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.

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Door of Faith, Mercy, Love, and Humility

 

mezuzah mezuzot

Anyone ever kissed a mezuzah?  Or, to be more precise:  touched the mezuzah, and then kissed your hand?

A mezuzah hangs on the doorpost of a devout Jewish home.  It contains a small paper, with the Shema:  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.   You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Deuteronomy commands the people to inscribe the Shema on their doorposts.  But the word mezuzah appears for the first time in the Bible in the passage we read every year on Holy Thursday.  Exodus 12 commands the people:  “Take some of the blood of the Passover lamb, and apply it to your mezuzot, your doorposts.”

Now, a mezuzah can be an exquisite little work of art, adorning the doorway.  Generally, they don’t look at all messy.  But even the most dainty little mezuzah represents the sprinkled blood of the lamb, the blood which moved the angel of death to pass over the house.

Logo for Holy Year of MercyThis year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us two ways to obtain a jubilee-year indulgence.  First, the old-fashioned way:  to pass through a Holy Door.  Usually, during Jubilee Years, you have to go to Rome to pass through a Holy Door, or at least to a papal basilica.  But this year, Pope Francis extended the prerogative for Holy Doors to every diocese.

Trust me, Fr. Matt and I lobbied to get a holy door at St. Andrew’s.  But the Bishop decided the cathedral in Richmond should have the holy door for our diocese.  Fair enough.  Now that winter has ended, the time has come for everyone to plan a little pilgrimage to Richmond, or to the National Shrine in Washington, to pass through the Jubilee-Year door.

The second way Pope Francis gave us to obtain an indulgence this year:  doing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.  Comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead.

The Lord liberated our forefathers from slavery during the Passover, because He loves.  He sent His only-begotten Son, the Lamb of the new and eternal covenant, to shed His Blood for us on the cross—because He loves.  He gave us the Holy Mass, the sacred priesthood, the Church—because He loves.

The events we read about in the Bible unfold the mystery of divine love, and they have brought about this result:  God has opened a door for us.  He has opened the door of faith.  The door of mercy.  The door of divine love.

And one more thing:  the jubilee-year door of faith, mercy, and love must also be the door of humility.  Faith means humility, since believing the Word involves acknowledging that God knows more than we do.  Mercy means humility, since God forgives those who humbly repent.  Above all, divine love means humility, since the love of God works through simple, un-glorious, practically invisible deeds.

Brothers and sisters, let’s step through the door—the door of faith, mercy, love, and humility!  On the other side of this door lies the Kingdom of God!

Pope Francis foot kiss

Year of Jubilee: the Why

Lord Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit has anointed me to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” A year of jubilee. Like this year. Last month, Pope Francis inaugurated a Jubilee Year of…

christ-synagogue1Now, maybe you think: Father, that’s nice. But, when we read the Bible, we see that the jubilee of Divine Mercy began when Christ first came into the world. He said so, in the synagogue in Nazareth, as we will hear at Sunday Mass (assuming we can safely get to church).

Christ came to bring glad tidings: God’s love overcomes all evil. God loves the suffering and the poor. We human beings don’t need to mistreat each other over inconsequential trifles. We don’t have to fight over having the most stuff, or the most glamour, or the most fleeting pleasure.

God wills to give us His Kingdom, true happiness that does not die. God will give us something infinitely better than anything we could ever fight each other for in this world. The glory of God, better than ten Super-Bowl rings or 25 Oscars.

So: Live simply, humbly, and devoutly through this pilgrim life; love your neighbor; give to the poor. Avoid evil. Live for the Mass; live for the next Holy Communion; live by faith. Long for heaven. What’s the point of fighting over peanuts, doing injustices, and piling up a lot of junk that will only turn to dust in the end?

The Age of Grace and Mercy dawned like a perpetual Year of Jubilee, when the Christ came to the world. He atoned for our sins, conquered death for us, and gave us a hope worth living for.

So why would a Sovereign Pontiff of the Christian Church feel the need to proclaim a special jubilee year, since every year in which the grace of Christ flows is a year of jubilee already?

Good question.

In this case, I think our Holy Father has a double reason for proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

1) Popes always have one basic reason for proclaiming years of jubilee: to help people get out of purgatory more easily.

Pope Francis fiatNow, how can our humble Pope Francis help souls complete purgatory and reach heaven? This pope’s very simple; he just rides around in a little Fiat.

But: Pope, simple as he may be, has full executive authority over a unique kind of bank. It’s the bank with the most valuable assets in the entire cosmos: the treasury of all the good works done by the saints of Christ throughout the Christian ages.

All these good works shine before the eyes of God, like jewels. And the pope has the authority to “disburse” these jewels, and give them to us, to show to God as if they were our own.

So the pope declares: For this year, my dear people, you can make withdrawals from the bank of saintly merits more easily! You can more easily apply the goodness of the saints to yourself, or to a deceased relative in purgatory. Make a pilgrimage, or do the works of mercy, and the goodness of the saints will count as your goodness, too–or as the goodness of your beloved dead.

That’s called an “indulgence.” Popes declare years of jubilee in order to grant indulgences liberally.

So: that’s reason enough for Pope Francis to have declared this Year of Jubilee! But he has another reason, also.

