A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Archive for the ‘Sacraments’ Category

My son has always enjoyed playing sports. As he’s gotten older, the training has become more intense: four days a week for a couple of hours each day when he played football last year and three days or more each week, several kilometres a day, for cross-country this year, for example.

running to catch the ball

My son at practice before a football game last fall

Athletes know it’s important to train their mind and muscles to respond quickly and their team to work as a unit. We see the results of their dedication and hard work on the ice, the court, the soccer pitch, the track, and so on.

We know we need training to face athletic challenges, but do we give much thought to our training as people of faith? Consider these words in 1 Timothy 4:7-9*:

Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.

When our children are of the age to receive First Eucharist or be confirmed, they don’t simply show up at Mass; they learn first what it means to receive the host, and they learn what it means to stand up and say, “This is my faith.” Engaged couples learn through Pre-Cana classes what it means to be a married couple in the Church. And each week, as we listen to the homily, take part in the Mass and get involved in our parish and community, we learn what it means to be Catholics who try to live out their faith.

With the influence of our culture and peers, we can’t take it for granted that our children will instinctively know the right path to follow—or that we will. We need to read the Scriptures and the Catechism, regularly take part in the Mass, follow the RCIA program if we’re new to the Church or we didn’t go through the confirmation process, pray for knowledge and guidance and wisdom, and seek opportunities to learn more about our faith—whether we were raised as Catholics or came to the faith later in life.

May we never assume we know all there is to know about God or his plans or the faith but keep our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds, open to being trained in godliness.

Put off the old man that belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

~ Ephesians 4:22-24

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

How kind is our sacramental Jesus! He welcomes you at any hour of the day or night. His love never knows rest…By the reception He gives to you, one would think He has need of you to make Him happy.

~ St. Peter Julian Eymard, quoted in “Celebrate August 2015,” Catholic Digest, June / July / August 2015

Over the past couple of weeks, the three of us have worked hard to clean up the weeds in our yard—no mean feat, since the front and back gardens haven’t had enough attention this year.

Even on a cooler day, all that weeding and mulching leaves me feeling grubby. Somehow a shower never feels as good as when I’ve been working in the yard; it washes away the grime, soothes any sore muscles, and leaves me feeling clean and refreshed.

When I’d cleaned up after finishing my yard work on Saturday, I thought to myself that we should leave Mass feeling cleaner and refreshed in the spiritual sense.

When we come to Mass, do we lay our worries and cares before God? Really think about the reasons we need to ask God for his mercy? Mean it when we say that our soul will be healed if only Jesus says the word? Or are we just going through the motions?

Yes, the church might be very warm in the summer, and we might have weekend plans, but our focus should be on spending time with God. If we’re only warming the pew (or sitting in it, feeling warm), aren’t we missing the point?

We’re only human, and our minds might wander during the service, but we need to keep calling our attention back and be present or we’ll miss out on the joys the Mass holds for us: the blessing of God’s mercy and forgiveness, the truths in the homily, the wonder of Jesus’ coming to us in the bread and wine, the beauty of worshipping and serving as part of a community of faith.

I pray that, on these warm and humid days, we would be spiritually refreshed by our time spent in worship at Mass.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

~ Hebrews 10:19-22*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Once a year, to keep up the warranty coverage, we need to have our upright piano tuned. And today was the day.

upright piano

Our freshly tuned piano

Some people might find it annoying to hear the same notes being struck over and over as the tuner checks the piano, but it doesn’t bother me. I know it’s necessary to keep this beautiful instrument playing well—or at least as well as I can play it. And when the piano tuner is nearly finished, he plays a song to check one last time that everything is as it should be. I love hearing what the piano can sound like when played by someone skilled.

All this got me thinking about the importance of tune-ups and maintenance. Just as we have our piano tuned, a vehicle serviced, or even our teeth checked, shouldn’t a spiritual tune-up be high on our to-do list?

We might not realize we haven’t spent much time with God lately until the feeling hits us that we’re in a spiritual desert. We know it isn’t healthy to wait to drink water until we feel very thirsty; why should we wait until we experience a dry spell to think about our spiritual health?

