Frequent Confession, the Eucharist, and the Need for Conversion

During this Lenten season we are called to examine our lives more closely in light of our relationship with Christ and His Church. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving bring us deeper into the mysteries of Christ and our own journey to holiness. Lent is also a time to draw closer to the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, also known as Reconciliation or Confession. The Eucharist unites us to Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity while Penance drives us to seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we sin and fail in our daily lives. Penance is not only a Sacrament for mortal sin, it is meant for all sin which weighs us down over time.

In the Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis, Saint John Paul II discusses the connection between these two great Sacraments of the Church. Both the Holy Eucharist and Penance are linked to the mystery of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul said, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” The link between theses Sacraments is apparent. In approaching the Lord’s Supper at each Mass, we must be aware of our failings and whether or not we are in a worthy state for reception of Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist is not a right. It is a gift reserved for those in a state of grace who are members of the Church. The Sacrament of Penance provides the necessary cleansing and healing for those times we fall into serious sin, but also as we struggle with sin in our daily lives.

One of the essential aspects and teachings of Jesus Christ is, “Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).” It is true that on the surface this is a call to become a follower of Christ and to receive Baptism in order to join the Mystical Body; however, it is also a call for each one of us to “repent” in our daily lives. Conversion is a life-long process. We each have sins deeply entrenched in us whether through habit or other factors. We cannot follow Christ unless we are constantly dying to self and listening to His call for repentance in our own lives. Even if we are not falling into grave sin, we are still failing somewhere and need Christ to give us the grace to overcome those sins. Saint John Paul II highlights the great importance of repentance, the Holy Eucharist, and Penance:

Indeed, if the first word of Christ’s teaching, the first phrase of the Gospel Good News, was “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Metanoeite), the sacrament of the passion, cross and resurrection seems to strengthen and consolidate in an altogether way this call in our souls. The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His “Repent.”

Redemptor Hominis 20

Our Lord knows our struggles and our failings on the path to holiness, which is precisely why He calls us to Himself for forgiveness and contrition in the Sacrament of Penance, so that we may more fully participate in the Holy Eucharist.

Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner.

Ibid

It is important to remember that all the faithful are members of the common priesthood by virtue of Baptism. We offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the ministerial priesthood. Our lives are meant to be of sacrifice, which is the very nature of priesthood. In order to fulfill this Baptismal role, we must be ever mindful of our daily need for conversion. It is Christ who is our example in sacrifice.

In Christ, priesthood is linked with His sacrifice, His self-giving to the Father; and, precisely because it is without limit, that self-giving gives rise in us human beings subject to numerous limitations to the need to turn to God in an ever more mature way and with a constant, ever more profound, conversion.

Ibid

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Cardinal Virtues: The Queenship of Prudence

The moral life has been hampered greatly by the prevalence of both nominalism (a system based on opposition) and a system of morality based on obligation over charity. For the first 1500 years of the Church, the moral life was seen as the movement of grace within the individual who then strives to live the virtues both supernatural and human. The supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity drive the individual to conform their lives to the good who is God. The human virtues, or cardinal virtues, are those lived daily through habitual action and choices. Thus morality is seen as a movement towards love and the New Law of Christ rather than a system of external obligation. The Decalogue and other moral teachings are inherent parts of the Christian life, but they are lived more fruitfully through charity and a life of virtue, rather than as an external force dictating each of our actions. The first cardinal virtue we will examine is prudence.

The foundation and highest of the cardinal virtues is prudence.[1] Joseph Pieper begins his chapter on prudence in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues by pointing out the strangeness most people experience in learning that prudence must come before the other virtues.

No dictum in traditional Christian doctrine strikes such a note of strangeness to the ears of contemporaries, even contemporary Christians, as this one: that the virtue of prudence is the mold and “mother” of all the other cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good in so far as he is prudent.[2]

Most people assume the cardinal virtues are separate and belong to no set order, which is why the idea of prudence being primary is so foreign to most people, including many moral theologians.

Prudence in its contemporary usage has become confused from its original meaning and understanding. In the contemporary psyche it is confused with a form of utilitarianism rather than as a grounding force to the other virtues. Pieper points out that most people think of prudence as that which “always carries the connotation of timorous, self-minded preservation, of a rather selfish concern about oneself.”[3] This idea of prudence forgets the human drive for goodness, truth, and nobility. One who is selfish is not concerned with virtue, rather they have turned inward away from truth. The prudent person desires to live according to truth.

Prudence is inextricably linked with choices. It is to choose the good in each moment of the day. One cannot be just, courageous, or temperate if their choices are not ordered to the good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as: “…the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going”…Prudence is “right reason in action”, writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle (CCC 1806).” This means “prudence is the “measure” of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.”[4] It is through prudence where emotions and passions are tempered by reason in order for good decisions to be made. A person who is not ruled by reason easily falls into error and sin. Prudence’s primary concern is truth and how best to achieve and conform to that truth. This conformity to the truth propels the man or woman into action.

