Friday, December 31, 2010

Catholic Horses

One day while he was at the track playing the ponies and all but losing his shirt, Mitch noticed a priest who stepped out onto the track and blessed the forehead of one of the horses lining up for the 4th race.
Lo and behold, that horse - a very long shot - won the race. Before the next race, as the horses began lining up, Mitch watched with interest the old priest step onto the track. Sure enough, as the 5th race horses came to the starting gate the priest made a blessing on the forehead of one of the horses. Mitch made a beeline for a betting window and placed a small bet on the horse. Again, even though it was another long shot, the horse the priest had blessed won the race. Mitch collected his winnings, and anxiously waited to see which horse the priest would bless for the 6th race. The priest again blessed a horse.
Mitch bet big on it, and it won. Mitch was elated. As the races continued the priest kept blessing long shot horses, and each one ended up coming in first. By and by, Mitch was pulling in some serious money. By the last race, he knew his wildest dreams were going to come true. He made a quick dash to the ATM, withdrew all his savings, and awaited the priest's blessing that would tell him which horse to bet on. True to his pattern, the priest stepped onto the track for the last race and blessed the forehead of an old nag that was the longest shot of the day.
Mitch also observed the priest blessing the eyes, ears, and hooves of the old nag. Mitch knew he had a winner and bet every cent he owned on the old nag. He then watched dumbfounded as the old nag come in dead last. Mitch, in a state of shock, made his way down to the track area where the priest was. Confronting the old priest he demanded, 'Father! What happened? All day long you blessed horses and they all won. Then in the last race, the horse you blessed lost by a Kentucky mile. Now, thanks to you I've lost every cent of my savings -- all of it!' The priest nodded wisely and with sympathy. 'Son,' he said, 'that's the problem with you Protestants, you can't tell the difference between a simple blessing and last rites.'

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

One Christmas Carol

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

1. The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
2. Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
3. Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
4. The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
5. The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
6. The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
7. Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit--Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
8. The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
9. Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit--Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
10. The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
11. The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
12. The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Peter and the Papacy

There is ample evidence in the New Testament that Peter was first in authority among the apostles:
1. Peter headed the list (Matt. 10:1-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, Acts 1:13);
2. Sometimes the apostles were referred to as "Peter and those who were with him" (Luke 9:32).
3. Peter was the one who generally spoke for the apostles (Matt. 18:21, Mark 8:29, Luke 12:41, John 6:68-69), and
4. Peter figured in many of the most dramatic scenes (Matt. 14:28-32, Matt. 17:24-27, Mark 10:23-28).
5. On Pentecost it was Peter who first preached to the crowds (Acts 2:14-40)
6. Peter worked the first healing in the Church age (Acts 3:6-7).
7. It is Peter's faith that will strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32)
8. Peter is given Christ's flock to shepherd (John 21:17).
9. An angel was sent to announce the resurrection to Peter (Mark 16:7)
10. The risen Christ first appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34).
11. Peter headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:13-26)
12. Peter received the first converts (Acts 2:41).
13. Peter inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11)
14. Peter excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:18-23).
15. Peter led the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15)
16. Peter announced the first dogmatic decision (Acts 15:7-11).
17. It was to Peter that the revelation came that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians (Acts 10:46-48).

Peter's preeminent position among the apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship with Christ. At their first meeting, Christ told Simon that his name would thereafter be Peter, which translates as "Rock" (John 1:42). The startling thing was that—aside from the single time that Abraham is called a "rock" (Hebrew: Tsur; Aramaic: Kepha) in Isaiah 51:1-2—in the Old Testament only God was called a rock. The word rock was not used as a proper name in the ancient world. If you were to turn to a companion and say, "From now on your name is Asparagus," people would wonder: Why Asparagus? What is the meaning of it? What does it signify? Indeed, why call Simon the fisherman "Rock"? Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews as a whole when it came to names. Giving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Abram's name was changed to Abraham (Gen.17:5), Jacob's to Israel (Gen. 32:28), Eliakim's to Joakim (2 Kgs. 23:34), or the names of the four Hebrew youths—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 1:6-7). But no Jew had ever been called "Rock." The Jews would give other names taken from nature, such as Deborah ("bee," Gen. 35:8), and Rachel ("ewe," Gen. 29:16), but never "Rock." In the New Testament James and John were nicknamed Boanerges, meaning "Sons of Thunder," by Christ, but that was never regularly used in place of their original names, and it certainly was not given as a new name. But in the case of Simon-bar-Jonah, his new name Kephas (Greek: Petros) definitely replaced the old.
Look at the scene, not only was there significance in Simon being given a new and unusual name, but the place where Jesus solemnly conferred it upon Peter was also important. It happened when "Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi" (Matt. 16:13), a city that Philip the Tetrarch built and named in honor of Caesar Augustus, who had died in A.D. 14. The city lay near cascades in the Jordan River and near a gigantic wall of rock, a wall about 200 feet high and 500 feet long, which is part of the southern foothills of Mount Hermon. The city no longer exists, but its ruins are near the small Arab town of Banias; and at the base of the rock wall may be found what is left of one of the springs that fed the Jordan. It was here that Jesus pointed to Simon and said, "You are Peter" (Matt. 16:18). The significance of the event must have been clear to the other apostles. As devout Jews they knew at once that the location was meant to emphasize the importance of what was being done. None complained of Simon being singled out for this honor; and in the rest of the New Testament he is called by his new name, while James and John remain just James and John, not Boanerges.
When he first saw Simon, "Jesus looked at him, and said, `So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter)'" (John 1:42). The word Cephas is merely the transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha into Greek. Later, after Peter and the other disciples had been with Christ for some time, they went to Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made his profession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). Jesus told him that this truth was specially revealed to him, and then he solemnly reiterated: "And I tell you, you are Peter" (Matt. 16:18). To this was added the promise that the Church would be founded, in some way, on Peter (Matt. 16:18). Then two important things were told the apostle. "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). Here Peter was singled out for the authority that provides for the forgiveness of sins and the making of disciplinary rules. Later the apostles as a whole would be given similar power [Matt.18:18], but here Peter received it in a special sense.
Peter alone was promised something else also: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19). In ancient times, keys were the hallmark of authority. A walled city might have one great gate; and that gate had one great lock, worked by one great key. To be given the key to the city—an honor that exists even today, though its import is lost—meant to be given free access to and authority over the city. The city to which Peter was given the keys was the heavenly city itself. This symbolism for authority is used elsewhere in the Bible (Is. 22:22, Rev. 1:18).
Finally, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and asked Peter three times, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). In repentance for his threefold denial, Peter gave a threefold affirmation of love. Then Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), gave Peter the authority he earlier had promised: "Feed my sheep" (John 21:17). This specifically included the other apostles, since Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" (John 21:15), the word "these" referring to the other apostles who were present (John 21:2). Thus was completed the prediction made just before Jesus and his followers went for the last time to the Mount of Olives. Immediately before his denials were predicted, Peter was told, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again [after the denials], strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32). It was Peter who Christ prayed would have faith that would not fail and that would be a guide for the others; and his prayer, being perfectly efficacious, was sure to be fulfilled.
Now take a closer look at the key verse: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church" (Matt. 16:18). Disputes about this passage have always been related to the meaning of the term "rock." To whom, or to what, does it refer? Since Simon's new name of Peter itself means rock, the sentence could be rewritten as: "You are Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church." The play on words seems obvious, but commentators wishing to avoid what follows from this—namely the establishment of the papacy—have suggested that the word rock could not refer to Peter but must refer to his profession of faith or to Christ. From the grammatical point of view, the phrase "this rock" must relate back to the closest noun. Peter's profession of faith ("You are the Christ, the Son of the living God") is two verses earlier, while his name, a proper noun, is in the immediately preceding clause.
As an analogy, consider this artificial sentence: "I have a car and a truck, and it is blue." Which is blue? The truck, because that is the noun closest to the pronoun "it." This is all the more clear if the reference to the car is two sentences earlier, as the reference to Peter's profession is two sentences earlier than the term rock.
The previous argument also settles the question of whether the word refers to Christ himself, since he is mentioned within the profession of faith. The fact that he is elsewhere, by a different metaphor, called the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:4-8) does not disprove that here Peter is the foundation. Christ is naturally the principal and, since he will be returning to heaven, the invisible foundation of the Church that he will establish; but Peter is named by him as the secondary and, because he and his successors will remain on earth, the visible foundation. Peter can be a foundation only because Christ is the cornerstone.
In fact, the New Testament contains five different metaphors for the foundation of the Church (Matt. 16:18, 1 Cor. 3:11, Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:5-6, Rev. 21:14). One cannot take a single metaphor from a single passage and use it to twist the plain meaning of other passages. Rather, one must respect and harmonize the different passages, for the Church can be described as having different foundations since the word foundation can be used in different senses.
Opponents of the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16:18 sometimes argue that in the Greek text the name of the apostle is Petros, while "rock" is rendered as petra. They claim that the former refers to a small stone, while the latter refers to a massive rock; so, if Peter was meant to be the massive rock, why isn't his name Petra? Note that Christ did not speak to the disciples in Greek. He spoke Aramaic, the common language of Palestine at that time. In that language the word for rock is kepha, which is what Jesus called him in everyday speech (note that in John 1:42 he was told, "You will be called Cephas"). What Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 was: "You are Kepha, and upon this kepha I will build my Church."
When Matthew's Gospel was translated from the original Aramaic to Greek, there arose a problem which did not confront the evangelist when he first composed his account of Christ's life. In Aramaic the word kepha has the same ending whether it refers to a rock or is used as a man's name. In Greek, though, the word for rock, petra, is feminine in gender. The translator could use it for the second appearance of kepha in the sentence, but not for the first because it would be inappropriate to give a man a feminine name. So he put a masculine ending on it, and hence Peter became Petros. Furthermore, the premise of the argument against Peter being the rock is simply false. In first century Greek the words petros and petra were synonyms. They had previously possessed the meanings of "small stone" and "large rock" in some early Greek poetry, but by the first century this distinction was gone, as Protestant Bible scholars admit (see D. A. Carson's remarks on this passage in the Expositor's Bible Commentary, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books]).
Some of the effect of Christ's play on words was lost when his statement was translated from the Aramaic into Greek, but that was the best that could be done in Greek. In English, like Aramaic, there is no problem with endings; so an English rendition could read: "You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church." Consider another point: If the rock really did refer to Christ (as some claim, based on 1 Cor. 10:4, "and the Rock was Christ" though the rock there was a literal, physical rock), why did Matthew leave the passage as it was? In the original Aramaic, and in the English which is a closer parallel to it than is the Greek, the passage is clear enough. Matthew must have realized that his readers would conclude the obvious from "Rock . . . rock." If he meant Christ to be understood as the rock, why didn't he say so? Why did he take a chance and leave it up to Paul to write a clarifying text? This presumes, of course, that 1 Corinthians was written after Matthew's Gospel; if it came first, it could not have been written to clarify it.
The reason, of course, is that Matthew knew full well that what the sentence seemed to say was just what it really was saying. It was Simon, weak as he was, who was chosen to become the rock and thus the first link in the chain of the papacy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Life has now been explained to you

