would you think of heaven if it were filled with people as they are at the moment (forgiven but carrying the weight of a lifetime of sin)?

You may be a saint and therefore good-to-go on immediately entering heaven. For me, being a saint is a goal to strive for – the Catholic Church calls on each of us to be one. I am not proud to report that I am still struggling to get there. If I die right now, I need something between where my soul is at the moment and where it must be. I do not want to lower the standard by entering heaven as I am!

The fix for this problem is purgatory. The word is related to “purge,” and its function is to cleanse us of the temporal remnants of the sins we have committed. Those who enter purgatory will enter heaven. It is cause for great relief! All this is, of course, totally foreign to my Protestant upbringing but is something that really clicked when I understood it.

I like to think of purgatory as a very special hospital. One in which 100% of the patients will have a successful outcome — guaranteed. However, like all hospitals, the treatment may be uncomfortable, and your stay will be as long as necessary. No one looks forward to a hospital stay.

In the old days the Catholic Church tried to figure out a formula for how long that stay might be. The truth is, no one knows. Nor do they know how painful it may be. However long it is, it is finite. In the scope of eternity it is but a moment.

Wait you say – stop right there. If I have been saved and am going to heaven, then are not my sins forgiven? Yes, absolutely. However the sins you committed, while forgiven, have left a scar on your soul. Sometimes this is compared to a nail driven into wood. The nail represents sin, and the wood is your soul. When the nail is removed (forgiven) it leaves the hole which represents the lasting damage. When you look back on the sins you have committed, forgiven though they are, how does that make you feel? That is what I am talking about.

Our time in purgatory may be mitigated through several avenues. One is the power of prayer. Do you believe that your prayers for someone in the hospital are heard? This is the same thing. There are also things we can do (e.g. good works) – or suffer – in life which have a curative effect on our soul. This makes complete sense to me.

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