All of the virtues have at their heart an action in response to truth. The intellect processes the information presented to examine whether or not it conforms to the ontological need for goodness and the will chooses an action in conformity to this truth.[5] The truth can be blocked by the individual’s will, but in the formation of prudence the individual comes to choose the good more and more frequently. The Catechism explains, “The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid (CCC 1806).” In a proper examination of prudence, it is clear why the other cardinal virtues rest on this virtue. A man cannot be just if he is not conformed to the truth, nor can a person be willing to die a martyr’s death through fortitude without the aspiration to live truth, or temper bodily desires if the need for balance is not rightly understood.

[1] Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Kindle Edition (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1965), 88.

[2] Ibid, 88.

[3] Ibid, 108.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Thomas Aquinas, On Human Nature, ed. Thomas S. Hibbs, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999), 133-34.

The Cardinal Virtues: Introduction

It has been a very stressful week for my family and me with multiple health scares and the ever present agony of waiting for news. I did want to start a brief series on the cardinal virtues based on a term paper I wrote for grad school. This first part is from that paper. We will consider this the introduction and next week I will begin on prudence. I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.

The cardinal virtues are essential to the moral life. Each human being is made for happiness and truth, which can only be found in God. In order to discover and live this happiness each individual must foster proper habits through the cardinal virtues. In the Christian life the assumption is that the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the movement of grace, are all at work within the individual as he or she works towards the ultimate truth of God. While the focus here is on the cardinal virtues, the supernatural virtues are always at work in each Christian’s life. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance are virtues which order behavior to the pursuit and habitual response to goodness and truth. An individual cannot hope to live a moral life fixed on objective truth without the constant pursuit of these virtues in daily living. It is within the seemingly mundane tasks of daily living where the bigger moral questions are grounded. If an individual lives their private life virtuously, then those habits will spill over into public life and the moral orders of family, community, and country.

In examining virtue and calling others to its pursuit there is often a stumbling block tied to freedom. Individuals may see the virtues as a limitation of freedom and an imposition from external forces against the desires of that particular person; therefore, freedom must be rightly understood first in order to prevent this impediment. Since human beings are spiritual and bodily creatures, there is a natural order within each person at the ontological level. At the very level of being human beings are made for goodness and truth. This goodness cannot be completely blotted out by sin and concupiscence.[1] Far from limiting personal freedom, the virtues order and give direction to life. Servais Pinckaers states, “Far from lessening our freedom, such dispositions are its foundation. We are free, not in spite of them, but because of them.”[2] This means human beings are free when they conform their lives to their natural inclinations for goodness and truth. Freedom is grounded in the human desire for good, “The natural root of freedom develops in us principally through a sense of the true and the good, of uprightness and love, and through a desire for knowledge and happiness.”[3] Freedom itself must not be seen as the ability to do whatever one wants, but as the perfection and pursuit of goodness so that each person may be fully alive.

Since freedom is grounded in goodness, there must be an examination of how best to achieve this goodness. As stated before, the supernatural virtues play their essential role, but the cardinal virtues are the habits needed in daily living. The process of acquiring virtue is life-long and a slow process requiring discipline. It is to make small choices in conformity to truth each day, so that truth is the ever present reality for the individual. Pinckaers uses the virtue of courage to explain this process, “The development of courage is progressive. It is acquired far more through small victories of self-conquest, repeated day after day, than through dreams of great actions. It grows with the dogged effort to study, to finish a task, render a service, or overcome laziness or some other fault.”[4] This development of habit applies to all of the cardinal virtues, but there is a hierarchical nature to the cardinal virtues. They develop, deepen, and are grounded in one another.

[1] Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, Third Edition, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 358.

[2] Ibid, 358.

[3] Ibid, 357.

[4] Ibid, 356.

What is Conscience?

In the United States it is a presidential election year, which means the word conscience will be thrown around in Catholic circles and in the culture. At times the use will be correct and other times it will be wrong as individuals fall victim to a desire for the subjective and an abandonment of objective truth. Conscience is an ontological reality for human beings, which means that conscience is part of our experience and nature. God has given us an intellect and a will. Our conscience gets information and processes it through the intellect and then decides on a course of action, which is the will. It’s important for us to understand precisely what conscience is and is not, our responsibilities in conscience, and our conscience as it relates to God and the Magisterium. I do not have time to give a thorough account, many books have been written on the subject and the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the topic, but I want to briefly explain this much maligned word and aspect of our nature.

