Category Archives: Reconciliation

Why confess to a priest?


-by Trent Horn

“Why confess your sins to a priest when you can just confess them straight to God?”

At one time or another, most Catholics have heard this objection from their Protestant friends. They may have even heard it from a fellow Catholic who doesn’t understand the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation (or confession).

But when these critics are asked to provide biblical evidence for the claim that we should confess our sins only in private prayer to God, they often come up empty-handed save for one verse: 1 John 1:9. Consider a comment that Franklin Graham, the influential son of the famous Rev. Billy Graham, made on his Facebook page regarding priests being able to forgive sins:

The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As a sinner, I’m glad we can go directly to God for forgiveness 24/7, on any day, in any year. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the price for sin with His shed blood on the Cross of Calvary.

Let’s examine where Mr. Graham, and many critics like him, go wrong when they rely on this verse to disprove the sacrament Christ gave us for the forgiveness of sins.

Agree to disagree

Catholics agree with Protestants such as Graham that “only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, ‘The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ and exercises this divine power: ‘Your sins are forgiven’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1441). Where we disagree, is that, as the Catechism goes on to say, “by virtue of [Christ’s] divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.”

1 John 1:9 does not refute the concept of sacramental confession, because this verse does not say we should confess our sins only in private prayer addressed to God. 1 John 1:9 refers to the practice of “confessing our sins”—it does not say to whom or how we should make our confession. Graham and other Protestants assume that because only God can forgive sins it follows that if we confess our sins directly to God, apart from any human intermediary, then we will always be forgiven.

But consider 1 John 2:23, which says, “[W]hoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” If you read only this verse you might think John is referring to the confession of our belief in the Son to the Father. In context, 1 John 2 is a warning to Christians about the anti-Christ. John says we can know who the anti-Christ is because he either publicly denies the Son or he does not confess to believing in him.

Likewise, 1 John 1 refers to those who publicly deny they are sinners or publicly claim to be Christians while still sinning (or those whom John says “walk in darkness”). Since both verse 8 and verse 10 refer to certain Christians who erroneously tell other people they do not sin, this means that, at the least, John has not excluded the context of confessing sins to other people in verse 9.

I confess

This may even be John’s primary meaning, since both 1 John 1:9 and 1 John 2:23 contain the same Greek verb, homologeō, that is translated “confess.” This word means “I confess, profess, acknowledge, praise” and is used twenty-six times in the New Testament. Each time it is used, with one exception, it refers to a person publicly declaring something to another human being.

Here’s a breakdown of how it’s used in the New Testament outside of 1 John 1:9:

  • God’s promise he spoke to Abraham (Acts 7:17)
  • Jesus confessing to damned hypocrites what their fate will be (Matthew 7:23)
  • John the Baptist confessing to the Jewish leaders that he is not the Christ (John 1:20)
  • The Jewish leaders not confessing aloud their internal belief in Jesus (John 12:42)
  • Christians confessing their beliefs to other people (Matthew 10:32, Luke 12:8, John 9:22, Acts 24:14, Romans 10:9-10, 1 Timothy 6:12, Titus 1:16, 1 John 2:23, 1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:15)
  • Non-Christians making promises, declarations, or confessions of belief/disbelief to other people (Matthew 14:7, Acts 23:8, Hebrews 11:13, 1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7)

The lone exception is Hebrews 13:15, which refers to the lips of Christians that “acknowledge his name” or make a confession of faith to God. Let me reiterate this point: the Greek verb translated “confess” in 1 John 1:9 is never used in the New Testament to describe confessing sins to God. Aside from Hebrews 13:15, homologeō is never used to describe confessing anything to God. In John’s writings especially, it is always used to describe confessing a belief to other human beings.

Scholarly support

This understanding of confession in the first epistle of John is not new. The nineteenth-century Anglican New Testament scholar Brooke Westcott (who helped create the Greek New Testament scholars still study today) said that the phrase “confess our sins” means “not only acknowledge them, but acknowledge them openly in the face of men” (The Epistles of St. John, 23).

