Oh Mary, conceived without sin …

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Confession: Medicine for the Soul

Confession is part of the conversion process in much the same way that taking medicine is part of the healing process.

The season of Advent requires us to examine our consciences and then to take the sins we find there to the confessional. This process of honest self-appraisal and equally honest confession results in an interior cleansing that I don’t think can happen in any other way.

I always mentally draw a line under my past misdeeds after confession and just simply forget them. They are done. Forgiven. Confession peels off the clingy guilts and scrubs away the stubborn stains of what I’ve done and turns me toward a better future.

I’ve also found that if I go to confession often and confess, as I usually do, the same sins over and over, I begin to change. Confession confers grace, including the grace of self-awareness. The desire to keep on committing these sins weakens with repeated confession and I gradually, without even noticing it, do them less and less.

It’s not an act of the will. It’s not even a conscious thing. It just happens.

I’m not a great theologian, so I can’t give you a treatise on why confession works, or even all its merits. I can only tell you that it does work. It is difficult to confess your sins. It can even be painful. But even if the priest in question is not a good confessor for you (and not all of them are good for everyone; we are, after all, individuals) the cleansing, the liberation and the grace of conversion still happen.

Confession, like all the sacraments, does not depend on the personality or even the sanctity of the individual priest. The graces of confession come from God and they are more a function of your honesty and willingness to accept what God offers you than anything else.

The Church guards the sacraments and preserves them from one generation, one historical challenge, to the next. It then makes them freely available to us. These sacraments, each of them, are an opportunity to meet God in this life in a dependable, simple, non-intellectual way. Everyone, from the youngest child to the most erudite intellectual, experiences the same taste of heaven in the sacraments.

The sacraments do not depend on our working ourselves up into an emotional state. They do not require us to understand deep theology. They don’t even require us to be good or holy. All we need to do is be honest about ourselves before God and willing to receive the gift He freely offers us through His Church.

Confession follows self-examination. It is the second step in the three-step dance of conversion. First, we look at ourselves honestly. Then, we ask forgiveness for our sins.

Through the gift of confession, we have the privilege of saying our sins out loud in front of another person. We are given the gift of hearing that we are absolved. And, finally, we can know without doubt that these things we have done are behind us. They are finished, over and through.

We can draw a line under our sins after confession and forget them, safe in the knowledge that God has forgiven us and these sad little sins are no more.

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Christian Persecution: Christian Nigeria’s Witness for Jesus in the Face of Boko Haram’s Terrorists

Nigerian Christians are withstanding violent persecution at the hands of Islamic terrorists called Boko Haram. Their witness for Christ humbles me today, as if has for quite a long time. I will never forget the voice of a Nigerian Anglican Bishop’s wife as she told me “Those who persist in following Christ until the end will have eternal life.”

Eternal life in Christ was real to her. It sustained her and gave her not only a peace which passes understanding, but courage which passes understanding, as well.

When people are faced with the horror of repeated terrorist attacks as Christians in Nigeria are, and they respond with prayer and fasting as Christians in Nigeria do, I know that I am witnessing the courage that comes only from the grace of a loving God.

One of the many sins that we need to repent of in this Advent season is our indifference in the face of such magnificent courage and faith in Our Savior by our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, especially in Nigeria.

The excerpted CNA article below describes one such act of courage among the many in Nigeria today.

Msgr. Obiora F. Ike walks in front of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Enugu, Nigeria. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need, www.kirche-in-not.ch.

Lagos, Nigeria, Nov 13, 2012 / 12:17 am (CNA).- After his parish in southern Nigeria was desecrated on Nov. 4, Monsignor Obiora F. Ike called on his parishioners to observe a week of prayer and penance.

“Msgr. Ike has called for seven days of prayer, fasting, penance and reparation for the Christian faithfuls and for the conversion of these perpetrators,” according to a statement on his website.

