The Sacrament of Honesty, Restoration, and Friendship

As we continue through the Lenten season, it is helpful to renew our focus on the call to conversion and upon the sacrament of continual conversion, namely, Confession. As the Catechism notes, the Church describes this sacrament in five ways; the sacrament of conversion, the sacrament of forgiveness, Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation; and each of those descriptions emphasizes an important aspect of this great gift. See Catechism 1423-34.

It is thus helpful to consider each of these as ways of understanding this celebration of God’s mercy. The first two descriptions focus upon our turning to God and the freedom He offers us. Conversion refers to turning away from the darkness and burden of sin into the light and freedom of the children of God. Conversion is certainly our action, but it begins with the grace and truth that God offers us and that we then respond to. See Catechism 1989.

And, when we convert from sins, we become open to the forgiveness, the freedom from sin that Jesus won for us. The question is not whether God will forgive sins; the question is our openness to that forgiveness, to that freedom. In the sacrament of Penance, we show the courage to be free children of the light. The three main names for this sacrament then reflect how we show the courage to be free. The term Confession indicates understanding and honesty, with ourselves, with the Church and with God, the courageous acknowledgement of the sins that hold us back. The alternative is an evasiveness, a vague uneasy feeling that enables sin to continue dominating our lives and our world.

Bringing the light to these sins is the first step in dissolving them and being clean and pure. And then there must be the struggle to overcome sins. And Penance is the term for that struggle, that sacrifice that unravels the bonds of sin and restores our lives and the world. In prayer, sacrifice and charitable works as well we unite our efforts with Christ to build that restoration. See Matthew 6:1-18; Tobit 12:8; Catechism 1434.

nd then, with that light and struggle, we come more and more into friendship with Jesus. Venial sins damage and lessen that friendship; mortal sins break it altogether. The name Reconciliation reflects how the grace of God and our cooperation restores friendship with Him and, by extension, with all of His people throughout space and time. It is certainly an obligation for Catholics to receive this sacrament at least once a year and if one has committed a mortal sin. And it is advised to confess about once a month. But, as with the Mass, it should not simply be an obligation but a celebration of the light, the freedom, the friendship that Christ offers us even on earth and one day beyond sin and death, in the realms of eternal love.

Speaking With Jesus’ Mother and Our Mother

This Monday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the glorious event in which Mary becomes the Mother of God by accepting the message from the Archangel Gabriel through her our Savior will be born. At that moment, the divine Son took on human nature for our salvation and our glory. It is a good occasion to reflect upon the most common way in which we likewise approach Mary, the prayer that begins with Gabriel’s words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

The Hail Mary prayer begins with an address to Mary that is drawn from both Gabriel’s initial greeting and the words Elizabeth spoke at the Visitation in greeting Mary, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed in the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” By joining with Gabriel, we likewise are united with the angles themselves in asking Mary once again to bring the love of Jesus to the world. And then, in repeating the words of Elizabeth, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” we join with her in welcoming Mary and Jesus into our homes and neighborhoods.

By the mid-eleventh century, it was becoming common among monks and nuns to join these two phrases together during their daily prayers to have a sense of joining with the angels and saints to honor Mary as the one who brought Jesus Christ into the word at the Incarnation. There was a sense that, in honoring Mary, we are joining with her in bringing Christ into the world today. Many devout members of the laity also took up this practice, sometimes repeating this salutation 50 times, a practice that became the basis for the rosary.

In the 15th century, the faithful began adding the petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” And, in 1566, the Church’s official Roman catechism endorsed this additional petition, which focuses our attention on the two most important times of our lives, the present moment and the time of our death. For, while the past is fixed and the future unknown, we have in the present hour the freedom to respond to the grace of God; and our response should reflect our final goal, namely that by the end of life, we will be able fully to receive and give that divine love. And, by honoring Mary and invoking her prayers, we ask her to guide and help us to make the present moment always reflect the glory of God, so that when our time comes we will, with her, enter into the light of Jesus forever.

Plans For A New Church Hall

As most of you know, we have been planning on using about half or a little more of our $1 million savings on building a new church hall to provide more space for meals and parish gatherings and for the religious education classes and parish groups to meet.

Our initial budget for the project was about $600,000. And, after interviewing several architects, we settled on one of them last September and thought that we would move forward soon. However, he and the Diocesan Office of Planning, Construction and Facilities then made a proposal that was vastly above our budget.

The Pastoral Council and Finance Council responded creatively with a number of cost saving ideas; and we started looking into local builders. We have consulted some construction companies and considered some other options that would bring the cost back into our budget range.

One of the possibilities is adding onto the current church annex, instead of building a new structure. Either that plan or a new building would provide space for a hall that is about twice the size of the current church annex, expand the kitchen, and make about four rooms available for religious education classes and other meetings.

