Sunday, August 30, 2015

Just Do It

   Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

My brother priests in the house are very kindly giving me (and the congregation) a little break this Sunday after concluding my five-part series on the Precepts of the Church.  (I clocked in at 18 minutes in the pulpit last Sunday!) So no homily for you today...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Then Comes Marriage

   Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

The Precepts of the Church
Part V

“Marriage is a wonderful institution,” quipped Grocho Marx.
“But who wants to live in an institution?”

This fifth Sunday in my series of homilies on the Precepts of the Church
brings us to the final one:

6. To obey the laws of the Church concerning marriage

The Code of Canon Law—the “rule book” of the Catholic Church—
contains 111 different laws concerning marriage—
more than for any of the other sacraments.
(Don’t worry: we will not be reviewing each one of them today!)
They cover to whom and how, when and where,
a Catholic can be wed.
This should come as no surprise,
since even secular governments carefully regulate marriage.
The Church’s many laws on the matter
are not because she’s got a hang up about sex—
although that charge is often brought against her;
it’s because marriage is the God-given vocation
of the vast majority of Catholics,
and it has such a very, very crucial place in God’s plan.

There may be a lot of specific rules,
but most of them boil down to some principles
which are really rather simple.

Back in grade school,
when we thought one of the boys
was getting a bit too close to one of the girls,
we had a little rhyme we’d chant that included the verse, 
“First comes love, second comes marriage,
then comes a baby in the baby carriage…”
It wasn’t lofty poetry, but it showed that, even at a young age,
we understood that romantic love, marriage,
sex (although we’d have never said the word), and babies
were all rather intimately connected—
in fact, should even come around in a particular order.
Nowadays, these once linked realities
have grown rather independent of each other:
we have love without marriage,
marriage without babies, babies without sex,
and sex without marriage, or babies,
or sometimes even without love.

And folks say the Church
is making all this stuff too complicated?

Human sexual love has two natural ends:
the union of the partners and the procreation of children.
These are easily seen from the first days of creation,
when God says both, “It’s not good for man to be alone,”
and, “Be fertile and multiply”  (Gen 2:18, 1:28).
Together they also point to sex’s logical, natural setting
within the context of marriage:
a union that is faithful and enduring,
providing the best possible environment for the rearing of children.
So if you want to determine if something is OK
with God and with the Church in this arena,
simply test it by these two essential criteria;
if either one is missing, then you’re out of bounds.
Sex outside of marriage? 
You might get pregnant,
but there’s no lasting commitment to staying together.
The couple may be committed, but they’re not open to life.
Pornography?  Masturbation?
Let’s just say they fail on both accounts.

(Allow me to note that this does not mean
that every act of intercourse—to be licit—must intend pregnancy.
But it must remain open to the possibility.
Let’s not forget that Abraham was 100- years-old and Sarah 90
when Isaac was conceived!  We believe in miracles!)

What I’ve spoken of so far is purely in the order of nature.
By God’s original design,
there’s a physical and emotional complimentarily
between men and women
that’s built right into fabric of our being.

But for the Church, it doesn’t stop there.
Jesus raised the natural institution of marriage
to an entirely new level—
just as he elevated eating and drinking when he gave us the Eucharist.
Among the baptized, marriage is more than a lawful union
for the reproduction of the human race.
Christ endows it with a new beauty, and a new power.
Matrimony becomes a source of holiness
for the couple and their children, for the Church and the world.
It becomes a sacrament.
The love of husband and wife is to be a living image
of the love of Christ and his bride, the Church.

For Christian marriage to be authentic,
the love of husband and wife
must be free and full—without any force or reservation;
it must be faithful—dissolved only by death;
and it must be fruitful—open to the gift of children.
The love of Christian spouses must be thus
because God’s love for the human race,
as revealed most clearly on the Cross,
is free and full—motivated only by love and holding nothing back;
God’s love is faithful—enduring even when we’re not;
and Gods’ love is fruitful—a love which once
breathed life into the dust of the earth, forms life in the womb,
and even draws life up from the grave.

