Integrity of the Womb and the Confessional

confessional“Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Mark 2:7)


Sin involves corrupting the pure integrity of God’s beautiful plan. A plan for the salvation and glorification of all things.

We pray for the marchers up in Washington. We share their zeal. In the womb, God knits together an unfathomable plan. It’s like a little Garden of Eden. May no hand of violence ever desecrate that garden.

God, the pure One, can forgive the sins of us impure ones. He even uses some of us impure ones as His instruments of mercy. The Son of God entrusted “the power of the keys” to His Church. He gave His Apostles and their successors in office the authority to forgive sins in the name of God. To continue the Incarnation, so to speak. Jesus, when He walked the earth, had the authority to forgive sins. Bishops and priests have that same authority, as ministers of Christ.

But a profound responsibility accompanies that authority, doesn’t it? When we go to confession, we go with faith in the power of the keys. But we also need to have confidence in the human integrity of the confessor. We have to trust that the priest who hears my confession will respond according to true discipline, guided by holy teaching.

That is: He won’t distort my own conscience by calling good evil or evil good. He won’t betray God’s mercy by being too hard on me, or betray God’s justice by being too easy on me.

My point is: The supernatural grace of Holy Orders means that even a sinner can offer Christ’s sacraments. But in the confessional, our faith in that supernatural grace has to meet a representative of a human institution with integrity. Yes, all priests are sinners, too. But a confessor receiving penitents cannot be a liar. He cannot be a swindler or a sodomite. He cannot be an atheist or a heretic.

unborn…On March-for-Life Day, the young Catholic Church in America takes Her vigorous stand. Faith, hope, and love show up on Constitution Avenue.

But She limps this year. Her faith God invigorates Her as always. But Her inability to trust in the fundamental integrity of the clerical hierarchy saps Her strength.

Our faith in the triune God does not contradict reason. But, at the beginning of 2019, we cannot rationally claim that our clerical hierarchy has integrity. If we did claim that, reasonable non-Catholics would make arguments to the contrary. And we would have no answers.

May God send us leaders to get our footing back. It will take a long time. But we can do it, if we hold on. We sinners, who want to live honest lives.


Mercy at the Beginning and the End

That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. (Matthew 9:6)

confessionalThe mercy of God. We repent of our sins, beg His mercy, and receive forgiveness in the confessional.

Does ‘mercy’ mean, then: Forgiving the one who repents, and starting fresh, rather than holding the offense against the offender? Yes.

But there is more. Mercy comes at the end of reconciliation. But it also comes at the beginning.

God became the Lamb and spread out His arms on the cross first. Christ crucified revealed to the sinful human race the unfathomable depths of the eternal and infinite mercy of God.

Examining our consciences to prepare for a good confession takes mucho courage. None of us could ever find that kind of courage, except that we know ahead of time that God forgives. He loves us with the love of an infinitely patient father, who has taken out a huge insurance policy on the family car and smiles when we smash it up on our learner’s permit. We admit the truth because we know we have nothing to fear. ‘Okay, yes, dad. I was driving blindfolded. So-and-so dared me to do it.’

So: On the one hand, we reject the idea of “cheap grace.” You can’t presume on God’s love and never bother to search yourself, acknowledge your sins, and work hard to do better.

But, by the same token: we do not start with slavish fear of judgment. That only leads to compulsiveness and pharisaism anyway. We start with Christ crucified for the whole human race. We start knowing that God loves with mercy, that He made us out of love and mercy in the first place, and that our very desire to live in His friendship is itself a free gift of His mercy.

Heart of the Confessional

Pope Francis priests retreat

During the Year of Mercy, Holy Father has set aside certain days as ‘jubilees’ for particular segments of the Christian faithful.  Today is the Jubilee for Priests.

Pope gave a retreat to priests yesterday, in Rome.  Three talks, at three of the four major basilicas.  Then, this morning, Holy Father celebrated Mass with the retreatants in St. Peter’s Square.

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:7)

Logo for Holy Year of MercyI can’t speak for the angels and saints, like Jesus can.  But I can say:  I have no greater joy in life than celebrating the sacrament of Penance.  We priests have a unique experience.  We celebrate Penance on both sides of the screen, so to speak.  I try to go to confession at least once a month.  And, of course, hearing confessions occupies a great deal of our time, we priests.

God forgives.  We can make a huge mess of things by committing sins.  Cleaning up the mess can mean a lot of work.  But:  when God forgives, and gives us a fresh start, everything looks different.  The future does not glower ahead, like a brewing tornado.  That’s what the future looks like to someone living in the confused dishonesty of sin.  When we confess, and the truth takes over—the truth of God’s infinite mercy—suddenly the future looks different.  It’s full of light and possibilities.  I can clean up my mess, no problem.  Not only that, I can work on building something beautiful with my life.

