Recognizing Jesus

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(A reflection on Jn 20:11-18)

As she wept at His tomb, Mary of Magdela encountered Jesus but didn’t recognize Him until He spoke to her compassionately, saying, “Mary, stop holding on to Me”. Then, obeying her teacher, Mary told the disciples with pure joy, “I have seen the Lord!”

I can’t see Jesus face to face in this life. But, I know He’s present every moment of my day. He sends His love to me through Holy Scripture and through my wife, children, friends and many of life’s circumstances. I need to better recognize Him and live such that others may recognize Him in me.

“Lord Jesus, today I resolve to recognize the kindness of others as Your love poured out through them. And, I resolve to be the instrument through whom your love and mercy may touch others. Amen.”

(Recognizing Jesus was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

From the Archives: Go to Galilee

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As I read today’s Scripture, the difference in my attitude between last week and this morning became apparent. Last week it was difficult to have a conversation with Christ. How could I bring to Him my piddly troubles when He was being sold out, scourged, mocked and crucified? But, this morning, as I read Peter’s speech to the people of Jerusalem (Acts 2:22-33), I felt renewed. To paraphrase Peter, my heart is glad….my flesh dwells in hope….and the Lord’s presence fills me with joy.

Then, as I read the Gospel, Mt 28:8-15, I realized that Jesus is wanting to be with me. And, I remembered having the same feeling last year on Easter Monday and sharing it with you then. It’s worth sharing again. He wants to be with you, too.

(Go To Galilee was originally posted on 22 April 2019)

Painting by Hans Memling – 1480

(A reflection on Mt 28:8-10)

As the two Marys rushed fearfully and joyfully to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard, they met Jesus on the way. Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”

After the intensity of Holy Week – the exhausting emotion of reflecting on Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection – I need to meet Jesus again. And soon. I need to go to Galilee. My Galilee is that place of solitude and silence, where I can spend time with Him in meditative prayer.

Where’s your Galilee? 

GO THERE.

Reconciliation: A Grace-Filled Turning Back to God

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Each day this week I’ve offered related posts about sin, Spiritual Atrophy that brings about heightened opportunities to sin during these stressful times of self-isolation, and ways to recognize the sins you’ve committed (or omitted): the “Checklist”, CPR, and Analytical methods of examining one’s conscience.

So, what is the next step? You’ve utilized one of these methods and identified particular actions or attitudes that have damaged your relationship with either God, other people, or both. You’ve analyzed the seriousness of your sins, determined if they are mortal or venial, and now you feel remorse, embarrassment, or, even worse, shame for having committed them. If you’ve made it this far and genuinely have a contrite heart, you’re good to go on to the next step. If you don’t feel a real sense of remorse, then you probably ought to go back to step one and start over again.

The next step for the repentant soul is to let God love you! This means accepting that God loves you even when you are wounded and stained. It means turning back to God and loving Him in return by telling Him that you’re sorry for choosing an inferior good over Him. And, it means asking for God’s mercy, His forgiveness, and to be cleansed of your sins. Asking is necessary, for as St. Augustine said, the Lord who created you without your permission, cannot save you without your permission. We take this step by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confessing our sins, and receiving His mercy even though we don’t deserve it.

I have heard many and various reasons why people don’t want to go to confession: embarrassment, shame, fear of what God will think, fear of what the priest will think, etc. It’s important to remember that God is not scandalized by our sins – He already knows what they are! We may try to justify our sins in an attempt to lessen their severity, but God can’t be fooled. He wants humility and honesty and to see that our view matches up with His. God is like a father who is not scandalized when his teenaged new driver has his or her first fender bender.

Neither will the priest be scandalized. Every priest I’ve ever talked to about reconciliation has said they rejoice when a person confesses their sins. They see it as a win/win: a victory for the Lord that we have returned, and a victory for us that our sins have been erased. A common excuse many give for not going to confession is that the priest will be surprised with your sin. This time, you’re fooling yourself. There are very few sins he hasn’t heard. The devil is not that creative! Neither will the priest remember your sins. He hears so many there’s no way he can remember them all, and he doesn’t want to. Finally, the priest is bound by a sacred seal to never repeat anything that you mention in the confessional.