This is the “great mystery” of which St. Paul writes to the Ephesians.
How often his words are misread!
We usually get them completely backwards!
We get all excited by Paul’s advice to women,
“Be subordinate to your husbands”…
…but those words wouldn’t have shocked the Ephesians one bit;
they merely repeated the common thinking of the age.
But Paul’s advice to men, “Love your wives,”
was actually quite revolutionary—
especially when the measure of that love
is the self-sacrificing love of Jesus!
Paul tells men and women alike, “Be subject to one another.”
Don’t treat others (or even yourself) as an object for gratification.
You were made for much more than fleeting pleasure!
You were made for Paradise!
Be subordinate to each other—
giving of yourself, surrendering yourself—
not for the good of society,
and not with a view to personal gain,
but “out of reverence for Christ.”
Christ is the one to whom we must all submit
if we hope to form a household that will serve the Lord.

And so, in Christ, human marriage 
is to be a window onto God’s love.
That’s a mighty high calling!  
Do we do this perfectly?  No, not always.
But with this sacrament comes the grace to live it.

There are two particular related issues in the air these days.
Whether the news is coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court
or the Synod of Bishops in Rome,
there’s plenty of talk about same-sex marriage
and Communion for Catholics
who’ve been divorced and civilly remarried.
“The Church needs to be more like Jesus!”
I’ve heard said on both accounts
and it's hard to argue with that sentiment.
Yet, what does Jesus have to say on these subjects?
He says that God made them male and female from the beginning
so that these two might become one flesh,
and that remarriage after divorce is equivalent to adultery (Mt 19:1-12).

These are Jesus’ own pronouncements, not merely human rules.
Which means it’s not up to us to alter these things.
It’s true: Jesus broke through lots of barriers
and embraced many who lived outside the bounds of the law.
But we need to be sure we read through to the end of the story,
when—out of love for them—Jesus also called them to change:
“Go, he'd say, and sin no more.”  (Jn 8:11)

Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried
often say they feel “punished” 
because their irregular situation
(like anyone married outside the Church
or living together without marriage)
cuts them off from the sacraments.
Pope Francis has made it clear:
these men and women must not be shunned,
and any appearance of that sort ought to be avoided.
You continue to belong to the Church!
But it’s important to remember
that what keeps you away from Communion isn’t a punishment;
it’s just the Church holding you to your word—
a solemn, public commitment once made before God,
“till death do us part.”
A sacrament simply can’t be undone.
Yes, the Church acknowledges that, sometimes,
there wasn’t a true sacrament in the first place—
that one of those essential elements was absent from the start.
But when dealing with something this crucial,
that’s not a determination the Church can afford to make lightly.

Similarly, Catholics who experience same-sex attraction
often say they feel like the Church wants to force them
to deny their true self and live without love.
Some protesters recently said it’s “unrealistic and cruel”
for the Church to expect her LGBT members to remain chaste.
Actually, the Church expects chastity of all of us—
which means one thing for those of us who are married,
and another for those of us who are not.
Chaste celibacy is not only possible;
it can actually be quite fulfilling.  
I know firsthand!
No, it’s not easy…but, from what I hear, neither is marriage.
This isn’t about denying anyone’s true identity.
When did sexual attraction become the measure of who we are?
Our truest identity as Catholics, after all,
is that we’ve been adopted as sons and daughters of God.

I’m always deeply moved 
to see those who struggle in these areas
still sitting here in the pews—
in particular, those who cannot receive Holy Communion
and yet remain faithful to Sunday Mass.
That takes a whole lot more courage, a whole lot more faith,
than have those many Catholics who—unthinking—
just go through the motions.
I have no doubt that God responds to that grit
with an outpouring of his grace.
But grace isn’t magic; it requires our active response.
What ought to be done, what can be done,
differs in each unique circumstance.
I urge all of you who are in such situations
to come to the Church to discuss your options.
Christ loves you!  The Church loves you!
Let’s see what we can do.

For four Sundays, 
Jesus has been teachingby word and deed—his doctrine of the Eucharist:
that his flesh and blood are food and rink for our souls;
that he himself is the true Bread from heaven.
This Sunday, like Joshua and the Israelites at Shechem,
we find the disciples who’ve been listening to Jesus
at a clear moment of decision.
Some walked away, returning to their former lives.
How that must have broken Jesus’ Sacred Heart!

The Church’s teachings on marriage are hard, too.
Some—many—will not be able to accept them.
But Jesus won’t change direction,
he won’t re-phrase his words to make them easier to swallow.
There’s too much at stake!
The point of true religion—the pathway to salvation—
is not that God yield his will to ours,
but that we yield our will to God’s.
“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.”