On the first day, God created the dog and said, "Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years." The dog said, "That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?" So God agreed......

On the second day, God created the monkey and said, "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span." The monkey said, "Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?" And God agreed......

On the third day, God created the cow and said, "You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years." The cow said, "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?" And God agreed again......

On the fourth day, God created humans and said, "Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years." But the human said, "Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?" "Okay," said God. "You asked for it."

So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years, we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old George and His Christmas Eve

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through. Instead of throwing the man out, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the heater and warm up. "Thank you, but I don't mean to intrude," said the stranger. "I see you're busy, I'll just go." "Not without something hot in your belly." George said. He turned and opened a wide mouth Thermos and handed it to the stranger. "It isn’t much, but it's hot and tasty, "Stew ... Made it myself. When you're done, there's coffee and it's fresh."
Just at that moment he heard the "ding" of the driveway bell. "Excuse me, be right back," George said. There in the driveway was an old '53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. "Mister can you help me!" said the driver, with a deep Spanish accent. "My wife is with child and my car is broken." George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold, the car was dead. "You aren’t going in this thing," George said as he turned away. "But Mister, please help ..." The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside. He went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting. "Here, take my truck," he said. "She ain't the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good." George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. He turned and walked back inside the office. "Glad I gave 'em the truck, their tires were shot too. That 'ol truck has brand new." George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The Thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it. "Well, at least he got something in his belly," George thought.
George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. "Well, shoot, I can fix this," he said to himself. So he put a new one on. "Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter either." He took the snow treads off of his wife's old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn't going to drive the car anyway.
As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, "Please help me." George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. "Pressure to stop the bleeding," he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound. "Hey, they say duct tape can fix anything," he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease. "Something for pain," George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. "These ought to work." He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. "You hang in there; I'm going to get you an ambulance."
The phone was dead. "Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your car." He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two way radio. He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. "Thanks," said the officer. "You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area."
George sat down beside him, "I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain't gonna leave you." George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. "Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through you. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time you’re gonna be right as rain." George got up and poured a cup of coffee. "How do you take it?" he asked. "None for me," said the officer. "Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city. Too bad I ain't got no donuts." The officer laughed and winced at the same time.
The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. "Give me all your cash! Do it now!" the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before. "That's the guy that shot me!" exclaimed the officer. "Son, why are you doing this?" asked George, "You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt." The young man was confused. "Shut up old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!" The cop was reaching for his gun. "Put that thing away," George said to the cop, "we got one too many in here now."
He turned his attention to the young man. "Son, its Christmas Eve. If you need money, well then, here. It ain't much but it's all I got. Now put that pea shooter away." George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. "I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son," he went on. "I've lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed last week." George handed the gun to the cop. Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and t hen. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can."
He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. "Sometimes we do stupid things." George handed the young man a cup of coffee. "Being stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Coming in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we'll sort this thing out." The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. "Sorry I shot you. It just went off.. I'm sorry officer." "Shut up and drink your coffee." the cop said.
George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. "Chuck! You ok?" one of the cops asked the wounded officer. "Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?" "GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?" the other cop asked as he approached the young man. Chuck answered him, "I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran." George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other. "That guy work here?" the wounded cop continued. "Yep,” George said, "just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job."
The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, "Why?" Chuck just said, "Merry Christmas boy ... and you too, George, and thanks for everything." "Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems." George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box. "Here you go something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day." The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. "I can't take this," said the young man. "It means something to you." "And now it means something to you," replied George. "I got my memories. That's all I need."
George reached into the box again. An airplane, a car and a truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. "Here's something for that little man of yours." The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier. "And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too," George said, "Now git home to your family." The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. "I'll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good." "Nope. I'm closed Christmas day," George said. "See you the day after."
George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. "Where'd you come from? I thought you left?" "I have been here. I have always been here," said the stranger. "You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why?" "Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Putting up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Baking cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn't the same by myself and besides I was getting' a little chubby." The stranger put his hand on George's shoulder. "But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor.
The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. "That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man." George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. "And how do you know all this?" asked the old man. "Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again."
The stranger moved toward the door. "If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned." George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.
"You see, George... it's My birthday. Merry Christmas." George fell to his knees and replied, "Happy Birthday, Lord!”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

