August 4 is the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. John Vianney was born to a peasant family in Lyons, France. He wanted to be a priest, but his education was limited and he was not a very good student, despite his great desire to learn enough to be ordained. Finally his bishop took a chance on him and agreed to ordain him. John was assigned to a remote town far away from any place of note. He was not a great homilist. His knowledge of theology was limited. But he was a good listener and a compassionate man whose advice and counsel was welcomed by those who came to him for confession. Before long, he was spending up to eighteen hours a day, sitting in a confessional, hearing the confessions of people who traveled from all over France to receive forgiveness through his ministry.
St. John Vianney also loved the Eucharist. Among his many insights was this one on God’s love for us.
“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.”
Image of St. John Vianney is in the public domain.
The Religious Education Congress has been excellent — energizing and enlightening. There has been a decided focus on some basic topics and themes that have been unpopular with most Catholic progressives — things like sin and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s all been integrated in a very interesting way. I believe it may be in reaction to the accusations of the Catholic Right that everyone else in the Church has fallen off the deep end into perdition. It is also probably in response to the reality of the need for evangelization regarding the need for God in the first place.
Religion is very un-PC at the moment. “Sin” as a topic is a “no-no.” Taking responsibility for hurtful acts is very difficult for most people. The connection between sin and evangelization is that one cannot be a credible witness to the need for faith if one is living a chaotic or destructive life. Many of the speakers pointed to the need for good decisions, being able to hear God’s voice in the midst of all the competing voices in our culture — security, money, appearances, status etc. — and having a spiritual director or a personal spiritual coach in the person to whom one goes for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Matthew Kelly noted, “Holiness is attractive.” We have so many Catholics outside the Church who have been hurt by someone in the Church that we have to look at how committed we are to our own faith — does it really matter? We are attracted to a Mother Teresa. She was only one person — a small one at that. So, Kelly rightly asked — “What’s with the rest of us?”
It’s a good question — one that we would all do well to take as our focus during these final days of Lent and as we go into Easter.
Thank God for His mercy and grace. If not for His grace and mercy, I would have been so lost in drugs and alcohol and misery. He sent His son to die for each of us. What I have now is peace that passes all understanding, and His Spirit that lives in me to give me actual joy in life. finally joy and peace that I thought was in pain killers and booze. That wasn’t joy, that was being numb. Not now! Not anymore! Thank God for His grace. – blog comment on “Your Grace Is Enough for Me” by stormyweather
This testimony is a beautiful example of true reconciliation. It involves a transformative healing and could have come right out of the pages of the Gospel – The Good News.
Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is high on St. Ignatius’ list of priorities for the First Week of the Exercises. The challenge for most cradle Catholics is focusing on a long Church approved check list of sins, as opposed to focusing on the person of Christ. The things that bother us the most are obvious if we are honest with ourselves. Often we can become neurotically obsessed with our own behavior in terms of small things, without facing major issues like alcoholic parents; sexual, physical, or psychological abuse; refusing to forgive. People in lifestyles or marriages that don’t meet Church standards can feel that somehow God is not interested in them; somehow He died only for the good people.
Most of the detailed lists cover symptoms of some type of break-down in our relationship with God as codified in the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. However, this can lead to a denial of our own feelings and cause damage in other areas of our lives. If my anger is always close to the surface, it is not really helpful to keep confessing it and beating myself up over it without looking more deeply at what its cause is. My marriage can be problematic and my sex life unsatisfying. However, if I just keep focusing on the symptoms instead of these deeper issues, I am wasting time and energy and building up to something that will be very bad for everyone concerned.
Sin, guilt, and remorse can be very complicated. Returning veterans from the Middle East have not sinned when they killed people if you believe in the just war theory of morality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t carry a great burden. When they lash out in destructive ways as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, marriages are lost, children are harmed, suicide can follow. Going down a checklist doesn’t even begin to offer the healing we all need in these and most situations. Let us look at ourselves, our loved ones, and all others with honesty and compassion as we embrace the forgiving Christ. We are worth everything to God. Perhaps the greatest sin when we don’t see ourselves as worth saving. God does not make junk.
Examination of Conscience
Place yourself in God’s presence and know that you are with a trusted friend. Put out of your mind all thoughts of an avenging father figure or some tyrannical authority figure. You are with the God who came to dwell among us and shared all things we endure except sin. Jesus was open and frank with people who came and spoke with him. He expects no less from you. If you are upset or confused, listen for the healing voice of your Friend. Open your heart and listen.
Start with a thank you for being redeemed and saved and for protection. Ask the tough questions. Why did my child die? What do I do with my alcoholic husband? My heart is broken. Can you mend it? I tampered with evidence to get innocent people convicted. I fought for tax laws that would protect me and take food, healthcare, housing, and education from the poor. I did my best to be careful, but I killed women and children in that village. I think the Church is wrong when it says we should get rid of the death penalty.
Be open to finding out the facts. Have I brought these issues to a counselor? How do I start to change things and to make amends. What is the deeper issue here?
Talk with Jesus. Accept His forgiveness. When he says “Go in peace and sin no more,” what will I do to make that a reality? If you are glum or downcast, something is wrong. You have been pardoned. Stretch, breathe, cry for happiness. Break out in song. Jump for joy. This day salvation has come to your house.
St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.
In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.
Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.
The second Sunday of Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) tells of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening. He appeared among them, wished them Peace, showed them His wounds and asked for something to eat. Then He breathed on them, the breath of the Holy Spirit, and told them to forgive sins. He told them to continue the work He had begun, taking the Good News of God’s love out to all the world.
When I was growing up, the message of this Gospel’s story of the granting of power to forgive sin was generally presented in terms of the power of priest to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance (now more often known as Reconciliation). However, as I listened to the Gospel proclamation last Sunday, the Good News I heard was of the gift given to all of us as followers and disciples of Jesus – the power to forgive those who hurt us in some way.
Forgiveness does not come easily to anyone. When hurts come along, it’s often much more satisfying to plot revenge, or bask in a stew of martyred pouting or otherwise hold on to the hurt. But Jesus knew something we often miss. The one most hurt, the one most diminished, the one who suffers most from such behavior is the one who engages in it! Perhaps that is why He was so quick to forgive those who had abandoned and denied Him just a few days earlier.
As we live our calling as followers of Jesus, we share the task of bringing forgiveness, reconciliation and peace to our families, communities, nations and world. Anything that stands in the way of this mission is to be suspect. We can’t forgive through our own power. Some wounds are just too deep for our human ability to heal. But Jesus is with us and He can heal them if we are willing to open them to His touch. And as we receive healing, we are called to pass it on, so that the waves of forgiveness and healing at last embrace all the people of the world. It’s truly a noble calling.
What a delight it was to chat with you by phone a few minutes ago. I’m very proud of you both and your dear family.”
Armand Nigro, S.J.
Society of Jesus, Northwest Province
January 14, 2008
Theologika is a refreshing stream of faith-full and faithful reflection and renewal.
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There's so much more to say, but I would rather let the silence speak more what can't be spoken. Suffice it to say that for you both, I am grateful.
Two By Two Ministries
January 3, 2009
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