Yes, Jesus’ words are pretty demanding.
They promise eternal life…but they also ask quite a lot,
challenging us to let go of things we’ve thought and believed,
to fight against drives and desires
we’ve been told are perfectly “normal.”
Yet when we get close to Jesus,
we start to see everything—including ourselves—rather differently.
This new way of seeing, this new way of living,
might sometimes makes us a bit uneasy.
But where else could we turn 
once we’ve truly come to believe
that Jesus is indeed the Holy One of God?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

More Blessed to Give

   Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

The Precepts of the Church
Part IV

The pastor was completely preoccupied
with how he was going to raise enough money
to repair the leaky church roof,
so he didn’t have much time to deal with the fact
that the regular organist was sick and unable to play.
A substitute was brought in at the last minute.
“Here’s the music the regular organist picked,” he said.
“You’ll have to think of something yourself
to play after I make the announcement about the roof.”
As the service progressed, the pastor said,
“My brothers and sisters, we are in great difficulty.
The repairs needed on the roof
will cost twice what we expected—maybe more.
Any of you who can commit to a pledge of $1,000 or more,
please stand up now.”
At that very moment,
the substitute organist started playing, The Star Spangled Banner.
The substitute immediately became the regular organist!

In my 15 years of experience,
there are two topics of preaching
that consistently garner more criticism than the rest: money and sex.
“Father, what could you possibly have to say?
You shouldn’t have very much of the first,
or any of the second!”
And yet, aren’t money and sex
(or variations on these two themes)
what consume a vast amount of our time and attention
when we’re not in church?
And have you ever noticed
how often Jesus himself speaks about these two topics?
Most people are surprised to hear
that Jesus preaches about money more than almost any other subject.
If these two things were so crucial to Christ,
then we need to talk about them—
probably not less, but more.

As I continue in this series of homilies on the Precepts of the Church,
guess where the last two take us?

This Sunday, we look at the precept:

5. To contribute to the support of the Church
    according to your ability

Research confirms again and again
that Catholics are among the worst givers in the United States.
On average, our Protestant neighbors
give 2.9% of their income to their faith community;
in some individual denominations, that rises to between 4% and 8%.
On average, we Catholics give only about 1.5%.
It’s estimated that, among Catholics,
one third give consistently and generously,
one third give only occasionally,
and one third give practically nothing.
This is not because Catholics are poorer than other religious groups.
In fact, surveys show that Catholics, in general, do quite well.
But as people grow richer, they tend to give less.
IRS statistics on charitable giving reveal
Those who earn under $50,000 a year
give 4% of their income to charity—
outpacing everybody except the few
who make $10 million dollars or more.
Sadly, each new generation
seems to become both more materialistic, and more wasteful—
a rather destructive path for the human race,
the environment, and souls.

Why isn’t there a better culture of giving among American Catholics?
A big part of that, I’m sure,
is that most of us priests don’t like to talk about money.
I know it sure makes me uncomfortable!
I feel like I’m often nickel-and-diming you to death,
begging for you to give to this project,
and then support that fundraiser.
Of course, if regular giving were both sustained or sustainable,
that wouldn’t even be an issue.
I also cringe whenever I hear well-intending folks say,
“We’ll do what we can to help you, Father!”
Please know: you’re not doing it for me!
While I might be where the buck stops around here,
the parish account isn’t my personal slush fund.
We’re all in this together,
and the financial state of St. André’s
is your responsibility even more than it’s mine.

Once upon a time, we Catholics did a good bit better at this.
Look at the great cathedrals built in Europe during the Middle Ages—
or even at the beautiful churches our more recent ancestors
constructed right here in the North Country,
all while struggling to simply eek out a living.
This history of sacrifice and generosity is even built right into the Mass.
Notice at the offertory how the basket with the collection
comes up at the same time as the bread and wine
which will soon become the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the early Church, people brought forward in procession
bread they’d baked themselves,
wool they’d sheared from their own sheep,
grain from their fields and eggs from their hens.
People offered the physical fruits of their own labors—
offered for the support of the Church and of the poor.
That’s why the priest started washing his hands
after receiving the gifts:
he often got a bit dirty!
But the modern economy doesn’t so much work that way.
Sure, folks occasionally drop of
actual “goods” from the kitchen or the garden at the rectory—
and for those, we’re most grateful.
But today, the money contributed in the collection
well represents the fruit of our labors and the work of our hands.
And it purposefully comes up at this moment in the Mass
because contributing it is a sacred act:
a duty we have to the Lord; a sacrifice united with Christ's own;
a way of giving God thanks and praise.