GLASS OF MILK

One day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one thin dime left, and he was hungry. He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door. Instead of a meal he asked for a drink of water! . She thought he looked hungry so brought him a large glass of milk. He drank it so slowly, and then asked, How much do I owe you?" “You don't owe me anything," she replied. "Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness." He said ... "Then I thank you from my heart." As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strong also. He had been ready to give up and quit.
Many years later that same young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease. Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, a strange light filled his eyes. Immediately he rose and went down the hall of the hospital to her room. Dressed in his doctor's gown he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day he gave special attention to her case.
After a long struggle, the battle was won. Dr. Kelly requested the business office to pass the final bill to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge, and the bill was sent to her room. She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill. She read these words, "Paid in full with one glass of milk" (Signed) Dr. Howard Kelly. Tears of joy flooded her eyes as her happy heart prayed: "Thank You, God, that Your love has spread broad through human hearts and hands."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Beautiful Story

The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work. They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve. They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc, and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished.
On December 19 a terrible tempest - a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days. On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high. The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home. On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church.
B y this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later. She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area. Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. "Pastor," she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?" The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.
The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten "The Tablecloth". The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. He was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again. The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.
What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving. The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike? He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again all the 35 years between.
The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.

True Story - submitted by Pastor Rob Reid who says God does work in mysterious ways.

A Little Girl and 57 Cents

A little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was 'too crowded.' 'I can't go to Sunday School,' she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class. The child was so happy that they found room for her, and she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus.
Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings. Her parents called for the kindhearted pastor who had befriended their daughter to handle the final arrangements. As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled red purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note, scribbled in childish handwriting, which read: 'This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school.'
For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building. But the story does not end there...
A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a wealthy realtor who offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered to s ell it to the little church for 57 cents. Church members made large donations. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl's gift had increased to $250,000.00--a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividends.
When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300. And be sure to visit Temple University, where thousands of students are educated. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday school building which houses hundreds of beautiful children, built so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time.
In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, 'Acres of Diamonds'.
This is a true story, which goes to show WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH 57 CENTS.

A Father, a Daughter and a Dog

"Watch out! You nearly broadsided that car!" My father yelled at me. "Can't you do anything right?" Those words hurt worse than blows. I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn't prepared for another battle. "I saw the car, Dad. Please don't yell at me when I'm driving." My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt. Dad glared at me, then turned away and settled back. At home I left Dad in front of the television and went outside to collect my thoughts.... dark, heavy clouds hung in the air with a promise of rain. The rumble of distant thunder seemed to echo my inner turmoil. What could I do about him?
Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and had placed often. The shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess. The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn't lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day I saw him outside alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn't do something he had done as a younger man.
Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR to keep blood and oxygen flowing. At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctor's orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, and then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.
My husband, Dick, and I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust. Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did. I became frustrated and moody. Soon I was taking my pent-up anger out on Dick. We began to bicker and argue. Alarmed, Dick sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments for us. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad’s troubled mind. But the months wore on and God was silent. Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.
The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem to each of the sympathetic voices that answered in vain. Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, "I just read something that might help you! Let me go get the article." I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.
I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon.. After I filled out a questionnaire, a uniformed officer led me to the kennels. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world's aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed.
Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hip bones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly. I pointed to the dog. "Can you tell me about him?" The officer looked, and then shook his head in puzzlement. "He's a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we've heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow." He gestured helplessly. As the words sank in I turned to the man in horror.. "You mean you're going to kill him?" "Ma'am," he said gently, "that's our policy. We don't have room for every unclaimed dog."
I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. "I'll take him," I said. I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. When I reached the house I honked the horn twice. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. "Ta-da! Look what I got for you, Dad!" I said excitedly. Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. "If I had wanted a dog I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don't want it" Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.
Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. "You'd better get used to him, Dad. He's staying!" Dad ignored me. "Did you hear me, Dad?" I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw. Dad’s lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal.
It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne. Together he and Cheyenne explored the community. They spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They spent reflective moments on the banks of streams, angling for tasty trout. They even started to attend Sunday services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at is feet.
Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bed covers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night. I woke Dick, put on my robe and ran into my father's room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene. But his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.
Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad’s bed. I wrapped his still form in the rag rug he had slept on. As Dick and I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind. The morning of Dad’s funeral dawned overcast and dreary. This day looks like the way I feel, I thought, as I walked down the aisle to the pews reserved for family. I was surprised to see the many friends Dad and Cheyenne had made filling the church. The pastor began his eulogy. It was a tribute to both Dad and the dog that had changed his life. And then the pastor turned to Hebrews 13:2. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."
"I've often thanked God for sending that angel," he said. For me, the past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that I had not seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just read the right article, Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter, his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father, and the proximity of their deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Franciscan Crown

Below are 5 authoritatively accurate lists of the Seven Joys of Mary compiled from the web. As it turns out only four joys are in full agreement:

1) The Annunciation
2) The Visitation
3) The Nativity
7) The Assumption

The other six are a matter of choice:
The Adoration by the Magi – either in No 3 or No 4.
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – either No 4 or No 5 or not at all.
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple – either No 5 or not at all.
The Appearance of Christ to Mary after the Resurrection – either No 6 or not at all.
The Resurrection – either No 6 or not at all.
The Coronation of Mary – either in No 7 or not at all.

The only one our handout follows is list No 3 and even there you must add:
The Purification of the Blessed Virgin – either in No 4 or not at all.

I bring this up because I think we as a fraternity need to decide how we will participate in the prayer of the Church. Guidelines are meant to keep us on course and give expression to our love and adoration of the risen Christ. And I think I have demonstrated here that even when saying the Crown there is no hard and fast way to say it. Frankly I like the first list because it personalizes the Resurrection to Mary.

