Confession is Good for the Soul

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Today we celebrate Easter, the day Jesus was raised from the dead in order to free us from our sins. We can look at this like He wiped our slates clean in order for us to start over. How many of us have kept it clean? I would imagine not too many of us.

No matter how hard we try to not sin it is going to happen, we aren’t perfect and God knows it. For those times we do though, we can ask God for forgiveness and we will receive it, wiping the slate clean again. Catholics do this through the Sacrament of Reconciliation or as we old Catholics still call it “Confession”. In my limited knowledge of other christian denomination practices, I believe we are the only one which has such a thing. No, I am not trying to convert anyone to the Catholic faith, of course you are always welcome. I only want to talk about forgiveness and responsibility.

I remember when I started my journey back to the faith and going to confession for the first time after maybe thirty years, I honestly can’t remember the last time I went. I stopped going because I figured God knew what I was doing, He knew when I sinned, and He would forgive me, even if I didn’t ask. As most Catholics my age, we all figured we knew better than the church fathers. “Rules? We don’t need no stinking rules!” So why even bother you might ask? After all God DOES know your sins, why should you have to go through a third party? How about because Jesus, and therefore God tells us to.

This sacrament is rooted in the mission God gave to Christ in his capacity as the Son of man on earth to go and forgive sins (cf. Matt. 9:6). Thus, the crowds who witnessed this new power “glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matt. 9:8; note the plural “men”). After his resurrection, Jesus passed on his mission to forgive sins to his ministers, telling them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23). – Catholic Answers

But there is even a better reason, or maybe two or even three.

One, it feels good to get all these sins off your chest. Now maybe the word “good” isn’t the best to use, the time I went after having not gone wasn’t “good” in the sense of “happy” but it was “good” in the way of cleansing. Did I k now my sins before hand? Absolutely, but it felt good to get them out there.

Second, it does feel good, in the sense of happy, to be forgiven. I guess some can still argue you don’t need to tell a priest your sins to be forgiven, you can just ask him for forgiveness. But as a Catholic I truly believe that Jesus passed down the power to forgive sins to his apostles and when Catholic priests are ordained, this power is passed down to them. And how can he know your sins if you don’t confess them?

Third, and what to me is the best reason, when you confess your sins to the priest, you are taking responsibility for them. Here is an article from Patheos which talks about what is meant by Jesus taking away our sins. The author talks about how we are quick to blame others for our sins, so we can feel good about ourselves. In today’s world so many of us fail to take responsibility for our actions. Everything is someone elses fault, why we even blame some things on God. It is time we realize this isn’t true, it isn’t always someone elses fault, we have free will and more control than we think. But blaming someone else is the easy way out.

Confession forces us to truly examine our consciences and take responsibility for the sins that are truly our fault. Of course you need to believe in God, believe in Jesus taking away our sins and I suppose, most importantly, knowing God is the ultimate moral authority.

I will leave you today with the Lord’s Prayer”

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
Amen.

Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer Framed Plaque

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It all Starts with Temptation

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As we near the end of Lent I thought I would write about temptation. At the beginning of Lent we hear about how Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days and then was tempted by the Evil One (Matthew 4:1). And of course we all know the story of Eve and how the serpent tempted her (Genesis 3). All sin begins with temptation. I suppose the reason we can be tempted goes back to that whole free will thing.

It isn’t easy to avoid temptation it really is everywhere, especially in today’s world. In a world where (here I go again) we have removed God from our lives, replacing morality with materialism, narcissism, individualism, hedonism and minimalism we have allowed temptation to become very pervasive in our lives. Look around at pop culture, the music, movies, television shows, video games for just one example. There are plenty more. Now I know what you are thinking “Here we go, another one of these guys who is going to tell us to spend all day praying and reading the Bible.” Nope, I’m not (although it couldn’t hurt). I think you should know by now I am not one of those guys. I am more of the “Yes, I believe in God and do my best to be a good Catholic and Christian but I am more interested in getting our moral compass straightened out through any means possible” kind of guy.