Hans-Josef Klauck, a prolific New Testament scholar, likewise held that 1 John 1:9 referred to some kind of public, liturgical confession of sin (Erste Johannesbrief, 94-95). The Johannine New Testament scholar David Rensberger writes in his recent commentary on John’s letters:

Confession of sin was generally public (Mark 1:5; Acts 19:18; James 5:16; Didache 4:14, 14:1), and that may well be the case here. The use of the plural “sins” (rather than “sin,” as in 1:8) is a reminder that not just an abstract confession of sinfulness but the acknowledgement of specific acts is in mind (Abingdon New Testament Commentary 1,2,3 John, 54).

Notice Rensberger’s citation of the Didache, which was a first-century catechism. It gave believers the following instruction: “In your gatherings, confess your transgressions, and do not come for prayer with a guilty conscience” (4:14). Scholars tend to date 1 John as being written in the late A.D. 90s and the Didache as having been written at the same time or even earlier. It makes sense, therefore, to connect John’s instruction to “confess your sins” with the context of public confession in the early Church described in the Didache.

Fr. Raymond Brown, who was a moderate in the field of biblical studies, reached the same conclusion in his Anchor Bible commentary on 1 John. After listing the public confession of sins in the Old Testament to which John is alluding (Leviticus 5:5-6, Proverbs 28:13, Sirach 4:25-26, Daniel 9:20) he writes, “All the parallels and background given thus far suggest that the Johannine expression refers to a public confession rather than a private confession by the individual to God” (The Epistles of John, 208).

Other Protestant commenters such as Robert Yarbough admit that public confession is a possible way to interpret this verse, even if they don’t accept it as the verse’s primary meaning (1, 2, 3 John, 63).

Confessing sins to one another

The Catechism says that even though the disciplines related to the sacrament of confession have changed over time (public confession in the church transitioned into private confession to a priest in the seventh century), the sacrament has always maintained a certain fundamental structure. Specifically, the sacrament includes the sinner expressing repentance for his sins and God, working through the ministers of the Church, healing the sinner and reestablishing him in ecclesial communion with the Body of Christ (CCC 1447-1448).

The only passage in the New Testament that instructs Christians to confess their sins is James 5:16, which says, “Therefore confess your sins to one another [emphasis added], and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”

The word rendered “confess” in this passage is exomologeó and, while it does refer to confessing praise or thanksgiving directly to God (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, Romans 14:11), it never refers to confessing sins to God. Like homologeó, this verb primarily describes public confessions or declarations to other humans (e.g., Luke 22:6, Acts 19:8, Romans 15:9, and Philippians 2:11, though this last verse might also refer to confessing belief in Jesus directly to God as well as to other humans).

James says in 5:14-15 that if a sick man receives anointing from the elders (Greek, presbuteroi, from which we derive the English word priest) the man’s sins will be forgiven. The context in James is clear: God alone saves the sick and forgives sinners, but God has chosen to use human intermediaries—priests—in order to administer sacraments like the anointing of the sick or reconciliation.

Most Protestants would even agree with this thinking on something like baptism, since they tend to deny the validity of self-baptism (something Catholics also deny). Those who believe in baptismal regeneration correctly insist that while God alone takes away sin in baptism, God does not act alone when he takes away a person’s sins. Instead, God works through other believers who baptize on God’s behalf (e.g., Acts 8:38, where Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch).

In a similar way, the Church teaches that the apostles and their successors were entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:18), and Jesus explicitly gave the apostles the power to not just preach the forgiveness of sins but to actually forgive or retain sins (John 20:23). The Catechism says:

The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter (Matt. 16:18-19) was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head. The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God (CCC 1444-1445).

Of course, in order for the apostles to know if someone needs reconciliation with God or if the person’s sins should be retained, they would have to know what the person’s sins were. Barring some kind of revelation from God, this knowledge could come only from a person confessing his sins aloud, or what is called auricular confession.

24/7 confession?

But what about Graham’s point that Christians should be able to seek forgiveness of sins “24/7,” anytime and anywhere, without having to go through an intermediary? First, Catholics wholeheartedly agree that we should confess our sins directly to God whenever we feel guilty (CCC 1458). The Code of Canon Law describes situations where a person seeks forgiveness of sins outside the context of confession:

A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible (CIC 916).