The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ
The Adoration of the Magi
The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
The Appearance of Christ to Mary after the Resurrection
The Assumption and Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven

The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Nativity
The Adoration by the Magi
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
The Resurrection
The Assumption and Coronation


The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Nativity And Adoration Of The Magi
The Presentation
The Finding Jesus In The Temple
The Resurrection
The Assumption

The Annunciation
The Visitation
The Nativity
The Adoration by the Magi
The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple
The Resurrection
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven and Her Coronation as Queen of Heaven

The Annunciation of the angel Gabriel of Mary
The Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus
The Adoration of the Magi/Epiphany
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus
The Assumption & Coronation of Mary

An Examination of Conscience

My Relationship to God
1. Is my whole life directed toward loving God and seeking his Kingdom and plan for humanity?
2. Are personal greed and the things of this world my basic object of devotion?
3. Do I accept with my whole heart the revelation of God's love through Jesus.
4. Do I respond fully to the call of his Spirit in my life?
5. Do I pray sufficiently each day and seek to have a continuous spirit of prayer?
6. Do I turn to God in good times and bad and in times of temptation?
7. Do I listen with an open and humble heart and am I ready to accept the inner conversion to which he invites me?
8. Do I praise and thank him for his gifts?
9. Do I worship God as an active member of the faith community that Christ founded, the Church?
10. Am I conscious of and responsive to the Body of Christ, local and universal?
11. Do I participate fully in the Mass each Sunday and in the whole sacramental life of the Church?
12. Do I accept Church teaching and authority in a spirit of faith and cooperation?
13. Do I take steps to deepen and increase my understanding of the faith?
14. Do I profess and live it courageously?
15. Have I shown reverence for God in my speech and in my attitude toward religious symbols?
16. Have I elevated things like money, status, superstition or occult practices to the level of false gods?

My Relationship to Others
1. Do I aid or obstruct other’s progress toward God and fuller life?
2. Have I used or exploited others for my own selfish interests?
3. Am I caring toward my family?
4. Do I show fidelity, patience, reverence and love to my spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters?
5. Have I shown good example?
6. Fulfilled my respective role?
7. Do I deal honestly and truthfully with others?
8. Have I harmed anyone by deceit, rash judgment, detraction, calumny or broken agreements?
9. Have I worked honestly, upheld contracts, paid fair wages?
10. Have my relations to others been faithful and chaste?
11. Have I sexually exploited or demeaned another?
12. Am I guilty of such violations of chastity as adultery, fornication, or conversation that is indecent or cheapens human dignity?
13. Have I hated others, shown prejudice or discrimination toward them?
14. Have I stolen or damaged the property of others?
15. Have I returned or paid for stolen or damaged goods?
16. Do I share what God has given me with those in need?
17. Have I injured the life, limb or reputation of others?
18. Have I upheld and protected the right to life at all levels?
19. Have I procured or cooperated in abortion or not revered the human dignity of the aged, the retarded, deformed or mentally ill?
20. Am I violent?
21. Do I strive to reduce violence around me?
22. Do I bring the good news of the gospel to others?
23. Do I promote Christian values and the life of the Church on all levels of human society?
24. Do I work and pray for Christian unity?
25. Do I try to heal the wounds of the Church or do I inflame them?
26. Do I support and involve myself in the Christian community or parish to which I belong?
27. Do I obey legitimate authority?
28. Do I exercise leadership and authority in a spirit of Christian service?
29. Do I work for the betterment of human society?
30. Do I try to be informed and actively concerned about social and political issues that affect the common good whether on the local, national or global level?
31. According to my role in life, do I seek to eliminate: poverty, disease, hunger, injustice, discrimination, oppressive laws and structures, unequal distribution of world resources?
32. Am I-is my country-wasteful or using up an unjust amount of the world's resources (food, fuel, minerals, etc.)?
33. Do I support according to my means and abilities, organizations which work for social improvement?

My Personal Growth in Christ
1. What inclinations and attitudes within me are hindrances to my growth and development as God's son or daughter?
2. Am I too self-centered?
3. Do I work on controlling dangerous attitudes like pride, arrogance, jealousy, avarice, lust, intemperance, self-sufficiency, prejudice?
4. Do I explore my motives and overall pattern of conduct? Do I make full use of my talents and gifts?
5. Do I try to keep a cheerful, positive disposition?
6. Do I give in to depression and self-pity?
7. Do I put myself down?
8. Do I let unfounded fears limit my potential and personal freedom?
9. Have I let fear prevent me from following my conscience?
10. Do I seek counseling, spiritual direction and other aids to personal growth, when needed?
11. Do I take care of my health?
12. Overeat, over-drink, take harmful drugs?
13. Do I have a wholesome attitude toward my own sexuality?
14. Have I willfully indulged in thoughts, actions, reading, entertainment that are contrary to the dignity and proper meaning of sex?
15. Do I take time for my spiritual growth?
16. Do I have a wholesome spirit of penance and self-denial as taught by Jesus?
17. Do I observe the days of penance established by the Church?
18. Is personal renewal and on-going inner conversion a priority in my life?
19. Am I open to change and the call to a fuller life prompted by God's Spirit in my heart?

Christmas Creche

“I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little child who was born in Bethlehem. . .” With these words St. Francis of Assisi began a tradition that carries into our day–the tradition of having a representation of that first Christmas beneath our Christmas trees, in our town plazas all throughout the world.
Francis’ highest intention, his chief desire, his uppermost purpose was to observe the holy Gospel in all things and through all things and with perfect vigilance, with all zeal, with all the longing of his heart, to follow the footsteps and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. He would recall Christ’s words through persistent meditation and bring to mind His deeds through the most penetrating consideration. The humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion occupied his memory particularly, to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else. What he did on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ near the little town called Greccio in Italy in the third year before his glorious death should especially be noted and recalled with fervent memory.
The year was 1223 and the place was Greccio, a village perched on a spur halfway up the western slope of the Riete Valley. A mile or so from it is the Sanctuary of the Presepio, a cluster of buildings clinging to the rock face like a buzzard’s nest on a narrow ledge, where St. Francis, with his unfailing ability to find a way into the hearts of simple men, initiated the custom which has spread through all the Christian world.
In that place there was a certain man by the name of John Velita, of good reputation and even better life, whom blessed Francis loved with a special love. Blessed Francis sent for this man about fifteen days before the birth of our Lord and said to him: “If you want us to celebrate the present feast of our Lord at Greccio, go with haste and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of His infant needs, how He lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, He lay upon the hay where he had been placed.”
The day of joy drew near; the time of great rejoicing came. The brothers were called from various places. Men and women of that neighborhood prepared with glad hearts, according to their means, candles and torches to light up that night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star. At length the saint of God came; he saw it and was glad. The brothers sang, paying their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night resounded with their rejoicing. The saint of God stood before the manger, overcome with love. The Christmas Mass commenced, at an altar placed in an overhanging niche. Never, the celebrant himself confessed, had he experienced such consolation while offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Vested in the dalmatic, Francis assisted as Deacon. At the proper moment, he intoned the Gospel in a sonorous voice; there he preached a sermon to proclaim the joys of Heaven to those men of good will who had flocked to his appeal.
Nothing could be more typical of Francis than this story of the Presepio, the Christmas crib at Greccio. Francis invited the peasants round about to attend a service at his hermitage, where a grotto, too small itself to contain more than a half dozen people, stood open to the hillside and to the forest of oak and ilex and the olive groves. And from all sides they came, carrying torches and lanterns, so that the little groups of lights could be seen winding their way up from the plain and down from the high villages. When they reached the clearing by the grotto, their breath steaming in the mountain air, they saw a picture which to us is a familiar as any in the whole catalogue of memory.
In that obscure grotto, on the fringe of a medieval world as racked by war and poverty and human foolishness as ours is – only the scale is different – that rustic audience saw the first Christmas Crib. ….and as they pressed in for a closer look, they brushed against the shoulder of one of the bravest spirits in all the long cavalcade of Christian history, though they cannot have known it as they glanced at the slight figure kneeling in the shadows – St. Francis of Assisi!
As we recall this story, 786 years later the message is still the same to all of us and to the whole world – Christ came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Yet there are so many who are spiritually lifeless and who do not care and who have no one to encourage them and share with them the good news of Jesus. This gift of life which we have received as a gift should be given as a gift to others. Francis of Assisi reminded the whole world of Christ’s birth – we should be reminding ourselves and others of the life of Jesus within us – that ONE LIFE which should bring all of us together in a spirit of joy. In our own little way let us try to bring the joy of Christ to at least one person everyday of our life.
May God bless you all during this Holy Season as we celebrate His Birth. Emmanuel, God with us! May God continue to shower His blessings upon you and yours!

