A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation

Some say that love is a feeling and others, that it’s a decision. A case can be made for both points of view.

We love our parents, spouse, children, and other relatives and our close friends almost without thinking about it—we just know that we love them. If asked why, we could probably list some good reasons.

But when our family or friends prove to be only human, hurting us through their words or actions, love may become a choice.

In our society, so much seems disposable—plates and cutlery, cameras, cell phones, and even relationships. It’s easier to cut ties than to make an effort to find out why others acted as they did and to work at forgiving them and moving forward. It’s easier to forget that we, too, are only human and make mistakes we’d want others to forgive.

Think about these words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7*:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Before we decide to end a friendship, distance ourselves from relatives, or close the book on a marriage, we could ask ourselves whether we’ve lived up to this standard. Have we always been patient and kind? Have we been irritable or resentful? Have we tried to make amends for our mistakes or reconcile with others, or have we decided the effort or possible pain wasn’t worth it?

Young children form and end friendships easily and often, but as adults, we can model for our children and youth just what forgiveness and love could look like.

When we think about loving our neighbour as ourselves, we may think about giving to charities that help strangers here and abroad. Maybe it’s time that, when we think of our neighbour, we think about the cousin we stopped talking to; the friend we might unfriend on Facebook; or the sibling, parent or spouse whose actions left us hurt—and remember that we’re called to “Make love [our] aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1). We can choose to forgive and to love.

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

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“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.)

snufflin gbulldog

Cute as she is, even my bulldog is tempted to steal shoes in order to get a treat.

I might be tempted to buy a milk chocolate bar even though I’m trying to eat better, a book in the discount section of the bookstore when I have a stack at home, or yet another magazine about getting organized. (If no one reading this would be similarly tempted, it’s helpful to remember I’m a neat freak.)

It might seem that people give in to temptation more easily today, but I doubt that’s true. Consider what Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” And actress Mae West said, “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”

But giving in to temptation isn’t our only option, as Jesus’ example shows.

Remember that even Jesus was tempted. The Gospel reading for yesterday’s Mass told us Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:13*). As our parish priest pointed out in his homily, temptation comes in our area of weakness. Matthew 4 tells us Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights, and Satan first tempted him to satisfy his hunger (Matthew 4:3): “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” Jesus resisted temptation, drawing on the scriptures in his responses to Satan (see Matthew 4).

We need to remind ourselves, as our priest also stressed, that temptation is not sin; we sin when we give in to temptation. If being tempted were the same as sinning, we would not find these words about Jesus in Hebrews 4:15:

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.

We can take comfort in the fact that Jesus, in his time on earth, was tempted, and so he knows what we go through. We can remind ourselves that we haven’t sinned until we’ve given in to what tempts us. We can draw strength from Jesus’ example, from the scriptures and from the Catechism. And if we do give in to temptation, we can receive God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation and, like King David, ask God to cleanse us of our sins and “put a new and right spirit” in us (see Psalm 51).

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

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.)

I’m not a huge fan of spending the better part of an hour clearing away snow right after breakfast. But I have a bulldog who won’t venture down the deck stairs if I don’t clear a good path, and so I can’t just clear the driveway.

In any case, I’ve always loved the way a fresh snowfall makes everything seem like a blank canvas, clean and new.

snowy park

The view from my living room today…

Kind of like the way a new year feels like a fresh start.

We’ve begun a new liturgical year with the start of Advent, and a new calendar year is just around the corner, hard as that might be to believe.

It’s the perfect time to look back at whether we achieved our goals, realized our dreams, or made changes for the better and to look forward to where we’d like to be one year from now. And that includes reflecting on our faith life.

Is this the year we learn more about what’s really in the Catechism or make a point of reading about the lives of the saints? The year we step into a new ministry role by becoming a lector or leading a sacramental preparation team? The year we try praying the rosary or take a class in Christian meditation? The year we make a pilgrimage to a holy site?

The year we spend more time actually living out our faith instead of talking about our plans for living out our faith?