An act of perfect contrition (which is sorrow for sin out of love for God) is sufficient to warrant forgiveness of sins. If a person sought the sacrament of confession but died before reaching it he could still be saved through his desire to repudiate sin and trust in God’s mercy.

However, just as the efficacious nature of baptism of desire does not nullify the normal duty to be baptized with water by another person, the efficacious nature of confessing sins directly to God does not nullify the normal duty we have to seek out a minister of the Church who can validly perform the sacrament of reconciliation.

Conclusion

The Bible does not teach that the norm for seeking reconciliation with God and his Church is private, unconditional forgiveness of sins. At the very least, 1 John 1:9 does not teach this doctrine. Instead, 1 John 1:9 uses the Greek word homologeō, which always refers to a person publicly confessing something he believes.

Instead, the Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), and especially to priests who can administer sacraments that absolve our sin (James 5:14-15). We know priests have this ability because their authority comes from the apostles who had the authority to “bind and loose” what is in heaven (Matt. 16:18-19) and to forgive or retain sins (John 20:23).

The early Church understood that the promise of God’s forgiveness in 1 John 1:9 did not preclude but rather included the sacrament of reconciliation. As St. Cyprian of Carthage put it in A.D. 251, “[W]ith grief and simplicity confess this very thing to God’s priests, and make the conscientious avowal, put off from them the load of their minds, and seek out the salutary medicine even for slight and moderate wounds” (The Lapsed, 28).”

Love & sincere contrition & sorrow for my sins,
Matthew

Confession – “Despise not the Blood of Christ!”

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – At the foot of Your Cross, O Jesus, I confess my sins. Pour over me Your Precious Blood that it may purify my soul.

MEDITATION

Penance is the sacrament of Christ’s Precious Blood in which God—according to the eloquent words of St. Catherine of Siena“has bathed us in order to cleanse the face of our souls from the leprosy of sin.” If mortal sin only is the necessary matter of this sacrament, venial sin is sufficient matter, since all Catholic tradition insists on frequent confession, even when one has only venial sins to confess. However, those who confess weekly must take great care lest their confessions become a mere routine, instead of the really vital acts which would enable these souls to profit fully from all the graces offered by the sacrament.

“Do not despise the Blood of Christ!” exclaims St. Catherine of Siena.

Certainly anyone who appreciates it will not approach the sacrament of penance lightly. To this end it is useful to recall that absolution is truly the pouring forth of the Precious Blood which, inundating and penetrating the soul, purifies it from sin, and restores sanctifying grace if it has been lost, or increases this gift if it is already present in the soul. The remission of sin and the imparting of grace are the fruits of the action of Jesus, expressed by the formula the priest pronounces in His Name: “I absolve thee.” At that moment it is Jesus who is acting in the soul, either by remitting sin or by producing or increasing grace. It is well to remember that the efficacy of the absolution is not limited merely to sins that have already been committed, but that it even extends into the future. By means of the particular sacramental grace, the soul is strengthened beforehand against relapses and it is offered the fortitude to resist temptations and to carry out its good resolutions. The Blood of Christ is, in this sense, not only a remedy for the past, but also a preservative and a strengthening help for the future. The soul which plunges into it, as into a healthful bath, draws from it new vigor and sees the strength of its passions extinguished little by little. We see then the importance of frequent confession for a soul desirous of union with God, a soul which must necessarily aspire to total purification.

COLLOQUY

“Sweet Jesus, in order to clothe us again with the life of grace, You stripped Yourself of the life of Your body. The body which You stretched on the wood of the holy Cross is like a lamb which has been sacrificed and which is shedding its blood from every part of its body. In Your Blood, You have created us anew to the life of grace.

“Sweet Jesus, my soul ardently desires to be bathed and entirely submerged in Your Blood … since in Your Blood, I find the source of all mercy; in Your Blood are clemency, fire, piety. In Your Blood, mercy abounds for our faults. In Your Blood, justice is satisfied and our hardness is melted; what is bitter becomes sweet and what is heavy becomes light. And since all virtues reach maturity in Your Blood, O Christ, inebriate my soul, engulf it in Your Blood, so that it will be adorned with real and solid virtues” (St. Catherine of Siena).