2) In his letter about the jubilee year, Pope Francis wrote about the very passage from the gospel which we hear on Sunday. The Pope wrote: “A ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ or ‘mercy’: this is what the Lord proclaimed and this is what we wish to live now.”

Christ came and proclaimed the perpetual jubilee of divine mercy, in the synagogue in Nazareth. By doing so, He fulfilled a commandment He had given long before, during the time of the Old Covenant.

In the laws of Leviticus, the Lord commanded Moses and the ancient Israelites to start fresh every fifty years. Start fresh, as in: forgive debts, liberate slaves, restore lost property. Everyone has the right to a decent, peaceful life–to food, shelter, health-care, etc. Start fresh with a fair shake for everyone, every fifty years. Equalize all the incomes. That was a law in the Old Covenant. You might laugh, but there really was a divine law that said basically what Bernie Sanders says.

The ancient Israelites, however, never followed that law. The rich got richer and the poor poorer, even among the Chosen People of God. The fact of the matter is: in this fallen world, a complete fresh start never comes. But there is a way for us to try to make things the way God would have them: those of us who possess stuff–corporal and spiritual goods–have to make sacrifices for the good of others.

So Pope Francis has given us this jubilee year as an occasion for us to: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

Also to: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.

By doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy this year, we obtain the Jubilee-Year indulgence. But not only that. By doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we help to bring about the unending jubilee the Christ came to declare.

Our Lady, Vatican II, Mercy Old and New

Closing Mass of Vatican II
Closing Mass of Vatican II

Today, the Lord re-established the Garden of Eden, as it had been before the Fall.

The place where the human being, child of God, could receive the Creator’s love, and return it, without selfishness getting in the way. The place where human intelligence and freedom could exercise itself fully, without vice and dishonesty destroying things. The place of quiet, pure friendship between God and man.

That lovely garden returned to the earth on this day. Because the soul of the Virgin Mary is that garden. In her conversation with the Archangel Gabriel (which we read at Holy Mass today), we see into Our Lady’s soul: perfectly honest, humbly intelligent, living by faith, and ready to serve. An un-fallen Eve.

Now, that was well over 2,000 years ago, when our Lady was conceived immaculate in the womb of St. Anne. Who remembers what happened exactly 50 years ago today? Pope Paul VI solemnly concluded the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope made all the Council Fathers’ teachings his own. Four years of fervent prayer, study, and debate came to an end. Something much bigger began. In the teachings of the Council, the Lord gave us modern Christians a unique and profound insight into our identity and mission.

Fifty years ago. Hate to break it to you: If you can remember the Second Vatican Council, you old.

Or perhaps we should say, ‘mature.’ Because in fifty years, I think it’s fair to say, we have matured in two ways.

1) Fifty years on, we can understand that the Church of today, the Church of the new millennium, has not fundamentally changed from the Church of the two previous millennia.

Neither Pope St. John XXIII, nor any of the Council Fathers, saw themselves as founding a ‘new’ Church. At Vatican II, the same Church of our holy ancestors greeted the 20th century—greeted the ‘modern’ world. Holy Mother recognized the urgent need for us to share the Gospel of Christ faithfully in this age. So, at Vatican II, the Church strove to understand Herself in that light.

2) We have also matured in this way: We thoroughly recognize the teachings of the Council as the pure, rich, and beautiful gift that they are. We needed new guidance in order to stay true to the faith of the saints of old.

Even old-fashioned Catholics like myself take all the important teachings of Vatican II for granted: full participation in the liturgy by everyone; the apostolate of the laity; the importance of Scripture study; our shared baptism; our common humanity; the good that modern means of communication can do; the good that the modern dream of a unified world can do. Vatican II reminded us that we believe in a fruitful future just as much as we revere the holy Tradition.

Today we begin a Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Jubilee Year offers a path to the Garden of Eden, to the soul of our Lady. Holy Father has sketched out the path for us. (I think it’s a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit that the following could also serve as a basic summary of the teachings of Vatican II.)

Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Heal the sick. Visit the imprisoned. Bury the dead.

Counsel the doubtful. Instruct the ignorant. Comfort the sorrowful. Admonish sinners. Forgive those who have wronged you. Bear patiently with those who do you ill. Pray for the living and the dead.

Pope Francis enters St Peters through Holy Door

What is a Jubilee Year?

Pope Francis at Holy Door St Peters

Is it when the Georgetown Hoyas beat the Syracuse Orange? We present another answer, from the Holy Bible…

In the beginning, the human race dwelt in paradise. God freely gave us everything we need.

But our First Parents fell. The human race became slaves of the devil, condemned to death. Malice and contempt entered into our relations with each other.

Before the Fall, our First Parents could easily understand themselves as children in the divine household, endowed with life through the infinite generosity of the omnipotent Creator. But as sinners we learned to put our selves at the center of all our reckonings. We human beings took up the business of ruthlessly competing with each other. We learned to deal harshly with others, seeking individual advantages at every turn.

We can pick up this story at the beginning of the book of Exodus. The fallen human situation manifests itself completely in the fate of the Hebrew people in Egypt.

Continue reading “What is a Jubilee Year?”