Another common excuse for not going to confession is that it’s easier to just talk to God and give Him your apology. The Protestants might think that works for them but it doesn’t work for us Catholics. Sorry. We go to confession because Jesus himself invented the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not the Apostles, not any one particular pope, not the Church in general, but Jesus. (Jn 20:19-23). Also, we are human, a combination of body and soul. We need to hear with our ears that we are forgiven and we hear Jesus forgive us through the priest just as we would have two thousand years ago if it was Jesus himself. (CCC 1441-1442)

Once you’ve moved past your fears and rationale for not going to confession and decided to show up at the confessional, it’s best to know how to make a good confession. First, one needs to be completely open and honest and be frank in saying their sins. There’s no need to explain or try to justify what you’ve done. If the priest thinks it’s necessary to know, he’ll ask. Perhaps even more importantly, one needs to truly repent and demonstrate a desire to not commit that sin again by reciting an act of contrition. Then, one needs to demonstrate a desire to change and be healed by carrying out the penance assigned by the priest, and give consideration to what will be done differently to avoid that sin in the future.

A good confession is rounded out by a prayer of thanksgiving and a feeling of love shared between God the Father and you, His beloved son or daughter. This reconciliation with God and the whole Church is truly a moving experience! God gives us His own life in the form of grace that restores and heals us. It gives us the strength to do good, resist evil, and begin again. And, it remits the eternal consequences of our sin (Hell).

Another way to show gratitude for the absolution of our sins is to encourage friends and family to visit this Spring of Living Water just as the Samaritan woman did when she invited the people of her town to meet Jesus. (Jn4:28) Is there any better act of charity than to help others who are stained with sin to be cleansed and reconciled to God?

I am late getting this posted so you will not be reading it until Saturday at least. Many parishes typically offer the Sacrament on Saturdays, and still do even with the pandemic, but follow the mandated social distancing guidelines. I pray that these posts this week will have encouraged you to examine your conscience; identify those particular areas where you’ve been less virtuous than you should; and, by better understanding the Sacrament, give you the fortitude to visit Jesus and receive the Living Water that He offers. Remember, He can’t fill your cup if it’s turned upside down.

I hope you have a truly faith-filled Holy Week in spite of not being able to participate in the celebration at your church. God bless you all!

(Reconciliation: A Grace-Filled Turning Back to God was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 3: The Analytical Method

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This post presents the third of three methods for making a good and thorough examination of conscience. On Monday, I posted Spiritual Atrophy and the Need for an Examination of Conscience During Self-Isolation in which I emphasized the dangers of letting our spiritual lives decline during this difficult time of isolation; the associated risk of falling into sin more easily; and how a good examination of conscience can help turn us around.

On Tuesday, I posted How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 1: The “Checklist” Method. In it I discussed the types of sin, the general principles behind a good examination, and links to examples of questions to ask ourselves when making an examination.

And, yesterday I posted How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 2: The CPR Method. This method is less specific and more subjective than the “Checklist” method and begins by recalling the times God was present in your life during the day; looks at the events of the day and how you reacted to them; and finishes by making a resolution to improve.

Today, I am presenting the Analytical Method of examining one’s conscience. Like the CPR method, I am copying the following from Laudate, a very useful, comprehensive, and essential Catholic app. This method combines some of each of the previous two methods. It can be both objective with Yes/No questions, and subjective with open ended reflection.

The Analytical Method

A. Quiet your soul and enter into God’s presence, asking Him for light to know yourself and to know Him.

B. Review the major areas of God’s will in your life [e.g. roles and responsibilities], examining the level of your faithfulness to what God was asking of you. Trust that the Holy Spirit will draw your attention to what He wants you to reflect on. As you do this examination, keep asking yourself, “Why?”, so that you are sure to let God’s healing grace seep into the very roots of your selfish tendencies.You could arrange this examination by key relationships:

  1. You could arrange this examination by key relationships:
  • Relationship with God: prayer, obeying the Commandments;
  • Relationships with others (especially those closest to you): honesty, generosity, compassion, loyalty, purity, patience, etc.
  • Relationship with self: responsibility (work, school, home, money), laziness, healthy discipline, etc.

2. You could arrange this examination by the three “W’s”:

  • Way – How did I treat people? How did I go about my business? In a Christ-like way?
  • Words – Were my words worthy of Christ?
  • Works – Were my decisions and actions in harmony with my mission as a Christian?

C. Thank God for the good that, with His grace, you were able to accomplish; ask for (and accept!) His forgiveness for your shortcomings and sins.

