Monthly Archives: November 2015

In Review: The Art of Confession by Paul Wilkes

by Kelly Phelan Powell

Like many Catholics, big-C Confession intimidated me to the point of paralysis. Although the Examination of Conscience is meant to be part of a larger healing act, until I read Wilkes’ book, I used it as an excuse for “misguided penance, self-inflicted suffering and over-scrupulosity.” Whereas Confession is actually an opportunity for introspection, self-examination and a chance to draw closer to God.

As it turns out though, The Art of Confession: Renewing Yourself Through the Practice of Honesty by Paul Wilkes is less about big-C Confession than about confession: the kind that isn’t just for Catholics, but is a healthy daily practice regardless of a person’s faith tradition. He explains how, although we are a “confessional nation,” a people eager to tell of their failings, the vast majority of “confessions” issued in the media (think politicians, televangelists and sports stars) are not actually confessions but merely lukewarm expressions of regret. “Confession,” on the other hand, “implies an inner change, a new understanding that will be manifested in outward action,” says Wilkes. “Contrast this with today’s drip-dry, no-fault morality, which coos that no one should be ashamed of anything, that there is a good excuse for any behavior, and that to linger on our shortcomings is self-defeating and unnecessary,” and it’s easy to see why, as a culture, we have largely abandoned any determination to live honestly.

Those interested in anthropology, sociology and history will find this book particularly fascinating, as it delves into quite a bit of detail about the history and evolution of human confession for a small book that’s only 133 pages long. Short though it is, The Art of Confession is not exactly an easy read – Wilkes’ word and language choices are sophisticated, and the topics he discusses are heady. But I found the time spent reading to be more than worth it, as I gained a lot of insight into the purpose of confession (and Confession).

Although Wilkes details many benefits to be found in the confessional booth, he also emphasizes that one need not go anywhere to make confession a daily healthy practice. He lists a few concrete exercises for doing just that, including the Ignatian tradition of consolations and desolations (in which a person recalls the moments of the day when she felt most alive and worthwhile that day and those in which she felt dead and worthless); observing, judging and acting, and “praying backward through the day.”

Wilkes reminds the reader time and again that neither confession nor any of the exercises that bring us to it are meant to become a ledger sheet on which we catalog our good and bad deeds and hope to end up with a positive balance. Rather, confession activities are intended to help us see ourselves honestly and thus begin to form good, useful habits that are pleasing to God.

While confession is often spiritual in nature (particularly in the Catholic faith), The Art of Confession is not a strictly religious book, which makes it a good choice not only for Catholic readers, but also for non-Catholic friends and family members who may wonder why we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And, of course, it’s a good reminder for Catholics that the sacrament is indeed something to be celebrated and not dreaded.

Wilkes himself says it best toward the end of his book: “With a healthy dose of confessional honesty and the resulting insight, we can begin to practice what I like to call ‘happy guilt.’ We acknowledge that, yes, we have committed acts we shudder to consider, but we also see that, which each day of listening to the urgings of our conscience toward goodness, we are changing. Our past lives do not represent the total person we are. All is neither lost nor gained in a day, whether it be in our most transcendent act or basest thought.”

Mike’s Meditations: Mercy: God’s Idea of Justice

by Mike Van Vranken

Every word in the Bible is important to us. Each is alive, effective and sharper than any two edged sword. Not one of His words will return to God empty, but will please Him and achieve whatever reason He sent it (Isaiah 55:11). We must take special precaution to study and understand each and every sacred word we read in the Bible.
Accordingly, when God uses the same word two or three times, we should take even greater care to listen to His message and follow His teaching. When I see the same word in scripture over and over again, I assume He is trying to make a point. He wants me to focus. He’s tapping me on the shoulder, strongly recommending that I pay attention.

The word “mercy” is mentioned in the New American Bible 296 times.  So in the case of “mercy,” I would say the Holy Spirit is doing more than giving me a gentle touch hoping I will remember. In this case, the Almighty is explaining that mercy is a core expression of who He is, and being made in His image and likeness, He expects mercy to radiate from us as well. The Bible is the complete story of God’s merciful relationship with His creation; especially His love with human beings. Without His divine mercy, our affiliation with God would have ended thousands of years ago. Yet, there is story after story of the infinite mercy that God shows His people and allows us to be reconciled with Him once more. When we study these examples, we get a glimpse of just how much God really loves us. It’s over our heads. It’s incomprehensible. Yet, the more we look, the more we comprehend. He is madly in love with all of His creation, but especially with His people.

Then, Jesus comes along and gives us a new revelation. He says:  “Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful.” What? Really? Does that mean exactly what it says?  Maybe we’ve taken it out of context.

Well, here’s the context:
“But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.” (Lk. 6:35-36 NAB)

Pope Francis has asked us to commit to a year long focus on God’s mercy and our response to it. We begin by recognizing how Jesus has already described our appropriate response. Yet, a casual reading of Jesus’ words is not near enough. As with all scripture, new insights are unveiled when we continue to read, study, meditate and pray the same verses again and again.

