Thanks to Thomas à Kempis for These Thoughts on Confession

Seemingly, there aren’t enough words to describe the graces we obtain from the Sacrament of Confession. And the number of opinions on this Sacrament are legion, if our poll results and the comments they have prompted are any indication. Webster and I haven’t fully plumbed the depths of this Sacrament yet. For example, we haven’t mentioned Divine Mercy Sunday or the fact that the Sacrament of Confession plays a large role in the diary of Sister Faustina.

And the fact of the matter is no saint on record has ever said,

Look at me! I soar above the heights of the world with the Lord. I have no need of the Sacrament of Confession. Yippee! 

If anything, the importance and necessity of this Sacrament are solidified and bolstered by the saints. St. Teresa of Avila, practitioner of contemplative prayer, writes at length on the importance of this Sacrament and the duty we have of finding a good confessor.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not anywhere near the level of perfection that she obtained while she was here on earth.  If Big Terry says Confession is  important, I listen up.

Although not an official saint, Thomas à Kempis discusses the importance of this Sacrament in The Imitation of Christ. Take a look at these thoughts Thomas wrote down regarding the Eucharistic celebration coupled with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He is writing here in the character of Our Lord. Notice how similar these phrases are to the ones Sister Faustina reports in her diary (bold highlights are mine),

Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion

The Voice of Christ,

You must often return to the source of grace and divine mercy, to the fountain of goodness and perfect purity, if you wish to be free from passion and vice, if you desire to be made stronger and more watchful against all the temptations and deceits of the devil.

The enemy, knowing the great good and the healing power of Holy Communion, tries as much as he can by every manner and means to hinder and keep away the faithful and the devout. Indeed, there are some who suffer the worst assaults of Satan when disposing themselves to prepare for Holy Communion. As it is written in Job, this wicked spirit comes among the sons of God to trouble them by his wonted malice, to make them unduly fearful and perplexed, that thus he may lessen their devotion or attack their faith to such an extent that they perhaps either forego Communion altogether or receive with little fervor.

No attention, however, must be paid to his cunning wiles, no matter how base and horrible—all his suggestions must be cast back upon his head. The wretch is to be despised and scorned. Holy Communion must not be passed by because of any assaults from him or because of the commotion he may arouse.

Oftentimes, also, too great solicitude for devotion and anxiety about confession hinder a person. Do as wise men do. Cast off anxiety and scruple, for it impedes the grace of God and destroys devotion of the mind.

Do not remain away from Holy Communion because of a small trouble or vexation but go at once to confession and willingly forgive all others their offenses. If you have offended anyone, humbly seek pardon and God will readily forgive you.

What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time. If you put it off today because of one thing, perhaps tomorrow a greater will occur to you, and thus you will stay away from Communion for a long time and become even more unfit.

Shake off this heaviness and sloth as quickly as you can, for there is no gain in much anxiety, in enduring long hours of trouble, and in depriving yourself of the divine Mysteries because of these daily disturbances. Yes, it is very hurtful to defer Holy Communion long, for it usually brings on a lazy spiritual sleep.

How sad that some dissolute and lax persons are willing to postpone confession and likewise wish to defer Holy Communion, lest they be forced to keep a stricter watch over themselves! Alas, how little love and devotion have they who so easily put off Holy Communion! How happy and acceptable to God is he who so lives, and keeps his conscience so pure, as to be ready and well disposed to communicate, even every day if he were permitted, and if he could do so unnoticed.

If, now and then, a man abstains by the grace of humility or for a legitimate reason, his reverence is commendable, but if laziness takes hold of him, he must arouse himself and do everything in his power, for the Lord will quicken his desire because of the good intention to which He particularly looks. When he is indeed unable to come, he will always have the good will and pious intention to communicate and thus he will not lose the fruit of the Sacrament.

Any devout person may at any hour on any day receive Christ in spiritual communion profitably and without hindrance. Yet on certain days and times appointed he ought to receive with affectionate reverence the Body of his Redeemer in this Sacrament, seeking the praise and honor of God rather than his own consolation.

For as often as he devoutly calls to mind the mystery and passion of the Incarnate Christ, and is inflamed with love for Him, he communicates mystically and is invisibly refreshed.
He who prepares himself only when festivals approach or custom demands, will often find himself unprepared. Blessed is he who offers himself a sacrifice to the Lord as often as he celebrates or communicates.

