3 Things I Learned about the Sacrament of Confession

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, “Raising children is an uncertain thing; success is reached only after a life of battle and worry.” Written over 2,000 years ago, that advice remains ever relevant and new. Parenting feels like a daily battle. Frustrations brew, chaos ensues, and bedtime routine feels like WWIII.

More often than not, my anger gets the best of me. Fatherhood takes a lot of work. Some days I make excuses to not put in the work. Failure and faux pas have became habit. I desire a reset. A new beginning. I want to do better. Become something better. Become someone better for me kids.

Thankfully, I don’t have to look [or travel] that far for the remedy.

The Sacrament of Confession provides Catholics an opportunity to be forgiven and restore one’s relationship with God and their neighbor. St. Isidore of Seville wrote, “Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin, all hope consists in confession; in confession there is a chance for mercy.”

This school year my oldest child receives his First Confession and Eucharist. Next week he will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. My wife and I have been going through the religious education lessons to prepare him for an understanding and proper disposition to receive the sacrament of healing. In teaching him the basics about this sacrament, I too, actually learned something about Confession.

The Simpler Is Better

Albert Einstein famously quipped, “If you can’t explain it to a sixyearoldyou don’t understand it yourself.” It definitely takes a talent to be able to articulate the complexities of the Catholic faith to young minds. This is something I struggle with a bit, but I am getting better. I am used to writing about theology or discussing the faith with adults are the audience.

Simple is better

Less is more. I never actually understand that phrase until after going through these lessons with my son. Sometimes discussion about the sacraments can get bogged down with technical jargon or bias. Essentially the main questions kids and new converts to the faith wonder include:

  • What are sacraments?
  • Why are sacraments important?
  • How do I receive the sacraments

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1131, “The sacraments are efficacious [effective] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” To put it is more basic terms, a sacrament is a visible sign of God’s invisible grace. By receiving the sacraments we grow closer to God.

A Brief History of Sin and Salvation

Adam and Eve disobeyed God. This disobedience caused sin to enter into the world. Sin separates us from God. God sent His only Son Jesus to restore that relationship through his death on the Cross. Before Jesus’ Ascension he promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit met the Apostles and gave them the ability to preach the Gospel.

Sacrament of Confession

The Apostles, the first bishops, ordained their successors. This Apostolic succession continued throughout history. Jesus gave Peter and the rest of the Apostles the authority to forgive sins (see John 20:1-23) and consecrate the Eucharist. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the successors of the Apostles (bishops) ordain men as priests. Jesus Christ works through those men in the Sacraments of Confession and Eucharist.

We explained to our son that Jesus is working through the priest.  When he will confess his sins to our priest it will actually be Jesus that he will be talking to and it will be Jesus who forgives sins. The priest is an instrument by which God works through.

Mercy

Another lesson I [re]learned in preparing my son for the Sacrament of Confession, is that everyone is in need of God’s mercy. “Even the pope goes to confession!” I told my eight-year-old. I went on to tell him about Saint Pope John XXII who received that sacrament daily.

Although the sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from original sin, humans still have the ability to freely choose to love or to not love God. Choosing to not love God or others results in sin or separation. As a father, I am definitely reminded of my need for forgiveness. Patience does not come naturally. It is a virtue tested daily, hourly, and sometimes every minute in the Chicoine household.

Being able to tell Jesus through the priest of my failures as a parent, husband, friend, worker, and neighbor is an incredible gift. Even more incredible is God’s mercy of absolving me from my past sins.

Reaping the Fruit of Our Sacramental Marriage

The third thing I learned about the Catholic faith while teaching my son about Confession is that the Holy Spirit delays certain gifts and gives them at key times in our life. My wife and I received the Sacrament of Matrimony in 2010. We took [and still take] our faith seriously. The primary purpose of marriage is to help the spouses grow in holiness.

Fruit

According  to the Catechism paragraph 1661,

The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799).

In my post Toddlers: An Adorable Trace of the Trinity I wrote, “A fruit of the sacrament of marriage is children…I think of my children as the best gift that God has given me personally to grow in virtue daily.” Kids test your love. They give you opportunities to grow in understanding, patience, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and gratitude to name just a few virtues. Educating our children about the faith provides my wife and I chances to rekindle our love for the Church and Christ.

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If you are experiencing doubt, impatience, anger, resentment, worry, or other vices I strongly encourage you to examine your conscience and ask God for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession.  Build up the Body of Christ and seek God’s mercy!

