Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

12 April 2015

Sacraments of Healing, Sacraments of Mercy

The Church's Catechism tells us (CCC 1420-1421) that there are two "Sacraments of Healing": Penance/Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. If we were to consult Sacred Scripture for the roots of these sacred grace-meetings (and we should), I would first consider Jas 5:14-15, which the anointing priest or bishop is supposed to say as part of the rite:
Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up. If they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.
Incidentally (I exaggerate), Jesus Himself indicated:
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages, they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mk 16:17-18)
In Mk 6:12-13, we read that the Twelve Apostles, in connection with a dominical* commissioning, "preached repentance[,] drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them."

Jesus described the curative successes of "those who believe," while James and Mark elaborate upon the repentance and forgiveness that accompany the priestly encounter. These data would not be in the Bible if Jesus and the early Church did not engage in such healing moments faithfully.

Regarding the foundations for the Sacrament of Penance: James says, "Confess your sins to one another" (5:16). Certainly any relationship beyond that of bowling buddies (though even there, where indicated) would entail the occasional disclosure of faults, through both commission and repentance of faults. James would not have said this, except for the presumed command and expectation to forgive confessed sins.

James, of course, was not necessarily referring to the sacramental transaction, but it makes sense alongside Jesus' post-Resurrection appearance in the Upper Room (John 20:19ff). "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when He had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'"
Recall how, at the diocesan Mass of the Oils, the Bishop breathes upon the Sacred Chrism while consecrating it. Thus he confers the Holy Spirit upon it for its sealing, consecratory purposes (most notably Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination to Presbyterate and Episcopate). Where there is a sealing, there is a sending.
We're not supposed to wait until the last minute to seek physical healing. Often the physicians receive the patient when it is too late to do anything helpful. All the more does this pertain to one's spiritual condition. People will wait to "send for the priests" until the person is "actively dying," scarcely able to communicate for themselves.

I wonder whether my generation (X) and younger will have the presence of mind to request the sacraments of penance, anointing, and Eucharist for their dying loved ones, much less obtain these sacraments for themselves as often as befits a son or daughter of God. Provision of spiritual care and religious education are not simply a courtesy, but a responsibility. This is generally considered true for parents vis-à-vis children, and it should also be true for adults regarding their parents--when they no longer can operate for themselves.

While we have our wits, one way we take responsibility for our own spiritual and religious disciplines is frequent and honest Confession. People of all ages will contest, "I'm not a big sinner. I never killed anyone, stole [much]..."

That may be true. The Church commands us to confess only our serious sins, at the minimum of once a year. But that is a minimum. We would change our toothbrush more often, or the oil in (older) vehicles, so why not prevent sin buildup in like manner?

As an apostle of mercy I consider myself obliged to make the suggestion, especially upon an initial visit to a hospitalized person. I certainly don't accuse anyone of being a "big sinner," but I often remind them that there are ten commandments, and various ways to break them.

Most important is the priest's mission (as opposed to "agenda," a word fraught with unsavory connotations) to "draw everyone" to Christ (cf. Jn 12:32). To refuse or defer that invitation is no personal slight, nor is it necessarily a self-condemning action; but "the offer still stands," at least for the patient's length of stay, and they can always seek another priest. The time may not be right, they may want to examine their conscience first--and I can provide material for that!

In any case, it's all about whittling away at excuses, and renewing our commitment to our relationship with Jesus and all we encounter. Can you "confess to God directly"? Sure, but confess also to a priest. It costs nothing but our egos. The priest is as much a sinner as you, perhaps (God forbid) more. But as priest, he is an other Christ, and so he was commissioned by Christ and the Church "to reconcile the world to Himself" one person at a time.

Moreover, the healing is in the relationship. Relationships involve the continuous exchange of loving words and actions that heal. Every human exertion in some way creates micro-tears in our spiritual fiber, just like exercise does for our muscles. These tears are properly repaired through prayer, both communal and personal. Confession is fundamentally a prayer that acknowledges and praises God's goodness and sovereignty over our lives; in that context it is a recognition of our sins and weaknesses, which are the precise occasion for God to act in support of our relationship with Him.