We could take a few moments to ask ourselves when we last did the following:

  • prayed other than during Mass or before a meal, such as a short prayer, the rosary, a chaplet or a novena
  • focussed on the scripture readings at Mass
  • listened to the homily and thought about how it applied to our lives
  • marvelled at Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine at Communion
  • received the sacrament of reconciliation
  • read the Bible outside of Mass
  • looked up something in the Catechism
  • made time for spiritual reading (the biography or autobiography of a saint; a papal encyclical; books about the Mass, Eucharistic adoration, or prayer; and so on)

Whether we’re cradle Catholics, converts or RCIA candidates, our spiritual life shouldn’t become just a habit, something we do without thinking. We talk about becoming like Jesus, not being like Jesus, and so we need to be engaged and committed to growing in the faith rather than choose to be comfortable where we are and stand still.

I pray that we would take a little time to look at where we are in our faith walk and ask God to show us how to move forward.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;

he makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

~ Psalm 23:1-3*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”

~ Matthew 9:13*

Too often we hear and read about one religious or ethnic group retaliating against or exacting revenge on another through ethnic cleansing, war or persecution. Mercy seems to be in short supply these days.

When I read about the Church’s Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, this song popped into my head (probably because I grew up in the ’80s):

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel

Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night

Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow?

Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

~ “Kyrie,” Mr. Mister

No matter who we are, we’re all in need of a little mercy.

On Saturday, Pope Francis presented the Bull of Indiction for this Holy Year, which will run from December 8, 2015, to November, 20, 2016. He writes that the Jubilee is “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy” that God “constantly extends to all of us.”

The Holy Father reminds us, “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident.” The scriptures tell us of our need for God’s mercy and his grace in granting it:

  • Exodus 33:19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
  • Psalm 51:1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”
  • Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
  • Micah 7:18: “[God] does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in mercy.”

Pope Francis also reminds us that, “Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.” As Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:7:), “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Is that what people encounter within our parish church—and outside its walls? Do we recognize that we’re all sinners and undeserving of the mercy God grants us, whether we’re cradle Catholics or converts, long-time parishioners or newcomers or occasional visitors? Do we encourage our First Eucharist, Confirmation and RCIA candidates—and all other parishioners—to look forward to reconciliation, to see it as a chance to experience God’s mercy? Does our parish offer regular reconciliation times?

I pray that we would not wait for the start of this Jubilee but instead act now, seeking God’s mercy for ourselves and extending it to others, and remembering these words from 1 Peter 1:3-4:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you….

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

At the Mass, our ritual meal, Jesus comes to us as spiritual food for our souls.

~ Life in Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults

When I was received into the Catholic Church at Easter 2012, I remember how happy I was to receive the Eucharist and fully participate in the Mass—and to know that I would be able to share in the body and blood of Christ at Mass from then on. No more standing to the side of the pew so that other parishioners could go up for Communion!

If we receive the Eucharist only at Easter, we’re doing the bare minimum to fulfil the third precept of the Church, as set out in s. 2042 of the Catechism:

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and centre of the Christian liturgy.

If we look at receiving the Eucharist not as a duty but instead as a joy, we’ll understand these words of St. Ambrose (quoted in “Celebrate March 2015,” Catholic Digest, March 2015):

If, whenever Christ’s blood is shed, it is shed for the forgiveness of sins, I, who sin often, should receive it often. I need a frequent remedy.

How do we benefit by receiving the Eucharist? Sections 1391 to 1401 of the Catechism tell us:

  • We draw closer to Jesus.
  • We grow in the life of grace we received at baptism.
  • We’re cleansed and preserved from sins.
  • We’re united with the faithful, the Church, and we long for unity among Christians.
  • We’re committed to the poor.

Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist does wonders for us spiritually, and so the Church encourages us to receive the Eucharist “on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily” (s. 1389 of the Catechism).

Soon Easter will be upon us. Many visitors will be drawn to attend Mass, perhaps for the only time this year. And, sadly, many of the children and youth receiving First Eucharist and Confirmation (and their families) may not return after receiving these sacraments. Not only do we want to welcome all of these individuals, we also want them to see that we take joy in coming to Mass and receiving Communion regularly.

May this prayer of St. Francis de Sales remind us of what the Eucharist means to us:

Divine Savior, we come to your sacred table to nourish ourselves, not with bread but with yourself, true Bread of eternal life. Help us daily to make a good and perfect meal of this divine food. Let us be continually refreshed by the perfume of your kindness and goodness. May the Holy Spirit fill us with his Love. Meanwhile, let us prepare a place for this holy food by emptying our hearts. Amen.