Around 2:00 a.m. on Nov. 4, attackers entered St. Leo the Great parish in Enugu, vandalizing the building and destroying infrastructure and sacred items.

Everything in the church was destroyed: the altar, sacred vessels, musical equipment, seats, the pulpit, statues, religious images, and the entire microphone system.

The destruction included “the Blessed Sacrament that was desecrated,” according to Msgr. Ike’s statement.

By 4:00 a.m. security agents arrived at the parish and assessed the damage. According to Msgr. Ike, the damage done totals around $63,500.

Sunday Mass at the parish was held outside “under the heavy sunshine.” Msgr. Ike’s sermon that day encouraged the congregation to “remain steadfast in their faith despite all the persecution, religious intolerance and fanaticism.” He also urged them to remain dedicated in prayer and forgive the perpetrators.(Read more here.)

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25,000 Honor Our Lady in Los Angeles Procession

As I told a commenter on this blog, “Don’t count Christians out yet.”

The tales of Christianity’s demise may be a tad bit premature. Witness this beautiful response to the annual procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Los Angeles. Twenty-five thousand people joined the procession!

Read, and be heartened.

Archbishop Jose Gomez celebrates Mass after the Marian procession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec 2, 2012. Credit: Courtesy of Victor Alemán / vida-nueva.com.Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 3, 2012 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).

An outdoor procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe held Sunday in Los Angeles attracted 25,000 participants to venerate the Virgin and to express their Catholic faith.

“We want to learn from the example of faith of our Blessed Mother, as Jesus did. Jesus learned his prayers and the practice of his faith from his Mother and from Saint Joseph,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez told the crowd assembled for Mass following the Dec. 2 procession.

“This is an example for you, my brothers and sisters! You need to be good teachers, good role models for your children…share the stories of the Gospel and the beautiful apparition of Tepeyac. Teach them how to be generous and to love.”

Despite a rainy day, thousands of people came to process through East Los Angeles from Our Lady of Solitude parish to the Mass at East Los Angeles College Stadium. This was the 81st annual procession, which was started by Mexican Catholics fleeing government persecution in 1931.

“We also remembered the Cristeros as examples, because of the sacrifices they made for their faith, giving up their lives for their faith and for Christ,” Carolina Guevara, associate communications director at the Los Angeles archdiocese, told CNA Dec. 3.

She recounted that a woman whose father was a Cristero martyr participated in the Mass, which was a marker of how Our Lady of Guadalupe “unites us in our faith.” (Read more here.)

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It’s That Time Again: Atheist Cranks Put Up Another of Their Annual Anti-Christmas Displays

Who reads the Bible more than the President of the Southern Baptist Convention?

Atheists.

Who talks about Jesus more than the Pope?

Atheists.

Who worries constantly about the fact that somebody, somewhere, might be enjoying Christmas?

Atheists.

Who misquotes the Bible and misapplies those quotes more than Archie Bunker?

Atheists.

In their annual campaign to ruin Christmas for the rest of us, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has somehow or other persuaded the government of Wisconsin to allow them to use the Wisconsin state capitol to promote their bizarro view of the world. The post, Tis the Season: Atheists stage “alternative” Nativity scene, by Deacon Greg Kandra who blogs here at Patheos at The Deacon’s Bench describes one of the many spitballs these folks throw in this annual Grinchfest. The article reads in part:

Atheists, clearly agitated that Christians purportedly “stole” various holiday traditions from pagans, have come up with a solution: A potentially-offensive “natural nativity scene” that removes baby Jesus and replaces traditional Bible characters with some eyebrow-raising alternatives. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is behind the spectacle , which emerged this week as part of a diorama inside the Wisconsin state capitol.
The angel that typically graces the nativity is replaced with an astronaut. And the wise-men – prominent figures in the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth — are replaced with evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin, scientist Albert Einstein, anarchist Emma Goldman and author Mark Twain. The Statue of Liberty is also placed in the alternative nativity to purportedly symbolize freedom.
Rather than including Mary, whom the FFRF dismisses as “a mythical fertility figure,” the display includes Venus, the Roman goddess of love. And forget about Joseph — this depiction has Thomas Jefferson, a figure atheist groups enjoy touting for his purported church versus state views. According to the FFRF, Jefferson “would have disavowed Christian devotional scenes on state property.” (Read more here.)