Be neither too slow nor too fast in celebrating but follow the good custom common to those among whom you are. You ought not to cause others inconvenience or trouble, but observe the accepted rule as laid down by superiors, and look to the benefit of others rather than to your own devotion or inclination.

Several of you have commented about the short lines at the confessional and long lines for Communion. Many complained about priests not motivated to hear their confessions. I’m not saying I don’t believe what I’m reading. Not every parish has uniform hours for this sacrament or uniformly motivated priests to hear them. But this hasn’t been my experience. Keep in mind, I’m a recent RCIA convert. Confession opportunities are plentiful, but especially during Lent. I intend to make full use of them and I hope you will as well.

Semper Fidelis

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy II

If you think that I have already had my fair share of going to Mass on this trip to Southern California, you would be wrong. In fact, I can’t get enough of what the Church has to offer, even when I am on vacation.

I have a confession to make: I go to daily mass as often as I can. And trust me, it isn’t because I feel “holier than thou” doing it. I feel relieved when I go. For those of you who can’t go daily because of time constraints or lack of opportunity (no parish nearby), I can understand. But in my case, there is a parish within walking distance from where I work and it holds Mass daily at 12:10 p.m., right in the heart of my lunch hour. So I usually just go.

Before I was Catholic, it never even dawned on me to go to Church every day. I heard about this practice when my wife told me her aunt would go daily (years before I became a Catholic) and I distinctly remember thinking to myself what a waste of time and energy! Get a life, people! But now, I see what she was up to and I think I understand.

So, I wake up each morning and start my day by reading the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings. This has become a routine for me too, after being welcomed into the Church. It gives me great consolation to pray the LOTH and sometimes it ignites the spark for a post, or two. But it doesn’t supplant the desire for receiving “my daily bread” in the form of the Eucharist.

This morning I discovered that a parish nearby has daily mass at 8:30 a.m., and having found this out at 7:40 a.m., there was no doubt where I would be come 8:30. I thank one of my wife’s friends, who we met for dinner last night (and who invited us to Christmas Eve Mass) for alerting me that there was a parish nearby: St. John Eudes Parish in Chatsworth. I did a Google search and discovered it was a whopping mile and a half from where we are staying on this leg of our trip.

It never ceases to amaze me that I am not alone at these daily Masses. This morning there were at least 60 other people there with me. I pulled into the parking lot and had to search for a place to park. The first time I went to the daily Mass back home, I was stunned to find 20 people there. I figured it would just be the priest and me.

So, whew, I got to go to Mass this morning! Now to breakfast and then off to the “adventure du jour,” the Wild Animal Park of the San Diego Zoo. World renowned, an absolute must see, the stories we were going to be able to tell and the pictures we could share! It was going to be fantastic! And then . . . we got stuck in traffic.

Chatsworth isn’t exactly a few minutes from Escondido, where this attraction is located, even if there aren’t 8 million other drivers on the road trying to get to other places at the same time. As we slogged slowly southward, I saw signs announcing how long it would take to get to certain landmarks that make sense only to people who live in Southern California. Like “91 Freeway—30 Minutes” and that is when we were still 3 miles from intersecting the 605 Freeway. Have I lost you? Probably.

Suffice it to say that the trip to the Wild Animal Park was not looking good. And I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of paying the lofty admission price and then trying to squeeze all the pleasure out of my money’s worth before the park closed in the three hours that would be left by the time we got there. I had clear visions of stress and unhappiness if this mission was continued.

So I adapted, improvised, and overcame (Marines are good at that) because the “natives were restless” (being in a car for two hours in traffic feels like eight hours when you are 13 and under) and exited the freeway in San Juan Capistrano and headed to the Mission located there. Yep—we went to Church!

We spent three and a half hours at the Mission in San Juan Capistrano and not one minute felt rushed. Ten acres of beautiful grounds, and gardens and historic ruins and chapels. I learned how the Mission was founded on All Saints Day in 1776 and how Abraham Lincoln deeded the property back to the Catholic Church two weeks before he was assassinated.