D. Renew your commitment to follow him even more closely tomorrow (if you can identify a specific resolution to make your commitment even more concrete, all the better).

There are two aspects I like about this method. First, that it isn’t just a mental exercise for you. It involves entering into the presence of God through meditation and asking the Holy Spirit to show you your faults and failings, where they lie, and their root causes. Secondly, it focuses on relationships and roles: with God, others and yourself. And, like the CPR method, comparing your actions against God’s will for you enables you to make a better resolution to grow closer to Christ, which, again, is what it’s all about.

I will conclude this series tomorrow with some thoughts on what the next step is after a good and thorough examination of conscience, namely, attending the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Stay tuned!

Just as you are taking precautions to prevent exposure to the Coronavirus and subsequent ailment, I urge you to take necessary precautions and protect your spiritual health as well. God bless you all.

(How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 3: The Analytical Method was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 2: The CPR Method

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On Monday I posted Spiritual Atrophy and the Need for an Examination of Conscience During Self-Isolation in which I emphasized the dangers of letting our spiritual lives decline and go flat since we cannot make it to Holy Communion. Unless a special effort is made we will experience a gradual decline that likely will lead to venial or mortal sin. Since the Ten Commandments are all about relationships with God and each other, any sin can damage those relationships. The mechanism we use to recognize our sins is called an Examination of Conscience.

In yesterday’s post, How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 1: The “Checklist” Method, I discussed the two types of sin: mortal and venial, and non-sins which we call imperfections, as well as general principles behind a good examination. And, I provided links to examples of questions, or “checklists”, that, when asked of ourselves and viewed from God’s perspective, will help identify our sins.

Because I was in a rush to finish the post I forgot to mention a couple things. First, the questions asked in this method are normally “Yes” or “No” questions. They are very specific and intended to pinpoint those actions for which you may not be too proud. They will not only expose your sins of “commission” (the things you did but shouldn’t have done), but also your sins of “omission” (the things you should have done but failed to do).

The second point I forgot to mention is that there are “checklists” designed for one’s particular state in life. Besides the general lists of questions for anyone, there are sets for children, young adults, singles and married people. An excellent place to find these is on the Laudate app which you can get for your mobile phone. It is an essential tool for anyone interested in consistently practicing and growing in their faith. A very good list for married people can also be found at Beauty So Ancient: A Wonderful Examination of Conscience for Married Couples.

By utilizing one of these lists of questions on a regular basis, a person can nearly memorize those areas that tend to come to the surface. It’s important to not skim over the small stuff. The small stuff can become big stuff.

Today, I want to introduce a second method called the CPR Method of examining one’s conscience. I discovered this method from the Laudate app. Unlike the “checklist” method, this one doesn’t ask specific “Yes” or “No” questions. Rather, it asks you to look at your day subjectively rather than objectively. (The following is copied directly from Laudate):

C = Claim Your Blessings

Reflect on the good things that happened to you today, and explicitly recognize God’s hand in them. He has been loving you every minute of the day, thinking about you, drawing close to you. Thank Him for the little blessings and the big ones. See His gaze of love directed toward you. Ask Him to help guide these few minutes of prayer.

P = Pinpoint Victories and Losses

Taking a kind of “helicopter” view of the activities of the day, examine how you lived them. Where were you selfish in your decisions, attitudes, words, and actions? Where were you virtuous and generous? Also, examine how you responded to the Holy Spirit’s inspirations throughout the day. As you do this, ask for (and accept!) God’s forgiveness for the times you gave in to selfishness or temptation, and thank Him for the graces He gave you to do good and to be faithful to His will.

R = Renew Your Loving Commitment to Christ

Finish by renewing your faith in God and your desire to know Jesus more clearly, to love Jesus more dearly, and to follow Jesus more nearly every single day. If possible, make a specific resolution (proposal of amendment) regarding something you will have to do tomorrow – something you can do to show Christ your love in a concrete way. End with an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and the sign of the cross, or another favorite prayer.

This method is best practiced after one has spent some time using the previous method and getting used to their various faults. I particularly like this method because to begin requires placing yourself in the presence of God, recognizing His love for you, and returning your love back to Him. And, making a resolution in the third step is a sign to God that you really do want to make the effort to grow in virtue and closer to Him. As I mentioned yesterday, this is really what it’s all about – amending your ways and refraining from near occasions of sin in the future.