I really think it is hard to argue the point that our moral compass has been turned upside down,  whether you believe in God or not. Again this goes to the world we live in where anything goes. I am not sure how long society can survive like this, there will come a point when it will collapse upon itself and we will spiral out of control. For those of us who do believe in God, this is when He will decide “Enough is enough” and it will truly be the end times. Have we reached this point already? Who really knows.

Anyway, once again I have managed to go off track.

I came across this passage from a post entitled “Overcoming Temptations of Daily Life“, and I thought how true it is for me:

Letting Fear Guide Your Life. 
You may be surprised by how much of what you do is guided by fear. Fear of failure, fear of losing your possessions, fear of not being respected–any fear that may sway your life. Fear can certainly serve a valid purpose, but it ought to be tempered by an underlying faith. Trusting in God is the greatest antidote to fear because it allows us make good use of our fear. Once you’ve decided on a course of action that you nonetheless fear, acknowledge your fear and move forward. Such an act is an act of faith.

I have let fear guide me an awful lot throughout my life, although, honestly not so much now. I have feared failing at jobs, at raising my kids, at marriage (which I did, but alas that is a story for another day, or not) and even writing. Because of these fears I have not taken chances I probably should have, I have made bad decisions based on these fears, and then gave in to the various temptations which led me to sin, and a rather long list of them at that.

It’s kind of funny, the thing I should have feared the most I didn’t. No, I won’t say the wrath of God, but if you go back a few posts where I talked about what comes next, and rolling the dice, I should have feared what may happen after I leave this life. But again, whether you believe or not, making decisions based on fear will have a negative impact on them. There are times when you have to take chances, not dangerous ones (in the sense of you could lose your life or cause someone else to lose theirs) but chances which could help you improve your situation.

Failing isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to you. Sometimes you need to go back in order to go forward. I know I have failed many times, but I have gotten up, although it hasn’t always been easy, and gone on. am I necessarily a success now? I guess depending on your definition of success, I think I am, I have come a long way but I still have a long way to go.

I do know in my case however, there are two big differences in my life now, the first definitely led to the second. I met a wonderful woman, a woman who I believe was sent by God to me, and because of her and some of the trials and tribulations which have come our way, I now also trust in God.

Here are some books on morality you can order from Amazon:

Morality: The Catholic View

Morality: A Response to Gods Love

Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics)

 

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You Can’t Go Wrong

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I thought I would continue along the same train of thought I started a few posts ago. In the last post I talked about why you should live like Heaven and Hell really exist:

Now, here is the point. Wouldn’t it be better to live a Christ-like life with the hope of getting to Heaven and what it has to offer and be wrong, than to not live a Christ-like life figuring there is no Heaven and find out there is a Heaven and conversely Hell? After all if you live a good life and find out Heaven doesn’t exist, at least you lived a good, honest life and were considered good. Whereas if you don’t live a Christ-like life and Hell exists, well, you will end up there. Which is the better bet?

This leads to the next point, how do we live a Christ-like life? The easy answer to this is by reading the Bible and learning what Jesus teaches us. But this is my, and why make something easy when you can make it difficult? During my journey back to the faith one of the tougher questions I had to face was whether or not the Bible is true or not. Obviously there are many people who argue it isn’t true, for many reasons. I certainly am not qualified to explain the Bible and refute all these claims, or even list them all. But we only need to open to the first page to see one of the points non-believers will use to “prove” the Bible is fiction.

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1, RSVCE

How could God create the universe in six days? Don’t we have scientific evidence which proves it took a lot longer than six days? There are plenty of other points of contention throughout the Bible and unfortunately like the debate on global warming or whether or not life begins at conception or sometime later, for every point for, there is a point against. I admit I had a problem with this, whether the Bible is truth or fiction.

