Spiritual Direction and Confession

September 11, 2011

“Confession is not spiritual direction.”

This is a principle that I have followed and a maxim that I have often repeated.  By this I mean that in confession, people generally need only some brief counsel, encouragement, and absolution.  Of course, the sacrament of penance is private and personal, and there are many situations that would require something different.  But I had thought it a sound principle to distinguish clearly these two different activities.

I might have to revise this thinking in light of what I have learned from reading the Congregation for the Clergy’s recent document “The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy: An Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors.”  This document was dated March 9, 2011, but seems to have received very little attention.  This is probably for several reasons.  First, there is nothing controversial in it (unlike the 1997 Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life–which remains in my opinion the wisest, most useful, and practical instruction for confessors, not only on the particular topic it addresses but for the general principles it provides).  Read the rest of this entry »

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Happy Faults, Good Thieves, and Divine Mercy

April 27, 2011

This weekend’s beatification of Pope John Paul II means that the spotlight will shine even brighter on Divine Mercy Sunday this year.  While a few liturgical purists criticized the late pontiff for injecting such “Polish piety” into the liturgical calendar so close to Easter, it seems to me that divine mercy is at the heart of the Easter message.

If this intuition isn’t obvious, perhaps it’s because we’re in the habit of selling mercy short.  And if we fail to grasp how beautiful, how shocking, how dazzling mercy is, perhaps this is because we’re inclined to confuse it with a legal acquittal or a God who shrugs his shoulders and says “Whatever” to our sins.  Mercy, it seems to me, is much, much more than that.

We often say we’re sorry, usually without much thought, and in reply we usually hear, “That’s OK,” “Don’t worry about it,” “No problem.”  Rarely, if we knock over someone’s coffee cup or show up late for a meeting do we hear in reply, “I forgive you.”

Perhaps it’s best that such weighty words are not expended on social trivialities, but we shouldn’t so disassociate forgiveness from apologies that we begin to think that when confronted with our sins God just mutters “No problem” and gets on with running divine errands.

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i-confess.com

April 11, 2011

For those in the New York area, it’s one week until “Confession Monday,” April 18, 2011.  Confession Monday is a pastoral initiative of the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Center in which priests will hear confessions in all parishes from 3 – 9 pm.

As part of the initiative, the participating dioceses have sponsored a contest for kids in Catholic schools to make one minute videos promoting the event.  The videos are delightful, so if you need a little added motivation to have your soul cleansed before Easter, take it from these young New Yorkers:

http://i-confess.com/?page_id=19

AL, SJ


From feast to fasting

March 7, 2011

Last year about this time I wrote a post about food for Mardis Gras, so this year I thought I’d better muzzle my inner epicure and write something about fasting for Lent.  Lent, of course, is bookended by two days of fasting, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but I’m not going to write about either of those fasts.  Nor am I going to focus on the common practice of giving something up, another variation on fasting.  Instead I thought I’d write about that fasting which should be a part of the ordinary weekly routine of every practicing Catholic.

Lost already?  I thought about titling this post the “forgotten fast,” because the fasting I have in mind is the Eucharistic fast, a practice today as often forgotten as observed.

Prior to 1957 the faithful were obliged to refrain from food and drink starting at midnight on any day they planned to receive communion.  This fast was reduced to three hours before communion, and then in 1964 it was reduced again to one hour.  Unfortunately, as has happened with a number of Catholic practices, when a requirement becomes too easy, people stop taking it seriously, and today many ignore the pre-communion fast—if they’ve heard of it at all.

While the amount of time involved hardly constitutes a privation, the spirituality behind the Eucharistic fast is important, and perhaps this Lent would be a good time to rediscover its meaning.  After all, just because we are only required to fast for one hour, that doesn’t mean we are limited to the minimum.

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Guilt & Gratitude

February 14, 2011

One of the pleasures of my time at Loyola has been getting to know some particularly thoughtful undergraduates who are living their faith with enthusiasm in a culture that is, to say the least, not always supportive.  I had an interesting conversation with a few of these students two weeks ago, in which one of them expressed regret that she did not spend more time volunteering.  In fact she said, “I feel guilty for not doing more.”

Now the young woman in question is a model Christian—generous, open-minded, and joyful.  (She also makes excellent soup.)  She does so much for others that I’m often tempted to ask her where she has managed to find days with more than 24 hours.  So the word “guilt” coming from her surprised me.

The conversation got me thinking about two things—the role of guilt in Christian life and the various pressures young people feel to volunteer.

“Catholic guilt” is, of course, a familiar trope in literature and pop culture, even if, for those of my generation, the idea now seems somewhat quaint.  As our sense of sin has evaporated, so too our sense of guilt—or so, at least, I thought until my conversation of a few weeks ago. Read the rest of this entry »