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

The well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the most powerful illustration of the human process of reconciliation, and of the theology inherent in the new Rite of Reconciliation. But many of us find it difficult to believe the story (see Luke 15:11-32). The father welcomes the son back instantly—doesn't even wait for him to get to the house. And he isn't at all interested in the young man's confession, only in celebrating.
This is not the way we Catholics have viewed the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Even with the new Rite, most of us tend to view this sacrament with the attitude of the older son in the story: Forgiveness comes only after you recite your list of sins, agree to suffer a bit for them, do something to make up for your offenses, give some guarantee you won't commit the same sins again, and prove yourself worthy to join the rest of us who haven't been so foolish!
But God really is like the merciful parent in this parable: not out to catch us in our sin but intent on reaching out and hanging on to us in spite of our sin. Reconciliation (and the new Rite is careful to point this out) is not just a matter of getting rid of sin. Nor is its dominant concern what we, the penitents, do. The important point is what God does in, with and through us.

A journey home to God
God's reconciling work in us doesn't happen in an instant. Reconciliation is often a long, and painful process. It is a journey not confined to, but completed in, sacramental celebration. It is a round-trip journey away from our home with God and back again that can be summed up in terms of three C's: conversion, confession and celebration—and in that order.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son can help us understand the stages in our journey to reconciliation—and the order in which they occur. This helps us see why the theology of the new Rite of Reconciliation suggests a reordering in the pattern that we were familiar with in the past.
The journey for the young man in the parable begins with the selfishness of sin. His sin takes him from the home of his parents. His major concern in his new self-centered lifestyle is himself and his personal gratification. None of the relationships he establishes are lasting. When his money runs out, so do his "friends." Eventually he discovers himself alone, mired in the mud of a pigpen, just as he is mired in sin. Then comes this significant phrase in the story: "Coming to his senses at last...." This is the beginning of the journey back, the beginning of conversion.

Conversion: An ongoing process
The conversion process begins with a "coming to one's senses," with a realization that all is not right with our values and style of life. Prompted by a faith response to God's call, conversion initiates a desire for change. Change is the essence of conversion.
• Shuv: the Old Testament term for conversion, suggests a physical change of direction;
• Metanoia: the term the New Testament uses, suggests an internal turnabout, a change of heart that is revealed in one's conduct.
The Gospel vision of metanoia calls for an interior transformation that comes about when God's Spirit breaks into our lives with the Good News that God loves us unconditionally. Conversion is always a response to being loved by God. In fact, the most important part of the conversion process is the experience of being loved and realizing that God's love saves us—we do not save ourselves. Our part in this saving action is to be open to the gift of God's love—that is, grace.
Moral conversion means making a personal, explicitly responsible decision to turn away from the evil that blinds us to God's love, and to turn toward God who gifts us with love in spite of our sinfulness. Persons who turn to God in conversion will never be the same again, because conversion implies transforming the way we relate to others, to ourselves, to the world, to the universe and to God. Unless we can see that our values, attitudes and actions are in conflict with Christian ones, we will never see a need to change or desire to be reconciled. The need for conversion does not extend only to those who have made a radical choice for evil. Most often metanoia means the small efforts all of us must continually make to respond to the call of God. Conversion is not a once-in-a-lifetime moment but a continuous, ongoing, lifelong process which brings us ever closer to "the holiness and love of God." Each experience of moral conversion prompts us to turn more and more toward God, because each conversion experience reveals God in a new, brighter light.
When we discover in the examination of our values, attitudes and style of life that we are "missing the mark," we experience the next step in the conversion process—contrition. This step moves us to the next leg of our conversion journey: breaking away from our misdirected actions, leaving them behind and making some resolutions for the future.
Let's look again at our story. The young man takes the first step in the conversion process when he "comes to his senses," overcomes his blindness and sees what he must do. "I will break away and return to my father." Before he ever gets out of the pigpen, he admits his sinfulness. And in this acknowledgment of sin he both expresses contrition and determines his own penance. "I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against God and against you....Treat me like one of your hired hands." Contrition means examining our present relationships in the light of the Gospel imperative of love, and taking the necessary steps to repent and repair those relationships with others, ourselves and God. The repentance step in the conversion process is what is commonly called "making satisfaction for our sins," or "doing penance."
Reparation is repairing or correcting a sinful lifestyle. We understand that our real "punishment" is the continuing pattern of sin in our lives and the harmful attitudes and actions it creates in us. The purpose of doing penance is to help us change that pattern. Penance is for growth. "Doing penance" means taking steps in the direction of living a changed life; it means making room for something new.

Confession: Externalizing what is within
Confession is seen as just one step in the total process. Confession of sin can only be sincere if it is preceded by the process of conversion. It is actually the external expression of the interior transformation that conversion has brought about in us. It is a much less significant aspect of the sacrament than we made it out to be in the past. This does not mean that confession is unimportant—only that it is not the essence of the sacrament.
Look again at the parable. The father, seeing his son in the distance, runs out to meet him with an embrace and a kiss. Through one loving gesture, the father forgives the son—and the son hasn't even made his confession yet! When he does, it seems the father hardly listens. The confession is not the most important thing here; the important thing is that his son has returned. The son need not beg for forgiveness, he has been forgiven. This is the glorious Good News: God's forgiveness, like God's love, doesn't stop. In this parable, Jesus reveals to us a loving God who simply cannot not forgive!
Zorba the Greek captures this loving God when he says: "God’s sitting on a pile of soft sheepskins, and his hut's the sky; he's holding a large sponge full of water, like a rain cloud. On his right is Paradise, on his left Hell. Here comes a soul; the poor little thing's quite naked, because it's lost its cloak—its body, I mean—and it's shivering.
"...The naked soul throws itself at God's feet. 'Mercy!' it cries. 'I have sinned.' And away it goes reciting its sins. It recites a whole rigmarole and there's no end to it. God thinks this is too much of a good thing. He yawns. 'For heaven's sake stop!' he shouts. 'I've heard enough of all that!' Flap! Slap! a wipe of the sponge, and he washes out all the sins. 'Away with you, clear out, run off to Paradise!' he says to the soul....Because God, you know, is a great lord, and that's what being a lord means: to forgive!"
Our attitude toward the Sacrament of Reconciliation is intimately related to our image of God. We need to really believe that our God, like Zorba's, is not some big bogeyman waiting to trip us up, but a great Lord who is ever ready to reach out in forgiveness. The Rite of Reconciliation reflects this image of a God of mercy. But both Zorba's God and the parent in the parable intervened. In the same vein, now in Reconciliation it is the confessor who takes the initiative, reaching out, welcoming the penitent and creating a hospitable environment of acceptance and love before there is any mention of sin. Thus, the sacramental moment of confession—just one of the sacramental moments in the whole Rite—focuses on God's love rather than our sin.
Of course the new Rite does concern itself with the confession of sins. But one's sinfulness is not always the same as one's sins. And, as a sacrament of healing, Reconciliation addresses the disease (sinfulness) rather than the symptoms (sins). So, the sacrament calls us to more than prepared speeches or lists of sins. We are challenged to search deep into our heart of hearts to discover the struggles, value conflicts and ambiguities (the disease) which cause the sinful acts (the symptoms) to appear.
A question that often arises is: Why confess my sins? The answer is that as human beings who do not live in our minds alone, we need to externalize bodily—with words, signs and gestures—what is in our minds and heart. We need to see, hear and feel forgiveness—not just think about it. We need other human beings to help us externalize what is within and open our hearts before the Lord, which puts confessors in a new light. They are best seen as guides in our discernment, compassionately helping us experience and proclaim the mercy of God in our lives. As the Introduction to the Rite puts it, the confessor "fulfills a parental function...reveals the heart of the Father and shows the image of the Good Shepherd." Another of the confessor's roles is to say the prayer of absolution. This prayer, which completes or seals the penitent's change of heart, is not a prayer asking for forgiveness. It is a prayer signifying God's forgiveness of us and our reconciliation with the Church—which is certainly something to celebrate.