In all that he has to say on the matter,
Jesus doesn’t teach that money itself is bad.
But he does teach that we must use it legitimately:
that is, in line with the law—with God’s law.
All we have is a gift from God.
And, like all of God’s gifts,
our material goods come to us with a responsibility.
They’re not given for our personal gain.
We are not so much their owners as their stewards;
we don’t so much possess them as hold them in trust,
to be used for God’s purposes, rather than our own.
And for this stewardship
we will one day have to give an account.
When Jesus raises you up on the last day, as he promised,
how will you answer for all the money
you’ve handled in your lifetime?

What does God’s word, God’s law, have to say about our giving?
From the days of Abraham and Moses, 
God has called his people to titheto give 10% back to God.
Remember: this isn’t my figure, or even the Pope’s figure;
it’s God’s figure!
That means it’s a good bit stronger than a simple suggestion;
I dare say it’s sinful to pay it no mind.
Jesus himself speaks favorably about tithing
on at least a couple of occasions in the Gospels.
And yet…less than 10% of all Christians tithe.

Of course, there are genuine exceptions to tithing.
I’m well aware that times are tough:
many of our older parishioners are on fixed incomes,
and our younger ones are often bearing a lot of debt.
You can’t give what you don’t have.
No one’s expected to put life or limb in danger.
But we must be honest:
in my personal budget,
does my commitment to giving to the Church and to the poor
come ahead of my unnecessary, discretionary spending?
Do I make it a priority at all?
To do otherwise, of course,
would be to rank my desires ahead of God’s.

To put your sacrificial giving at the top of your expense list
is, indeed, risky business.
It calls for a leap of faith.
This is not foolishness, but wisdom
for it is obeying God’s will.
And that makes giving not a burden, but a blessing.
If you haven’t already,
I challenge you to very prayerful consider tithing:
giving 5% of your income to the Church, and 5% to the poor.
As we see in the banquet described in the book of Proverbs:
God will not be outdone in generosity.
Believe in Divine Providence,
trusting that God will provide.
Make the most of the opportunity God has given you
in the good things he’s put at your disposal.
Don’t settle for the temporary wealth of earth
when you were made for the eternal treasures of heaven.

If you don’t now, I ask you to consider using offering envelopes.
They’re more helpful than you think—
not so that anybody can track you gift,
but because they really do encourage regular, planned giving.
Responding to the ways of the modern world,
we’ve just added an option for electronic giving
accepting one-time or monthly contributions
from your checking account or credit card.
And do remember the needs of the church when writing your will.
Everybody wants to leave a legacy for their kids;
be sure part of that legacy is leaving them a strong parish
in which to come to know and love the Lord.

A lot of this has focused on money
since money is a necessary part of life,
and the Church must live and work in the real world.
That being said, our contributions can’t stop with our wallets.
Your time and your talents are also vital.
As your pastor,
I must say that I don’t really need any more advisors;
I have plenty of those—trust me!
But the parish does need more willing workers.
In this Sunday’s bulletin alone,
there’s mention of the coming Holy Harvest Festival,
starting a bereavement team,
and finishing the work of the census.
Your help is needed!

Jesus’ language in this Sunday’s gospel is no metaphor.
In fact, it’s quite startling in its realism.
It looks forward to his redeeming death
and to the Eucharist—which will be the memorial of it.
It is the language of sacrifice.
To give his flesh and blood speaks to his total gift of self.
Jesus holds nothing back in making his offering to the Father,
in making his offering for the life of the world.
To partake of the Eucharist,
to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ,
is intended to make us more and more like him.
We are to become what we eat.
We are to give ourselves—all that we have and all that we are—
in union with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus.