I did a lot of reading, listened to a lot of Catholic radio and spent a lot of time thinking, and that always hurts. And here is what I came up with, it all comes down to faith. If you believe God exists then you will believe in the Bible and that it was written by Him through various writers who were inspired by Him. Again, I am not the scholar, but when you carefully consider the evidence, there is enough proof that it is real. But…

Here is the thing, like the paragraph above from my last post, even if the Bible is fiction, what it teaches is real. What it teaches is how to treat others, how to conduct business and how to live a good life. We can learn an awful lot of good things from the Bible, and isn’t that a good thing?

Here is a link to a PDF book written by one of my favorite Catholic radio show hosts, Father Simon, take the time to read it and who knows you just might be convinced.

Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic

Are you Rolling the Dice

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Last week I talked about the sin of sloth. I followed that up with a post about choices. What better way to follow up than to write about making the best choices.

While we may or may not agree that we all have free will and are able to make our own choices, there is something we should all remember that with every choice we make, comes responsibility. We are responsible for our actions, and the affect they may have on both ourselves and on others. We live in a time when many people no longer take responsibility for their actions, always blaming their problems on someone else.

If we are able to make choices, freely, then we should be held responsible for the consequences of these actions. That isn’t the way it is in these times. Instead we live in a world where it is all about “me” and nothing is my fault. Parents no longer discipline their children, we don’t keep score in games, teachers aren’t allowed to use red ink and nothing bad is allowed to happen, at least we won’t blame anyone for anything bad that happens. This is a problem.

Here is the catch however, even when we don’t take responsibility for our choices, we still are responsible. We may be able to deflect blame to others, but in the end, when, as the old song goes, “When the roll is called up yonder” we will be held responsible. This leads us to the question: Does it matter, should it matter?

Yes and yes.

How can we learn to make choices? This isn’t as easy to answer as one might think, especially in today’s world. It really depends on what our end goal is. Where do we want to end up? When we decide that, then we can better decide what choices we should make.

When you look at the title of this blog, it says “The Wayward Catholic” which means I am Catholic. Catholics believe in life after death. We believe that when we die we have a chance to go to heaven and live there for eternity, which  is a good thing. We believe the way we can do this is to follow the teachings of Jesus and live like he did.  This leads to a problem because not everyone feels the same.

There is no God, there is no Heaven there is no Hell, is how many people think. If this is true why should we follow these rules? We should just do what we want because once we die, that’s it. Let’s look at this. The other word in the title of my blog, is wayward. Here is the definition of Wayward from Dictionary.com:

way·ward

1. turned or turning away from what is right or proper; willful; disobedient.

This is what I was, I turned away from the CAtholic faith, which means when I began my journey back, one of the questions I had to ask myself was “Is there a Heaven and a Hell?” Obviously I believe there is. But if you don’t, that’s fine, but I want you to think about something. When I was researching all these questions I had, I came across something called “Pascal’s Wager” You can click on the link to get the info on Pacal, but I will give you what you need to know.

When we look at what Heaven and Hell are, whether or not you believe they are real or just fiction, Heaven seems a lot better than Hell. Read Dantes Inferno  if you want to get a description of Hell. Therefore, if there is a chance there is life after death, and Heaven and Hell exists, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to do whatever you could to get there? What Pascal believed, and what makes perfect sense when you really think about it, is this.

You have a fifty/fifty chance of being right, either there is an after-life or there isn’t. I admit, it is a crap shoot. But wouldn’t it be better to bet there is an after-life and be wrong, than to bet there isn’t one and find out there really is? As I said above, in order to get to Heaven we need to live a Christ-like life, or at least as close to it as we can. If we do this, we would certainly be living a good, honest, caring life. We would be doing good things, treating others kindly, etc. and we will be a good person. On the other hand if we don’t live a Christ-like way, we might not necessarily be a good person. We would live for today, we would  probably be very materialistic and do anything to get ahead. There is a pretty good chance you wouldn’t be a good person.