The love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is everywhere.  Especially in the Blessed Sacrament.  The Host is a blazing furnace of the love of Jesus’ Heart.  So is the confessional.  When we meet Him there, and unfold our own hearts, with honest repentance for our wickedness, He forgives.  With all His Heart.

Pre-Passover Purification

A message for everyone, especially the Upper Schoolers at Roanoke Catholic

jerusalem-sunriseIn the Old Covenant, in order to celebrate the Passover feast, you had to travel to Jerusalem.

Who reigned as King of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem? Herod the Great. Herod built a huge Temple courtyard, and he put the entrance to the south. Why? Maybe because he himself hailed from the south, from Idumea.

Anyway, it’s all in ruins now, of course. But in the ruins of the southern steps to the ancient Jerusalem Temple, what do we find? Ritual baths. Anyone know what they are called? Mikveh.

In order to ascend to the Temple to celebrate the holy feast of Passover, you had to undergo a cleansing. And, of course, it was not just an exterior cleansing. The ritual bath involved interior repentance for sin.

When does our Passover feast of the New Covenant begin? This Sunday! Palm Sunday. We do not have to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover of Christ. We just have to go to the local parish church.

We do need repentance and purification, however, in order to celebrate the feast worthily, with upright hearts. Just like the ancient Israelites needed repentance and purification in the old days.

We don’t insist on ritual baths. Just a good, honest, humble confession.


This video goes a long way to showing just how deadly boring Holy Land archaeology can be. (The longest summer I ever spent was a sun-drenched February afternoon at the Sepphoris archaeological park in Galilee.) But the video has some interesting info. re: mikvot.

Ninevites Loving Themselves

The Palaces of Nimrud Restored by James Fergusson
The Palaces of Nimrud Restored by James Fergusson

You may recall that three years ago we discussed the Ninevites and their love for themselves. We don’t know much about them, the ancient Ninevites and their king. But we do know that, when Jonah came to them as a messenger from God, they listened.

The king of Nineveh listened, and he loved himself for the first time in his life. The king loved himself enough to decide then and there to live in the truth. He threw off the empty pomps of his courtly grandeur and humbled himself before his Maker.

For the first time, the king loved his people. He declared that everyone should heed the words of Jonah. And for the first time ever, the Ninevites truly loved themselves. They turned to God, their Creator and their Father. With confidence in His patient love, they begged His mercy, and they received it.

confessionalWe may be late, too, in coming to love ourselves. But as long as we draw breath, late is not too late. Today the Lord loves us, and longs for us, and stands ready to forgive any and all sins that we have the courage to acknowledge to Him. And He wills to give us the courage and the insight that we will need to confess.

What is sin #1, of which we are all probably very guilty? Not going to Confession anywhere near enough. Do we love ourselves so little? When the Lord waits in the confessional to forgive, to restore, and to refresh us? And we leave Him waiting?

#2: Do we pray anywhere near enough for the people closest to us–the annoying, tedious people with so many objectionable habits?

The Lord constantly wills that the people we dislike the most will get to heaven. He wills it constantly. The Lord Jesus wills that the greatest villains on earth will get to heaven, by repentance and renewal of soul. Christ stands ready at all times to forgive the sins of the greatest killers and terrorists, once they repent. And He offers the grace of repentance and contrition to all of them, and weeps in His Heart if they are stubborn. Just like He weeps in His Heart when we are stubborn.

Are we anywhere near to seeing other people the way the Lord sees them? With such love and desire for them to love themselves and live in the truth?

Now, before we get discouraged and decide that we are miserable losers without an ounce of real charity in our hearts, let’s remember Jonah. He had no love for the Ninevites. He wanted to see them burn.

But the Lord basically forced Jonah to obey; the Lord more or less forced Jonah to preach repentance to the people he hated. God willed the salvation of that deplorable cesspool of a city. And Jonah was to be His preacher, and convert the Ninevites to true faith. And God saw it done.

So: we do not have to have pure divine love in our hearts. We don’t even have to obey God willingly. We just have to obey Him. Even if we sullenly and grudgingly do what the Lord asks, He will bring good out of it.

Can we doubt that He asks us all to go to Confession during Lent? Even if we go to Confession grudgingly and will sullen obtuseness, like Jonah went to Nineveh grudgingly, with sullen obtuseness–even if we go to the foot of the Cross to confess our sins grudgingly and sullenly, He will forgive us and bring good out of it.

Why He Gives us More Days

I think I have mentioned before how the Lord gave me great gifts of faith when I was 22 years old. Faith in His real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. And faith in the entire sacred ministry of the Catholic Church.

