The Good News

Welcome to The Good News Blogspot! The Good News is real and alive in my own life. Jesus has fulfilled in my life His promise of fuller and more abundant life (John 15), a quality of life I could not have created for myself. I invite you to share experiences with me so we can all grow into the life He offers us all.

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Catholic by call, Jesuit by nature, a preacher/spiritual conversation partner by choice. Learning about getting older, learning to live in the present moment, one day at a time. Learning to let go and laugh.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Greetings in the Interim

Dear Friends,

The last month has been a time of transition – from one job to another via a summer in yet another job, from one residence to another. So, I’ve not been blogging for a while. But I miss it and so will be back at it as soon as I can.

The Lord’s faithfulness and kindness to me over these months has been constant, plentiful and unfailing. Pray always! Without him I – and we – can do nothing.

Fr Ben

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Moral Life and the Trenches

A friend, an American military officer, wrote me recently:

“I've been giving classes to the men these week (all the officers and staff NCOs) in preparation for Iraq, and I keep wanting to say 'Look, this is all stuff that will save your life. But at the end of the day, it's luck that will keep you alive. Make yourself as hard a target as you can but if that IED or sniper is going to get you, it/he is going to get you.' But I can't say that. I can't have that semi-fatalistic attitude. It's not fatalistic as in ‘I want it to happen,’ but fatalistic or perhaps resigned to the inherent risks this occupation takes...

“I'm looking at Iraq, specifically what it did to (a good friend), what it could do to (another good friend), what it did to (yet another friend) and his now orphaned kids, and thinking hard. I mean, I couldn't imagine doing anything other than what I am doing now. But at the same time, it's frightening what it has done to a snippet of my generation. I look at this war somewhat as Kurt Vonnegut looked at Dresden: 'a tower of smoke and flame to commemorate the rage and heartbreak of so many who had had their lives warped or ruined by the indescribable greed and vanity and cruelty....'

“My job is to motivate, control, and command (my men) in combat. That's another bizarre thing. As Robert E. Lee's character says in The Killer Angels,‘To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. This is…a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That is one reason why there are so few good officers, although there are many good men.’ Alas and alack, I suppose, as the saying goes: you signed up for this."

I share this with you all, with his permission, because my friend’s cry is clearsighted, close up, courageous, and principled - without cynicism, despair, or romance. He fixes his gaze on elevated things beyond personal convenience or gain, even as his sight engages all that is physical, concrete and real. This is what the struggle for the moral life looks like, and only good can come of it.

Best of all, my friend’s gut experience of what he doesn’t want to call “fatalism” in his first paragraph opens the door to the mystical self-revelation of God to the one needing relief and respite. “There are no atheists in the trenches.” God in the person of Jesus Christ came looking for me in my exile. And so God will for all of us.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Church a Man Can Love

The cover of the April 3, 2007 The Christian Century announces an article entitled “Why Men Say No to Church,” a review of Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Murrow, according to Lillian Daniel, the reviewer and senior minister at the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Glen Ellyn, IL, thinks that church culture in general and worship in particular have been feminized. In Daniel’s characterization, “A chick-flick atmosphere prevails on Sunday mornings, complete with flowers, ferns and soft music, all geared toward women’s desires for safety, security, and harmonious relationships.”

Murrow opposes this new reality: “Women must humble themselves, pray and allow the men of the church to lead the body toward an adventure…Will you allow men to take risks, dream big, and push the envelope with your local church? God made men for adventure, achievement, and challenge, and if they can’t find those things in church, they’re going to find them somewhere else.” “Somewhere else,” according to Daniel, seems to be the movies, the local bar, sports events, TV, and perhaps worse.

So, what, precisely, characterizes Murrow’s remasculinzed church? Much depends, I think, on what Murrow calls the “adventure” God made men for. Do I seek adventure because in finding it I feel powerful, in-control, authoritative, self-satisfied? Or, is the goal outside myself – justice done, people liberated, human flourishing sparked?

