Sunday, 29 March 2020

Forgiveness without Confession? A Perfect Act of Contrition: 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A

Ezek 37:12014; Jn 11:1-45
One of the things that a lot of people are talking about is this:
What sort of world is going to emerge out of this coronavirus crisis?  
It’s having a big effect, and economically and socially it’s going to change things 
-but how?  and for the better or for the worse?
Will it have different priorities?  Better or worse priorities?  
Will it have forgotten God after months without Sunday Mass? 
or, will it emerge with a set of priorities that look to the realities beyond?

In my words today I want to ask a parallel question:
What sort of YOU is going to emerge from this, and what sort of ME?
Our readings at Mass this Sunday speak of a resurrection:
not the resurrection of the Lord Jesus -we’re not at Easter yet;
but the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 9:1041), and, 
in the prophecy of Ezekiel (Ezek 37:12-14), a spiritual resurrection  
-God will raise us from our graves of sin, put His “spirit” in us, and we shall live.
If that happens, then there is a new and better ‘me’, and a better ‘you’.

Making a good confession is an important part of the change we need.
Normally, on this 5th Sunday of Lent, I would be preaching about the need to go to confession.
However, at this moment in time, we’re not allowed any form of meeting that might enable confession.  
That means that I, too, can’t go to confession myself during this crisis.

In this regard, we are like many people, at many times, in many parts of the world, who don’t have access to the sacraments.
Nothing replaces the sacraments, 
but, as Pope Francis recently reminded us, 
we can make what is called “a perfect act of contrition”, 
with the resolution to confess our sins as soon as we are able.  
This “obtains forgiveness of mortal sins”(CCC 1452).
How?  Well, if we make a perfect act of contrition, and, if we then die without confession, 
then we are something like the early martyrs of the Church who were martyred even before their baptism while they were still preparing for baptism -we speak of “baptism of desire” or “baptism by blood” because they were yearning for actual baptism, and gained (without baptism) the graces of baptism by the blood of their martyrdom.

So, what do we need to do to make such a “perfect act of contrition”?
First, obviously, we need to see our sins.  
So, we need to examine of consciences, 
look here online for the sheet I normally give out using the 7 deadly sins.
Then, and this is all laid out in the Church, nicely listed in both the new catechism (see here)
and the Catechism of the Council of Trent (see here)
there are certain conditions that indicate whether, after we’ve seen our sin, are ‘contrite’ or sorry:
·      I need to “detest” the sin, hate it (CCC 1451)
-if I’m still rejoicing in a sin of lust or gluttony, then I don’t detest the sin; I’m not really sorry about it;
·      I need to resolve not to do it again, to have “a firm purpose of amendment” (c.f. CCC 1451)
-I might know I’m weak, know I’m likely to sin again, but if I “resolve” not to, then I have this ‘purpose purpose of amendment”
·      I need to intend to make “satisfaction” for my sins (Trent p.278 c.f. Summa Theologica Supp q1a1)
-my sins hurt others, and hurt God
-if I’m really sorry, then I obviously want to do something to undo, to remedy that hurt
·      I need to be sorry for ALL my sins, to have “universal” contrition

Now, what I’ve said so far describes sorrow in general,
but there is a difference between “perfect” and “imperfect” contrition:
There are lots of ways that our sorrow can be imperfect, 
and one of great things about the sacrament of Penance (Confession) is that it gives us graces to help us rise from imperfect to perfect condition;
given that none of us can get to Confession right now, 
that’s something we can nonetheless pray that God grants us, 
but we can also work to cooperate with that grace -by thinking about what ‘perfect’ contrition is.
“Perfect” contrition means:
·      I’m sorry for the right MOTIVE: I’m sorry because my sin offends God, I’m sorry because I LOVE God -perfect contrition is motivated by love of God.
o   In contrast, if I’m sorry because I see that sin is ugly (I hate the ugliness of my impatience), or if I’m sorry because I fear hell but not because I love God -then my sorrow is real, but it’s not perfect.
·      I’m sorry in the sense of desiring the sacrament that brings reconciliation, i.e. I intend to get to “sacramental confession as soon as possible”(CCC 1452, c.f. DS 1677)
o   If I say I’m sorry, but don’t intend to use the sacramental means God has established to forgive my sins, then my sorrow is far from perfect.