Part of our Christmas preparations could include making the time to attend a reconciliation service and to ask God’s guidance about whether we’re following his plan for our lives or whether we need to make some course corrections.

I pray that, during this busy season, we would find moments for time in God’s presence as well as quiet reflection on the year nearly over and the one soon to begin.

Recently I was watching the movie Leap Year again. In one scene, the female lead character, Anna, steps in a cow pie while wearing $600 shoes. And the male lead character, Declan, responds, “Just put ’em in the wash; they’ll be grand.”

Obviously, “the wash” isn’t the answer for some stains, like cow manure on $600 shoes, or melted crayon shoved in a pants pocket and exposed to the heat of the dryer, or dye in every colour of the rainbow transferred from black suede gloves to three or four white taekwon-do uniforms (the last two, alas, are examples from my treasure trove of laundry horror stories).

But when it comes to us and our sins, a good wash is just what we need, and just what David asks for in Psalm 51:2, 7*:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

At my parish this week, someone returned to the Church after being away for many years, not wanting to spend any longer outside the Church. Returning to the Church involves celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation so that we can have a clean heart–a clean conscience–before God. I know that when I first celebrated Reconciliation, I thought how wonderful it was to hear that all my sins up to that point were forgiven!

As we begin Holy Week, we can ask God to give us a clean heart, as David did, so that we may fully experience the joy of the Easter miracle this weekend. We can spend more time in God’s presence at Eucharistic Adoration, in prayer at home, at confession, and at the various Holy Week services. And we don’t have to give up the spiritual disciplines we’ve added to our lives for Lent just because this season of the liturgical year is drawing to a close.

As we approach Easter, may we bring to God the sacrifice he asks for: a broken and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:17) and a spirit willing to be cleansed and guided.

(*Scripture quotes and reference 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.)

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.)

As a child, I looked forward to and dreaded receiving report cards: I appreciated my teachers’ positive comments but always feared my grades wouldn’t be what I hoped.

As a parent, I also have mixed feelings about report card day: I hope that my son’s grades will show improvement where it was needed and worry that they won’t.

Yesterday was report card day. The main thing I noticed was that my son’s teachers would like him to improve his work habits so that he can achieve his full potential.

This morning, I was thinking about how common report cards are in our society: workplace performance reviews, ratings of the financial situation of companies and countries, reviews of politicians’ achievements during their time in office, restaurant inspections that result in a passing or failing grade, critiques of the entertainment value of new movies or CDs. But there are no report cards to tell us how we’re doing as Christians.

If we were to assess ourselves, would we find ourselves earning a “Good,” “Satisfactory” or “Needs Improvement” for the quality of our prayer life; the love we show toward others; our obedience to God’s will; or the wise use of our talents, spiritual gifts, and resources? Are we “progressing well”?

Thankfully, we aren’t graded in this way. We know the bar is set high—and, being human, an A+ is far out of our reach. But we also know we have a merciful and loving God who wants us to strive to be more like Christ and come to him for forgiveness and reconciliation when we know we’ve failed.

When I was going through RCIA, I knew I would see the priest for reconciliation before I was received into the Church. Doing some research to learn more about reconciliation, I came across information on how to do an examination of conscience on a daily basis and before going to confession.

BeginningCatholic.com offers advice on conducting a daily examination of conscience. We think about our day—the ways God has blessed us, as well as our faults—and we ask God for his forgiveness and for his help in doing better the next day. More information on daily examinations of conscience is provided at Catholic.net.

BeginningCatholic.com also features “A Detailed Catholic Examination of Conscience” we can use before reconciliation. Following the Ten Commandments (see ss. 2084 to 2557 in the Catechism) and the precepts of the Church (see ss. 2041 to 2043 in the Catechism), this examination can help us reflect on our behaviour and determine how we can improve.

May we use such times of prayer and reflection to help us (as the site suggests) “frame the day in prayer” and “turn to God in the fabric of everyday life.”


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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