Tomorrow I will introduce you to the third method of examining your conscience: The Analytical Method.

God bless you all. Be safe and stay healthy. I pray you use some of your newly found free time growing close to God.

(How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 2: The CPR Method was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

The Lonesome Lenten Fish Fry Blues

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Ever since this Coronavirus pandemic kicked in it seems our world has been turned upside down. Well, at least we’ve experienced out of the ordinary inconveniences. For us Catholics it’s been so disheartening to not be able to attend mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Many parishes have suspended hearing confessions, leaving our souls at risk. Throw in all the Bible studies, retreats, and social gatherings that have been canceled or postponed, and we’re all in a tizzy. But, for some of us, the worst nightmare of all has been missing the Parish Lenten Fish Fries. I know, I feel your pain.

I was rueing over this yesterday and my mouth began to water for that deep-fried flavor of filleted fish. Here in Ohio, folks prefer their fish beer battered, and sometimes there’s more batter than fish. Personally, I prefer a Southern fried corn meal breading. But, I’ll take what I can get. As I was pondering this, the line came to mind, “It really doesn’t matter if it’s corn meal or beer battered”, and I realized I had something around which I could build a future Billboard #1 hit song. Well, maybe I’ll post it at the top of my home bulletin board. Maybe.

But, I know so many of you share my angst about having to sip tomato soup on Fridays. I know you’d rather be at your parish hall loading up on fish and french fries and washing it down with a cold one. And, you miss catching up on all the gossip that you’d be confessing the next afternoon. So, I dedicate this little ditty to all of you fellow fish fry fanatics.

Oh, by the way, I can write lyrics but I have no musical ability. So, I have to steal tunes. This one is loosely fashioned around Jim Croce’s 1974 hit, “Working at the Car Wash Blues”. Maybe some of you baby boomers will remember it. If not, you can Google it.

The Lonesome Lenten Fish Fry Blues – Lyrics by Jerry Robinson

Well, I was all fired up for the Lenten season,
Had my resolutions typed up neat,
Quitin’ ice cream, layin’ off a cold beer,
And on Fridays I’d abstain from meat.
I planned to fast all week so that I could eat
And stuff myself to the point of abuse,
But I don’t smell the grease fryin’, so now I be cryin’
And singin’ the Lonesome Lenten Fish Fry Blues.
Now this COVID nineteen’s got the world in a mess,
Social distancing’s the new way to roll.
Now I’m stuck at the house and I have to confess
My home cookin’ simply got no soul.
My tastebuds are lackin’ and my lips ain’t a smackin’
On that delectable dish that I choose,
It really don’t matter, corn meal or beer batter,
When I got the Lonesome Lenten Fish Fry Blues.
Yeah, it’s sacrifice and penance I still have to live
‘Cause the Lord gave it all up for me,
But this Co-rona-virus, man, it’s sure gonna try us!
When will the CDC set us all free?
And, this self-isolation has turned to frustration,
I hate it ‘cause I have to refuse
From trekkin’ on down to the church hall in town,
Now I got the Lonesome Lenten Fish Fry Blues
Lord, You know I believe, so please send a reprieve
From these Lonesome Lenten Fish Fry Blues!

I love you all! God bless! Enjoy your tomato soup!

(The Lonesome Lenten Fish Fry Blues was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 1: The “Checklist” Method

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In yesterday’s post Spiritual Atrophy and the Need for an Examination of Conscience During Self-Isolation I promised to provide various methods of making a thorough examination of conscience. The first of the three ways I will offer is what I call the “Checklist” method. This, I believe, is the most common form used and the best for anyone who does not regularly make an examination, and for those just beginning.

However, before we look at this method, let’s take a more general look at why we should do an examination of conscience, and what to look for.

An examination’s main purpose is to help us see which actions and/or attitudes we have exhibited that are sinful or less than desirable so that we can make amends. We need to know these so we can stop sinning in a particular way and make changes to get better at obeying God’s Commandments and trying to live lives of virtue.

In making our examination, we particularly want to look at the sin and its gravity, that is, it’s seriousness – is it a mortal sin, a venial sin, or simply an imperfection.