So, all that said, if I make “a perfect act of contrition”, then even now, before getting to Confession, I can 
“obtain forgiveness of mortal sins”(CCC 1452).

If you want to read a little more, you can follow this link to St Maximilian Kolbe’s comments on making a perfect act of contrition when unable to get to confession here

So, to bring that all together and sum it up:
What sort of world will emerge from this coronavirus crisis?
What sort of ME will emerge?
I resolve that it will be a better me, not a worse me.

While none of us can get to confession right now, let’s try and focus ourselves to make “a perfect act of contrition”:

  •         Let’s pray before the Lord, humbly;
  •         think of what our sins are;
  •         hate our sins;
  •         resolve not to sin again;
  •         intend to make satisfaction for my sins;
  •         be sorry for the right motive out of love of God;
  •         and, intend to get to “sacramental confession as soon as possible”(CCC 1452, c.f. DS 1677)
Finally, make the act of contrition prayer you’d normally make in confession (see here),
to ask God’s forgiveness.
Then like the martyrs seeking baptism but being killed before receiving it, 
the grace of confession will be brought to us already, in anticipation,
and like Ezekiel’s dead, we sinners will rise from our “graves”

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Faith amidst Coronavirus, Lent 4 Sun 2020, Mothering Sunday

Jn 9:1-41
I’m speaking to you amidst the coronavirus crisis that we are experiencing, aware that we don’t have public Mass.
I’m planning to continue to offer a sermon text via my website on Blogger, with an accompanying audio, which as a podcast won’t sound quite the same a recording of a sermon.
But I hope this will be of help, and I’ll continue it as long as people keep reading and listening.
I’m thinking of you, and praying for you
Praying for our parish especially, but for all my listeners and readers 
Let’s all pray that our parish comes through this whole

Today, I’m going to connect three things:
Seeing with faith, even in midst of difficulty;
Mothering Sunday;
and, Our heavenly Mother, and the national re- consecration to her.

I know I was blessed with a mother and father who raised me in such a way that I find it easy to believe that there is someone in charge who is reliable, organised, dependable, 
someone who has a plan, someone who is working for my welfare.
If that’s been your experience too, then today is a day to be thankful for our mothers, to thank them if they’re living, to pray for them if they’re dead.
I know not everyone has had such mothers, that God finds other ways of communicating these truths to us.

But, for all of us, there are times when we struggle to have a clear sense that God is in charge, that God has a plan.
Being in the midst of this crisis likely to become such a moment for most of us.
We struggle to see that God is at work.

Our gospel today is about a man who could see, a blind man who was given sight (Jn 9:1-41).
The gospel text develops the irony between the man who has physical sight given to him, and the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees who fail to see that God is right there in front of them in the person of Jesus.  They fail to see that God is there, even though He has just worked a miracle and given sight to a man born blind.  
Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”(Jn 9:32-33)

When looking out at the crisis that envelopes us, 
are we spiritually blind, 
or, do we have spiritual sight, the sight that comes with faith?
None of us can “see” in the sense that we know the details of God’s plan.
But faith, namely, that TRUST by which we accept His promises, 
faith enables us to trust that He does have a plan. 
“That all things work for the good of those who love Him”(Rom 8:28), 
even through what we are living through.

Let me point out a human sign that reminded me of the goodness in human nature.  
This week I phoned about 200 homes, and emailed others, our entire parish database.  
I told people the sad news that there is no public Mass.  
I asked you, if elderly, if you had food.  
I asked you, if fit, if you could help delivering food.  
Let me tell you this: 
I was deeply encouraged by the fact that almost every elderly parishioner I phoned told me that you already had friends and neighbours who had approached you to help you with food.  
It’s a testimony to the charity still in our society, 
a reflection of the better side of our human nature.  
As we fear for the worst now, and the reports of panic buying can portray a lesser side of human nature, let me point out to you this great sign of human goodness that I’ve seen.