 

 

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How to Forgive Someone When They Don’t Deserve Forgiveness

Forgiveness

My family is going through an unexpected and emotion-laced event. Because of the sensitivity and uniqueness of the situation I can only be vague. This challenging experience combined with my shift to working the night shift has pushed me to the brink. A brink I have not quite experienced since 2015—the very same year I started to seriously discern my dream to become a full-time writer.

Full disclosure: I thought about quitting today. Lack of sleep and emotional strain are likely the culprits of that feeling.

Writing has been my dream a long time. I have been preparing since I was in first grade. I have always been recognized as the storyteller by my immediate and extended family. The passion and peace I experience writing is found nowhere else—except in my faith life.

The Effects of Unforgiveness

Anger, fear, and doubt crippled me. This paralysis could have easily lasted the entire day and longer. When you experience suffering in your life there are two roads to travel. The first path is to succumb to wrath, jealousy, envy, callousness, and other sinister sins of the mind. Not being able to forgive someone makes you initially feel in control. In the short term it is oddly satisfying. Failure to forgive over an extended period of time causes paralysis.

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According to St. Philip Neri, “If a man finds it very hard to forgive injuries, let him look at a Crucifix, and think that Christ shed all His Blood for him, and not only forgave His enemies, but prayed His Heavenly Father to forgive them also.” Forgiving others sounds great in theory, but what happens when you are put to the test. I mean really, truly, and actually put to the test!

Forgive Without Measure

Currently, I am in the middle of that test. The situation is still fresh. Wounds still raw. Below is a conversation I had with God as I prayed for the grace to help my unforgiving heart:

I don't want to

Me: Lord, I am so incredibly mad. Words cannot describe the rage I am feeling. I cannot forgive now. I don’t want to forgive. Do I have to forgive in this situation?

God: What did I tell St. Peter?

Me: You told him, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times [you must forgive them]” (Matthew 18:22).

God: Right! Now why did you ask whether you must forgive others?

Me: Because this situation is particularly bad. I simply cannot forgive in this situation.

God: Forgive others, lest you will be not able to ask me for forgiveness.

Me: But, you must realize this situation is particularly bad.

God: My son, ask and you will receive. Ask me for the grace to forgive and I will give it to you.

Me: But I have asked yesterday and this morning. I still cannot forgive.

God: Ask again my son.

Me: What if it takes me at least a year or worse a decade to forgive.

God: Ask daily if you must. Ask hourly if you must. Even if it takes you years I will keep my promise. I will give you the graces to forgive. Remember the Scriptures of how I led my people out of bondage in Egypt. Sometimes good takes time to come to fruition. Ask, ask, ask my child. Rely on me every moment.

 Suffering Transforms Us

My faith is being put to the test. Suffering transforms us. If you embrace it and carry our cross we become more Christ-like. If we flee from it, it only intensifies. We keep getting opportunities to embrace it. Failure to embrace suffering leads to us becoming less than what we were created for. “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plan for you and certainly wants to make you a saint,” wrote St. Ignatius of Loyola.

This thorny path I am on is painful, but necessary. I need to forgive others. I am not ready to forgive today. I will petition God for the grace to forgive. My prayers will continue daily until the end of this life if needed. All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). Every suffering leads toward a greater good (Roman 8:28).

Forgiveness is tough

Will you join me in the quest towards forgiveness? A friend of mine shared a relevant quote he came across recently. “Pay attention to the places in your life that the Enemy fights. Where you face the most warfare is where the enemy is most afraid.” Let us ask Mary Undoer of Knots to undo the tangles of unforgiveness in our hearts and bring our sufferings to Her Beloved Son.

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Live and Let Go of Bitterness and Anger

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My parish priest declared in his Sunday homily, “Nothing has disturbed people more than unforgiveness.”  Harboring resentment against individuals who offended or betrayed you only hurts you in the long run. I struggled, and still struggle in some cases, with people who hurt me in seemingly unforgiveable ways.

Jesus urges us in Luke 6:27-38 to love and forgive not only our friends, but also our enemies. Throughout history Christianity has maintained in its official teaching the importance and reality that sins may be forgiven. According to the Catechism of the Church, God’s mercy is infinite, “There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.529 Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin” (CCC 982).