Mortal sins are those sins which deplete our souls of sanctifying grace. Three things are necessary for a sin to be mortal:

  • It has to be serious (grave);
  • One has to have knowledge or a firm belief that the act is seriously wrong prior to committing the act;
  • One must commit the act with full consent of one’s will.

All three of these things must be present for a sin to be considered mortal. Thus, if you did not know the act was of serious nature, or if you did not will it, e.g. you were forced to commit it or it was committed in a dream, then you are not guilty of committing a mortal sin.

All mortal sins committed since one’s last confession must be confessed, both the nature of the sin and how many times it was committed. It’s important to remember that one needs to confess all mortal sins prior to receiving communion as receiving communion while not in a state of grace is itself a mortal sin.

Venial sins are those committed which are not grave in nature or were not committed knowingly such as those committed out of habit. Venial sins are not required to be confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation however it is good practice to do so. By bringing these into the light of Christ’s forgiveness, we more easily grow in the virtue of humility. It helps us pay attention to our actions so that we may refrain from sinful habits and, thus, grow in holiness.

Imperfections may include dispositions of one’s soul that are not necessarily sinful but which one would like to amend. It is not necessary to bring these to confession but it is a good idea to be aware of them and the habits from which they originate. These are areas that could become sinful if left unchecked. They could be those little things that weigh on the conscience of someone who is earnestly trying to grow in holiness. Examples of imperfections may include: trying to be controlling instead of seeking God’s will; being content with spiritual mediocrity; failing to defend the Church; failing to spend time in prayer; or taking your spouse or a parent for granted.

As I mentioned above, the most common method of examining one’s conscience is what I dub the “Checklist” method. This entails reading a printed list of questions that are based on the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and the Cardinal, Theological, and Capital Virtues; and then reflecting on your actions from God’s perspective, to uncover one’s sinful instances. Below, I am providing links to various websites that offer these checklists, all of which, except for the last one, are printable. Note that they are all a little different. Some may frame a question in such a way that it helps to determine if a sin is mortal or venial. Some may not make the distinction but leave it up to you to decide.

Of course, it doesn’t do much good to do an examination of conscience if you don’t intend to try and amend your ways and refrain from sinning again or avoiding future near occasions of sin. That’s what it’s all about.

Tomorrow I will present a second method of examining one’s conscience: the CPR method.

God bless you all!

Links:

(How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 1: The “Checklist” Method was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Spiritual Atrophy and the Need for an Examination of Conscience During Self-Isolation

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I pray this finds you physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy on this nth day of your isolation. Hang in there, this storm shall pass. Talking about storms – the thunderstorms that galloped through our area of southwest Ohio the night before last were replaced with beautiful sunshine and cloudless skies today. A sign, perhaps, to not lose hope.

Today’s Gospel is from Jn 8:1-11, the story of the adulterous woman. After Jesus challenged the accusing Pharisees to cast the first stone at the woman only if they themselves were without sin, they all departed without further condemnation. Likewise, Jesus, out of his great and merciful love told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

In the verse before the Gospel, God speaks through His Prophet Ezekiel, “I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ez 33:11)

Our God is a God of second chances, and third chances, and fourth…. He loves us so much that as long as we earnestly try to turn from our evil ways, from our sinfulness, He will not condemn us. And, to allow us to receive His loving mercy and forgiveness, He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Although the communal penance services that are normally offered during Lent have, like Mass, fallen casualty to the social distancing precautions of the pandemic, confessions are still being heard on a normal and regular basis in most parishes.

I know many of you are using this time of isolation to grow spiritually in your relationship with God. You’re staying spiritually active by watching live-streamed masses, praying a Rosary daily, and living charitably by reaching out to help others in need. Perhaps you’re focused on fulfilling the obligations of your God-given vocation by getting things done around the house. Maybe you’re the husband who’s been telling your wife, “I’m going to do it, you don’t have to remind me every six months!”

I also know that for many, especially for those who have lost their jobs, or have taken on the responsibility of home schooling their children, life is difficult and frustrating. You may be in desperation mode and the last thing on your mind is your spiritual health.

But, I also suspect there are many who are using this time as a hiatus from their spiritual lives. Although it may not be intentional, their spiritual lives may have waned, or atrophied, simply because they cannot go to mass on Sundays as they have been accustomed. Atrophy is defined as “a gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect”. It is a progressive decline that can happen so slowly we don’t even notice it.