Celebration: God always loves us
Celebration is a word we haven't often associated with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But in Jesus' parable, it is obviously important and imperative. "Quick!" says the father. "Let us celebrate." And why? Because a sinner has converted, repented, confessed and returned. Celebration makes sense only when there is really something to celebrate. Each of us has had the experience of going to gatherings with all the trappings of a celebration—people, food, drink, balloons, bands—and yet the festivity was a flop for us. For example, attending an office party can be such an empty gathering for the spouse or friend of an employee. Celebration flows from lived experience or it is meaningless. The need for celebration to follow common lived experiences is especially true of sacramental celebrations. All of the sacraments are communal celebrations of the lived experience of believing Christians.
Perhaps what we need to help us feel more comfortable with the idea of celebration in relation to Reconciliation is a conversion from our own rugged individualism. It's harder to feel good about a God who loves and forgives us unconditionally—whether we know it or not, want it or not, like it or not. In the face of such love and forgiveness we feel uncomfortable. It creates a pressure within us that makes us feel we should "do something" to deserve such largess—or at least feel a little bit guilty. The older brother in our story expresses this same discomfort. Upon witnessing the festivities, he appeals to fairness and legalism. In a sense, he is hanging on to the courtroom image of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, suggesting that there is no way everyone can feel good about the return of the younger brother until amends have been made. But this older son is far too narrow in his understanding of life, of God and of the sacrament. He is too calculating, too quantitative. This son finds it difficult to understand that we are never not forgiven. The Sacrament of Reconciliation does not bring about something that was absent. It proclaims and enables us to own God's love and forgiveness that are already present.
The older brother's problem is a universal human one.
• It's tough for most of us to say, "I'm sorry."
• It is even tougher to say, "You're forgiven."
• And it is most difficult of all to say gracefully, "I accept your forgiveness."
To be able to do that we must be able to forgive ourselves. That, too, is what we celebrate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The community's liturgical celebration of Reconciliation places a frame around the picture of our continual journey from sin to reconciliation. Only someone who has never experienced or reflected on that journey will fail to understand the need and value of celebrating the sacrament. The older son in our story may be such a person. When the father calls for a celebration, everyone else in the household responds. Not only do they celebrate the younger son's return, they celebrate their own experience of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation as well. They, like us, have been on that journey from which the young man has returned.
So there is something we can do about the unconditional forgiveness we receive from God: forgive as we have been forgiven. Having been forgiven, we are empowered to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another, heal one another and celebrate the fact that together we have come a step closer to the peace, justice and reconciliation that makes us the heralds of Christ's Kingdom on earth.

A communal celebration
Sacraments happen in people who are in relationship with each other and with God. In the area of sin, forgiveness and reconciliation this is particularly evident. Our sinfulness disrupts our relationship in community as well as our relationship with God. And since the sacrament begins with our sinfulness, which affects others, it is only proper that it culminate with a communal expression of love and forgiveness that embodies the love and forgiveness of God. When we celebrate the sacrament, we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving because the forgiveness of the Christian community and of God has brought us to this moment—and that is worth celebrating.
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Celebrating God's Forgiveness: by Sandra DeGidio, O.S.M.
Sandra DeGidio, O.S.M., lectures and writes on various religious topics like RCIA, parish ministry, the family and the sacraments. She lives near Minneapolis and is the author of RCIA: The Rites Revisited (Winston Press), and Re-Treat Your Family to Lent and Reconciliation: Sacrament With a Future (both by St. Anthony Messenger Press). This article is an abridged version of a chapter from the last-mentioned book.