Church at its best – religion at its best – embodies as its central premise that God calls his followers to move outside themselves in service, a move ironically that brings the follower back to herself in affirmation and fullness of life. My fear is that the men whom Murrow defends seek “adventure” that makes them feel powerful, in-control, authoritative, and so on.

Who would Murrow’s manly men hold up us their heroes and role models? John Wayne in The Quiet Man? The English kings that conquered the Welsh in the 13th century, the Irish in the 15th Century, and the Scots in the 18th Century? The English kings who tried to conquer and control French for three hundred years for no reason other than conquest?

I keep asking myself, What was accomplished by all that warfare? Was their a value outside and beyond the men involved, in particular, the leaders involved?

And, I ask myself, why should women and the feminine be disparaged because they – I – see this fighting as having no value because the fighting destroys much and produces little. Or, more precisely, the fighting produces nothing beyond the self-satisfaction of the leaders and destroys life and livelihood of those who are the raw material of the fighting.

Have Murrow and his men seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Is what happens to Jesus of Nazareth no less masculine a fate than, say, William Wallace’s, portrayed in Braveheart by Mel Gibson? Jesus lived a life of great risk. Was this not enough risk for today’s manly men? Was Jesus a girlie-man who defended no more than values of housekeeping and family?

Jesus’ life cost him the persecution Gibson portrays in his movie, and Jesus’ goal was not his own sense of being a manly man, a love of excitement and thrill. Its goal was human liberation, fullness of life, and complete joy.

The reviewer notes that “Murrow is right to point out that when our top prayer request is ‘God, keep us safe. Keep our kids safe. Watch over us and protect us,’ we are not being faithful to the fullness of the gospel and the cost of discipleship…In Murrow’s world it’s not only the men who are slighted when the church becomes too safe.” She concludes the review: “Surely there are ways of being a godly man that do not involve kicking ass. The cross stands out as one.”

Friday, April 13, 2007

Please Vote Today!

A note from Adoro Te Devote on her blog today told us all to get out the vote. Bloggers' Choice Awards offers voting possibilities in many categories. In the religion category, one of the top vote getters is an atheist's blog! So vote today, and, as we say in Chicago, vote often! Click either on the above title or the following:

And visit for a wonderful read. If we all had faith like that!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In Him Our Wounds are Made Glorious

Once he has lit and blessed the fire to begin the Easter vigil, the presider marks the Pascal Candle with the sign of the cross, then places five grains of incense in the candle, saying,

“By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us.”

He then lights the candle from the fire and says,

“May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.”

As Christ rises in glory, the Father makes his wounds holy and glorious. As Christ helps us rise into new life from the places in our lives where we are entombed, he makes our wounds holy and glorious. The readings of the Easter Vigil help us remember that God has loved us and all humanity from the Creation, from Abraham, through the great Jewish prophets, to Jesus of Nazareth, now the Risen Christ in glory. The reality of the divine love becomes explicit when that love makes our wounds holy and glorious.

A friend of mine, a person who loves the Lord and who knows the Lord’s love for him, has suffered deep inner turbulence from childhood misfortunes. Just recently, though, he began feeling the Lord calling him into healing. And, right on schedule, in fact a little ahead of schedule, on Holy Saturday, he began to feel inexpressible joy. “I’m so happy!” he kept saying to me, waving his arms, smiling ecstatically, and jumping into the air.

Medieval tradition believed that during the three days in the tomb, Jesus descended into hell, took Adam and Eve by the hand, and led them and the other dead into heaven. This tradition, called the Harrowing of Hell, built on Matthew’s Gospel: at Jesus’ death, rocks split apart, graves opened and the dead rose.

My friend rose from a grave on Holy Saturday. His childhood wounds still marked his psyche and soul, but now the Master Healer had drained away their toxic hurt and healed them. His wounds were made holy and glorious, and he enjoys new life.

“Light and life to all he brings,
Ris’n with healing in his wings…
Born to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth…”

I too have experienced this rising to new life, this profound inner healing. And so I say to you, “Alleluia! He is truly risen!”

May the blessings of the Risen Christ be on you and those you love!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Mourning a Friend

There is nothing so sad as Good Friday night. The Memorial of Our Lord’s Passion is over, and we are alone. The Western church, though its tradition is already rich, needs a burial service for Jesus.