The cure for atrophy is action – that is, to create a force to overcome the inertia of inactivity, sloth, and procrastination. Spiritually, God has given us that cure in the form of actual grace, the gift that helps us conform our lives to His will. It’s the same grace that urges us to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we’re in a state of mortal sin and bankrupt of sanctifying grace.

I have been trying to stay spiritually alive during my isolation. But, after reading this morning’s Scripture I see where I’ve unconsciously neglected an important part of my daily prayer life: my nightly examination of conscience. My wife and I have taken this opportunity to do more things together and one of those things is putting together jigsaw puzzles, something we enjoy. We just finished our sixth, one thousand-piece puzzle in the last two weeks. We’ll start one after dinner and, since it takes us about six hours to complete one, we may not get to bed before one o’clock in the morning. By then I’m mentally wasted and too tired to remember to do my examen before turning in. Left unchecked, this can be a slippery slope.

God wants us to turn away from our sin and turn back to Him. The mechanism to begin that about face where we can know our sins, both mortal and venial, is through an examination of conscience. To paraphrase St. Augustine, it means to turn inward and see God as our witness in everything that we do. It means asking ourselves if we are following the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and if we are imitating Christ by living lives of virtue. The answers will tell us what we need to work on and what we ought to take with us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

If you regularly make an examination of conscience, now is not the time to stop. Rather, it’s a good time to double down and concentrate on those personal faults and failings that impact our relationships since, for many, it is our relationships with family and God that are easily strained under the current circumstances of our isolation.

If you do not regularly make an examination of conscience, or if you do but want to be more thorough, I will, over the next few days, provide various methods of making a thorough examination of conscience. Check in tomorrow as I offer what I call the “Checklist” method. Until then, God bless you and stay healthy.

“Loving and merciful God, thank You for the grace to realize that I am a sinner and that I need to always bring into the light those areas where I fall. Thank You for the grace to make an examination of conscience and then, with a contrite heart, bring my sins to You in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And, thank You for Your forgiveness, always giving me another chance to do Your will and follow the lead of Your Beloved Son, Jesus. Amen.”

(Spiritual Atrophy and the Need for an Examination of Conscience During Self-Isolation was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Believing Without Signs

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Yesterday was odd: a Sunday forced to be away from church and not be present for mass. In the seven years I’ve been Catholic I’ve missed mass twice. Once because I had the worst “man-cold” in the history of the world, and once on vacation in Arkansas when we were sixty miles from the nearest Catholic church. Other than that, I’ve fulfilled my Sunday obligation no matter where I’ve happened to be. I know most of you are the same and yesterday was difficult for you, too.

My wife and I tuned into a live-streamed mass from St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in Cincinnati. That was odd, too. The only people in the entire cathedral were the Archbishop, a deacon, an altar server, a lector and a cantor. The Archbishop gave a very good homily. I assume it was the Archbishop – it sounded like his voice but the camera was so far away it was impossible to tell for sure. At the moment we would have received Holy Communion had we been there in person, we recited the Prayer of Spiritual Communion.

As much as I desired the grace that comes with receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in a state of grace, the circumstances with the Coronavirus pandemic weren’t going to allow it. I had to believe that Christ is still with me. I had to believe that the grace I received in receiving Him in the Eucharist the previous Sunday was enough to nourish my soul until I can receive Him again. I thought, “I can do that.”

This morning’s Gospel, Jn 4:43-54, The Second Sign at Cana, helped me to better come to terms with that resolution. Today we read about the royal official, a non-Jew, who traveled a long distance to ask Jesus to cure his dying son. Jesus, knowing that He would not win many hearts in Galilee, harshly replied to the man, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The man, in humble supplication, responded, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Seeing the man’s faith without the need for a sign, Jesus replied, “You may go; your son will live.” John then tells us, “The man believed what Jesus said to him and left”, and during his two day journey home discovered that the fever had left his son the previous day at the exact time Jesus told him his son would live.

Most of Jesus’ miracles were performed in person and usually involved Him touching the one in need of healing followed by a required action on the receiver’s part. Since the recipient wasn’t present in this miracle, Jesus did neither in extending His healing grace because He sensed the father’s faith.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. We believe and take Christ for His word when He said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life” (Jn 6:54). He instructed us to “Do this in memory of Me” (Lk 22:19), which we do every Sunday, and even, if we’re so inclined, every day of the week.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” (CCC 1127). It’s like a husband giving flowers with a sincerely spoken and affectionate “I Love You” to his wife as a sign of his love.