I learned too that 40 worshipers had been killed when an earthquake in 1812 destroyed the The Great Stone Church built in 1797. The ruins of that building are still amazing to see today and were decorated with a beautiful nativity scene shown here.

I learned that San Juan of Capistrano is the Spanish form of Saint John of Capistrano or, in Italian, Giovanni da Capistrano. He is pretty “hard corps” as well—known as “the Soldier Saint” because he defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 when he was, get this, 70 years old! That is probably why he only carried a red banner and a crucifix into battle, armor and a shield being too heavy, I bet.

Although the Turks didn’t kill him, and he was victorious in battle, bubonic plague took him in the end. He had been a lawyer before becoming a Franciscan friar and a renowned preacher. He is the patron saint of jurists. He once spoke to a crowd of over 126,000—more people than can fit in the Rose Bowl—and long before there were microphones, sound systems, etc.

And we haven’t even talked about Fray Junipero Serra, who established the entire chain of Missions in Alta California. Fr. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Every school child in California knows about Fr. Serra when they complete their 4th Grade Mission project for history class. I’m not sure if public school children complete these projects too, but I know that all the Catholic school kids do. And the Mission sells kits to help you complete these projects just like the Boy Scout shop sells kits for Pinewood Derby cars.

And my kids? They got to run around the grounds and get their ya-ya’s out on one hand, while getting to say prayers and light candles on the other. They loved seeing the koi swimming in the fountains, and the way the Spanish soldiers’ barracks were turned out. And they were amazed to see a bride and groom having their photographs made in the stunningly beautiful little chapel while hearing stories about how their Mom and Dad came here as newlyweds over twenty years ago too. They chased Monarch butterflies and later chased waves as we watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean from the sands of Doheny State Beach. Mission (pun intended) accomplished!

Yes, going to Mass on vacation is easy. You never know where or what it may lead you to. But so far, it has always led me to green pastures while restoring my soul.

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and feel comfortable. I never felt that way beforehand. Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, we visited other churches rarely and when we did, it felt weird.

As a result, when on vacation we just skipped church. We didn’t know anyone, and we really weren’t missing anything except a sermon and who knew if that was going to be any good? When visiting relatives, if it happened to be a Sunday, we would sometimes attend with them, so there was a modicum of safety from being singled out as potential new members.

But if we didn’t know anyone? Nope. What was the point? We were just passing through and the fellowship of our local church would be absent and we would be like strangers and stick out like sore thumbs.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I love visiting other parishes! And I know that the fellowship of our home parish community is not the big draw anyway. The big draw is Christ and His Presence in the Eucharist. We don’t need to know anyone locally because the most important Person there knows us backwards and forwards.

The photograph above is of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, California. Full disclosure: we attended this parish the other night with my wife’s family for Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Advent Vigil Mass traditionally held before Christmas. And thanks to my in-laws, we enjoyed a catered dinner complete with Filipino dishes with about 200 of our new parish “friends.” Neat!


The second photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Washington. We attended services there this past summer when I attended a conference in that city. Run by Dominican Friars, it featured a homily given by someone dressed like St. Anthony of Padua.

Aside from a few nuances here or there, the Mass follows the same format as in our home parish, and you can count on that worldwide. Dominicans are known for their skills as preachers, so the homily was quite good too.

I have had friends who are not Catholic ask me about visiting a Catholic Church. I’ve told them that it is a very comfortable experience because if you don’t call any attention to yourself, no one will bother you. Heck, for all they know you are a super-devout contemplative so engrossed in your prayer life that they wouldn’t think of bothering you. Or if you are the outgoing type, you’d probably be welcomed like a long-lost family member and given the grand tour of the building. Now that is hospitality!


The last photograph is of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. When my family and I attended mass here, we were asked if we would bring up the gifts of bread and wine that would become the Blessed Sacrament. I said the only thing I could say: Absolutely! Yes!

Did we know where to stand or any other particulars? No. Did we know anyone there? Not a soul, except Our Lord. And when the time came for us to present the Gifts, all went well and without a hitch. What a blessing to have even been asked!

And that is how it is when we are on vacation on the West Coast now. We go to Church as a family. We’ve even been late for the English-speaking Mass and sat through a Spanish Mass before. Did I understand the words in the liturgy and homily? No. But everything that really matters we understood just fine.