If you find it difficult to forgive those that hurt you in the past, implore God for the graces to forgive and love as He loves. Simply petition God with the words, “Help me to forgive as I don’t know how to forgive. But I trust in your mercy and love.” The Gospel from this Sunday concludes with Jesus’ promise of graces to be poured out if you extend mercy and forgiveness to all. Only true peace and life within you will spring forth from the tentacles of unforgivness are cut down and out of your heart. Go to confession, attend Mass frequently, and ask God daily to bestow you the gift of a merciful heart.


“Give (forgive), and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.” —Luke 6:38

“During mental prayer, it is well, at times, to imagine that many insults and injuries are being heaped upon us, that misfortunes have befallen us, and then strive to train our heart to bear and forgive these things patiently, in imitation of our Saviour. This is the way to acquire a strong spirit.” — St. Philip Neri

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Who am I to Judge?—the Death of Charles Manson

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I normally do not write on current events or celebrity/infamous figures, however, this week I will make an exception. The notorious serial killer Charles Manson died at the age of 83. I read a few threads on social media speculating the state of his soul. One conversation on Facebook had a poll question had the following choices for viewers to vote on the status of his soul:

a. who am I to judge?

b. yes, he is in hell, not sure, but there is a high probability he is in hell

c. he is in purgatory

d.  Miscellaneous options

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According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, I opt for the first answer—who am I to judge? Honestly, I cannot definitively know the status of his soul in the afterlife.  Now, this stance is likely to be unpopular, especially from those impacted by his evil actions. I am not condoning Manson’s actions. Murder is against the 5th Commandment. All life has dignity.  To end it is grave and serious! However, at the end of the day, I am not the judge and jury of the eternal state of a human’s soul once they pass from this world. Anyone who dons the role of judge, jury, and executioner of another human being toes a dangerous and prideful line.

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  1. Hell– Population Unknown: A theological census on the residents in hell does not exist–at least for humans. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility” (Is Hell Crowded or Empty? A Catholic Perspective, 2011). However, hell is populated with spiritual beings like the fallen angels and Satan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 391 and 393 tells us,

Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.267 The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing…It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.

While Charles Manson’s horrific actions were severe and constituted justice to be served, we do not know whether or not he asked God for mercy during his four decades in prison. God is ultimately a merciful judge. He provides multiple opportunities for individuals to ask for forgiveness and to amend their sinful life. I will again look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for guidance.  Paragraph 1037 states, “God predestines no one to go to hell; 620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”

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2. Death Penalty: Genesis 4 describes the first murder—Cain’s fratricide of Abel. As a cradle Catholic I heard stories from the bible so many times that sometimes I overlook the details of the account. The story of Cain and Abel is definitely a passage that I need to be reminded of, especially, when anger, jealousy, and pride creep up on me.

Cain and Abel present offerings to God. Genesis 4 tells us that God is pleased with Abel’s gift because he sacrifices the best of his flock, whereas Cain’s sacrifice is mediocre. Jealousy grows inside of Cain and instead of striving to be better with his offering next time he kills his brother in hopes to eliminate his perceived competition. God eventually interrogates Cain. Cain tries to make up an excuse, but he is found guilty. Here is where the story takes a turn, instead of killing Cain God spares him. In fact, he even pledges to protect Cain. Listen to Genesis 4:11-15,

Now you are banned from the ground* that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.d12If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth.13Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.14Look; you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”15Not so! the LORD said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the LORD put a mark* on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight.

People can debate whether the Cain and Abel story is meant to be taken literally or figuratively. Nonetheless, the key message of the passage is the reality of God’s mercy. God does not seek vengeance as a first act, instead he allows for the consequences of sinful actions to occur and then he provides time for humans to seek forgiveness.

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In terms of the whether the capital punishment is morally permissible or not, Genesis 4 provides a precedent for the avoidance of using the death penalty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267,

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.68

Through the increase in rehabilitation programs for criminals to participate in and improvement of prisons to section them off from the rest of the populace, the need for the death penalty in civilized nations is not as common as it was in the past. I want to make sure I am quite clear: Charles Manson’ heinous actions as a cult leader and murderer are deplorable. As a Catholic I am often challenged to demonstrate love individuals who committed such atrocities. If any of my loved ones ever suffered from the hands of someone similar in evil I would greatly struggle to forgive—but God calls us to a difficult task.

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The death of Charles Manson reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I am not the judge, jury, and executioner of humanity. Thank goodness! If that would be the case we might all fall short of the glory of God.   

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