I don't advocate putting off any sacramental attention (Anointing or Penance) because I don't advocate putting off any relationship attention. That's what sacraments are: not things to collect or use, not "Get Out of Hell Free!" passes. Rather, they are demonstrations of God's concern for our union with Him and with our fellow human persons, which is most fully evident in the sacraments' very Source: The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Incarnate Son.

*dominical: of, or pertaining to, the Lord [Jesus]; from L. dominicus, from dominus "lord, master."

19 February 2015

Collect Your Thoughts

From my seminary days I recall that one notable difference between today's Gospel from Matthew and its Lucan parallel is the use of the word "daily": "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Why one evangelist remembered Him saying "daily" and another did not--or however that went down--I couldn't tell you. But there is something to that word "daily": We got up this morning, and it was a new day, a new opportunity or a new need to do many of the same things we did yesterday and the day before. We have to repeat this stuff daily for it to work.

This morning a Facebook friend shared the "Morning Offering." Perhaps you recall it:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day: for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for all my sins, for the intentions of all my associates, and in particular for the intentions recommended to me this month by our Holy Father.
Where did I learn that? Across the street from our church, at Saint Clair Catholic, before it became a grotto. Every morning we heard it over the loudspeaker. It reminded me of this morning's collect, which I would attempt for you in my best impression of my freshman and junior year English teacher, Sister Joseph Annetta, S.S.J. (Eternal Memory!):
Direct, O Lord, we beseech You, all our actions by Your holy inspirations, and carry them through by Your gracious assistance, so that our every prayer and work may always begin with You, and by You be happily ended: through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
(Actiones nostras, quaesumus, Domine, aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere, ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a Te semper incipiat, et per Te coepta finiatur: per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.) [I learned it in Latin, too, because I'm goofy like that.]
That prayer collected--gathered--us from the diverse conversations that took place right up to, and sometimes a little bit after, the bell. That's one reason we refer once again to the Opening Prayer of the Mass as the collect.

Of course, the wording is now different from the version I just quoted (as was the previous Mass translation), but I remember it because we heard it from her daily. They say, repetitio est mater studiorum: "repetition is the mother of students," and it was a mother to us! But it worked.

But I would thoroughly understand if many of my classmates could not remember the prayer, especially if they haven't cared to remember it (interest makes a difference when it comes to memory), or if they haven't used it since their last class with Sister Joe. When I taught high school, I used that prayer every day, for both my theology and Latin classes.

The prayers, the hymns, the poems, the movie lines, and maybe even the times tables: These are the type of things I hope to remember when I'm retired and in our Villa, if we still have one.

Anyhow, a good Lenten practice might be to memorize a certain prayer or action, by repeating it daily. It will be one of those many worthy things we'll want to continue when Lent is over.

Every "today" is a day to choose whether or not to repeat the actions that can become our habits.

23 January 2015

Rabbit? Run!

The latest papal obiter dictum (read: leaving on a jet plane) concerned his contention that good Catholics do not have to " rabbits" when it comes to family size.

It may be accurate, though picayune, to insist that Pope Francis did not say, *breed* like rabbits, as the phrase typically is attested. Be...breed...whatever.

This post of Dr. Gregory Popčak is informative, especially his reference to paragraph 50 of the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes.

One segment of the citation clears up this breeding problem (emphases mine): their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel.
Before reading the Popčak piece, I recalled a phrase that I picked up at some point in the seminary: humano modo. Context? Glad you asked:
Can. 1061 §1. A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion [humano modo] a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh. {source}
A "human manner"--a manner suitable to free and rational creatures who are "now called children of God, for that is what we are" (1 Jn 3:1). A human manner presumes a total investment of self that is permanent, exclusive, and open to new life. A human manner is not "arbitrary" and casual, fit for public display and risible observation.