My first thought on reading this is one I often have when I encounter the antics of these people: They don’t sound like adults.

My second thought is another one that I often have when dealing with them: They are obsessed with what they claim they don’t believe. I don’t know of any other group as obsessive, compulsive, negative and, finally, boring as evangelical atheists. Did I forget rude? Forgive me. I don’t know any other group of people as rude as evangelical atheists.

I don’t believe any saint in history thought about Christ and his Church as much as these people do. Based on their public utterances, they must think about Him 24/7. I would guess that when they aren’t out posting repetitive insults on Christian blogs and dreaming up equally insulting slogans to put on buses and in dioramas at Christmas, they must be perusing the Scriptures, looking for verses to take out of context and use for spears to hurl in their various attacks.

I was never a full and absolute atheist, but I did spend 17 years of my young life in an all-out anti-religion mode. I was probably more anti-God in my way than these people are. The difference is I was good at it. I didn’t spend my days obsessing over God. I didn’t read the Scriptures. I didn’t insult anybody. I just didn’t care. I left Christians alone in much the same way that I don’t now go busting into Free Thinkers’ meetings to razz at them. They’ve got a right to think what they want. And I don’t care.

You see, that’s what unbelief, or in my case, rejection, actually looks like. You don’t obsess over what you don’t believe. These people are odd. And they’re really negative and nasty in the things they say. I’ve said this before, but what they remind me of are adolescents who are searching frantically for significance. I think the reason they spend so much time driving the rest of us bonkers is because it makes them feel special and important.

All I know for sure is that Christmas 2012 is just around the corner, which makes it time for the cable networks to trot out their annual Christmas specials complete with “experts” to dismember the Nativity Story. It’s also time for the various atheist groups to file lawsuits in an attempt to suppress and oppress any ideas but theirs. Along with that they’ll treat us to ridiculous “Christmas” displays like the one in Wisconsin.

As for me, I’m just beginning Advent, which, unlike this nonsense, is a serious spiritual season. I have much to repent of, much to pray about and much to learn during this time. I don’t think I’m going to let the annual atheist attempt to ruin Christmas for everybody else distract me.

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I’m Going to Buy This Advent CD

Take a look at this beautiful YouTube video and enjoy. I am going to buy a copy of this CD for myself this Advent.

Have a blessed Sunday.

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Christian Persecution: Chinese House Church Christian Sentenced to “Re-Education Through Labor”

One way the Communist government in China attempts to control Christianity is by confining it to government-approved churches. The government then picks the bishops, priests and preachers who work in these churches. That places these “official” churches and their message under government control.

One way Christians in China try to get around this is to worship in “house churches” which are basically underground churches where people can worship the true Jesus found in the Gospels. The government attempts to suppress these house churches by use of criminal punishments, including sentencing people to labor, which is probably just another name for slave labor.

I don’t know, but I wonder if any of these prisoners work in American factories, making the gifts we put under our Christmas trees.

The following article from Worthy News describes the sentencing of Mao Henfeng to “re-education through labor.” Mao Hengfeng is a house church in Shanghai. The article reads in part:

BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News)– A high profile house church Christian in Shanghai who has been continually targeted for government harassment was just handed an extra-judicial sentence to a forced labor camp.

Mao Hengfeng was sentenced to 18 months of “re-education through labor” for “disrupting public order,” the third such sentence for the 50 year-old Mao, who is in poor health with high blood pressure.