When the 18th century Protestant reformer, John Wesley,
visited his congregations to assess their progress in the faith,
he would often ask if their Christianity had yet affected their pockets.
It remains a good test of our true values today.
May we increasingly recognize the link
between our faith and our finances.
It's not that God needs your money;
it's that God needs to be first in your life.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I Must Confess

As a young woman around 1950, the American author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was dragged along to a dinner party full of VIPs.  Knowing of Flannery’s Catholic faith, the hostess began to carry on about how she was raised Catholic, too, and how as a child she came up with her own personal notions concerning Holy Communion, and how now, as an enlightened adult, she realized it was just a symbol—but a pretty good one. To which Flannery simply replied, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” Flannery would later write that this defense “is all I will ever be able to say about it…, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

   Ninteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

The Precepts of the Church
Part III

My opening story this Sunday may not have a punch line…
…but it does pack a punch.

Voltaire was a French thinker and writer of the 18th century
who laid much of the groundwork for the French Revolution.
He was immensely popular, and immensely influential,
especially among the intellectually elite.
While Voltaire wasn’t quite an atheist,
he regularly mocked almost all religion as ridiculous,
and was especially critical of the Catholic Church.
A young man, who wanted to be a “free thinker” like him,
sent Voltaire a letter asking for advice.
You see, the young man had been raised a devout Catholic—
and that was his problem.
No matter how hard he tried,
he just couldn’t shake his childhood faith
in the real presence of Jesus—Body, Blood, soul, and divinity—
in the Eucharist.
What should he do?
Voltaire’s advice was simple.
He told the young man to receive Communion as often as possible.
But before going to Communion,
he told the young man to avoid going to Confession
and instead to go out and commit as many mortal sins as he could.
If he would just do these things, Voltaire counseled,
soon enough he would curse God, despise the Church,
and renounce his faith.
Which is what the young man did.
Four months later, he was a convinced atheist.

In my first homily of this series on the Precepts of the Church,
I spoke about the precept:

4. To receive Holy Communion at least once a year,
     during the Easter season

(In fact, I mentioned that precept last week, too.)
But that precept concerning Holy Communion
is one half of a pair
along with the precept that says:

3. To confess your sins at least once a year

Although certainly no friend of the Church,
Voltaire recognized the intimate connection
between Confession and Communion—
something that seems largely lost
even among practicing Catholics today.
In Voltaire’s day, the lines outside the confessional were long…
…but those heading toward the Communion rail were shorter;
nowadays, there aren’t too many who come for Confession…
…but nearly everybody comes forward to receive.

That could simply be because we’re much holier these days
than people were in times past…
…but I don’t think there’s sufficient evidence to bear that out.
So—why such a dramatic shift?

For one thing, we’ve lost much of our sense of sin.
A quick look at the news lately will verify that.
So many loud calls for the full weight of the law
to be brought down on a man
who illegally hunts and kills a much beloved lion in Africa!
And yet the steady stream of stomach-churning reports
about the buying and selling of defenseless unborn children
in the name of “reproductive rights” and “medical research”
elicits a comparatively weak response:
“Well, it is legal in this country…
…and who am I to impose my beliefs on somebody else?”
These ongoing revelations concerning the horrific reality of abortion
are an extreme example of the disordered human desire
to “have our cake and eat it, too.”
We don’t want to take responsibility for our sinful actions—
or our sinful lack of action—
so we seek to eliminate the unfortunate consequences
(at least from view).
But this denial of sin is nothing new;
it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve—
the first who sought to do what uniquely belongs to God:
to determine right and wrong for themselves.

We’ve not only lost a sense of sin;
we’ve also lost our sense
of the all-surpassing holiness of the Eucharist.
Survey after survey tells us
that an increasing number of American Catholics do not believe
in the real presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament
(which might explain, in part,
why so many don’t regularly come to Mass).
Yet even without a survey,
it can be seen in the very casual way
a lot of people approach the altar and handle the Sacred Host,
and in the way so few genuflect when entering or leaving the church.
Neither is this anything new.
We’ve just heard the crowds murmur,
“How can this mere man (we know his parents, after all)
tell us he’s come down from heaven?”
And next Sunday we’ll hear them continue,
“How can this man claim to give us his own flesh to eat?”

Even though he didn’t believe in them himself,
Voltaire’s advice acknowledged that there’s a strong link
between going to Confession and receiving Holy Communion—
in recognizing sin as sin,
and in recognizing the Eucharistic presence of the Christ.
If we want to save our souls—if we want to save the world—
then we need to get them both back.

