The Power of the Keys



God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself. [Spanish]

God the Father of mercies.

We did not exist. The seas and rivers did not exist. He took pity on us in our non-existence. He took pity on our unimaginable poverty—the poverty of not even being anything at all. Out of mercy, He made us.

The Father of mercies: He simply gives. Gives life unto peace and blessedness. He stabilizes and fortifies. He sustains everything He has made with His immovable-rock-like steadiness.

We fall short of this. We are like financial records that have not been attentively kept. Or like a marriage that has been neglected. Something—someone—must reconcile us with the Good, with truth and reality and the plan that God has. We’re like old, desiccated brick walls that need pointing, liable to leak and then crack and crumble—unless a stronger and more loving power fills the cracks in us with some solid bond.

wedding umbrellasThe stronger and move loving power? Christ, the Son of God. His sacrifice on His cross effects the reconciliation between God’s pure goodness and us.

The Western world has fallen into a weird spiritual malaise and can’t see the thing that every honest pagan who has ever heard the Gospel has immediately seen. The world, without Christ, languishes in hopeless estrangement from the Creator. But: The world with Christ, with Christ crucified and risen? Reconciled with God.

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.

The Reconciler, having reconciled the world and God by shedding His innocent blood, pours forth reconciliation from His own Heart. The Holy Spirit of mercy, at work in the world, pointing the desiccated mortar. Finding a miraculous way to balance the ill-kept books.

This is not a zero-sum cosmos, people. That’s the glory of the Gospel. God always has more to give. Christ pours out His Spirit of mercy and reconciliation into the humblest and most apparently innocuous moments.

Okay, time for the quiz. Which text have we studied here so far? God the Father of mercies… Correct! The prayer of absolution in the sacrament of Penance.

We hear all about it in the gospel passage for this Sunday’s Mass. Lord Jesus gave St. Peter and the Apostles the power to bind and to loose. This power abides in the world.

El Greco St Peter keys…Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.

The ministry doesn’t belong to the priest, as if it were in his own power as a man to loosen the sins of his people. No—Holy Mother Church possesses this ministry, because the Lord endowed Her with it.

At this point in my life, all this comes as a somewhat painful reflection. No priest can reconcile a sinner without having the proper authority to do so, delegated by the Church. Bishop Knestout has suspended my authority to do this. The only person I can validly absolve of his or her sins is someone in immediate danger of death. Any other absolution I would give? Not just disobedient on my part; it would not even be the sacrament.

Now, the Church’s law stipulates that a bishop should only revoke a priest’s authority to hear confessions for a serious cause. We priests get ordained to reconcile sinners. Wherever a priest may find himself, that becomes a place where a sinner can return to God’s grace.

Generally we hear confessions in the church, in the confessional. But a hospital room, an airplane, the corner of a factory or a restaurant, a car, a mountainside—all these places can become confessionals, if the need arises. And in the course of the lives of most priests, all these places do become confessionals, at one time or another.

So it hurts, not being able to do what I was ordained to do. When people ask to go to confession, I have to tell them I’m not allowed to help them. I think my brother priests would feel the same pain, if they had to endure this weird deprivation of the authority to absolve sinners.

To this day, I don’t know what ‘serious cause’ Bishop Knestout has in mind. I haven’t taught anything unorthodox. When penitents have sought moral guidance from me, I have always spoken according to the Catechism.

Be all that as it may, at least I can offer my private Masses for the salvation of sinners. And I myself can still go to confession, to another priest, thank God.

The Lord always has a plan. May He sort this all out. May He be merciful to us all.

PS. Bill Wyatt wrote an informative report about our trip to Richmond this past Sunday.

First and Second Regeneration and the Two Purposes of Lent

[written 3/7/20]

Gerard David Transfiguration

On two occasions during Lord Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage, the Father spoke out from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son!” 1. At Christ’s Baptism. 2. At His Transfiguration. [Spanish]

Holy Baptism. One of the seven… sacraments. The sacrament of regeneration. God generated us in the first place, in the Garden of Eden. When Satan tempted us, we fell, and we became the sinful, mortal human race that we are. Then God sent His beloved Son to re-generate us.

We enter into the re-generation process through Holy Baptism. When we get baptized into Christ, everything starts fresh. Human purity restored, an open-ended friendship with God begins.

Hopefully you know, dear reader, that Lent exists primarily as the final period of preparation for adults who will be baptized during the night before Easter. In other words, Lent means, first of all: the final stage of study and purification for non-Christian adults about to become Christians.

In the original Passover, the ancient People of God passed dry-shod through the Red Sea and marched on, toward the Promised Land. During Lent we integrate the stranger and the sojourner among us into our People, the pilgrim Church, to march forward with us.

St. Thomas Aquinas

To embrace the grace of Christian faith, a soul must search itself very deeply. Someone seeking to live the life of the Church must look within. When we do that, we discover the profound need that we all have for the Savior and Redeemer of the human race.

Our bodies get thirsty and need liquid refreshment. But our souls thirst, ultimately, for God. And only Jesus Christ offers the water that truly quenches that thirst.

We need light to guide us in this world. When the sun goes down, a lot of us have a hard time driving. But, even more so, we need interior light to understand the meaning of life, and how to attain it. Only Jesus Christ shines the inner light that guides us to true peace, to heaven.

Above all, when we face reality squarely, we immediately recognize: All of us are marching inexorably toward death. No one can stop that clock from ticking. But Jesus offers the true divine life that overcomes human mortality.

So Lent exists primarily to help students of Christianity to confront all these truths of human nature, and to understand them by the light of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching. When any human being who has learned the basic of Catholicism struggles for forty days to grasp just how deeply we need the Christ, then that soul can embrace the Christian faith with real freedom and commitment at Easter.

But Lent isn’t just for un-baptized catechumens. Lent also exists to remind us already-baptized Christians about what happened to us at the font. God regenerated us there, to live as His friends, as the children of His household. We need to reach into the depths of our souls, too, to rediscover the always-new, always-fresh presence of Christ’s truth and life. When we were baptized into Him, Jesus claimed us as His forever.

We already-baptized people, as we reach into these interior depths during Lent, usually find that we need to be re-cleansed by the baptismal water. How do we do that? By going to confession! One ancient name for the sacrament of Confession is… second Baptism.

Now, speaking of second things—what about the second time the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son!” The gospel passage we read at Holy Mass this Sunday. When the Lord’s body shone with brilliant divine light, transfigured. At that moment, the human regeneration accomplished by Christ, usually invisible to our eyes, was revealed.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan River was the sacrament of our first regeneration. And Christ’s Transfiguration is the sacrament of our second regeneration. That is, our bodily resurrection. When Christ comes again, in the glory He revealed at the Transfiguration, sin and Satan and death will no longer have any power over us. We will receive unending, divine bodily life. We Catholic Christians live for nothing less than that.

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.