I will get back to the parishioners soon about the plans on going forward, and I certainly welcome any ideas that people have. While we are working out plans for the future, I would ask everyone to join me in making a 30 day Novena of prayers to ask for the intercession of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of builders, for this project. The novena will start on March 19, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, and the novena prayer is described on the flyer in the bulletin.

A novena is a devotion that involves offering a particular prayer each day for a certain number of days. The tradition of praying novenas goes back at least to the early Middle Ages and has received official Church approval many times. The most common novenas involve praying a certain prayer for nine days; and in fact the tern “novena” is derived from the Latin word “novem,” for “nine.” However, some novenas have been extended to longer periods of time, including novenas for 30 or 40 days. The faithful commonly pray novenas for a deceased person, in preparation for a feast day (such as the Immaculate Conception or Pentecost), to emphasize a devotion (such as Divine Mercy or devotion to Mary) or for a particular intention, such as the success of our building project. Novenas unite the prayers of many people and many days, joining the power of heaven to our prayers and efforts so that we may together build up the Church to reflect the love of God on earth

The Concentration of the Mind

During the retreat that I was on two weeks ago, the retreat master Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J, discussed the wisdom of discernment, especially drawing from the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. Among other things, he pointed out that especially in the modern world, the struggle is not with the lack of things we can learn, but in choosing what to learn, what to put into our minds. For, we have a seeming endless array of entertainment, information, news (true of false as the case may be) and ideas that people set forth. We can be more able than ever to gain deep knowledge and benefit from such insights. However, it is a great challenge to sift the wheat from the chaff, to sort out what is truly helpful, inspiring, ennobling and true, from the irrelevant, the scandalous, half-truths, half-baked ideas, and flat out falsehoods.

It is a point that the great Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas made three hundred years before St. Ignatius. The main vice opposed to true studiousness, the pursuit of real knowledge and wisdom, is not so much laziness, although that can be an issue; the difficulty is more often an undisciplined desire to know all sorts of things that are easier, cheaper, or more appealing to superficial desires; lesser things, or even false knowledge, often gets in the way of the deeper truths that set us free. One thinks about the time people spend keeping up on the latest news, latest fads, predictions about the future, or even dwelling on scandals or outrages, compared to time with prayers, sacred learning, fine literature and even deeper and historic culture.

In this context, and as Lent approaches, it is helpful to ask about the information and images that we focus on, and the amount of time each day absorbing popular culture, or superficial ideas, as opposed to the time in prayer and good learning.

It would be helpful to reduce the time with news, social media, and cheaper entertainment to make room for deeper wisdom. (Sinful entertainment and gossip should of course have no place ever in our lives.) And then it is helpful to set aside that time in learning, reflection and prayer.

For example, one of our parishioners has generously purchased copies of the Lenten Companion from Magnificat as an aid to this reflection and prayer.

The parish website also has a list of some helpful places to learn more about the faith, and of course the FORMED website has a great deal of programs that can deepen our understanding.

With the vast array of possibilities, let us open our minds to the things of heaven, and thus make that divine light more on us and through us to all the world.

Series – Faith in America



Saturdays, February 23 – May 4

From 1 to 2 in the church annex



Fr. Horkan will give talks on the heroes and heroines, the growth and the struggles, the past and future of the Catholic Church in America from the colonial days to the present.  

Feb. 23:     The Faith Comes to a New Land: The Church in Colonial America

March 2:    The Faith and Revolution: The Church and the Early Days of the United States

March 9:    The Faith in a Young Republic: The Church in Early 19th Century America

March 16:  The Faith as a Nation Grows: The Church in the Mid-19th Century America

March 23:  The Faith, War, Liberty and Industry: The Civil War and the Late 19th Century

March 30:  The Faith and Rising Powers: The Church in Early 20th Century America

April 6:      The Faith and Rapid Change: The Church in America during the 1920s and 30s

April 13:    The Faith in War and Peace: World War II and the Early Cold War

April 27:   The Faith Renewed and Challenged: Vatican II and the 1960s and 70s

May 4:      The Faith, Crisis and Initiative: The Church in America at the New Millennium

Lent and the flourishing of faith

On March 6, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. The term “Lent” comes from the old English word lenchen, which means springtime. The most obvious basis for this term is that Spring always begins during the Lenten season. But there is also a deeper connection. As the fields and lawns begin flourishing during springtime, so Lent is meant to bring about a flourishing of our faith. Following both Jewish and Christian traditions, the Catechism especially recommends acts of prayer, sacrifice and generosity towards others in order to bring about this springtime of faith. See Catechism 1434; Tobit 12:8; Matthew 6:1- 18.