~ Quoted in The Confirmed Catholic’s Companion: A Guide to Abundant Living by Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND

Reading Psalm 32* the other day reminded me of the value of confession.

The psalmist tells us how he suffered under the weight of his sin:

When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away

through my groaning all day long. (v. 3)

And then he tells of God’s forgiveness when he confessed his sin:

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;

then you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah (v. 5)

Not for nothing is Psalm 32 subtitled “The Joy of Forgiveness” in the Revised Standard Version:

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (v. 1)

So if we know that our sins will weigh on us, that God will forgive us when we repent of and confess them, and that his forgiveness will bring us joy, why wouldn’t we want to receive the sacrament of reconciliation more often?

The second precept of the Church,“You shall confess your sins at least once a year,” obliges us to receive the sacrament. But knowing that (as s. 2042 of the Catechism notes) reconciliation prepares us to receive the Eucharist, why would we limit ourselves to having our confession heard only once a year?

Why not take advantage of our parish’s regular scheduled times for reconciliation? Or if these just don’t fit into our schedule, why not find a church near our workplace or school or errand stops that offers a reconciliation time that does work?

If we think of reconciliation as something just for Lent, something we have to get through, or even something to dread, we’re forgetting about the joy of being forgiven and having a weight lifted from our shoulders, be it large or small. We’re forgetting that the priest isn’t there to judge us but to help us be reconciled to God.

I pray that we would make time for reconciliation not only during Lent, but also at other times of the year so that we may know the joy of God’s forgiveness and draw closer to him.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

At taekwon-do last night, I commented to my training partner that our class seemed to be full of the walking wounded: he had a broken toe from sparring, I’d recently injured my back using the snow blower, another student wore a knee brace owing to joint pain from years of soccer, and yet another complained about having a sore leg. And that’s just the ones I knew about.

Yet there we all were, reluctant to miss class, doing push-ups and kicking drills the best we could.

Maybe because I was helping with First Reconciliation this week, I started thinking about the fact that many of us are walking around with spiritual wounds of one kind or another:

  • People who have discovered New Age practices can’t deliver the peace they seek.
  • People who have found work, hobbies, money, material possessions, sex, drugs or alcohol can’t fill the emptiness in their hearts.
  • People who have put all their trust in science but found it can’t answer all their questions.
  • People who have suffered abuse, persecution or the horrors of war and can’t grasp the idea of a merciful, compassionate and loving God.
  • People who, for whatever reason, have decided their past makes it impossible for God to forgive their sins, let alone love them.

In the evening, I read Psalm 51, the Miserere, described in the Revised Standard Version as a “Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon.” In this prayer, the psalmist pleads for God’s mercy and forgiveness:

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your merciful love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (verses 1-2)

He asks for God’s wisdom, for spiritual cleansing, and for the Lord’s presence:

Behold, you desire truth in the inward being;

therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. (verse 6)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your holy Spirit from me. (verses 10-11)

He promises to teach others God’s ways and to praise the Lord:

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will return to you. (verse 13)

O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth shall show forth your praise. (verse 15)

And he recognizes that God welcomes us when we ask his forgiveness:

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (verse 17)

Other verses in the scriptures remind us to “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22) and to “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). So why do we hesitate to seek healing by reading God’s word, spending time with God in prayer, taking Holy Communion, and asking for his forgiveness through reconciliation?

I pray that we would open our hearts to God and let him heal our spiritual wounds, so that we too would be ready to praise him and share his wisdom and love with others.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

By water, by blood, by desire—the three types of baptism available to us, as the priest reminded us during yesterday’s Mass celebrating the Baptism of the Lord.

Most of us don’t know someone baptized by blood—that is, a martyr for his or her faith. We probably don’t know someone baptized by desire—in other words, someone who would be baptized given the opportunity but can’t for some reason (for example, because it’s not legal where that person lives or no priest is available to perform the baptism). But as Catholics, we’re all baptized by water.