The West has fallen prey to a “dictatorship of relativism”, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls it. Conscience has become a catch-phrase and excuse for all sorts of behavior including intrinsic evil. It is up to the individual to set truth according to the clarion call of relativism. The problem, besides the obvious moral chaos that ensues, is that this subjectivism ignores the ontological reality of mankind. God made human beings for goodness and truth. Internally within the very depths of our being, we are ordered to love God, choose goodness, and live in truth. That truth is set by God as the Creator of the universe and of all human beings. He has placed that truth within us, even as we battle concupiscence.

In his book, Values in a Time of Upheaval, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI composed a series of essays on the state of the world. He devotes an entire section to the topic of conscience which has taken a prime of place in moral theology. He explains and clarifies what conscience means and what it does not because he sees a great danger of relativism even within the Church. He gives a stunning and beautiful portrayal of the two levels of conscience. He refers to them as: anamnesis and conscientia. Anamnesis is the ontological level of conscience, Benedict XVI writes:

Accordingly, the first level, which we might call the ontological level, of the phenomenon “conscience” means that a kind of primal remembrance of the good and the true (which are identical) is bestowed on us. There is an inherent existential tendency of man, who is created in the image of God, to tend toward that which is in keeping with God. Thanks to its origin, man’s being is constitutively in keeping with God, is not a knowledge of articulated concepts, a treasure store of retrievable contents. It is an inner space, a capacity for recognition, in such a way that the one addressed recognizes himself an echo of what is said to him. If he does not hide from his own self, he comes to the insight: this is the goal toward which my whole being tends, this is where I want to go.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Values in a Time of Upheaval, 92.

Since we were made by and for God, there dwells deep within us the desire to live our lives in conformity to the good which is God. We are able to recognize what is from God and our own eschatological goal of Heaven. This of course can become blinded by sin, confusion, error, and our own will, but this interior reality is always present and the consequences are grave when we ignore this part of ourselves.

Conscientia is the act in response to a judgment in relation to the desire for good within us. According to St. Thomas Aquinas this act occurs in three stages: recognition (recognoscere), bearing witness (testificari), and judgment (iudicare). It is possible for an individual to not recognize a moral decision and to block their own will to the truth. The risks of doing this are great, as is evidenced by a history full of debauchery, violence, blood, and war. At times it is ignorance or disorder that leads a person to error and this can be corrected through a proper formation of their conscience and a realigning to God. A mistake in judgment is much easier to resolve than a person who has deadened themselves to their own ontological orientation to goodness.

What is the Church’s role in conscience?

Since human beings already have the natural capacity to do good within themselves, Jesus Christ the Logos, came to further clarify the truth which can be disordered within us by sin. As material and spiritual beings, we needed God to reach down on our level to fully teach us and guide us to Him. The danger of error is an ever present reality for mankind. We easily deceive ourselves and it is through Christ and His Church that we are given the clarity we need, so that we can always be pointed towards our eschatological end and our ontological desire for goodness. The conscience itself must find truth and dwell in goodness in order to retain its dignity. The Church guides us in the proper formation of our conscience. Truth is freedom.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Sinful Anger: Confronting the Beast Within

In my most recent article for Catholic Exchange I discuss the beginning of my own Lenten journey and life-long journey to confront sinful anger, which I have battled since childhood.

For this Lenten season, I finally decided to confront one of the deadly sins that has beguiled me since childhood: sinful anger. Over the years my anger has waxed and waned, but it has been an ever present struggle and a constant sin for me to Confess. The reasons for why this anger developed doesn’t matter so much as how I learn to deal with it now. Lent is a time to reach deeper into holiness and that means confronting our deepest vices, so that we can live in conformity with the virtues. For me to go deeper into Christ I must learn to abandon sinful anger.

Anger can come about for many reasons: the state of the world, past hurts, childhood, chronic pain or illness (this may very well be mitigated depending), hormone issues, habit, and a variety of other reasons. The common denominator is that we are the only ones with the power to banish sinful anger from our lives. It is very difficult to parse righteous anger from sinful anger within ourselves because the passions have such an integral part to play in our responses. I have often claimed righteous anger when it was clearly sinful anger that occurred within me. In order to help me on my Lenten journey and the journey I will walk for the rest of my days on this earth, I picked up a copy of Fr. T.G. Morrow’s wonderful book, Overcoming Sinful Anger. He cuts right to the chase with the title and he doesn’t mince words in the book either. He provides the fraternal correction far too many of us need, even though it is difficult to confront this ugliness within ourselves. The pain, humiliation, and struggle are necessary, but will be rewarded.

What is Sinful Anger?