Are you willing to take this step?  Are you prepared to accomplish the mission of living a Holy Year of Mercy?  Have you accepted the Holy Father’s challenge?

MONTHLY REFLECTION

Love Your Enemies
Who are your enemies?  Are there people who disagree with your faith to the point that they mock you? Do they want to overturn your way of thinking? Do they live a lifestyle that your faith tells you is sinful?

Jesus said to love them. Welcome them into your church. Find out what their needs are and serve those needs. Forgive them every time they attack or mock you. God is love. Be his reflection by loving them as children of the One who loves you.

Do Good to Those Who Hate You
Who hates you? How have they offended you? How do they bring anguish into your life?

Jesus said to do good to them. Help them find a job when they are unemployed. Offer assistance if they need food or clothing or medicine. Mow their yard or help them paint their house. Find ways of being good and gracious to them.

Bless Those Who Curse You
Who is cursing you? Who is wishing and even calling evil into your life?

Jesus said to bless them. Ask God to bring His abundant blessings on them. Give them words of encouragement. Bless them with kindness, love, compassion and even money.

Pray for Those Who Abuse You
Who is taking advantage of you? Who strikes out at your mental stability? Who uses you for their own personal satisfaction?

Jesus said to pray for them. Intercede to God with prayers and petitions for them. Ask God to change and heal their heart. Thank God for allowing you to pray for this person. Ask the angels and saints to pray for them with you.

It’s the Holy Year of Mercy;
God’s idea of justice.

Bishop’s Reflection: God’s Gift of Merciful Love and Forgiveness

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

On December 13, 2015, I will officially open the Door of Mercy at the Cathedral, thus beginning the Year of Mercy in our diocese. When Pope Francis proclaimed this Year of Mercy, he wrote:

“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”

There is no doubt that the pope’s focus on the Mercy of God is a welcomed theme and one that resonates warmly in our hearts.  However, when we seriously reflect on the deeper mystery of God’s mercy instead of just the human virtue of mercy, we will discover a truth that will both comfort and challenge us at the core of our beings.

We should never be completely comfortable with our understanding of the ways of God. God will always be more than we can imagine.  This is true of the mercy of God, which by human standards is scandalously generous.  We should be thankful that God’s love is so generous. As human beings we often profess to be forgiving and to believe that God is forgiving, but most of us have a limit, a moment when we say, “I can forgive most people. I believe God forgives everyone, but that person, what they did, I don’t think even God can forgive them!”  It is equally tragic when we convince ourselves that we committed a sin God cannot forgive.

Of course we should know God’s love for us is not limited and we should appreciate that this wonderful mystery of God’s love will both comfort and challenge us.  Wonderfully, God does not move away from the sinner, but rather surprisingly pursues us to bring us back into a loving encounter.  God moves close to us with eyes of love that see beyond our sin to the goodness within us. We are made in His image and God always sees His goodness within us and He wants us to see that goodness too.  In God’s mercifulness, He draws near with love and invites us to throw off the sin in our lives – our fear, shame, greed, lust, pain – and seek His forgiveness so we might be free to love as God first loved us.  His merciful love is what causes God to see the goodness in each one of us in spite of our sins.  This is a life changing assurance because as we become aware of our own sinfulness, we are comforted that God’s love is greater and forgives us, even if we feel unworthy.  This knowledge opens us to the “hope of being loved despite our sinfulness.”

As we are comforted by the depth of God’s love, at the same time we face the challenge of this love. As God’s merciful love moves close to the sinner, we, as disciples, are to love others with the same merciful love. This is hard.  Every time we judge someone without mercy, we put their perceived sins first before we look at them with eyes of love and respect.  Every time we refuse to forgive we live without the merciful love that allows forgiveness and healing. In this Year of Mercy we must seek a deeper conversion of heart that will overcome our self-righteousness and fear so we can become agents of God’s merciful love and others will come to know the mercy of God through us.

If this Year of Mercy is to make a difference in our lives, we should pray to be more aware of our need for mercy. I suggest this year we all make a serious examination of our consciences and make a good confession. This may be difficult since we can get out of the habit of even being aware of our sins, explaining them away as personality traits or by exempting ourselves from the demands of the Gospel or the demands of love. Pray for a deep spiritual awareness of your need of God’s mercy and how generous the love of God is. The more we are aware of our own need of mercy, the more merciful we will be with others.

Next, consider your family and examine which relationships are determined by negative emotions like grudges, anger, judging and disappointment that affect the quality of your love. Remember, we are to be agents of mercy so we need to strive to make love the inspiration and foundation for all our relationships with others, from family to the stranger we encounter during the day.

In this Year of Mercy let us grow in the knowledge of God’s love for us. May this knowledge and joy free us to love others as God first loved us. •