I attended such a service some years ago with the Community of the Beatitudes, who live in a former Cistercian monastery in Mortain, a small town in the Normandy region of France. The community’s ample stone church and cloister, the Abbeye Blanche, reflect the austere late-12th Century French style. Those who live here, perhaps 60 men and women, some married, some single, some priests, some nuns, dedicate their lives to perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and service to the poor.

On the Good Friday night of my visit, we shared an ascetic meal of tasteless broth during which our only conversation was to tell our faith stories. Then the community invited us guests to join them in the “salle capitulaire” below the main altar. Originally the monks met in this formal room, sitting in stone benches, still present, built into the walls. Slender pillars and arches supporting the structure above broke the sightlines of the spacious “salle,” though the room housed us easily. A stone sarcophagus stood with dignity in the center of the room, its carvings now indistinct from age.

The March night was cold, the room was dark, and we shivered despite our coats as we sat in rows of chairs around the sarcophagus. After a time in silence, candles were lit, and the music began, a chant in medieval style, in French, the leader singing, the rest responding. A pair of community members approached the sarcophagus, covering it with a heavy linen cloth which they smoothed carefully and lovingly. From time to time other community members approached the sarcophagus as the singing continued. Some sprinkled fresh rose petals, both red and white, on the cloth. Some sprinkled rose water. Then more singing, readings in French, and more singing until the cloth had disappeared under the petals.

The music was mournful, thought sweet with our grieving. The brightness of the rose petals and the fragrance of rose water gave weak relief to the cold and the darkness of what might well have been a tomb. After a while the singing ceased, and we remained in silence until we each felt the desire to return to our rooms. The cold became unbearable at one point, so I left numbly, but feeling a great sense of joy that we had mourned the death of our friend and Lord.

For more on Abbeye Blanche and the community, visit The Beatitudes. Then click on "Europe," then "France."

The Tabernacle is Empty

How stark is the empty tabernacle after the Holy Thursday mass! What a brilliant symbol of what we honor: the one who was our hope has been betrayed, and we who want to be hopeful could well be lost.

At Gesu Parish in Detroit, a Jesuit parish, the ornate brass cube of the tabernacle – weighty in appearance and symbolism - sits in an opening in the wrought iron screen behind the main altar. On the other side of screen and tabernacle is the daily mass chapel, and in this chapel too the same tabernacle sits behind the altar. A pair of the tabernacle’s brass doors faces the main altar, and an opposite pair face the daily mass altar. Following the Holy Thursday mass both pairs of doors are opened, the sanctuary lamps extinguished, and the altars stripped.

Seeing the empty chamber of a tabernacle tears at my gut. But when I first looked through the tabernacle at Gesu Parish – and saw nothing but the same world I inhabit on this side – the sight doubled, tripled, quadrupled the symbol’s wrenching power.

This is the genius of Catholicism: to create symbols that embody meaning beyond words. This is why I love being Catholic. At a glance the voided tabernacle says, The man we loved as friend and Lord is taken from us by those who hate and revile him. And we are left here alone, with only our fears to aggravate us to discouragement and despair. At the level of symbol, we don’t know and can’t know the end of the story.

So, what can we do? We wait in silence, in prayer, and at midnight must leave the church. Then go to bed, hoping yet fearing tomorrow. We know God has been good to us, and this man said he was one with the God who loved us. Will this God act on our behalf?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A New Kind of Love

My mother (left) died of bone cancer in February, 1979. I worked in Washington, DC at the time and used to visit her and my father (below with my step-mother) in New Jersey once a month. On one visit I found my father in the kitchen making breakfast for my mother – soft boiled eggs, with a little butter and salt – a major comfort food in my family. She was in bed upstairs, and he asked if I would feed her.

I said I would and took the dish of eggs upstairs. As I sat down on her bed, we began to talk as we always did. We had a wonderful relationship, and I was always happy to see her.

But on this day something unexpected happened. It happened when I held out the first spoonful of eggs for her to eat.