Now, here is the point. Wouldn’t it be better to live a Christ-like life with the hope of getting to Heaven and what it has to offer and be wrong, than to not live a Christ-like life figuring there is no Heaven and find out there is a Heaven and conversely Hell? After all if you live a good life and find out Heaven doesn’t exist, at least you lived a good, honest life and were considered good. Whereas if you don’t live a Christ-like life and Hell exists, well, you will end up there. Which is the better bet?

This is where making the right choices is important. We should bet there is a Heaven and do whatever we can to make sure we will get there. This should be our guide.

When I am Called to Duty God

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This post will be a little different than my usual discourse. Yesterday, two Boston firefighters died in the line of duty while fighting a fire in a building on Beacon Street.

The firefighters killed were identified as Lt. Edward J. Walsh, 43, of West Roxbury — a father of three — and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, 33, of Hyde Park, a U.S. Marine veteran who was single. – Boston Herald

I was a firefighter for over twenty years, although not on a full time basis like these two. I know what it is like to be in a burning building, the heat, the smoke, the confusion. These two heroes (and hero is not a word I use very often) like every other firefighter, whether full-time, part-time or volunteer, did what we all do. They ran into a burning building to save lives. The same building others were running out of.

This is a heck of a way to die, and anyone in the business knows it could happen, and it would be very painful. Yet, it wouldn’t stop us, and even now it won’t stop any firefighter from doing the same thing. I ask everyone to pray for these firefighters, their families and firefighters everywhere. Most of the time no one gives a thought to them, they only see them hanging around the firehouse, not doing anything. But remember, they are the first ones to respond, at any time of the day or night.

Here is what is known as the “Firefighter’s Prayer

When I am called to duty, God,
wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life,
whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
before it is too late,
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert,
and hear the weakest shout,
quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling,
to give the best in me,
to guard my friend and neighbor,
and protect his property.
And if according to Your will
I must answer death’s call,
bless with your protecting hand,
my family one and all.

It’s All About Our Choices

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In my last post I talked about free will, and how God has given us free will allowing us to make our own choices, whether good or bad. He will stand by and watch what happens, leaving it up to us about what we will do. Satan on the other hand, will do whatever he can to get us to sin, this is called temptation.  But even when he tempts us, we still have free will and we can choose to not sin, we can choose good over evil. It isn’t always easy, but we can do it.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you – James 4:7

Often when something bad happens to us, we  say “God is testing me” but does He? Does God test us to see how we will react, to see if we choose good over evil? The answer lies in scripture:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one;  but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. – James 13 – 15

I suppose we could say God tests us indirectly. By giving us free will, and not interfering, He will see what we will do in any situation, but he doesn’t do the tempting. The other thing we need to remember is what I have written at the top of this blog:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13

While God won’t interfere, He will always give us a way out. It is up to us to make the right decisions, to choose good over evil. Unfortunately today there are too many people who don’t know the difference between good and evil. The lines have become blurred, what used to be black and white is now grey, the lines are blurred.

A perfect example of this is abortion. We can argue when life begins, personally I believe life begins at conception. But through the years many have blurred that line convincing people that life begins at “birth”, when that little slippery thing comes out of a woman and suddenly turns into a human being. Before that it wasn’t alive, it wasn’t human, or at least that is what the pro-choice people would like us to believe. It is a grey area. How can we kill something that isn’t alive?

The majority of people now believe it is okay to kill someone who isn’t wanted. They only think of themselves with nary a thought of the life they are ending, truly the most innocent of all of us. Yes, I know, it’s freedom of choice, but what about the baby’s choice, don’t they get a choice? And the next thing which is happening is euthanasia, you are old, you are sick, you have some kind of issue and someone decides you are no longer contributing, well, let’s put you out of your misery. We have become a throw away society, even when it comes to human life.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Annunciation. This is when it is believed the angel came down from heaven and told Mary she would bear a son, and she would call him Jesus. What if Mary had decided she didn’t want to have a baby? What if she decided it would be too much trouble, or couldn’t afford a baby just yet and had an abortion? We should all be thankful she wasn’t pro-choice.

