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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Penitence: In Hoc Signo Vinces.

"Did you ever hear that to conquer your enemies,
you must repent first, get down on your knees,
and beg forgiveness?  Does West Point teach that?"
                                                                                -Bob Dylan


In my last post, I discussed Evangelization as our last, best move against the way our society (or lack thereof) is moving.  I mentioned that to accomplish this, we need to get with Christ, jack up the prayers and self-mortifications.  Re-reading it, I see now that I failed specifically to mention Sacramental Confession.  My bad.  It was so much on my mind that I assumed it must have spilled over onto the page somewhere.

It really falls under the "Get with Christ" heading.  When encountered, very often the first thing the Holy Spirit does is convict us of sin (Jn. 16: 8).  Note Peter's reaction when Our Lord shows him Whom he's dealing with in the miraculous catch:  "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Lk. 5: 8)  When we get with Christ, we see His goodness, and quickly realize our own is nothing but a cheap ersatz imitation, probably made in China.

I also mentioned the meeting of the USCCB going on this week, and speculated what the impact of the elections might be.  Would the bishops busy themselves with day-to-day admin-as-usual, or would they wake up?

Well, now we have our answer.
Cardinal Dolan gets it.  He soooOOOooo gets it. It's time for a spiritual tack.  It's time to evangelize, and Evangelization Begins At Home.

I stand before you this morning to say simply: first things first. We gather as disciples of, as friends of, as believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, "the Way, the Truth and the Life," who exhorted us to "seek first the Kingdom of God."
We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us . . .
 With this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it now: "With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?" 
To which I reply, "You'd better believe it!"
Read the whole thing here.  Also, Father Z. has the audio up, if you'd rather listen.

Friday abstinence all year round, like they did before the Council?  Oh, hell, yeah!  I hope they approve it.  Yes, I know, we've always been free to do it individually, but there's something more there when you're doing it in union with the whole Church in your country.  There are all kinds of things I like about this.

  1. It identifies us as Catholic, at a time when Pope Benedict is moving us toward a renewal and reclamation of Catholic identity.  Ashes on the forehead every day would be impractical, and would eventually become showpieces for spiritual pride, like the extra-wide phylacteries of the Pharisees.
  2. It's a sacrifice - a self-mortification (unless you're a vegan) at a time when we need more spiritual sacrifice.  "this kind cannot be driven out by anything except prayer and fasting" (Mk. 9: 29).
  3. It reminds us of our brethren here and abroad who don't have enough to eat, or to eat well.  Look at the victims of Sandy, some of them learning the joys of living in Haiti (without the heat) in the discomfort of their own homes in New York.  May I remind you that the idea behind abstinence is to take the extra you would have spent on meat and give it to the poor?  Does your Religious Ed. program teach that?  Mine never did.
In the original, pre-Monty Python quest for the Holy Grail, no one shows more enthusiasm for the idea than Sir Gawain.  He's so eager, he can't even be bothered to accept the bishop's invitation to Confession before he sets off.  There's no time, and besides, he hasn't done anything that bad.  After all, he's one of Arthur's Knights!

So off he goes, unshriven, ready to set the world to rights.  In the course of the story, he gets lost, trapped, tricked, betrayed, dazed, and confused.  Not only does he not find the Grail (and barely even finds his way back to Camelot), but he misjudges every situation, misses or misinterprets every clue, and winds up inadvertently killing several of his own friends and allies.

The long and short, kids, is this:  We need to remove the beams from our own eyes before we can see to remove the speck from the world's eye . . . or even see the forest for the trees.  Get ye Shriven!

"But it's dark and cramped in there!  It looks like a coffin!"

It is a coffin!  That's where we bury the old man when we put off what's earthly in us! (Col. 3: 5-10)

"But why do I need to go to some man?  Can't I just pray to Jesus and be forgiven?"

Of course, you can pray to Him, and should!  There's just two little things:
  1. The little matter of John 20: 22ff:  "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are  forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.  Or, they can just pray to me, and I'll take care of it.  So there's really no point in my giving you this authority, I'm just saying. . ."
  2. You are praying to Jesus when you go to Confession.  When Christ came to earth, He took on a human nature to get around and do His work in.  And He's still doing just that.  Only now, it's not His physical Body He's using; it's His Mystical Body - the Church.  It's Jesus Christ Himself Who hears your Confession, prescribes your penance, and absolves you.  The priest is just loaning himself to God for the purpose.
And He stays with you, by the way.  Once He's cleaned out all that sin to make a little room for Himself, He's the one who really does your good works.  And it's through you that He's going to spread his gospel to the world.  You're the weapon in this holy war, but Christ is the warrior. That's what Gawain forgot.  You can't find the Grail, but He can.  And he'll do it through you, if you'll let Him.
Get.  With.  Christ.

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