To draw an analogy from agriculture, we need for a harvest the rain and sun from the sky, the plowing and preparing of the fields on the earth, and the planting of seeds in these fields. Likewise, in prayer we open our hearts and minds to the grace and light of heaven. In acts of sacrifice and penance, we prepare our souls, minds and bodies as fields of the Lord. And, in works of goodness, generosity and charity, we plant the seeds of faith in our homes and communities to bring forth a rich harvest of grace for the world.

And so, as Lent approaches, it is important to make definite resolutions about how we will be prayerful, self-sacrificing, and generous. Regarding prayer, one could make such resolutions as: (1) setting aside a certain amount of time each day with the Bible, devotions or simply informal prayer; (2) praying with the family or friends on a regular basis; (3) reading the Biblical passages for Mass ahead of time; (4) learning more about the saints and praying with them; or (5) praying for the dead, for family and friends and for people who are struggling.

Regarding sacrifice, disciplining of our desires prepares the way for the Lord. In our lives examples could include: (1) cutting back on television or the internet; (2) getting to bed and up in the morning a bit earlier; (3) giving up a favorite food for a time; (4) not insisting on temperature setting being exactly what one likes; or (5) taking regular time in silence to reflect upon one’s life, goals and relationship with God and others. Such sacrifices in turn enable us to make resolutions regarding generosity with others such as: (1) listening to others more; (2) thanking others for their efforts; (3) writing encouraging letters or emails, or calling those who would appreciate the attention; (4) giving extra time or resources to a worthy cause; or (5) simply performing one’s duties with more cheerfulness.

These ideas are but a few ways in which we can make this Lenten season a springtime of faith for us, the Church and all the world.

Good Works and the Flourishing of Faith

This article concludes this five part discussion of how to build, in a steady and consistent way, our friendship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. In particular, this article will focus on good works as the flourishing of faith.

We must of course remember that our call to this friendship and finally to glory in heaven is a free gift, which no amount of good works can earn. Our status as sons and daughters of God not only begins by divine grace, but is carried out and completed through this power of God. However, we must choose to continue to accept this gift through our faith, hope and love of God; and if these virtues are real, they will include good works. For, as St. James wrote, “Faith, by itself if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17.

It is not only that authentic faith manifests itself in a better life and that good works make the faith attractive to others, as important as those facts are. It is also the case that, if we act in a manner called for by God and His Church, our relationship with Him, and with the communion of saints, will grow and become more joy-filled. By contrast, if we act in a fashion contrary to the callings of God and His Church, such faith, hope and charity will decline and eventually vanish, as Jesus illustrates in the parable of the houses built upon rock and upon sand. See Matt. 5:24-27. In living this life both worthy of God and leading to greater relationship with Him, it is important to begin by keeping the commandments, especially the Ten Commandments.

For, as Jesus told the rich young man, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Matt. 19:17. But, as He also made clear to that man, we are called to go further than simply keeping the commandments; we are called to a life of heroic virtue, each in our own way. And, in discerning how to act with generosity, courage and divine love, we should set our sights high. Thus, for example, it is a good idea for all people regularly to read the Sermon on the Mount, which sets forth the overall principles of a Christian life, and consider how we are fulfilling those sacred words. Likewise, learning about the saints and praying with them should inspire us to live in a manner worthy of their company, now and for all time.

And, of course, we should always ask how we would act if we actually saw Jesus, Mary and the angels and saints with us. For they are with us now; and we strive one day to see them, and be welcomed by them, in eternal glory.

The Universal Call to Holiness

Fr. Paul Murray, a professor in Rome, often recounts an event that occurred when he was a Dominican novice. One of the older Dominicans was well known for his prayerfulness, charity, kindness, and holiness of life. And so some of the novices asked him, “What is you secret to holiness?” He responded, “Don’t tell the Jesuits this, but this is the secret: there is no secret. Our secret is the Gospels.”

He was making a point that the Church has made many times when refuting Gnosticism, a heresy that among other things maintains that one must be initiated into secrets to be truly holy. The Vatican II Council, following the Bible, instead says that all people are called to the heights of sanctity. See Lumen Gentium (1965) 40; Catechism 2103. Likewise, Saint Paul describes the whole Christian community as the “holy ones” or those “called to be holy.” See, e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1.

And what is holiness? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, holiness means purity of the soul and a consistent dedication to God; to be holy means being more and more free from sin constant, unflinching friends of God. See Summa Theologica II-II, question 81, article 8. In achieving such holiness, some common sense is very helpful. First, it is important to be regularly working on goals that free us from sin and bring us union with God.

Taking from prayer a definite resolution each day and each week (e.g., speaking well of others, kindness to a co-worker, listening without interrupting, working on project that one has been putting off) gradually builds a life of holiness as a mansion is built one brick or stone at a time. Second, it is important to be careful about the images one is putting into the mind through such things as entertainment, social media and the news.