One question I had during my early days as a Catholic was the following. (Maybe it will sound strange. But it really boggled my mind for a while.)

Take for granted the fundamental fact that nothing happens, nothing exists at all, without God willing it. Then the question: Considering that Holy Baptism gives us the grace to get to heaven, why do we continue to live on earth after Baptism?

Continue reading “Why He Gives us More Days”

Shoes Tied and Ready to Play

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.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann
Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann
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?

Continue reading “Shoes Tied and Ready to Play”

Scared of the Devil?

Robert de Niro Louis Cypher Angel Heart

There was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon. Luke 4:33

Possession by demons. Scary. The other day the Youth Director at one of my beloved parishes told me some of her plans for the fall. She intends to hold a party on Halloween. They will watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” I told her to count me out. Too scary.

When I was in high-school, I pretty much ran with the jocks. We considered ourselves tough and manly. In 1987, another movie about the devil came out, called “Angel Heart.” The title makes the movie sound sweet, but it was about the devil taking a person’s soul. Mickey Rourke starred, and Robert de Niro played Mr. Lou Cypher. Anyway, when we came out of that theater at about 11:00 at night, five or six tough members of the varsity basketball team, we went together to my house. We all bedded-down for the night on the floor of my room, nestled-in together like 10-year-old girls at a slumber party. We were scared out of our minds.

Demonic possessions. Scary for the movies, sure enough. But the truth is that Satan has a far-scarier trick up his sleeve. He tried to use this trick on the Lord Jesus Himself, in the desert. If possessing people were Satan’s best shot at capturing souls for his nasty, horrible domain, he would use it all the time. But he doesn’t. The demons use their other weapon much more often because it is a much quicker and easier way to destroy a soul. Not possession, but…temptation.

How can we protect ourselves? The gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass has the clear answer. We human beings naturally can and should fear the demons of hell. But, as we read, the demons themselves fear someone. They fear Jesus Christ, because He is the Holy One of God.

So we protect ourselves from the powers of evil by staying close to our protector, the Lord Jesus. And how do we do that? Daily prayer, of course. And by using the guaranteed means of keeping Christ at work within us, namely the…sacraments.

Which are the two sacraments that we use over and over again, to keep Jesus within us and scare away the devil? Mass and confession.

Raise your hand if the idea of having to fight the devil scares you. Me, too. A lot. So let’s be smart and pray every day, go to Mass at least every Sunday, and go to Confession every month.

Simeon Sees the Turning Point


“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled.” Luke 2:29

Every once in a blue moon, the 40th day after Christmas falls on a Sunday, and we all celebrate the feast of the Presentation together. It’s been 11 years since the last time. I was a transitional deacon then, in Silver Spring, Maryland. That was a winter when we had two blizzards in one week. There was a convent of nuns at the parish where I was living. I took it upon myself to shovel the walkway from their house to the church, so they could get to Mass. The snow was piled three feet deep. It took all day.

Anyway, this feast marks an end, and a beginning.

Continue reading “Simeon Sees the Turning Point”

Roof Breakthrough in Mark 2

After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying… (Mark 2)

These verses from the beginning of the second chapter of Mark (which we read at Holy Mass today) were my dear departed aunt’s favorite passage of Scripture.

What happened here with the breaking through of the roof, for the sake of the paralytic: This event gives us two subtle but powerful indications of the divinity of Jesus.

confessional1) “Jesus immediately knew in His mind what they were thinking to themselves.” God knows even the most secret of our thoughts. Nothing can be hid from His gaze. We would not have minds to have thoughts in, if God were not at every moment sustaining the existence and power of our minds. Whenever I so much as think something, or even ‘half-think’ it, God knows. Jesus knows.

2) “Child, you sins are forgiven.” Child, the faith of your friends has pleased God. Child, you are right as rain, you can stand tall, you can sleep the sleep of the just tonight, because mercy is everlasting.

But: ‘Who but God alone can forgive sins?’ Excellent question. Excellent rhetorical question. Christ quibbles not with this statement. The Church does not quibble. The idea that anyone but God can forgive sins is absurd. Of course only God can forgive sins. Sins are affronts against God. That’s what they are. No one but God is competent to forgive them.

By the same token: No one is competent to preclude or impede or foreclose God’s forgiveness of anyone’s sins. God wills to forgive the penitent sinner. He became man to make satisfaction, as one of us, for all the sins of human history. He gave the power to absolve to the priests of His Church. These are acts of God. The sacrament of Penance is God forgiving sins. No quibble. God forgives us through the ministry of the Church when we confess our sins to a priest.

“They were all astounded.” God’s loving penetration, and His profligate mercy in Christ: astounding.