But, the Catechism goes on to say, “Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.” (CCC 1128).

What does this mean? It means that when you go to mass and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, you may not necessarily be receiving all the graces that are possible. Even though the Eucharist is always an infinite amount of grace, just because one goes to the Fount of Living Water doesn’t mean that one always drinks from it. Total refreshment comes only through a strong faith and living a life of prayer. Going back to the analogy of the flowers, the love felt by the wife is a function of the disposition of her heart and is independent of the love expressed by the husband.

So, where does this leave me? I know I cannot receive Jesus in the Eucharist at the present time nor the sacramental grace that goes with it. But, I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, dispose my heart to loving Jesus more through deepening my faith, a deeper prayer life, living a life of virtue, and showing God more gratitude, thus receiving an increase in sanctifying grace.

How does one do this? Developing a deeper prayer life may mean spending 20 to 30 minutes a day reading daily Scripture and reflecting on it; meditating on the Word of God and asking the Holy Spirit to show you what His will is for you that day; and, then making a resolution to take action and follow His lead and do His will.

It may mean taking time for silence and solitude where you can simply love God more, feeling His presence, and trusting that His love will carry you through the day.

We can deepen our faith by seeing God around us in the people we meet, our family and friends; in the words and help offered by a kind person; by the phone call from someone you care about. We can imitate the virtue of Christ and serve others; call upon our loved ones; seek to serve the vulnerable elderly while they are shut-in.

And, we can pay attention to and give thanks for the circumstances of our lives: take pleasure in the flowers that are starting to bloom in our gardens; the birds who are feeding at the bird feeder; and the beautiful sunrises and sunsets (if there are such things in Ohio in the grayness of March!).

I believe our God is an understanding and loving God. He knows we long to receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament. But, in His infinite Wisdom, He has permitted the current situation. Maybe He’s giving us the opportunity to grow closer to Him, to show our faith without the sign that we cherish so much.

God bless and may the Peace of Christ be with you.

“Oh my Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”
(Prayer of Spiritual Communion)

(Believing Without Signs was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.

Coping with Sacrifice and Sadness Through a Month of Holy Saturdays

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Earlier this week the bishops in most dioceses in the United States, if not all, decided to suspend all public masses and other sacramental gatherings through Holy Week, including Easter Sunday, as a means to minimize the spread of the Coronavirus. Like most of you, I have had mixed feelings. I know the “social distancing” directions which are currently imposed on us are the right thing to do. But, to be forced to go without receiving our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a hard pill to swallow. I can accept the trial of staying home Monday through Saturday and missing daily mass. I don’t want to but I can live with it. But, missing Sunday, and especially missing Easter Sunday, the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, will be difficult.

Priests and bishops around the country have done a marvelous job, in my opinion, of producing podcasts and live streaming videos of their personal masses from their rectory chapels. They are also televising the praying of the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplets and going the extra mile to keep the faithful engaged. But, it’s still not the same.

A young priest, Fr. Jeffrey Starkovich from Lake Charles, Louisiana (and a high school classmate of my daughters), posted on his Facebook page the other day an anecdote, if you will, that helped me wrap my mind around this emptiness. He said:

“Every priest acknowledges a powerful reality when we say the words of our consecration at Holy Mass. We take the bread into our hands and say, ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.’ The priest has a unique perspective at that moment. Indeed, he gives up his own body to make the Body of Christ present: celibacy for the Kingdom, obedience to his bishop or superior, and availability to his people night and day, just to name a few.

“Today was hard. I sat in my empty parish church when mass was normally scheduled to be held…but the church was empty. Why? Because, ‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.’ Now [you] the lay faithful exercise a particular sacrifice in their priesthood of the baptized. You are being asked to sacrifice your body, your physical presence at mass, to protect the Body of Christ at large. Now, you, too, are being asked to make a sacrificial gift.

“When you watch the priest raise the Host from your tablet or cell phone and he says, ‘This is my Body,’ you have something to give up, too. You give up your physical presence in the church. In that moment, you are giving up your body for the Body of Christ. That’s what priests do, too.”