Chapter One of Morrow’s book begins with a couple of clear definitions of sinful anger. Anger in itself is a feeling of “displeasure” typically. Feelings are neutral, it is how we respond to them that matters. Anger in the beginning is an emotional response and not sinful in itself. Quoting Henry Fairlie in his book The Seven Deadly Sins Today, the first definition of sinful anger is:

Anger as a deadly sin is ‘a disorderly outburst of emotion connected with the inordinate desire for revenge’…It is likely to be accompanied by surliness of heart, by malice aforethought, and above all by the determination to take vengeance.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Comments: Be Pillars of Light

One of the many problems with the Internet, and no I am not anti-Internet, is the anger that it seems to bring out of people. Sitting at a computer screen in our home, makes people seem far away. They are “the other” and I am not “them”. It is something we all do at one point or another if we have beliefs that are dear to us, whether it be religious, political, or even our favorite sports team. The Internet is fast becoming a place of ranting, and little dialgoue. Rather than learn from someone else, or Heaven forbid, listen to another’s point of view, we run over the top of people with our written word. I am guilty of this at times, sometimes a lot. We feel comfortable sharing our prejudices or down-right bigotry with the world. Rather than be pillars of Light, we end up becoming clamoring gongs that point to darkness.

So, as so many other writers on the Internet have to do, I am asking that people who choose to comment on my blog, be pillars of Light. I don’t care if you don’t agree with me. I don’t care if you aren’t Catholic. But, I will not tolerate hateful, bigoted speech. There is a lot of ignorance in the world. In fact, every single one of us is ignorant about many things. If you want to learn, I am happy to engage in dialogue with you. I greatly enjoy learning from others. If all you want to do is rant, rave, and yell asinine things then I am going to delete your comments and block you from the discussion. That includes telling me that I am not “saved” because I am Catholic. I am not interested in your self-righteous condemnations and neither is any other reader of this blog. I don’t want my blog to be a place of darkness, nor do I want it to be a near occasion of sin for me or anybody else. Sinful anger is very tempting on the Internet. I am a wife, mom, Lay Dominican, and graduate student. I just don’t have time to confront other people’s neurosis. So feel free to discuss, provide input, and insight. I look forward to your comments, but make sure to do it in love and charity. Pax Christi!
 

 

 

 

Focus on Christ

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Being a Catholic in our present age is deeply difficult. The fact of the matter is that being Catholic in any age has been difficult. Our time seems worse because the world is capable of more widespread evil thanks to advances in technology. Don’t get me wrong, technology is a great blessing, however, sinful human beings do not know how to use it well.

Anyone who has their attention tuned into world events both within and outside of the Church can see that the world is completely and totally upside down. We do not know which way is up or down. We call what is evil good and what is good evil. Very aggressive forces are knocking at the doors of the Church demanding that we change or face the consequences. This, of course, is nothing new, and after much pain, the Church will be here while the forces of evil of our day will have died off. Things are going to get hard, and much of it will be self inflicted, but the Church will emerge stronger.

For the faithful, it can be difficult to follow our leaders. Some Bishops and priests boldly proclaim the counter-culture Gospel of Jesus Christ, while others seem to enable our secular society. It confuses many, while the faithful shake their heads in frustration. I myself have moments of asking God where the St. Padre Pios and St. Pauls of our day are in this time of distress. I see a very deep hatred, yes hatred, of the Church emerging in the West. Largely because of lies and ignorance perpetuated by academics and politicians, but being believed by scores of people. These same lies have been ingested by vast numbers of Catholics who choose to ignore Church teaching and who in turn will persecute their own Church. It is not just something in headlines, it is in our own parishes.

So what can we do? I know that when I start focusing too much on the storm Christ tells me to focus on Him. Stop watching the disaster unfold and focus on Him. We must pray and pray hard. We need to attend Eucharistic Adoration and Mass as much as our vocations allow. Pray Rosaries and Divine Mercy. Serve others and be an example of what Christ calls each one of us to. Continue teaching our families the Faith, authentic Faith. Keep following Christ. That is what we must do. I am telling myself this as much as I write to you. We must pray that we will pass the test.

As Catholics, we must also trust in Christ’s promise to St. Peter that the powers of Hell will never prevail over the Church. That means taking secular reporting on the Church with a grain of salt. Our Holy Father has not changed Church teaching. All social teaching is the same: abortion and homosexual acts are still gravely sinful. All our Holy Father is trying to teach is that in following Christ we will want to abandon our sinful ways and that includes the hard stuff, which for our culture are the sexual sins.

So let’s pray hard and trust in Christ. I know it is hard. My husband has to take my hand sometimes and tell me to trust. I can get righteously angry easily. I love Christ and His Church and my fighting personality stands at the ready to take up in battle. But, right now, Christ wants me to trust and pray. To give all to Him, so that when the time comes I am ready, and so are you.