Seeing human goodness can give us greater confidence in the fact that God is good, He is who is source of all goodness.
Seeing human goodness can strengthen our faith in Him.

But, if we don’t have such faith, what can we do?
Well, we can turn to her, the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Heavenly Mother,
turn to the one who DID have faith to trust in His promises 
This week, on Wednesday the feast of the Annunciation, is when our nation’s bishops will rededicate our nation as Our Lady’s Dowry, which we would have all done communally in parishes next Sunday.  
Instead, we now will have to unite ourselves with this privately, not publicly, but it remains a great thing to unite ourselves to.
Who do we turn to when we are in need?  Our Mother, our Heavenly Mother.  
Let’s entrust ourselves it her.
Who do we turn to when our faith is weak and shaken? 
To her who had faith.
The Blessed Virgin, had the angel appear to her and ask her a very weird thing: 
would she be the mother of God? 
She responded with trust.
She knew her scriptures, she knew all the times in the past when God had been faithful to His promises.  All the times in the past when He asked difficult things of people but then strengthened them to carry it out:  Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David, and so on.

For ourselves, we are being asked something weird too.
We’re not being asked to be the mother of God.
But we are being asked to live through a horrible spiritual dislocation 
-to be without the Mass, to be without physical communion.
The Mass is still being offering, in private, by priests in ‘social isolation’.
You can, spiritually, at a distance, unite yourself to that offering, unite yourself to that prayer and sacrifice on the altar.
You can, also, spiritually welcome the Lord Jesus into your heart, making what is called a ‘spiritual communion’, because you can’t get to physical communion.
This is what is being asked of us, this is the only course we can see before us.

There are prayers you can download to help you do this here
and you can join daily prayers here
and there is some great advice from the Catholic Truth Society here
and more at our parish website here, including watching Mass online.

To such that up.
Mothers help their children see, 
see that there is a hand guiding them.
The man born blind was given sight, 
not just physical but the sight of faith.
Let’s entrust ourselves and our nation, Our Lady’s Dowry of England, back to our heavenly Mother to lead us through.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Prayer and Lent: 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A

Mt 17:1-9
Today I want today a word about the importance of prayer, in Lent:
It’s one of the 3 remedies for sin we focus on in Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

In Lent we go with Jesus into the desert, as He went into the desert for 40 days.
We go into Lent as a means to Easter:
Easter manifests the “New Man” having put the “old man” of sin to death.
Lent, therefore is about a transformation -using the three remedies.

There is a risk, however, that we seek this transformation as an act of will power:
I see that I need to change, and to DECIDE to change.
That would make our fasting more like dieting -maybe a good thing, but not really a Christian thing.
The transformation we seek, however, it not about MY willpower,
Rather, it’s about HIM becoming active in me: and that requires PRAYER.

We, today, live is a busy noisy world – a world lacking peace.
A world full of distractions, with mobile phones, TV and so forth.
While many people see the problems this leaves us with, most of us struggle to resolve those problems.
To find peace amidst this noise, it’s not enough to try and remove the CAUSES of NOISE.
We need to look BEYOND to that which gives us PEACE.
We need to LOOK beyond to HIM, a person not a thing, that gives us peace.

Prayer is defined as the ‘raising of the heart and mind to God’ (Catechism 2559, St John Damascene).
To gaze upon Him transforms us,
To gaze upon Him orients our whole being back to our origin: back to our goal.
This isn’t just about stillness, it isn’t just about mindfulness, it isn’t the ABSENCE of something 
-true peace comes from the PRESENCE of the “One Thing Necessary” (as the Lord called Himself, Lk 10:42). 
Prayer is about encountering the Lord, being with the Lord.
And the transformation we seek in Lent depends on it.