Labor camp sentences were also handed down to others who joined Hengfeng in seeking redress from the Communist government; recently many petitioners have disappeared into official custody, been criminally detained or had their freedom of movement curtailed in the days leading up to the November 8 opening of the 18th Party Congress.

ChinaAid President Bob Fu expressed grave concern for these political detainees as well as others who suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the Chinese government as it prepares for its Party Congress. Fu called upon the international community to seize the opportunity presented by this latest Party Congress and bring about reforms that will protect human rights, the rule of law and freedom of religion. (Read more here.)

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Libya’s Nuns Continue to Serve Amid Bloodshed

This article, from the Catholic Register, is by Jennifer Roche.

 

Amid the Bloodshed, Libya’s Nuns Continue to Serve Those in Need

Franciscan Missionaries of Mary

BY JENNIFER ROCHE 11/27/2012

Last year the Register published my article “Uncertain Future for Christians in Libya,” which discussed the historical and current challenges facing the Church’s mission in this important North African country. Following the recent terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three security personnel in Benghazi, serious questions continue to surface about the safety of the religious working there.

Despite the chaotic fallout from Libya’s revolutionary war, most Catholic religious have remained in the country to provide humanitarian aid. Among the Church’s small local community, there are approximately 100 sisters of various nationalities who work in hospitals and health-care centers throughout the country.
Since the war, considerable improvement has been made in the area of communication. During the conflict, the phones and Internet were down so it was impossible to contact these religious communities by email or phone. Recently, however, I successfully communicated by phone and email with two Libyan communities.
Sister Rosy Xavier, a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary community at the “La Source” convent in Gargaresh, remains optimistic about her order’s future in Libya. Originally from India, Sister Rosy speaks English well and works as a nurse with the handicapped and the elderly. Her community has just four members, but three European sisters from France, Poland and Spain are now visiting to assist them. Some Franciscan fathers also live nearby and serve their community.
Sister Rosy explained that the sisters work in the local hospital and serve freely as Catholic nuns in this predominately Muslim country. When asked about security concerns, Sister Rosy emphatically said, “ At present, we have no problems here. Our neighbors are so good with us.”
Added Sister Rosy, “Even during the war, we did not leave, and we had no troubles at all.”
Regarding the attack on the U.S. Embassy, she said, “The Libyan people are feeling very bad. There is a lot of apology from them to the U.S.” She said that most Libyans assert, “The attacks were not because of us, but because of the terrorists in Benghazi.”
Sister Priscilla Isidore, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception of Ivrea, is another Catholic religious working in Libya. Originally from Tanzania, she has served here for 16 years and currently works as a nurse. “Because the Lord is our hope, we will continue with our work among the sick and injured people here and, if necessary, to die with them,” Sister Priscilla affirmed. “That’s our mission. That’s why Christ sent us here.”

Shared Goals
The humanitarian mission of these Catholic sisters corresponds with the late Ambassador Stevens’ initiatives to improve Libya’s medical care. Although the Church and the U.S. government are sometimes at odds over health-care matters, their goals are united in trying to rebuild the Libyan health-care system.
In a statement issued by the Vatican press office in late October, the Holy See assured the Libyan people that it would “continue to offer its witness and selfless service, in particular in the field of charity and health care, and is committed to generously helping to rebuild the country.” (Read more here.)

 

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Pope Benedict: All Christians Must Work Together to Evangelize the World

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2012 / 12:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians must not allow their divisions to keep them from working together to evangelize a world enduring a “crisis of faith,” Pope Benedict XVI told the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

The failure to do so, he said, “goes against the will of Christ, and is a scandal in the world.”

The council, which is meeting Nov. 15 –19, will address the theme of “The Importance of Ecumenism for New Evangelization.” The theme dovetails with the topic of overcoming Christian divisions, which was widely-discussed topic at last month’s synod of bishops on the New Evangelization.