A realization hit us – no words, but an experience as we looked into one another’s eyes:
I, the adult, was feeding my own mother, the adult who had given birth to me and had fed me for years. I was feeding her because she was too weak to feed herself.

This unsettling experience called something new out of me and her, a new kind of love, a new way of loving. The call disturbed me at first, perhaps her too, but it deepened and enriched the love we had built up over the 31 or so years of my life.

This was the disciples’ experience at the Last Supper when Jesus washed their feet. Him washing their feet! The symbol and the reality shocked the disciples, because it represented a breadth and depth of care, of compassion, of service they had never seen before. And the shock registered deeply: Peter cried out, “You will never wash my feet!” and we can just see him jumping back in horror.

An expression of deep love can shock all of us, because we feel that “…, I am unworthy to receive you,…” But this is the love that liberates – when Jesus offers it to us, and when we offer it to one another. And so, it is good and even necessary that we take him up on his offer: “…only say the word, and I shall be healed.”

On this Holy Thursday, the Lord wants to show us a new kind of love. We all have the choice to accept it, this most precious gift, and then share it with one another. Receiving it and giving it heals us and saves us. This is the Good News.

(The photos: my mother on the left, nine years before she died; my father and step-mother, several years after my mother died.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Walk with Jesus during Holy Week

Today I have posted a series of reflections on Jesus' Passion and Death based on the Gospel of John, from the raising of Lazarus through Jesus' death on the cross: please visit Living Christ's Eucharist in Our Daily Lives. I hope these reflections will help you enter more deeply into Holy Week and thereby into the mystery of the Eucharist.

Please visit as well Did God Find You Today?, a series of quite brief posts, one-screen full at most, with my own experiences of God finding us in our lives.

This is Late, But It's Important

I attended a seminar this past week on Catholics in the Blogosphere. It was conceived and hosted by Fr Dan Joyce, SJ, a Jesuit friend from 12 years ago when we were both new Jesuits studying philosophy at Loyola/Chicago, now working at
St Joseph's University/Philadelphia. The seminar hosted significant people in the world of Catholic blogging: Amy Wellborn of Open Book, Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, Grant Gallicho of dotCommonweal, and, as moderator, Bill McGarvey of The latter has posted a video of the conference: Ecclesia Virtualis: Catholics in the Blogosphere.

So this seminar let me meet other Catholic bloggers – and what bloggers! Very knowledgeable, experienced, creative, enthusiastic – and very encouraging of me and of all of us who feel the desire to tell our Catholic and Christian stories.

Spending not more than an evening in their company, I’ve come away feeling a new commitment and a new creativity. Best of all, I feel as though a part of my life has opened up to see more broadly, in a more inspired way, in a way that brings me a new joy, a new hope, and a new opportunity.

What really happened is that the Lord met me in Philadelphia and shared his divine life with me in a way that gives me new life. And so now I share that with you.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why Be Religious? - Part 1 of a Lenten Reflection

We all have a choice to make:

-- either I will choose to believe that I am the master of my destiny and can create a successful and happy life through my own efforts;
-- or, I will recognize that I cannot be the master of my own destiny because human life is unpredictable and beyond my complete control.

We must choose. Not to choose is to choose.

Our culture believes that “religion” or “God” is no more than a lifestyle choice, like deciding to be a vegetarian or a carnivore. And there are no consequences to the choice, since “God” doesn’t exist in any real sense. Since affluence, education, and science permit a certain control over one’s life, the affluent can create for themselves the illusion that they control the events of their lives. To turn away from God and rely on self is serious Sin.

But affluence and science could not prevent Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Education, social and economic status, and physical goodlooks cannot prevent the onset of cancer, the suddenness of car accidents, the drying up of professional opportunities in mid-career, the unpredictability of what one’s children do and become. We cannot give ourselves hope and well being in the face of suffering.

Catholicism asserts that the Triune God exists “out there” in Creation and “in here” in my experience and in the experience of the believing community. The mystical experience of Catholic saints, confirmed by many ordinary believers (I am one), demonstrates that God works in our lives on our behalf: “…God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth…” (Spiritual Exercises, 236).