Can rabbits marry each other--or dogs, cats, gerbils, or even the most intelligent orangutans? Does a total investment of self that is permanent, exclusive, and open to new life ("openness" being a uniquely human possibility) even occur to rabbits, or any of the other animals? The sexual expression of rabbits and other animals is instinctual, not free and rational.

Now maybe scientists and others have observed in animals some approximation to human love. Every concern for the other as other certainly participates in, derives from, divine love--and cannot  otherwise exist. But we are not animals; and Pope Francis is reminding us that the Catholic Church wants responsible parents who must decide wisely and generously how they will cooperate with God's gift of generation. Indiscriminate copulation, devoid of devotion, will not suffice.

Maybe I'm a "speciesist" by insisting that, however tender we may deem it to be, the procreation and rearing of animals is different from human love both in degree and in kind. Maybe my take doesn't catch the spirit of the Holy Father's words any more than the rereading by any author in the mainstream media (or even this article), but I offer it nonetheless.

11 January 2015

The Tonight Show and The Baptism of the Lord

While Johnny Carson may remain for many the all-time favorite host of The Tonight Show, I am also fond of the newest host, Jimmy Fallon. He has a whimsical, self-effacing wit, and embraces technology in his skits. He fits in with the younger generation [although, after the first Mass, an older woman came up to me, put her arm on my shoulder, and said, "I like Jimmy Fallon, too" and walked along--which made the day]. Whatever shoes he's had to fill, he seems content to be himself.
Just the other night Jimmy was interviewing actress Nicole Kidman. He recalled that they had met ten years before. On that occasion, a friend of Jimmy called him to say that he wanted to bring Nicole Kidman by his apartment.

Jimmy later realized, and Nicole affirmed, that it was a set-up date, and he’d given her a rather bland reception: playing video games, not talking much. Nicole then revealed that she had been romantically interested in Jimmy, but he was clueless about it! Imagine: he could have been Mr. Nicole Kidman—if he wasn’t so—aargh! The whole interview unraveled rather humorously after that admission, but they took it in stride. Although the awkwardness of the past could not be erased or redone, the interview opened the door to a new perspective in friendship.

Many times in life we recognize a choice before us, and many times there doesn’t seem to be a choice. In that instant when Jimmy realized the opportunity he’d missed, the audience also could see the present outcome, where both are happily married with children.

After watching the interview I wondered whether there were any times I was simply unaware of others’ intentions about me, and how things might have been different, especially if I had handled them better. But that practice is a kind of spiritual and emotional quicksand. My thoughts needed to turn to a more productive and worthwhile theme: the mysterious workings of God’s Providence, which aims to reinforce within each of us our fundamental identity as God’s beloved son or daughter.

That’s what Baptism does for us: makes us children of God, heirs of heaven, temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. It frees us from the Original Sin and, in the case of adults, from any personal sins we have committed. Baptism confers upon us a new identity and a new mission, leaving behind the way that leads to death. Though, like Jimmy with Nicole, we may be unaware of God’s loving intentions for us, through Baptism He inaugurates for us the strange and wonderful journey that is discipleship, where, though we participate freely, there is always Another Hand at work.

Along our life’s course we will stray, we will miss the mark, we will sin. Not just instances of wry regret like the way that Jimmy Fallon initially regarded Nicole Kidman, but snubs of the most meaningful relationships of our lives: intentional choices against God’s commandments to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. But no sinful choice that we ever make will erase our splendid identity as God’s beloved, made for communion with Him. That’s not to say that we can’t reject that communion or don’t need to repair it; but, even if we rejected it completely, we’d still have been made for it, which would add all the more to the frustration that is hell.

But God the Son fully identified Himself with the human race by becoming man and submitting Himself to the baptismal waters. He knew and owned His identity as the Father’s Beloved and the Savior of mankind. Through Baptism He invites all to receive that dignity and to walk in that dignity each day. In view of that wise and loving plan, God will use even our sins and our missed chances for His glory and for the good of all. Though much of life may cause real and deserved shame, God allows us to participate in our redemption and renewal.