O Jesus, if just one drop of Your Precious Blood has the power to wipe out all the crimes of the world, what will it not do in me when You pour it so abundantly over my poor soul at the moment of absolution! O Jesus, revive my faith and give me a complete understanding of the immense value of the sacrament of Your Blood. Only Your Blood can wash away my sins, purify the stains on my soul, and heal and vivify it. Oh! grant that this salutary bath may cleanse my whole being and restore it entirely to Your grace and love!

Through the merits of Your passion, grant, O Lord, that I may always bring to the tribunal of penance a truly humble and contrite heart, an increasingly perfect sorrow for my faults, and a deeper and more sincere horror of anything that offends You, my God. Only if it finds no attachment to sin in me, will Your Precious Blood be able to penetrate the depths of my soul, renew it and vivify it wholly. O Jesus, grant that Your Precious Blood may bear its full fruit in me.”

Love,
Matthew

Confession: 6 effects


-by Br Joseph Martin Hagan, OP

“The Catechism lists six spiritual effects of the sacrament of penance (CCC 1496). For a more fruitful reception of this sacrament, let’s briefly examine each one.

Effect #1: Reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace

This first effect reveals the real horror of sin. By mortal sin, we separate ourselves from God and refuse His grace. By Confession, we are reunited with God. God dwells in us through grace, and by that grace, our souls magnify the Lord. And should we have sinned only in small, venial ways, the sacrament of Penance wipes those away too.

Effect #2: Reconciliation with the Church

Sin also separates us from the Church. This separation is often experienced on a very basic level. Sin pulls us away from our families. It isolates us from our friends. It sours our relationships at work. By Confession, God restores us to the Church. We return to our families and friends with more love to give.  (Ed. to the Catholic mind, sin, even private, personal sin, is never solely, strictly a private, personal matter.  Its effects redound to the eternal public, communal detriment of the public community, believer or not, even if only known objectively and secretly to the sinner, or penitent and his/her confessor, unless resolved in the sacrament solely through the redeeming sacrice of Jesus Christ crucified..  Sin dis-integrates.  His grace integrates.)

Effect #3: Remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins

By mortal sin, we condemn ourselves to hell. Thankfully, through Confession, God freely pardons this punishment. It would be wrong to imagine that God is stingy with such a pardon. As our loving, merciful Father, He delights in pardoning us. He even gives us the very grace to draw us to Confession. At the words of absolution (“I absolve you…”), all the angels and saints rejoice at this remission. They await our entrance to the heavenly banquet.

Effect #4: Remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin

By our sins, whether venial or mortal, we suffer in this present life. Every sin contains some disorder, and this disorder is the sin’s own punishment. If I overindulge my desire for cheese, I’ll soon feel quite uncomfortable. God usually allows us to drink these dregs of our own folly, especially when we are unrepentant. When we humble ourselves and confess, God remits this punishment, at least in part. Whether we choose the easy way or the hard way, God wants to teach us how to love.

Effect #5: Peace and serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation

Many think of devout Catholics as harboring guilt complexes. Such a caricature ignores the power of Confession. This sacrament truly brings peace, even if unfelt in the moment. Anecdotally, it is the repeated experience of the faithful that we leave Confession light-hearted, joyful, and renewed in God’s love.

Effect #6: An increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle

Whether we recognize it or not, the Christian life is a battle. We all fight our inner old man, certain of whose tendencies linger after our baptism. Everyday, we are tempted to forget the true God, to use our neighbors, and to seek our selfish pleasure. In this daily battle, even the saints stumble and fall, even if only in small ways. Confession forgives these failures, and it also strengthens us to overcome vices with virtue. Ultimately, Christ is the true victor. He is our strength. He is our salvation.”

Love & prayers,
Matthew

Penance?


-The reproach of Nathan and the penance of King David (Paris Psalter, folio 136v, 10th century). (Please click on the image for greater detail.)

-from Catholic Answers “20 Answers: Salvation

“The value of Christ’s self-offering on the cross was infinite—more than enough to pay for all the sins of mankind. But it seems that, even after God has forgiven the eternal consequences of our sins and restored our relationship with Him, He wants us to experience some negative consequences.