The Sign of the Cross

A phrase applies to various liturgical or devotional acts which have the gesture of tracing two lines intersecting at right angles to indicate symbolically the figure of Christ's cross.
The most common "sign of the cross" is the large cross traced from forehead to breast and from shoulder to shoulder, that Catholics are taught to make upon themselves when they begin their prayers, and the priest makes at the foot of the altar when he commences Mass.
Another sign of the cross is the one made in the air by bishops, priests, and others in blessing persons or material objects. This cross also occurs many times in the liturgy and in nearly all the ritual offices connected with the sacraments and sacramentals.
A third variety is represented by the little cross, generally made with the thumb, which the priest or deacon traces upon the book of the Gospels and then upon his own forehead, lips, and breast at Mass. Or upon the forehead of the infant in Baptism, or upon a person receiving Confirmation or Extreme Unction, etc.
Still another variant of the holy sign may be recognized in the direction of the "Lay Folks Mass Book" (thirteenth century) that the people at the end of the Gospel would trace a cross upon a bench, wall or book and then kiss it. It was prescribed in some early uses that the priest ascending to the altar before the Introit should first draw a cross upon the altar-cloth and then kiss it. Moreover in Spain, it was the prevailing custom, that a man, after making the sign of the cross in the ordinary way kiss his thumb, has a similar origin. The thumb would lay across the forefinger to form an image of the cross to which the lips were devoutly pressed.
Of all the above methods, the marking of a little cross seems to be the most ancient. We have positive evidence from the early Fathers that such a practice was familiar to Christians in the second century. "In all our travels and movements, with all our comings and goings, when putting on our shoes, at bath, at table, in lighting our candles, in lying and sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we place on our foreheads the sign of the cross" Tertullian (De cor. Mil., iii). On the other hand this must soon have passed into a gesture of benediction, as many quotations from the Fathers in the fourth century show. Thus St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his "Catecheses" (xiii, 36) remarks: "let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Let the cross be our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and on every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest".
The cross was originally traced to Christians using the thumb or finger on their foreheads. This practice is attested by numberless allusions in Patristic literature, and it was clearly associated with certain references in Scripture, notably Ezekiel 9:4; Exodus 17:9-14; and especially Apocalypse 7:3, 9:4 and 14:1. Then there was the custom of marking a cross on objects -- already Tertullian speaks of the Christian woman "signing" her bed ("Ad uxor.", ii, 5) before retiring to rest—and we soon hear of the sign of the cross being traced on the lips (Jerome, "Epitaph. Paulæ") and on the heart (Prudentius, "Cathem.", vi, 129). If the object were more remote, the cross was made in the air towards its location. Thus Epiphanius tells us (Adv. Hær., xxx, 12) of a certain holy man Josephus, who imparted upon a vessel of water the power of overthrowing magical incantations by "making with his finger the seal of the cross over the vessel" while reciting a prayer. Half a century later Sozomen, the church historian (VII, xxvi), describes how Bishop Donatus when attacked by a dragon "made the sign of the cross with his finger in the air and spat upon the monster". This leads to the suggestion that a larger cross was made over the whole body. Perhaps the earliest example comes to us from a Georgian source, possibly the fourth or fifth century. In the life of St. Nino, a woman saint, honored as the Apostle of Georgia, we are told: "began to pray and entreated God for a long time. Then she took her (wooden) cross and with it touched the Queen's head, her feet and her shoulders, making the sign of the cross and straightway she was cured" (Studia Biblica, V, 32).
It appears on the whole that the general introduction of our present larger cross (from brow to breast and from shoulder to shoulder) was an indirect result of the Monophysite controversy. The use of the thumb alone or the single forefinger, from which only a small cross was traced upon the forehead, seems to have given way for symbolic reasons to the use of two fingers (the forefinger and middle finger, or thumb and forefinger) as typifying the two natures and two wills in Jesus Christ. But if two fingers were to be employed, the large cross, in which forehead, breast, etc. were merely touched, suggested itself as the natural gesture. Indeed some large movement of the sort was required to make it perceptible that a man was using two fingers rather than one. At a somewhat later date, throughout the greater part of the East, three fingers, or the thumb and two fingers were displayed, while the ring and little finger were folded back upon the palm.
• The two fingers were held to symbolize the two natures or wills in Christ.
• The extended three fingers denoted the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
At the same time the three fingers were so held as to indicate the common abbreviation I X C (Iesous Christos Soter), the forefinger representing the I, the middle finger crossed with the thumb standing for the X and the bent middle finger serving to suggest the C. In Armenia, however, the sign of the cross made with two fingers is still retained to the present day. Much of this symbolism passed to the West, at a later date.
It seems probable that the prevalence of the larger cross is due to an instruction of Leo IV in the middle of the ninth century. "Sign the chalice and the host", he wrote, "with a right cross and not with circles or with a varying of the fingers, but with two fingers stretched out and the thumb hidden within them, by which the Trinity is symbolized. Take heed to make this sign rightly, for otherwise you bless nothing" (see Georgi, "Liturg. Rom. Pont.", III, 37). Although this, of course, applies primarily to the position of the hand in blessing with the sign of the cross; it seems to have been adapted popularly to the making of the sign of the cross upon oneself. Aelfric (about 1000) probably had this in mind when he tells his hearers in one of his sermons: "A man may wave about wonderfully with his hands without creating any blessing unless he makes the sign of the cross. If he does the fiend will soon be frightened on account of the victorious token. With three fingers one must bless himself for the Holy Trinity" (Thorpe, "The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church" I, 462). Fifty years earlier Anglo-Saxon Christians were exhorted to "bless all their bodies seven times with Christ's rood token" (Blicking Hom., 47), which seems to assume this large cross. Bede in his letter to Bishop Egbert advises him to remind his flock "that frequent diligence be employed upon themselves to make the sign of our Lord's cross", though here we have no idea what kind of cross was to be made. On the other hand when we read in the so-called "Prayer Book of King Henry" (eleventh century) a direction in the morning prayers to make the holy Cross on "the four sides of the body", there is good reason to suppose that the large sign with which we are now familiar with is meant.
At this period the manner of making it in the West seems to have been identical with that followed in the East, i.e. only three fingers were used, and the hand traveled from the right shoulder to the left. The point, it must be confessed, is not entirely clear for Thalhofer (Liturgik, I, 633) inclines to agree with the opinion found in the passages of Belethus (xxxix), Sicardus (III, iv), Innocent III (De myst. Alt., II, xlvi), and Durandus (V, ii, 13), which are usually appealed to in proof of this, that the small cross made upon the forehead or external objects, in which the hand moves naturally from right to left was meant, and not the big cross made from shoulder to shoulder. Still, a rubric in a manuscript copy of the York Missal clearly requires the priest when signing himself with the paten to touch the left shoulder after the right. Moreover it is clear from many pictures and sculptures that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Greek practice of extending only three fingers was adhered to by many Latin Christians. Thus the compiler of the Ancren Riwle (about 1200) directs his nuns at "Deus in adjutorium" to make a little cross from above the forehead down to the breast with three fingers". However there can be little doubt that long before the close of the Middle Ages the large sign of the cross was more commonly made in the West with the open hand; and that the bar of the cross was traced from left to right. In the "Memory of our Lady" (p. 80) the Bridgettine Nuns of Sion have a mystical reason given to them for the practice: "And when you bless yourself with the sign of the holy cross, you chase away the fiend with all his deceptions. For, as Chrysostome says, wherever the fiends see the sign of the cross, they fly away, dreading it as a staff that they are beaten with. And in your blessing you begin with your hand at the head downward, and then to the left side believing that our Lord Jesus Christ:
• came down from the Father
• to the earth by His holy Incarnation
• descending into hell, by his bitter Passion
• ascending to His Father's right side by his glorious Ascension".
The manual act of tracing the cross with the hand or the thumb has always been accompanied by a prayer. The formula, however, has varied greatly. In the earlier ages we have evidence for such invocations as:
1. "The sign of Christ"
2. "The seal of the living God"
3. "In the name of Jesus"
4. "In the name of Jesus of Nazareth"
5. "In the name of the Holy Trinity"
6. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"
7. "Our help is in the name of the Lord"
8. "O God come to my assistance"
Members of the Greek Orthodox Church when blessing themselves with three fingers, commonly use the invocation:
• "Holy God, Holy strong One, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy on us"
These words can be found in their Greek form by the Western Church in the Office for Good Friday.
From the earliest period it has been employed for all exorcisms and conjurations as a weapon against the spirits of darkness, and it takes its place consistently in the ritual of the sacraments and in every form of blessing and consecration. A famous problem arose over the making of the sign of the cross repeatedly over the Host and Chalice after the words of institution have been spoken in the Mass. At the time these crosses were introduced, the clergy and faithful were not clear as to the precise moment the transubstantiation of the elements was effected. They were satisfied that it was the result of the whole of the consecratory prayer which we call the Canon, without determining the exact words which were operative.* Hence the signs of the cross continued till the end of the Canon as they may be regarded as referring back to a consecration which was still conceived as incomplete. The process is the reverse of that by which in the Greek Church at the "Great Entrance" the highest marks of honor are paid to the simple elements of bread and wine in anticipation of the consecration which they are to receive shortly.
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* Today we are now content to know that the Precious Blood is consecrated by the whole word spoken over the chalice.

The Bathtub Test

During a visit to the seniors' rest home, I asked the director how you determine whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.

"Well," said the director, "we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup, and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub."

"Oh, I understand," I said. "A normal person would use the bucket because it's bigger than the spoon or the teacup."

"No." said the director, "A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?"

