Jesus said to His disciples…
Last week we began to discuss the discipline of a disciple of Christ. Who wants to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Let’s see the hands again.
Now, who thinks that it is possible for a disciple of Jesus Christ to make any progress without knowing the Ten Commandments? By heart. Cold. Knowing them backwards and forwards, like the back of my hand.
Of course it is impossible to follow Christ as a disciple without eating, drinking, and sleeping the Ten Commandments.
Christ Himself said to the rich young man who wanted to follow Him, “Keep the commandments.” Following Christ without knowing the Ten Commandments would be like trying to play for the Washington Redskins without knowing how to tie my shoes.
Who thinks it’s possible to make any headway as a disciple of Christ without going over the Ten Commandments in my mind, one by one, carefully asking myself if I have followed them all faithfully—and doing this frequently, like at least once a week? Anybody?
Of course it is impossible for a Christian disciple to make progress without doing that, without regular examinations of conscience. That would be like trying to take the field for the great Baltimore Orioles, or the great Washington Nationals, without a glove. What kind of shortstop takes the field without a glove? What kind of disciple of Christ goes through life without meditating carefully on the Ten Commandments every week?
So let’s not step onto the field like numbskulls, with shoes untied and no glove. Let’s be morally serious people. The kind of people who love fun and laughing and sunshine and the beginning of football season. But who—if sinning starts creeping into the picture—if selfishness starts creeping in, say: Oh, no. Whoa. Brick wall. Stone face. No way. Sin and fun do not go together, at least for a serious disciple of Christ.
Which brings us to a couple of important concepts. In the Sunday Mass gospel reading, we hear the Lord discuss the business of sin and forgiveness. What did Pope Francis say, when the magazine writer asked him: Who are you, really, Pope Francis? His Holiness said, “I am a sinner.” Where can we find the Christian church for people who aren’t sinners? Doesn’t exist, amigo. A Christian is a sinner who needs forgiveness.
Next question: How many lungs do we each have? How many do we generally breathe with?
We breathe with two lungs. In the same way, we undergo moral healing for our sins by making regular use of two sacraments. Two sacraments which the Lord instituted for repeated use, to serve as our constant companions.
1. Holy Mass and Communion
Seems to me like there are four ways for a Catholic to treat Christ crucified. When we go to Confession, we go to the foot of the Cross to unburden ourselves to the One Who died out of love for us. We kneel before Him, open our hearts, and receive the gift that He gave us when He shed His blood for us—namely, forgiveness.
So let’s say there are four ways to relate to Jesus, His arms stretched out, Who awaits us in the confessional. The first way is never to go to Him. To neglect the use of the sacrament. Ignore it as if it weren’t there. God preserve us from that.
#2: Another way to treat Christ on the cross for my sins is to go to Him, but then not confess any of my sins. To act as if the business really has to do with other people’s sins, or with how good I am and how hard I try. To approach the sacrament of confession of my sins with some other intention than strictly and decisively to confess my sins. This is called misusing the sacrament.
Now, we all get confused and misdirected sometimes. The priest has the job of focusing the business of a confession, to turn it from a potential misuse into a good use. And, of course, the priest has the duty always to give the penitent the benefit of the doubt for both good will and honesty.
Also, not only does canon law prohibit the priest from ever telling anybody anything that anyone says in the confessional—the law also clearly forbids biting the penitent. I’m sure it’s in the law somewhere: Father, no biting the penitent.
No, the priest must try to answer questions helpfully and offer loving guidance. So: Really there’s nothing to fear from going to confession, even if all I have when I walk in is a firm resolve to be honest and a desire to meet Christ the Savior at the foot of the Cross where He died for my sins.
Which brings us to the two more-normal ways of meeting the Lord in the sacrament of confession.
#1. A confession necessary for salvation. That is, to confess a mortal sin or mortal sins, ie. sins that cannot co-exist with the discipline of Christ. Or:
#2. A confession of devotion. That is, to confess failures, bad habits, smallnesses of character, or other problems that everyone has until the day we breathe our last. More next week on these two kinds of Confessions.