It’s rather like the situation in a family. When a child misbehaves, there need to be consequences. If parents simply told the child that he’s forgiven and never applied any discipline then the child would never learn his lesson. That’s why children hear their parents say things like, “It’s okay. I forgive you. But you’re still grounded.”

The Bible uses the image of parental discipline to express how God relates to us as his children. The book of Hebrews tells us that “the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6). It also tells us that he “disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:10).

So even when we’ve become children of God and been forgiven, God still disciplines us. He allows us to experience some consequences for our sins so that we may grow in holiness.

That’s why we do penance. It’s a way of embracing discipline, of learning to do it, to internalize it, and it builds strength and self-control for the future. If we learn how to say no to ourselves as part of penance, we’ll be better able to say no to temptations in the future.

The idea that Christians shouldn’t do penance because Christ died for their sins is not found in the Bible. In fact, Christ Himself expected us to do penance.

At one point, Jesus was asked why His disciples did not fast—fasting being a form of penance—and He said that they would in the future. He compared Himself to the bridegroom at a wedding and His disciples to the wedding guests. Jesus pointed out that it’s not appropriate to fast at a wedding celebration, but He went on to say, “The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mark 2:20).

He expected fasting, and thus penance, to be a regular part of Christian practice. That’s why, in the Sermon on the Mount, He told the disciples, “when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:16).

Notice that He doesn’t say, “if you fast” but “when you fast.” He expects us to fast, and He gives instructions on how to do it.

In the book of Acts, we see the early Christians putting this into practice. St. Paul’s commission to missionary work occurred after he and other church leaders “were worshiping the Lord and fasting” (Acts 13:2), and later Paul appointed elders “in every church, with prayer and fasting” (Acts 14:23).

Fasting is also mentioned in early Christian writings outside the New Testament. For example, the Didache indicates that it was common for first-century Christians to fast twice a week. The Didache states, “And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week [i.e., Monday and Thursday]; but keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation day [i.e., Wednesday and Friday]” (Didache 8:1-2).

By voluntarily embracing fasting and other forms of penance, we embrace spiritual discipline that will, as the book of Hebrews says, help us grow in holiness. And that’s one of the reasons why, even though Christ died for us, we still do penance.

Penance also provides us with an opportunity to express sorrow for our sins. We have an innate need to mourn when something tragic has occurred, and that includes our own sins.

The fact that we have been forgiven does not remove this need to mourn any more than the fact that a man’s wife may be in heaven means that he doesn’t need to mourn her death.

Both sin and death are tragedies, and while forgiveness and salvation mean that they do not have the last word, we still need to grieve. To insist that a person not feel or show any grief for them would be unnatural, and would short-circuit natural responses that God built into us. There is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:4).”

Love, my favorite penance is PATIENCE!!!!  ARRRRGH!!!!!! & HOLDING MY TONGUE!!!!!  ARRRGH!!!! 🙁
Matthew

The Horror of Suffering

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“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.   I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” -Philippians 3:7-11

All sin is a failure to be convinced of the Truth OR a failure of believing that it is true.

The consequences of sin are twofold, eternal and temporal. By sin a person incurs the guilt of offending God and loses God’s friendship and his right to the inheritance of eternal happiness. Absolution remits this guilt and loss. The second consequence of sin is chastisement, either here or hereafter, for violating God’s ordinances. This chastisement must be satisfied by penance here or atonement in purgatory. The penance that the priest gives in confession is imposed in the hope that with the proper disposition of the penitent it will satisfy for the temporal chastisement due for the sins confessed. The penance imposed may not, however, adequately satisfy for the chastisement due the sins; hence it is customary for penitents to voluntarily do various works of satisfaction for their sins, although absolved. The Church by its seasons and practices of penance reminds the faithful of the need of doing penance outside that imposed in the confessional.

-from Catholics Come Home, Sacrament of Reconciliation

1. Confession helps us to better “know thyself.”

St. Augustine and countless other saints and doctors of the Church talk about the importance of knowing ourselves well. Through coming to know ourselves better, we realized how fallen we are, and how badly we need God’s help and grace to get through life. Frequent Confession helps remind us to rely on God to help rid us of our sins.

