Friday, August 24, 2012
Many times, when people enter the confessional to own up to their sins and receive absolution, they expect advice from the priest. Sometimes, that advice is forthcoming; other times, the priest simply listens to the confession without comment. Why is there a difference? The short answer is because advice-giving is not an intrinsic part of the sacrament. Rather, advice-giving is more accurately called spiritual direction. While confession and spiritual direction share some common characteristics, their essences are distinct.
The essence of confession is sacramental grace given to our souls from Christ through the priest. Sincere repentance and confession of sins leads to the growth of God’s life within us. That grace strengthens our weaknesses and reinforces our bond with Christ. It also increases the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. God, in the sacrament of Reconciliation, works directly on our soul.
The essence of spiritual direction, on the other hand, is sound advice. The task of a spiritual director is to help clarify what God is asking of us and to see how he is acting in our lives. The director helps us evaluate what our response to God is: are we truly discerning what God wants of us, or are we trying to justify our desires?
While there can be overlap, one difference between confession and spiritual direction is the nature of the story you tell. When you go to confession, you talk about your sins and failings. When you go to spiritual direction, you bring the entire story of your life with God. You may be talking about a decision you need to make, something that has inspired you, or questions you have. You may talk about areas of weakness, but that's not the only area of discussion. While confession is required when there is awareness of grave sin, spiritual direction is an optional opportunity for growth in faith.
If a priest-confessor is like a doctor, working directly on the patient’s soul, then a spiritual director is like a physical therapist who helps us figure out the exercises we need to be doing in order to grow spiritually. This is valuable advice, but it is a different task than that of the surgeon who actually, physically repairs a torn ligament.
While only a priest can hear confessions and offer absolution, spiritual directors are often religious brothers and sisters, deacons or lay people. A spiritual director has solid training in spiritual theology, life experience, and the gifts of knowledge and counsel. And while many priests are qualified and feel comfortable offering guidance as part of confession, others will entrust this important task to spiritual directors, whose efforts complement those of the priest in leading souls to holiness.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Why are we here? Why do we gather for this liturgy we call Mass?
We come together, week after week, to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist, just as the early followers of Christ did, something which involved risking their lives. Even though there was often great personal danger in gathering, the faithful were urged, by the Holy Spirit and by one another, to gather. One bishop in the early years of the Faith wrote, “Let no one deprive the Church by staying away; if they do, they deprive the Body of Christ of one of its members!”
Today, at least in the United States, there is no persecution of the Church. But the statement of this third century bishop is still true: the community of believers suffers when members are missing from this communal gathering.
There are many reasons that we come together. Some of us are here because it’s a habit. Others come out of obligation. Some come because their parents insist on it. Others come to seek the Lord. Some come because they are burdened with problems and find comfort here. Others are here because they are grateful for God’s gifts. And many of us are here for a combination of those reasons.
More basic to all of these reasons, however, is that we are here because God Himself has called us here. It was God who called us to share His own life through Baptism, and it was God who called us to be disciples and to carry on the mission of Christ in the world today.
And we come for Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. We gather each week to offer God thanks and praise, and to express the joy and happiness that come from being a people loved and saved by God. Sometimes we forget that.
The most important thing we find when we gather is the presence of Christ Himself: Christ who is in each of us gathered; Christ in the Word of God proclaimed; Christ in the presider of the liturgy; and Christ, present in a special way, in the bread and the wine, which become the Body broken and the Blood poured out for our salvation.
We come to remember who we are as Church, the Body of Christ. At Mass, we are reunited with one another and with Jesus Christ, our Head. God himself has called us to be here, to feed us and strengthen us so that when Mass is over and we are sent, we can fulfill our mission: to be Christ to everyone we encounter.
Friday, August 10, 2012
During the entire year and during campaign seasons the U.S. Catholic Bishops call attention to issues with significant moral implications that should be carefully considered as each of us moves through our lives. The Bishops talk about issues because the Church does not endorse specific candidates or political parties and frankly, there is no candidate or political party that fully represents Catholic teaching on these issues. Regardless of the “different ways people of good will choose to apply and act on these issues,” we as Catholics cannot ignore the moral challenges presented by these same issues nor can we simply dismiss the Church’s guidance that flows from the principles of human dignity.
As we consider our stand on life issues, we are called to embrace the concept that taking a pro-life stance in our life means standing against abortion, cloning, the destruction of human embryos, assisted suicide, issues of war and terrorism, torture, and the death penalty. We remember the bishops’ call “for greater assistance for those who are sick and dying, through health care for all” and compassionate end-of-life care. “Respect for human life and dignity is also the foundation for essential efforts to address and overcome the hunger, disease, poverty, and violence that take the lives of so many people.” The bishops recognize that effectively addressing this complex issue will require collaboration between the public and private sectors, across party lines and also between individuals.
The bishops’ document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship goes even further to say that “Catholics must also work to avoid war and to promote peace. Nations should protect the dignity of the human person and the right to life by finding more effective ways to prevent conflicts, to resolve them by peaceful means, and to promote reconstruction and reconciliation in the wake of conflicts. Nations have a right and an obligation to defend human life and the common good against terrorism, aggression, and similar threats while at the same time believing that war always should be a last resort.
As disciples of the Risen Lord, we are called to promote a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that address poverty, provide health care, and offer assistance to those in need. These are not only moral imperatives, but national priorities. As faithful citizens, we address these concerns through our own words and actions. Through respectful dialogue and our vote, we can influence those who serve us in public office.
From Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, USCCB
Thursday, August 2, 2012
There are only three months until the Presidential election. Since Catholics have a moral obligation to educate themselves on the issues and to vote, we look at what the Catholic bishops of the United States have to say about participation in the political process in their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
“There are some things we must never do,” the bishops instruct, “as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right of life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.
“Direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.”
The bishops point out that “The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights – to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive … As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught, “(Each of us) has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and, finally, the necessary social services” (Pacem in Terris, no. 11).
“Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (Christifideles Laici, no. 38.)”
In the hierarchy of basic rights, the bishops are saying, the rest doesn’t matter if the fundamental right to life is denied. As Catholics head to the polls in November, they are urged to consider Church teaching on respecting life from conception to natural death.
From Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, USCCB