The priest posed some interesting questions: do we ever think about our own baptism? Or the priest who performed it? Do we give thanks for that priest and for those who led us to baptism?

baptism day

Me with my godparents on the day of my baptism

I know that I was baptized in the Anglican Church at a chapel on a military base and that my parents met my godparents through the military. But I’ve never given much thought to my baptism beyond that. Or to prayer for the chaplain who baptized me, for my godparents for standing with my mother and father, and for my parents for having me baptized.

My father’s family mostly leans toward agnosticism, and so I’m thankful that Dad allowed Mom to raise me as a Christian. I’m thankful each day to know the Lord and to be able to share with him my joys and sorrows in my roles as wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece and friend. To be able to thank him for blessings such as my family and be comforted by him in times of loss.

Maybe I would have found my way to Christ somehow, but I’m thankful that I was guided to him, beginning with my baptism.

The next time we renew our faith in reciting the creed, may we give thanks for those who led us to baptism, for those who supported us in our growth in the faith, and for the Body of Christ we joined through baptism.

Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: ‘Therefore. . . we are members one of another.’ Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races and sexes: ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.’

~ s. 1267 of the Catechism

And maybe forgiveness will ask us to call

Someone we love, someone we’ve lost

For reasons we can’t quite recall

Maybe this Christmas

~ “Maybe This Christmas” by Ron Sexsmith

My husband’s family is close. Not only do they seem to get along well, but also most of the cousins on both sides live just a short drive from one another. It seems strange to me.

For one thing, as a military family, we didn’t always have relatives living close by. But mainly it’s because people in my family seem quick to stop speaking to one another. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of which relatives are on the outs and whether it’s all right to share news with certain family members.

It saddens me that my relatives can’t be part of one another’s lives, the more so as they get older and their health isn’t what it was, and as the holidays come and another year draws to a close with no reconciliation in sight.

But I think we can be inspired by the example of people like Nelson Mandela, who encouraged forgiveness and reconciliation among the people of his country, and take some advice from this quote by G. K. Chesterton, which appeared in the calendar in November’s issue of Catholic Digest:

Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all; forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.

With parish reconciliation services being held during Advent, we have the opportunity to ask God’s forgiveness for our failure to forgive others. We can pray for healing and restored family ties. And maybe this is the year we ask someone to forgive us or try mending fences with a phone call, a message on Facebook, a Christmas card. What a gift for that person—and for us.

For those of us with estrangements in our families, I pray that this would be the time we’d ask for and extend forgiveness, whether or not it’s the first time we’ve reached out.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

~ Matthew 18:21-22*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

  • it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which make us cry ‘Abba! Father!’;
  • it unites us more firmly to Christ;
  • it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
  • it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
  • it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith . . . .

– s. 1303 of the Catechism

Tuesday night found my son and I at our parish church. He made the decision to receive the sacrament of confirmation in the spring, and we were attending an information session explaining the registration and preparation processes.

I was happy to see the church full of young people considering confirmation—at an age when many young people stop attending church—and their families. And the church hall was busy afterwards as they enjoyed some baked treats and conversation.

During the information session, our priest stressed the importance of bringing our youth to Mass and involving them in the life of the Church, as well as the fact that confirmation is more than a rite of passage.

Doesn’t that go without saying?

Sadly, I don’t think so. Today many people state in polls and on censuses that they consider themselves Christians but don’t attend church. If we want our children and youth to consider the sacraments as something more than a rite of passage, they need to see the importance we place on receiving them.

That means they need to attend Mass to witness the baptism of infants and young children, confirmation of RCIA candidates, and First Eucharist celebrations and to receive the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. They need to see our reverent attitude toward these sacraments and our joy in receiving them.

As our youth prepare for confirmation, we have a wonderful opportunity to share and grow in our own faith with them:

  • We can talk about our faith journey and our decision to declare our own faith in God, beyond the promises our parents and godparents made on our behalf at baptism.
  • Along with our priests, deacons and catechists, we can model for youth how to live out the faith and participate in the life and work of the Church.
  • As they go about selecting a confirmation name, we can also introduce them to other role models in the saints and blesseds.

And other parishioners can also support these young people on their confirmation journey by praying for them and by serving as a candidate’s sponsor if asked, recognizing the challenge of choosing a sponsor faced by those who are the only Catholics or the only practising Catholics in their extended family (a challenge for us as converts) or who are new to the area or even the country.

May we pray for those preparing for confirmation and the “increase and deepening of baptismal grace” awaiting them.


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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