I have tried to keep his words in mind as I’ve tuned in to live streamed masses each day this week. In watching the televised masses, praying and participating in the Liturgy of the Word, reading the scripture passages, and meditating on the homilies, we have everything but the Eucharist, the food that nourishes our souls, the source and summit of our faith. But, as a substitute for the physical communion with our Lord in the Eucharist, we are offered a special prayer by which we can express our love for Jesus and which brings us into “spiritual” communion with Him. The prayer is as follows:

Oh my Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

Receiving spiritual communion in this way through televised masses has relieved some of my uneasiness. Although, I still feel as a friend mentioned to me today, “This must be what Purgatory is like: you can see the celebration of the mass happening, but you just can’t receive Jesus.”

For a long time, I have faithfully recited a Rosary each day and praying for Mary’s intercession has been most helpful to me in staying close to Jesus. A friend and mentor, Fr. Alessandro Borraccia, posted in a Facebook video some consoling words:

“These are hard times. These are times when we feel like the Apostles who didn’t really know what to think when Jesus was taken from them. Do you remember there was that time on Holy Saturday when Jesus is dead, the Son of God is dead, and the Apostles are confused and angry and their hope is crushed? They don’t know how to respond. They are sad. Jesus is not with them. Where is He?

“You know, maybe we have the same sense of loss now that we can’t participate in the Eucharist. We can not receive our Lord, at least sacramentally. Yes, we can receive Him through this beautiful practice of spiritual communion. Yes, we can see a lot of live streamed masses but we know it’s different.

“So, what did the Apostles do? The Apostles relied on Mary and her faith. Holy Saturday is a time when the Church relies heavily upon the faith of Mary, upon her prayer, because she knows and she keeps everyone together, all her children. We, like the Beloved disciple, have been entrusted to her.

“And, so, these times are the same for us, when we feel the same loss, confusion, anger, sadness. It’s a time for us to rely heavily on the faith of Mary, asking Mary, ‘How did you do it? What was going on in your heart, your sorrowful heart? What can you teach me today in my situation?’

“The Rosary is a great prayer. Maybe just sit in front of an image or a statue of her and have a heart to heart with her: ‘Mary, teach me. I’m living in a very prolonged Holy Saturday. There must be a way to stay intimate with Him, to feel His consolation. Like a good mother, you know how to take care of your children and to soothe their pain, to find words of consolation, and whisper those little words of love.’

“In this time, I encourage all of us to turn back to Mary to ask her to protect us, to teach us how to seek the Lord when He is missing, when the Eucharist, the food for our journey, has been taken away from us. And, so, in this communion we can bring fruit, we can be good disciples, good apostles, and go through all situations of life, strengthened by the faith of Mary our Mother, by the faith of our Church, by the prayer that we, the Church as the Body of Christ, raise up to God together in time of distress. And, so, before we know it, a long time will pass. We don’t know how long. But, resurrection will come and we will be so different, strengthened by the faith of the Church.”

Today’s Scripture also provided some relief. In the first reading, Hos 6:1-6, we hear God, through the prophet Hosea, reprimand the Israelites for practicing ritual sacrifices and burnt offerings but with only a “piety as thin as a morning mist, like a dew that early passes away.” This reminded me that I, first and foremost, need to love and trust in God. I know He wants to give Himself to me in the Eucharist, but, aside from that sacrifice, He wants, above all, a loving relationship with me. Through my spiritual communion and daily prayer I can give Him my heart-felt love without receiving him personally in the Eucharist. I find comfort in that.

Like you, brothers and sisters, I pray this Coronavirus pandemic ends soon. I would like for life to return to normal. But, in the mean time, I will use this time to deepen my faith through study, and grow in my relationships with Christ through prayer and meditation, and with my family. I hope you will, too. Who knows, perhaps it will lead to a new normal that will be better than what we had! That would be nice.

God bless you all. Wash your hands. Stay home. Stay healthy.

“Lord God, thank You for the many blessings in my life. Thank You for the love You give that nourishes my soul. I pray that your absence in the Holy Eucharist will help me to love You more. And, thank You for the situation we currently find ourselves in. I don’t know why it is happening, nor how long it will last. But, I believe that You do and that You will bring about good for those who trust in You. Amen.”

(Coping with Sacrifice and Sadness Through a Month of Holy Saturdays, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

©2013-2020 Reflections of a Lay Catholic. Reposting and sharing of material in its full and original content is permitted, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author(s) and Reflections of a Lay Catholic.