Let me, in particular, commend to you coming to the Lord Jesus in the Tabernacle.
It’s a beautiful thing, all through the week, for me to come into the church at random moments and find parishioners in here alone, praying.
Here, in the church, the Lord is before us in the Tabernacle.
Here in the Eucharist, we can be especially close to Him
 -so, building a routine of coming into the church when you’re out doing your shopping or whatever is a precious thing.
Next Friday-Saturday we have our 24 hours of Adoration.
The Lord will be, not just present in the Tabernacle, but Exposed on the altar for us to gaze upon.
There are many special graces available at such a time, so COME!

A final word on prayer in Lent:
It can be hard to carry our cross, our Lenten cross.
If we carry our cross ALONE it can feel miserable and hard.
It IS miserable and hard if we carry it alone -but when it is part of our prayer it becomes something else:
It becomes a moment of UNION with the Lord:
A moment of spiritual JOY, even while it is a physical lack of PLEASURE.

Peter, James and John gazed upon the Lord on the mountaintop.
Peter, James and John had a precious moment of prayer that was given to strengthen them through the horror of the Crucifixion that lay ahead.
Prayer, in Lent, is that vital part of the triple-package that transforms us in this season.
Let us, too, gaze upon the Lord.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Desert not Dessert, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A

Mt 4:1-11; Gen 2:7-9.3:1-7
I was thinking earlier this week, before Lent began, that it’s going to be a HARD Lent for me this year.
It’s going to be hard because I’ve been COMFORTABLE for a while now, 
and Lent is the opposite of comfortable.
Lent is about us going into the desert,
 to be in union with the Lord who spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying.
-and when I typed that, my computer changed ‘desert’ into ‘dessert’ 
-even my autocorrect is used to comfort and seeking comfort!

I’ve been reading about the English Reformation martyrs 
of how they were hung drawn and quartered in their execution, 
and even before that were frequently tortured to try and make them renounce the Faith. 
I’ve been reading too, about their lives of self-denial and fasting, that prepared them for this torture.
What of us?
Our comfortable modern living makes even a little self-denial in Lent seem too much;
our comfortable modern living can make even the minor disagreeableness of being Christian seem too much.
We live in an era when we’ve tried to make being Christian comfortable.
But, to use the oft-quoted phrase of Pope Benedict: The world promises you comfort.  But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

Lent, as our prayers on Ash Wednesday especially reminded us, is a spiritual “battle”, a “campaign”.
And the “weapons” of this season, as our prayers will repeatedly remind us,
those 3-fold weapons are: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
And I want to spend a minute elaborating about how these three are inter-related, and thus why you can’t just do one of them:
you can’t just “do something positive for Lent”-if it’s going to be LENT.
“do something positive for Lent” -was a phrase in vogue when I was a child, when people were trying to make Christianity more and more ‘comfortable’ and easy 
-but Lent should be authentic, not easy.
And this holds even when our ‘fasting’ is the minor forms of ‘giving something up’ for Lent.

Prayer -we need to pray when we fast,
otherwise fasting becomes only self-control, and can leave us grumpy.
Fasting -we need to fast when we pray
this is what gives POWER to our offered prayer -a spiritual sacrifice offered to the Almighty.
Almsgiving -the fruit of fasting and praying is a more generous heart
fasting detaches me from SELF, and thus FREES me to love other more easily, to give more easily.
The liturgy of the Church for Lent thus quotes St Peter Chysologus [Lent Wk 3 Tues Officer Readings] saying, 
“Prayer, almsgiving and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.  Fasting is the soul of prayer, almsgiving is the lifeblood of fasting.  Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated.  If you do only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.” [Lent Wk 3 Tues Officer Readings].

In our readings today we heard how Adam and Eve were tempted and failed.
In contrast, the Lord Jesus came to un-do their failure, to enter the same battle and WIN:
He was tempted in the desert, and won.
We can be united with Him, we can WIN.
But to do so, we need to enter the battle, and to take up the weapons: prayer, fasting, almsgiving.
We’ve got to be bold enough to put aside a false ‘comfortable’ Christianity,
we’ve got to face the desert, not just live for dessert.

For me, at least, I sense this isn’t going to be any easy battle.
But it’s a battle we don’t fight alone -we join Him in His fighting it      
-and He has already won