MORTAL AND VENIAL SIN

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH:SECOND EDITION
ARTICLE 8:SIN

I. MERCY AND SIN

1846 The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God's mercy to sinners.113 The angel announced to Joseph: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."114 The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacrament of redemption: "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."115

1847 "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us."116 To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."117

1848 As St. Paul affirms, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."118 But to do its work grace must uncover sin so as to convert our hearts and bestow on us "righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."119 Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it, God, by his Word and by his Spirit, casts a living light on sin:

Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man's inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Thus in this "convincing concerning sin" we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. The Spirit of truth is the Consoler.120

II. THE DEFINITION OF SIN

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."121

1850 Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight."122 Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods,"123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God."124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125

1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate's cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas' betrayal - so bitter to Jesus, Peter's denial and the disciples' flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world,126 the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.

III. THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF SINS

1852 There are a great many kinds of sins. Scripture provides several lists of them. The Letter to the Galatians contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God."127

1853 Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man."128 But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.

IV. THE GRAVITY OF SIN: MORTAL AND VENIAL SIN

1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,129 became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner's will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.130

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."131

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother."132 The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God's grace it is humanly reparable. "Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness."134

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.135

1864 "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven."136 There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit.137 Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.

V. THE PROLIFERATION OF SIN

1865 Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

1866 Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices.138 They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.

1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143

1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;

- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;

- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;

- by protecting evil-doers.

1869 Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. "Structures of sin" are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a "social sin."144


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113 Cf. Lk 15.
114 Mt 1:21.
115 Mt 26:28.
116 St. Augustine, Sermo 169,11,13:PL 38,923.
117 1 Jn 8-9.
118 Rom 5:20.
119 Rom 5:21.
120 John Paul II, DeV 31 § 2.
121 St. Augustine, Contra Faustum 22:PL 42,418; St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II,71,6.
122 Ps 51:4.
123 Gen 3:5.
124 St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 14,28:PL 41,436.
125 Cf. Phil 2:6-9.
126 Cf. Jn 14:30.
127 Gal 5:19-21; cf. Rom 1:28-32; 1 Cor 9-10; Eph 5:3-5; Col 3:5-8; 1 Tim 9-10; 2 Tim 2-5.
128 Mt 15:19-20.
129 Cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17.
130 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II,88,2, corp. art.
131 RP 17 § 12.
132 Mk 10:19.
133 Cf. Mk 3:5-6; Lk 16:19-31.
134 John Paul II, RP 17 § 9.
135 St. Augustine, In ep. Jo. 1,6:PL 35,1982.
136 Mt 12:31; cf. Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10.
137 Cf. John Paul II, DeV 46.
138 Cf. St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 31,45:PL 76,621A.
139 Cf. Gen 4:10.
140 Cf. Gen 18:20; 19:13.
141 Cf. Ex 3:7-10.
142 Cf. Ex 20:20-22.
143 Cf. Deut 24:14-15; Jas 5:4.
144 John Paul II, RP 16.

Thoughts on the SFO Rule

The rule of Pope Paul VI enables the Secular Franciscan order to conform more fully to Vatican II. Whereas the earlier rules were prescriptive, the Pauline rule is a spiritual, inspirational document. It begins with a prologue, an authentic letter of St. Francis, entitled "Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance."

The Pauline rule itself is divided into three chapters: chapter one deals with the place of the Secular Franciscan order in the church and in the Franciscan family; chapter three, "Life in Fraternity," outlines the organization and governance of fraternity life at various levels; chapter two sets forth the "Way of Life;" situating it in the heart of the gospel, in intimate union with Jesus Christ. Within the sixteen paragraphs of this section emerge key Franciscan values and attitudes which have been part of Franciscan living for many centuries.

A call to a penitential life-style, in the true biblical sense of the word of turning to Christ and the sustaining of that "radical interior change" daily by conforming thoughts and deeds to those of Christ (7).
Affirmation of the Franciscan ideal of universal brotherhood, or family, as secular Franciscans "accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ" (13) and "respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which 'bear the imprint of the Most High' " (18).
Dedication to justice because secular Franciscans are called to work with all people "to build a more fraternal and evangelical world so that the kingdom of God may be brought about more effectively" (4). A significant change in this rule is the words: "Let them individually and collectively [emphasis added] be in the forefront of promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and their courageous initiatives" (15).
Dedication to being joyful peacemakers: "Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and harmony through dialogue. . . Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others" (19).
Pledge to serve the poor and oppressed: "A sense of community will make them joyful and ready to place themselves on an equal basis with all people, especially with the lowly for whom they shall strive to create conditions of life worthy of people redeemed by Christ" (13).
Willingness to embrace a simple life-style after the manner of Christ and his Mother Mary, "by simplifying their own material needs. . . mindful they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God's children." An important aspect of this simplicity is the recognition that we are "pilgrims and strangers" who should strive to "purify our hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power" (11).
Secular Franciscans have rediscovered that their way of life is a gift and a call to share in the Franciscan charism, and that not everyone receives the same invitation. Consequently, formation programs now help candidates discern through a period of prayer, study, discussion, and ministry whether or not they are being called by God to embrace this Franciscan gospel life.

Another concern of secular Franciscans since the new rule is to extricate themselves from the model of religious life when explaining their own spirituality and to accept their secularity. Because a theology of the laity is still in its embryonic stages, so, too, there is a certain awkwardness as they try to articulate their experience. A reflection of this new awareness is the identification of I the stages of formation no longer as postulancy and novitiate but the inquiry phase and the candidacy phase.

A solemn, public, permanent profession or commitment marks the end of the formal period of initiation. Recognizing that the permanent nature of the commitment should be an adult choice to embrace freely a particular manner of living, the age of profession in the United States has been raised to twenty-one ordinarily.

Secular Franciscans are making great strides in the self-governing of the order. The local fraternity is the basic unit of the whole order. Within this community the charism of Francis is shared and nurtured; and through the loving and trusting relationships between members, new candidates are formed. The fraternity is the place where leadership, guidance, and motivation are given by the fraternity council, the secular leaders. Every fraternity is animated and guided by a council of seculars an elected minister (president), and a spiritual assistant from the first order or the third order regular. Groups of fraternities within a given region form a province and are under the spiritual assistance of a particular branch of the Franciscan family. The United States has a National Fraternity comprised of the provincial spiritual assistant and the secular provincial minister of approximately thirty provinces. Finally, the order is guided by an international Fraternity composed of representatives from the nations around the world.

At the First General Chapter of Elections in the long history of the secular order, held in Madrid, Spain, April, 1984, Mandela Mattioli from Venezuela was elected first minister general of the Secular Franciscan Order. She had been one of the key seculars working on the new rule.

At every level the relationship between the friars and seculars is one of interdependence, co-responsibility, and vital reciprocity. Jurisdictions and authority previously maintained by the friars has now been returned to the secular leaders. It is the secular minister who receives new members and accepts their profession. The friar provides very valuable spiritual assistance.

Today 33,000 secular Franciscans in the United States embrace the penitential gospel life-style modeled by Francis of Assisi. Francis challenged the false values of the thirteenth century by actively and courageously changing his own life-style, attitudes, and values. He preached the gospel with his life. He encountered the living and active person of Christ in his brothers and sisters. He loved so intensely that he is known as the Seraphic Lover. This is the challenge which secular Franciscans take up today.
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Donna Marie F. Kaminsky: Secular Franciscans: Bearers of Peace, Messengers of Joy

SPIRITUALITY TODAY – Summer 1985, Vol. 37, pp. 120-129.