Have you ever wondered who we have killed through abortion? Could one of those millions of babies been the one who could have cured cancer? I guess we’ll never know.

Well, there I go on my soapbox again. The point is, when you make everything grey, when there are no more lines, we no longer distinguish between good and evil. Satan wins, temptation wins because we have no way to determine what is a sin or not. Those of us of a certain age can remember one of our many mottoes from the ’70′s, “If it feels good, do it.” For how many of us was that when our own lines blurred? If it felt good it couldn’t be wrong. How wrong we were, and look where it has gotten us today.

The Sin of Sloth

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Ok, time to get back to writing in the blog. Yes, I admit it, I am lazy sometimes, and that is unacceptable. After all, God gave me the talent to write, maybe not very good, but He did give me some, and I need to use it. After all the sin of sloth is one of the seven deadly sins.

A quick definition of sloth would be “being lazy”. A more complete definition from the Catholic Encyclopedia is:

One of the seven capital sins. In general it means disinclination to labour or exertion. As a capital or deadly vice St. Thomas (II-II:35) calls it sadness in the face of some spiritual good which one has to achieve (Tristitia de bono spirituali). Father Rickaby aptly translates its Latin equivalent acedia (Gr. akedia) by saying that it means the don’t-care feeling.

Now I know this definition is more directed to “spiritual laziness” but it can also be directed to any other laziness as well. Everything we have is given to us by God. Whether it is talent, money, family, material goods, it doesn’t matter. Oh, we might think we are the ones who have received these things because of our hard work, ant to some extent this is true. But it all starts with what we are given by God. He is the one who created us. (At this time I won’t get into the argument of creation versus evolution, but I believe our soul comes from God, and it is the soul which drives us.)

God gets us started and it is up to us to develop whatever God endows us with. We all have been given something, and it is up to us to figure out exactly what it is and then to make it work. When we don’t do this, figure out what talent or talents God has given us, this is sloth. It is a sin to not use our God given talents.

It is true some people use these talents for evil things, but then we must remember God has also given us free will. Free will and whether or not we really have it has been debated by philosophers for as long as there have been philosophers. Each philosophical theory (now there are some big words) has its own definition of free will, but I tend to go with Thomas Aquinas’ which is written in the “Summa Theologica“:

I answer that, Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain. In order to make this evident, we must observe that some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, judges it a thing to be shunned, from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges, not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals. But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various things. For reason in contingent matters may follow opposite courses, as we see in dialectic syllogisms and rhetorical arguments. Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses, and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will.

How we use our judgement is what makes us what we are. I know I haven’t always used good judgement in the past, and I honestly believe, after much soul searching, meditation and contemplation (there I go again using some more multi-syllable words) most of these bad decisions all stem from one bad decision. that was my decision to not listen to God, to not follow His teachings or the teachings of the church. I believed I knew better than Jesus and that was that.

Can I in any way prove this? Can I prove that had I followed the teachings of God and had I now left the church that my life wouldn’t have been different? No, but I believe it would have been. I can already see the differences in my life over the past few years when I started my journey back. I can see a difference in my attitude, my thinking and my outlook on life. And I know had I had this attitude 40 years ago, yes, my life would have been different.

Now back to the sloth thing.

If we do not use our talents, those that God has given us, it is a sin. And if, like me, we are called to use them for specific reasons, and don’t, this is a bigger sin. And finally, if we go to Confession (one of those uniquely Catholic things) and confess that we aren’t using our talents even after we believe God has called us to, and the priest gives us as our penance that we must write something every day, and we don’t, well that is really, really bad.

So, yes, I am doing my penance for being slothful, but that’s okay, I really don’t mind.

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