2. Confession helps us overcome vice.

The grace we receive from the Sacrament of Confession helps us combat our faults and failings and break our habits of vice much more easily and expediently than we could otherwise do without the sacramental grace.

3. Confession brings us peace.

Guilt from the sins we commit can make us feel all mixed up inside and cause us to lose our peace and joy. When we hear God’s forgiving words to us from the lips of the priest in Confession, a burden is lifted off our shoulders and we can again feel the peace of heart and soul that comes from being in a good relationship with God.

4. Confession helps us become more saintly, more like Jesus.

Jesus was perfectly humble, perfectly generous, perfectly patient, perfectly loving—perfectly everything! Don’t you wish you could be as humble, generous, patient, and loving as Jesus? Saints throughout history have felt that way too, and they have frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help transform them into people who are more like Christ. Little images of Christ—that’s what saints are!

5. Confession makes our will stronger.

Every time we experience the Sacrament of Confession, God strengthens our will and our self-control to be able to resist the temptations that confront us in our lives. We become more resolute to follow God’s will and not our own whims.  His Grace Abounds!!!  I have experienced, benefited, and am sincerest witness to His merciful Love!!!  Ask, knock, seek for the strength to resist temptation, or to do any other holy work possible, YOU WILL RECEIVE IN SPADES!!!  A BOUNTIFUL HARVEST OF GRACES, OVERFLOWING, PACKED DOWN, SOLID.  MERCY!!!!  HAVE FAITH!!!  BE STRONG!!!!  BE NOT AFRAID!!!!  HIS LOVE ENDURES FOR AGES UPON AGES.  AMEN!!!!

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lg_cynthiastewart_v1

-by Cynthia Stewart

Suffering and evil are distinct and yet interrelated concepts in Catholic thinking. Ultimately, the fall of humanity is the cause of all suffering. Humans were created to exist in harmony with God, but instead they chose the path of disobedience, which brought suffering and death into the world. Catholics believe that while humans have the free choice to disobey, they can never find true joy and peace except in harmony with and obedience to God. As St. Augustine says so eloquently in his Confessions, “Our hearts find no rest until they rest in You.”

In the Catholic view, human action is not the only cause of suffering: while God as the source of all goodness can never act in a manner that is evil, God may send suffering to open the hearts of those who have refused to hear God’s call. In their pride and complacency, humans think that they need neither God nor the grace God offers, but tragedy, sorrow, and suffering can lead to transformation. Because this world is prelude and preparation for the afterlife, even a life filled with suffering is useful if it causes the person to turn to God and accept divine grace. This, Catholics believe, is a central fact of existence: that God uses everything, even suffering, to call people back to God.

The Catholic Church teaches that with their limited vision humans do not have the ability to see all the consequences of actions and events, and something they recognize as evil may also be the impetus for great good to occur: God is able to bring good even out of the evil that humans commit. When Catholics look at a troubled history that eventually led to a better situation, they recognize the hand of God drawing the whole process to a happy conclusion. In fact, this is the lesson of the felix culpa, the happy fault: human sin brought suffering into the world, but it also paved the way for God’s incarnation to occur. The evil remains evil, but the good that God causes to flow from it is greater still. According to St. Augustine, even this perception of good coming from evil is the result of a limited view: from the cosmic, eternal perspective of God, everything is ultimately good because God uses everything in the service of goodness.

Catholics distinguish between physical evil and moral evil. Physical evil is simply a lack of perfection: all of creation moves toward ultimate perfection in the coming kingdom of God, but nothing on earth yet achieves it. Moral evil is the greater issue, one that is all-pervasive in this world. It is moral evil to which the Church’s Catechism refers when it says, “There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil” (309). Yet moral evil, too, is simply a lack of perfection-in this case, perfection of the human will.

Just as God has not created a world of physical perfection, saving that for the coming kingdom, so too God has not created a world of moral perfection in which people do not have the ability to sin. St. Augustine explained that God is the source of everything that exists, and everything God created is good. Evil is the absence of good, so therefore it must not have real existence. It is instead a lack, the absence of good. God created humanity, Lucifer, and the rebellious angels as beings of goodness, but also endowed them with the freedom to choose their paths. They chose to turn away from the good, and in doing so their capacity for goodness was diminished. It is this lack, this diminishment, that is evil. Augustine’s formulation has proven to be the most influential understanding of evil in the western Christian tradition.