We come to believe because we see God act in our lives. I had chosen to live without God in my early adult life, and that choice ended in frustration and confusion as I approached 40. What had seemed like control proved to be an illusion. As I turned 40, then 41, God revealed himself to me in my experience in the person of Jesus Christ. My acceptance of God’s self-revelation has given me a life of meaning and value that I could not have created for myself.

Religion offers no lucky charm that averts all disaster. But God gives comfort in the face of grief, strength in the face of opposition and injustice, and meaning in the midst of suffering. I can come to recognize that God, who created me in love, has invited me into relationship through which I have hope of what Jesus calls “fuller and more abundant life” (John 10:10).

The Lenten season invites us to enter into this reality in a new and deeper way, to avoid the Sin of false self-reliance, self-satisfaction and self-congratulation and to enter into relationship with the Lord who is our only hope and strength.

Why Be Religious? - Part 2 of a Lenten Reflection

Human beings like to think that we're in charge. Yet, life experiences teaches us that this is not so. Our pets may love us, and we love them. But their care for us ceases at death, as far as we know. Only God can care for us in both this life and the next, and so far only God has offered.

The Lenten season invites us to realize this reality in a new and deeper way. Jesus' Passion, Death, and Resurrection provide us care and compassion in this life and companionship into the next.

(Monument, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts)

God is dead.

(signed) Nietzsche

Nietzsche is dead.

(signed) God

Why Be Religious? - Part 3 of a Lenten Reflection

Jesus was tempted in the desert – to reject God and rely on himself. But he recognized the reality that he, like all human beings, is dependent on God, and so he resisted these temptations and avoided serious Sin (Matthew 4:1ff):

-- turn the stones into bread, said Satan: in other words, depend on yourself, reject any idea of dependence on God.

-- rule the whole earth, said Satan: in other words, believe that exercising control over one’s life, over other people and things in this world creates a successful and happy life. Depending on God is foolish and unnecessary.

-- throw yourself off the parapet of the Temple, said Satan: in other words, make God take care of you so that you can maintain the lifestyle you have chosen.

Relying on our own efforts alone, seeking control over our lives, and insisting God ensure our choice of lifestyle appeal to the human hope for self-assertion and affirmation. But they are temptations to deny what is real, namely, that only God can be the source and sustainer of our lives. And to turn away from God in favor of a false self-reliance is serious Sin.

It is no accident that in Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus begins his public ministry with his baptism, which is his confirmation by the Father, and the temptations. The Feast of the Baptism always closes the Christmas Season, and the temptations are always the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent.

Our only way to live fully and successfully is to hear the Father’s confirmation of us and to resist temptations to rely on ourselves rather than on God. "Turn away from sin," the priest says on Ash Wednesday, marking our foreheads with ashes. False self-reliance and self-sufficiency are serious Sin. Only God is God. "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return."

Being “religious,” being a believer, holding the Triune God at the center of our lives is the only way to a fullness of life we cannot create for ourselves.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Good Sister and the Jesuit

Dear Sister Mary Martha,

Thank you so much for your wonderful post Reverse Lent. But I want to disagree.

You cite a portion of the list from the diocesan paper:

“Fast from emphasis on differences;
Fast from pessimism;
Fast from complaining
Fast from negatives
Fast from bitterness”

Then you comment,

“Aren't these all just ways to describe the same thing? Suck it up. Walk it off.”

Yes, these are all the same thing. They are the temptations of the wounded soul still tainted with self-centered ego.

We need to fast from these temptations. More importantly, we need to be healed of these wounds and to reorient ourselves away from a focus on our wounded selves to a focus on the Lord, who was wounded for us so that we could be healed. This focus on the Lord and his wounding is precisely the work of Lent, as you note. But if we just “suck it up,” we won’t be forgiven and healed, and we won’t be able to shift our focus from ourselves to the Lord.

Our fasting, healing and reorientation need to take two forms:

First, when I suffer innocently from other people’s sinfulness, I am already suffering as Jesus suffered. I suffer innocently when people oppose my attempts to speak the truth, to stand against injustice, to proclaim the Word – all the things Jesus did. My own innocent suffering allows me to identify with Jesus in his suffering.