There is a saying among the Cherokees. Within every man there is a wolf of kindness, bravery and love and a wolf of greed, cowardice and hatred; the one who wins is the one you feed. Third, it is important to keep good company and friends, both on earth and with the communion of saints. We have to deal with people in the world, good, bad and indifferent.

But we should be wise in choosing those we trust and spend time with, and those whom we are influenced by. Fourth, we should both delight in the good things that God has given us and recognize that sacrifices are needed to join in the ministry of Christ, who sacrificed Himself to us. In that way, both joy and sorrow, like the sun and the rain, will make our lives fruitful in prayer and good works here and bring us to the new heavens and new earth.

Prayer and The Journey to God

Last week’s article introduced the topic of advancing in prayer, holiness, intellect and good deeds and emphasized the importance of prayer. This article will summarize some advice from the Catechism and spiritual masters on developing a steady, joyful and courageous life of prayer.

To begin with, we should recognize the many different types of prayer and ask how best to build upon Sunday Mass and regular Confession. To begin with, the Church has a rich liturgical tradition, including Mass (offered here daily) and the Divine Office, a series of prayers that priests and religious brothers and sisters offer daily; the Book of Christian Prayer has a simpler version of The Divine Office.

Another source of prayer is with the Scriptures, which one can read each day. One can either read a large portion of Scripture at once or engage in what is often called lectio divina, a prayerful reading of a small portion of the Bible at a time, such as one Psalm or event in the Gospels. The insights of great spiritual masters, such as St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales, St. Theresa of Avila, or St. Therese of Lisieux can be a springboard to prayer as well, as can other books and periodicals, including Magnificat, which provides the Mass readings and other prayers for each day.

In another direction, devotions, such as the rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Stations of the Cross, or prayers associated with saints unite our efforts together. Such devotions employ the same prayers numerous times, not merely for repetition, but rather as bridges that enable the mind to enter deeply into contemplation of a subject, such as the mysteries of the Rosary, the image of Divine Mercy, or the presence of the saints. Also helpful is informal prayer, in which we simply describe to God our hopes, fears, requests, thanksgiving, repentance, and good intentions. And we listen to Him speaking to us in the depth of our hearts with inspirations, ideas, encouragement, and resolution that can be expressed in words, but are often beyond them. As the Catechism points out, prayer is sometimes delightful and easy, and sometimes a battle. See Catechism 2728 – 2733.

When we receive clear joy and inspiration from God, we should thank Him for it and seek to share this joy with others. When prayer in more difficult, we should recognize that God is calling us away from what is easy to a humble, courageous path that involves trust that He will ever guide us, as He guided the Apostles in the boat in Galilee, through wind and storms to the shores of truth, grace and divine light. See Matthew 14:22-27; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21.

Ordinary Time and Steady Growth

This week, we began the first part of what is called Ordinary Time in the Church’s liturgical year. Ordinary Time is thirty-three or thirty-four weeks of the year that are not in the Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter seasons. The term ordinary here does not mean commonplace or uneventful, but is rather based upon Latin terms ordo and ordinalis, which imply regular, steady, ordered growth. That is one reason why the color for ordinary time is green, the color of things such as trees, bushes and many crops that grow in an orderly way over the course of time. The idea is that we are meant to focus on how our spiritual lives of prayer, virtue, charity, and evangelization are growing in a regular and steady fashion. This and the next four articles will focus on this regular, steady growth in prayer, in holiness of life, in intellect and in good deeds.

To begin with, we should have a regular, consistent life of prayer. The two continual requirements of prayer for Catholics are:

(1) attendance at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; and (2) the regular receipt of the sacrament of Reconciliation.

These universal requirements are meant to be the foundation of a regular life of prayer that can in turn be lived out in many different ways. As the Catechism says, Christian “prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond all measure, with His Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.” And as such, “prayer and the Christian life are inseparable.” Catechism 2565, 2745.

Part IV of the Catechism gives much advice on prayer and then gives an extensive commentary on the Lord’s Prayer that in turn describes our relationship with God and the many things that we should pray for. Reading this part of the Catechism, which is about 75 pages in the most common translation, will help one understand what prayer is, know better the more the many sources, motives and ways of prayer, and fully appreciate the effort needed for this most noble quest.

Other guides to prayer, such as Fr. Thomas Dubay’s very accessible 2002 book Prayer Primer or St. Francis de Sales’ 17th century classic Introduction to the Devout Life, can also be very helpful. These and other sources of wisdom from the Church and her saints can help us worthily and joyfully set aside daily space for prayer and so progress steadily as sons and daughters of God.

Next week’s article will discuss some ways of prayer and advice from the Catechism and the great spiritual masters to advance in this path of God.