It’s the Church’s consistent, longstanding teaching
that anyone aware of having committed a mortal sin
must not receive Holy Communion—
no matter how sorry they feel—
without first receiving sacramental absolution,
unless there’s some grave reason for going to Communion
and no possibility of going to Confession.
St. Paul himself wrote that “whoever eats the bread
or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily
will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).
It’s our mortal sins
that we’re required to confess at least once each year,
in order that we’ll be properly disposed
to receive Holy Communion at least once each year.
(And while not strictly necessary,
Confession of our venial sins—of our everyday faults—
is highly encouraged, too, as a way to grow in virtue,
fight our evil tendencies, and progress in the spiritual life.)

If it’s our mortal sins we must confess,
then we need to know what mortal sin is.
For a sin to be mortal, (1) it must be serious in nature,
(2) we must know that it’s wrong,
and (3) we must deliberately consent to do it.
(You can’t sin by accident!)
That a sin is “mortal” means that it’s deadly to the soul.
Mortal sin doesn’t only exclude us from the Sacraments on earth;
it kills our hope of heaven.
That’s because it doesn’t just wound our friendship with God;
it breaks it right off.

So, what things specifically are mortal sins?
This homily will be long enough without listing them all!
But they include:
— missing Sunday Mass;
— putting your trust in superstition or the occult;
— blasphemy or denying your faith;
— serious neglect in caring for one’s parents
            or one’s children (including their religious upbringing);
— abortion (whether procuring it or promoting it);
— using illegal drugs or driving under the influence;
— stealing or destroying someone else’s valuable property;
— denying assistance to the poor that you could easily provide;
— serious gossip, false witness, or perjury;
— viewing pornography and masturbation;
— using contraception;
— being sexually involved with someone
            the Church doesn’t acknowledge to be your spouse.

You know, every once in awhile,
an actual angel comes to me for Confession.  It’s true!
I know this, not because there’s a flutter of wings behind the screen,
but because I hear a voice say,
“Father, I haven’t done anything wrong.”
(That’s when I want to add, “But...didn’t you just tell a lie?”)
And every once in awhile, the devil comes to Confession, too.
I know this because I hear a voice say,
“If it’s a sin, Father, I’ve done it!”
(Usually if I ask about murder or car jacking,
they modify their original claim.)
If you’re going to make a good Confession,
then you need to start carefully examining your conscience
well before you begin to confess.
(And if you’re not sure how,
there are plenty of guides to help you.  Just ask!)
That way, when we come to confess,
we can do so with openness and integrity.
There’s no need to use any coy turns of phrase.
You might fool the priest, and you might even fool yourself,
but you’ll never fool God.
It may be more difficult, but it’s much more liberating
to call a spade a spade.
If you want the Doctor to really heal you,
then you need to tell him all your symptoms
and show him all your wounds.

Don’t fear for judgment or condemnation in the confessional.
In his infinite wisdom, Christ arranged this Sacrament
such that it’s one sinner talking to another.
I go to Confession every two weeks or so—
sometimes, more frequently than that.
It’s not exactly easy for me
to kneel before a colleague—a brother priest—
and bear all the dark recesses of my soul.
No, it’s not easy—but I know it’s essential.
We priests understand.

And Confession presupposes
that you have sorrow for your sins—“contrition”:
not only the movement of your lips, but the movement of your heart.
True sorrow for your sins means you’ll also have
a “firm purpose of amendment”:
a commitment that, with the help of God’s grace,
you’ll do your very best to avoid committing these sins again.
To do otherwise—to just go through the motions,
to have no real plans to change your ways—
would be a mockery of the Sacrament,
and even a mockery of God himself.

Discouragement—like we see in the prophet Elijah—
is the great danger in all of this.
If the devil can get us down,
it’s so much easier for him to keep us there.
But recognizing and confessing our sins
isn’t supposed to be primarily about
the evils we’ve done or what the Church stands against;
it’s actually an affirmation of God’s boundless goodness and mercy,
which we were made to experience in the first place.
Yes, we need to remove
all bitterness, anger, and malice from our midst,
but that’s so we can make room for kindness, compassion,
and forgiveness toward one another
as we’ve been forgiven in Christ.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus said.
“Whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
May we never allow any death-dealing sin
to keep us away from the Bread of Life.