Speaking in the Clementine Room of the Apostolic Palace on Nov. 15, the Pope stressed the necessity of having theological dialogue with Christians who do not hold the Catholic faith, in order to give a credible witness to Christ in a world suffering a crisis of faith and spiritual poverty.

“Even if we do not see the possibility of the restoration of full communion in the near future, (other faiths) enable us to understand the wealth of experience, spiritual life and theological reflections that become a stimulus for a deeper testimony,” the Pope said.

The aim of ecumenism is a “visible unity between divided Christians,” he told the assembly, and the Lord must be invoked to make even an imperfect unity possible.

And even if Christians’ unity is imperfect, it is still needed to evangelize a culture gone awry, especially in the Western world.

“We cannot follow a truly ecumenical path while ignoring the crisis of faith affecting vast areas of the world, including those where the proclamation of the Gospel was first accepted and where Christian life has flourished for centuries,” he told council members.

The situation has grown so bad that many people no longer regard the absence of God in their lives as a vacuum to be filled. This presents a situation all Christians must address, discovering common ground that overcomes their denominational divisions.

The essential unity of Christians needs to be emphasized in order to bear witness to God before the world. This, he said, consists in faith in the Trinity – a faith received at baptism which all Christians can profess together “in hope and charity.”

A truly ecumenical spirit, the Pope noted toward the end of his remarks, demands abandonment to the will of God in order to bring others to belief in him.

“In the final analysis,” Pope Benedict concluded, “ecumenism and new evangelization both require the dynamism of conversion, understood as the sincere desire to follow Christ and to fully adhere to the will of the Father.” (Read more here.)

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Jesus Christ is King, the Lord of My Life: Slogan or Fact?

Jesus Christ is King.

That is the summation of our faith. The cross, which absorbs many people, including me, is a stepping stone to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of His Father.

Jesus is Lord of our lives. This usage comes from the days when one’s Lord was also his or her master; the ruling agent in a person’s life to whom fealty was sworn. By saying that Jesus is Lord, people put Him above earthly rulers, saying, in effect, that they were, as St Thomas More put it, “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

That understanding of what it really means when we say that Jesus is Lord of our lives has become watered down into a slogan. Given the serious times ahead for Christians, I think it is appropriate to go back to that original meaning and begin using it as a literal expression of fealty once again.

Christianity is always, everywhere, a counter-cultural force. No true Christian can live as God’s good servant, but the king’s first. We must always in everything put Jesus first. If we do that, it will pit us against the world, true. But it will also enable us to become the instruments of His change by which He converts the world.

Before we preach or teach it, we’ve got to start living it. Every day. In every way. Not for others or for the effect we will have on our society. Not even for ourselves. We must do it for Him.

That’s what it means that Christ is King, at least for us in this life. Of course, it has another, eternal meaning as well. Christ is not King of this world. He does not reign here except as He reigns in each of us and our lives.

Jesus Christ is King of all life, everywhere, and all eternity. His Kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven. We are His subjects in that Kingdom and his representatives of that Kingdom as we live in the here and now. We are also His subjects in His Kingdom throughout eternity. We, like Him, are eternal beings and our Kingdom is not of this earth.

This year, the feast of Christ the King fits neatly between Thanksgiving and Advent. It is the culmination of the liturgical year that is like a wheel, spinning through the Gospels every 365 days, teaching us the story of our salvation over and again.

Today, Jesus is Christ the King, the culmination of what we will look forward to in Advent.

The important thing for us is that we allow him to be King of our lives. Is Jesus your Lord in the sense which the phrase originally intended? Is He the sole arbiter of your actions, the object of your desires? Is he Lord of your life in deed and fact?

That is the challenge of the feast of Christ the King. This challenge is more urgent this year than others. Our faith is under attack from many directions. “Jesus is the Lord of my life” is no longer just a slogan. It is a question demanding an answer.

Is Jesus the Lord of your life in thought and deed? Do you follow Him before all others?

What answer do you give?

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