When they speak of evil, Catholics often make reference to Lucifer, or the devil, who is called the Father of Lies. Lucifer’s power lies solely in his ability to persuade humans to do his will, just as he persuaded the rebellious angels to follow him, and the result is just as disastrous. Lucifer is mirage and subterfuge, creating the illusion that following him will lead to happiness and light when all that will result is chaos and evil. He therefore causes evil, but only with the willing participation of humans utilizing their free will to choose diminishment of the good. He may be called the Evil One, but Catholic belief does not grant him the power to execute the evil he envisions. His power is very limited, his bid for predominance in heaven already thwarted, his final defeat already destined, just as the end of suffering and evil in the world to come is already destined.”

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O Lord,
You are the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
You do not grow faint or weary;
Your understanding is unsearchable.
You give power to the weak,
and strengthen the powerless.
Even the young will grow weary,
and will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for You
shall renew their strength,
and shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. Amen.
Adapted from Isaiah 40:28-31

Love,
Matthew

Mercy…ransomed, redeemed, suddenly debt-free!!!!

mercy-grace

Having spent a year in Turkey, without practical access to a Catholic Church, (reminds me of Mass online in Dammam surreptitiously in my hotel room) the author, a convert to Catholicism, returns to the US and to a VERY expensive reckoning with the AZ DMV in attempt to regain his driving privileges…

Max-Lindeman

-by Max Lindenman

“…on my first Saturday back in the Valley, I decided to get them absolved and receive Communion for the first time in 13 months.

The church had an open confessional, and the priest turned out to be one of the most benevolent-looking men I’d ever laid eyes on…

After breezing through what I considered the small stuff, I recounted the tongue-lashings I’d dealt out while in the grip of my awful temper. Whenever I recalled these moments privately, or for the benefit of friends, I wilted with shame. They seemed to me not only sinful but contemptible, evidence of a low and ill-formed character. The priest gave no sign of holding such an opinion. With no change in his cuddly affect, he offered a few general pieces of advice and absolved me.

“For your penance,” he said. “I give you one Our Father.”

I felt exactly the way all those Bible verses say I should feel: ransomed, redeemed, suddenly debt-free, welcomed back into the bosom of the family. It made me so giddy that I forgot how to begin the Act of Contrition. The priest pointed to an end table between us; taped to its surface was a piece of paper bearing all the words from start to finish. After I got through it, the priest said, “God bless you.”

I offer these two anecdotes side by side not because they’re so wildly different, but because, in nearly every respect, they’re so similar. In each case, an authorized representative of a legitimate power helps a man atone for some past transgression.

Both representatives strive, above all, to be helpful…The only difference is that one form of penance pinched, memorably, whereas the other was memorable for not pinching at all.

From time to time I hear from people who believe that penance should pinch, that redemption dearly bought should also be dearly paid for…

…the near-occasion of my explosiveness is conflict with my fellow humans. I lack the creativity to stick it to them in ways not covered by the Sermon on the Mount. My approach follows the same phases as Field Marshal Haig’s – either cower behind the parapet or charge. It produces more or less the same results his did. In the best of all possible worlds, I’d be a desert hermit. In this one, I’ve got to earn a living, which means seeking terms with all manner of disagreeable people.

There’s an old story about a prudish actress – I forget who – who installed a swearing jar on the set of one of her films. On the first day of shooting, her more spirited co-star – I want to say Ava Gardner, but I could be wrong – took one look at the thing, dropped in a twenty, and extemporized a prose-poem in high modern Billingsgate. Jesus has dropped a twenty in all of our swearing jars, but there’s a catch. When we transgress, we have to pay Him. By holding down the payment to a token, the priest ensured I could afford to go on trying.”

Act of Contrition

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for
having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven,
and the pains of hell;
but most of all because
they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and
deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve,
with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins,
to do penance,
and to amend my life.
Amen.

Prayer of Absolution (priest)

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of Your Son, You have reconciled the world to Yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mercy, Lord!  Mercy!

Love,
Matthew