This is yet another of the graces and benefits of belonging to the largest Christian Church in the world. Thanks be to God.

Because Confession Can Change the World

Posted by Webster 
To set this world spinning the right way round, I think we Catholics might need to do just one thing: Start going to confession again. Then take our kids to confession. Once a month would be OK, once a week even better. Don’t believe me? Listen to me brag about my fourth-grade CCD class.

I’m sure you could change the world if you could just get your kids alone to go to confession, as my fourth-graders did today. Stand and watch as each of them prepares in silence, goes nervously through the door into the sacristy, and comes out again with a huge grin and a “whew,” then settles down on a kneeler to say penance. You yourself would start going to confession again just because the whole thing is so impressive, so moving—and the kids look so happy when it’s over.

Last week, we prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by going over what you say and conducting a collective examination of conscience. I gave each child a piece of paper and a pencil, read them a series of questions, then told them after each question to write down any sins that occurred to them. Of course, their notes were “for their eyes only.” Here are some of the questions:

Do I think of God and speak to Him by praying each day?
Do I use the Lord’s name with reverence and love?
Do I attend Mass on Sunday or on Saturday afternoon?
Do I obey my parents and teachers quickly and cheerfully, or must I be reminded many times?
Do I obey the rules of home and school?
Am I kind to everyone?
Did I hit, kick, or in any way hurt others on purpose?
Do I make fun or say mean things to anyone?
Do I tell the truth?

There were more such questions on the list given to us CCD teachers to help our students prepare.

My kids have never been anything like this serious in any previous class. These kids chatter for a living. Suddenly, not a word. Last week, as I read the questions, they were hunched over their crib sheets like law school graduates over a bar exam. It was that intense. Biting their lips. Biting their erasers. Jiggling their feet nervously. And barely saying a word. Which is about as amazing as an entire amusement park going stone silent all at once.

I was very proud of the fourteen, out of sixteen, who showed up today. They could have blown it off, found any excuse to miss it. But I honestly think they wanted to come, even when they thought they didn’t. Even C., who was waiting nervously in his mother’s car as I walked up to the parish school building, where classes meet. His mom said he was nervous about confession and had lost his workbook for the second time. I crouched down to speak through the car window and tell C. that when I had my first confession two years ago, I was nervous as heck. I think I even used the word heck.

When attendance had been taken, Father Barnes led the way to the chapel in the convent next door to the parish school. He told the boys to remove their hats when entering the convent and showed boys and girls how to genuflect on their right knees before sitting in their pews. He asked them to be silent and prepare themselves while waiting their turn, and most were pretty good about keeping silence. Denise, the other fourth-grade teacher, and I counseled kids who looked especially nervous. Otherwise, there was that amazing, eerie phenomenon of thirty nine-year-old children sitting quietly for half an hour.

As each child came out of the sacristy, he or she pulled down the kneeler at their pew and said their penance. Then we walked back to our classrooms. I asked the children if anyone felt worse now than they did before confession. No one raised a hand. Who felt better? Everyone. Every single child.

Each child had an opportunity to talk about the experience. Then we ended with a prayer.

Because This May Be My Last Mass

Gulp . . . My eyes water, and I get a lump in my throat just looking at this photograph.

That is Our Lord on Iwo Jima, and a priest providing comfort and solace to the sheep of His flock. Young Marines in a crazy, mixed-up, madhouse of a world with death staring them right in the face. Death from a thousand angles, at any second, in diverse manners and forms, all of which are horrible.

How do they do it? I mean function in that environment? The same thing is going on in Kandahar today. How do they do it? I can’t put “it” into words that you would understand—not yet anyway.

One of my favorite Marines in the Marine Corps Roll of Honor is Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, winner of two Medals of Honor. He is famous for saying (as a Gunnery Sergeant) the following immortal phrase—”C’mon you sons-of-bitches! you wanna live forever?”—at the WW I Battle of Belleau Wood.

Looking at this photograph, whether you agree or disagree with the “reasons” for either World War (see our recent post), the Chaplain Corps provides much comfort to us troops. I wasn’t a Catholic when I was serving in the line as a Marine. (Wow, I would seriously recommend it now!) But many of us took advantage of the comfort the Padres provided.

Semper Fidelis