So, my Lenten task is not to “suck it up” and trudge on, trying to be brave in the face of my wounds. My Lenten task is to ask him in my daily prayer and in the Eucharist to grant me the grace to endure this suffering for his sake, for the sake of the building of His Kingdom. And my Lenten task is to avoid the temptations of pessimism, complaining, and so on, and to transform this suffering into love for him, thus healing me.

Second, my own sinfulness and the ego-taints in my soul are products of thwarted ego: my plans don’t work out, so I complain; my idealism is wounded, so I become pessimistic. My sinfulness, the ego-taints of my soul, and my thwarted ego need forgiveness and healing. Neither will happen by my sucking “it” up, as you propose, where “it” is the personal sinfulness that has thwarted and wounded my ego.

My Lenten task is to give over daily to the Lord my own sinfulness and the ego-taints of my soul and ask for his forgiveness, healing, and love. St Ignatius of Loyola provides us the words in the most powerful prayer I have experienced, except perhaps for the Rosary:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all I have and possess. You have given all to me. Now I return it. Dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace. They’re enough for me.

So, thank you, Sister, for your energetic and humorous post. May the Lord’s richest blessings be yours, now and forever.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Coincidence" or Divine Synchronicity?

I flew to Rapid City, South Dakota recently to move a resident Jesuit priest to Chicago. I had never been to South Dakota before, never dragged a trailer before, knew I had to drive an old car that hadn’t been driven for months, and knew my Jesuit companion had health problems. So I worried: would a heavy snow storm hit? would dragging a trailer on snowy cause us to skid off the road? If we got stuck in snow, would my friend’s health be compromised?

The first day of our trip was uneventful: cloudy skies, but dry roads, little traffic, no precipitation – and the trailer followed perfectly. The next two days we drove through Minnesota and Wisconsin to Chicago: blue skies, no clouds, little wind - couldn't have been better. The same weather continued the fourth day when I drove my companion’s belongings from Chicago to their final destination near Detroit. The fifth day I returned to Chicago, cloudy, but with little wind and open roads.

I arrived in Chicago around 2:30pm – after 1,600 miles of clear sailing. Around 3:30 the wind started, and by dinner time, we were in the midst of a full-scale sleet storm, with biting, driving winds and a multi-inch accumulation of ice. On the news I heard that a massive storm had hit the Great Plains. In just the area we had driven through - Winona, Minnesota to La Crosse, Wisconsin – 15 to 18 inches of snow fell. Over 50 cars had skidded off the highway into the ditch.

So, the question is, Was our good fortune just a coincidence, or was God at work in our lives to help us complete our journey safely?

The Greek word “Gospel” means “Good News,” God participating in our lives and fulfilling faith claims that "Though i walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will not fear, for you are with me" (Psalm 23) and "…do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear…" (Matthew 6, the Sermon on the Mount).

St Ignatius of Loyola says in the Spiritual Exercises that "God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labors, being,..conferring life and sensation..." (section 236).

So, when these remarkable events occur in our lives, we can choose to deny God and call them coincidences, or to recognize the Divine Synchronicity of the God who loves us, fulfilling His Good News in our lives.

I know how I choose. And you?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Please visit this wonderful blog - so full of life, so full of the Lord's love, so full of the Lord's challenge to all of us - to be grateful, to fight for what is right, and not least to love. Just click on Wheelie Catholic above.

Friday, February 02, 2007

God Forgives Me. Can I Forgive Myself?

Comment from Adoro Te Devote:

"Something I, and many others I know struggle with is, when we leave the confessional, really BELIEVING that it's all gone, and how to simply accept that if we have made the best confession we can (imperfect contrition), knowing our vices are not broken, and yet not questioning that God has had mercy and that we can TRUST in that."

