A few years back I was blessed to participate in the Catechetical Institute (Class of Padre Pio) at Saint Andrew Catholic Church in Elk River. I expected it to be a great learning experience: a deep dive into the what and why of Catholic teachings. I did not expect it to be as convicting, converting, and hopeful an experience as it was.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is a systematic overview of the Catholic faith with lots of references to sacred scripture, saints’ writings, and other Church documents that flesh out the teachings in more detail. But the overall theme of the book—and the foundation of all Church wisdom and teaching—is God’s plan of salvation, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
One of the great mysteries of that plan, emphasized again and again throughout the institute, is the sense of already, but not yet:
“Wherever there is repentance, there is faith. Where there is no repentance, Jesus is rejected and His Church persecuted.”“One Bread, One Body” reflection on John 10:31-42
Over the past few weeks, a handful of lifechanging Confessions have been on my mind. Each resulted in a deepening of faith, but only after I humbled myself and turned once again to God and His Church:
A SECOND FIRST CONFESSION: Not long after Jodi and I started our family, I began to think about my dormant Catholicism. Aside from a brief period in grade school, I had grown up outside the Church and had a lot of questions, misunderstandings, and disagreements regarding Church teachings. Our priest in Michigan, Father Bill Zink, spent an hour or more allowing me to unload my spiritual baggage in his living room, then told me I should ask my questions from within the Church, after receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion again—in fact, he offered to hear my confession then and there. At first I refused; I said I didn’t remember how, but he offered to help me through it. I had to acknowledge the need for mercy and accept the invitation; to let go of my pride, humble myself, and return to God. That was the beginning of my reversion.
On Ash Wednesday this year, Archbishop Hebda visited our parish and school and presided over the school Mass. During his homily, he asked the school children to give examples of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One boy suggested that you could fast from lights, “like, with an oil lamp or something.”
Archbishop chuckled and said he had never thought of that before. But I have.
Years ago, I ran across an article by Catholic convert, blogger, and speaker Jennifer Fulwiler entitled “8 Reasons to Turn Out the Lights During Lent.” Her experience captured my imagination, and I pitched it to my own family and those in faith formation at the time as “Firelight Fridays.”
The premise is simple—no electrical lights or screens of any kind after sundown on Fridays during Lent. The results were profound: we found ourselves congregating as a family around the candlelit kitchen table or living room, playing board games, listening to music, or just talking and laughing together as a family. It a couple hours, we would begin to feel snoozy; eventually we would, by common consensus, snuff the candles and go to bed early, sleep soundly, and rise refreshed on Saturday morning.
This post appeared in the Sunday, September 25, 2021, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.
I don’t know if this is typical for adult Christians as they try to follow Jesus more and more closely—but I often feel as though I am regressing spiritually.
It is certainly true that I don’t struggle with the more serious or habitual sins I did as a younger man, before my reversion to the faith—that is real progress. But most of sins I bring to Confession today are things any child or teen might share: short-temperedness, impatience, ingratitude, laziness, vulgarity, jealousy—smaller things deeply rooted in my heart and habits. I struggle to confess these sins, either because they are so frequent and reflexive as to defy counting, or so subtle and ingrained that I don’t perceive them at all without careful hindsight.
Many of these sins are rooted in vanity and insecurity: I become preoccupied with myself and my own needs at the expense of those around me. As a result, I am also a slave to sins of omission (good things not done), another category of wrongs it can be difficult count.
So I’ve been praying to God for an influx of charity—a stretching of my heart—so that I might better see and respond to the needs of others, when and where they exist.
Guess what? God is obliging…and it hurts.
Last Wednesday I imagined myself the self-reliant man’s man, scaling Mount God to conquer Him—then shared my gratitude that He forgives my folly and makes Himself small enough to be digestible for His fallen creature.
I’ve said before that the Enemy will gladly you ride you whatever direction you’d like to travel, and so it is this past week. I went to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and my confessor was inspired to give me John chapter 6 as a penance: “Just read through it and reflect on it.” If you are following the daily Mass readings, these are the gospel passages for these middle days of the Easter season, beginning with the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water, and ending with the famous Bread of Life discourses, in which Jesus insists that His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood, sacramentally speaking.
I’ve been down this road before and did not expect anything profound. But this time, I was struck hard by the worldly desires of the crowd who follows Jesus, as well as their fickleness: Continue reading