An excellent comment. Let’s begin with Scripture:

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, you whole body will be full of life; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22-23

When you leave the confessional, what are you seeing with your physical eyes and the eyes of faith? If you “see” with the eyes of faith that you have been forgiven, can you encourage your physical eyes to see the beautiful architecture of the church, the bright sunlight and blue sky, the children at play? If so, the goodness you see with your physical eyes will sustain and support the goodness your eyes of faith have “seen.”

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Hold that glory – the glory of forgiveness - before your eyes of faith.

The eye is the gatekeeper of the body. If your eyes are healthy, you will be full of life. If your eye of faith “sees” that God, who loves you, has forgiven you, then your eye of faith can even “see” that God has forgiven what you “meant” to confess, “partially” confessed, “confusedly” confessed.

What happens after you leave the confessional arises from your choice or intention. If you “see” only darkness, you will fill yourself with darkness. “If your eye offends you, pluck it out,” Jesus says sensationally. “Look only through your healthy eye.”

I too have these dark currents that threaten my happiness. See my posts A Mary Moment on a Martha Afternoon, October 17, 2006 and Mozart and Maelstrom: Mary and Martha II, October 22, 2006 on concrete steps I took in the face of fear and anxiety. Quick answer: let the Lord’s goodness and light in through the glory of creation.

An important note: Don’t worship your emotions! Feelings don’t always reflect reality. “I feel unloved,” but God loves you nonetheless. “I feel afraid,” but there may be nothing to fear. If there is an object or cause of fear, channel your anxiety into specific steps to respond to the object or cause. If not, tell the feeling to go away and leave you alone. “See” goodness. Take positive action. Drive the negative out.

Beware of creating a place for the Evil One to attack you. (See my post “The Devil Made Me Do It” November 1, 2006.) Evil takes advantage of negative emotions, including over whether we have confessed “enough,” to create unhappiness in us. St Ignatius suffered from serious scruples, but discovered that scruples came from Evil. “And since he (Ignatius) now had some experience of the differences in kinds of spirits through the lessons God had given him, he began to mull over the means through which the spirit had come. As a result he decided, with great clarity, not to confess anything from the past any more. Thus from that day onward he remained free of those scruples, holding for certain that Our Lord in his mercy had willed to liberate him.” The Autobiography of St Ignatius, para 25.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

My Favorite Sacrament

If you had to choose a favorite sacrament, which one would you choose?

In presiding at any sacrament the priest invokes God’s presence on behalf of a person or group of people. God responds because the ministerial priesthood is an authority, a gift of the Spirit, given by God to a human being for just this purpose. (All the faithful, including ministerial priests, share in the Royal Priesthood of Christ (I Peter 2:9), but explaining that must await another post.)

God invoked in this way brings healing, restoration, and rejuvenation because God’s Trinitarian presence is the presence of love: Christ present in the power of the Holy Spirit revealing the Father as love. Those who are wounded, suffering, discouraged, or abandoned feel this love as affirmation, freedom, and new hope. Christ’s Real Presence in the sacraments renews and refreshes us in ways we cannot image, much less achieve for ourselves.

What I love about the sacraments is this power to recreate, and my favorite sacraments are those in which I can see this recreation occur before my very eyes.

I heard the confession of a young man once who had matters worth confessing. But he hadn’t been to confession in a long time, and he had to struggle to reveal his story. We talked for 45 minutes, I asking questions to help him explore what he wanted to express.

By the time we finished, he had started to look bewildered and amazed. As he left my community’s residence and went down the walk, his gait made him look almost tipsy. He kept looking all around him as if in wonderment, as if his life had changed so suddenly – and for the better – that he couldn’t grasp this new reality.

Why? I expect that he was experiencing his life without the burden he had brought to the sacrament. In place of the burden, he was now feeling a new-found lightness of being that contrasted so sharply with his troubled life only 45 minutes earlier. Where there was darkness and misunderstanding, there was now light and clarity of understanding.

So, is Reconciliation my favorite sacrament? Well, yes – and no. It is surely a wonderful reality in our lives, Christ present, lifting our burdens and giving us freedom and joy. What could be better? Nothing – except perhaps that the other wonderful sacraments also bring freedom and lightness, as we give ourselves over to the Lord’s love.