Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Stations of the Cross: How they helped me battle demons



Holy Week this yeas was a revelation for me. As far as mental struggles go, I was probably at my weakest... weaker than I would like to admit and fighting all sorts of demons. But it was reading through a Stations of the Cross reflection with one my classes during this year's Holy Week that gave me hope and the strength to fight this thing out, whatever it was. I immediately thought of Christ's redemptive suffering and how, a mere man, could be inspired by what Christ went through for the sake of our very souls. I decided to pen my thoughts with each station and this is what I had by the end of it:


First Station: Jesus is condemned to death
Jesus stood there in silence and received his death sentence. How many times have I been accused of something and often very arrogantly denied the accusations and refused my own sentence? Be they big things or small, I was proud... to proud to fathom the fact that I may have been wrong. Christ accepted his sentence although he was innocent, and I often stand there violently denying it despite my guilt. Lord, help me to be quiet and humble as you are.


Second Station: Jesus carries his cross
I carry my burden and often I cry out for it to be gone from me. Too soon I grow weak from trying to carry it and the more thought of it makes me want to give up immediately. I have too far to go and too much to carry with me... why can't I just leave it behind me? And then I realise that Christ's cross, as it belonged to him so too does mine belong to me. It is mine; I must carry it.


Third Station: Jesus falls the first time
It hurts and it's all too much. What ever strength I mustered when I was first given this burden I now have to try  muster again all the way from the beginning. I am trying so hard not to let those around me see or realise that I am weak and can't handle this burden. Again the sin of pride fills my heart and mind so I look once more at my burden and again realise that it is mine for me to carry. Mea culpa, mea culpa! I push on, but I don't know how much more strength I have left in me.


Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother
Mothers know when their children are hurting. Too many times have I closed up and refused to speak to my mother about my thoughts and feelings because I don't want her to worry. Often I am rude and defensive when I speak with her. I am ashamed of time. I think of the times I could be a better son. I carry this burden and my mother looks into my eyes. I cannot hide the pain from her because she knows it's there anyway. My mother used to nurse the wounds inflicted on me in my younger years and she sees that I am hurting now, but she knows that this burden is mine. Helplessly she looks on wanting to do something... anything.


Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross
Help comes from the most unlikely of places. I recall being in a class during this Holy Week and one of my students asking my while he and his classmates were doing some quiet work. He walked up to my desk and expecting him to ask a question about the work I began by asking him, "How can I help you, mate?" to which he replied, "I was just wondering if you were okay, sir. You look stressed". The first thought that came to my head was, "Who does this punk the he is trying to help me? What could he possibly do?" and again pride fills my heart and mind. Did my Lord tell the guards to stop when Simon of Cyrene was being picked from the crowd? Just knowing that there was a veritable stranger out there aware of my suffering and concerned for my well being was help enough, so I replied to him, "I'm fine, buddy, but thank you very much for you concern; it is appreciated".


Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
I returned to my car after work one afternoon feeling just about ready to punch a hole through the dashboard. As I closed the car door, a holy card which I had slotted into a pocket of the top visor fell down into my lap. It was a holy card with a picture of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Like Veronica, how many times his Mother Teresa wipe the faces of the poor, destitute, and dying in the streets of Calcutta? I wondered how many times her face was the last that others saw before they passed away. Thoughts of suicide were in my head. I thought about the times those close to me - not even strangers - would come close to me and try to offer aid and how I pushed them away. Perhaps if I let them - as Veronica wiped Jesus' face - do the very little they could to ease my suffering, if by only providing a scintilla of relief.


Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time
Jesus was severely beaten before he began carrying his cross. Me? I was completely fine before I started carrying mine and yet I fall just as he did and I want to give up. I could ask to be killed or take my own life at that point then and there. I know these stations and I know that Christ gets up again and carries on, but as I'm reading through this reflection with my students, the words for some reason today have more meaning. I am inspired to get up again and not think about how long I have to go or how much strength I have left. I feel something inside of my glow... it is my spirit. I know that my spirit alone is what will keep me going. Is there a hope left?


Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
I frequently felt alone in this battle. I imagined what it would be like to be the only soldier left on the field after watching your comrades drop their arms and abandon their posts. To fight alone; to be the only one to fight despite not having the strength but with only the weakened resolve to accomplish this mission. I then think of what I am fighting for and for whom I am fighting. They pray for me and hope I return from this battle safely. I want to be well again for them. This suffering is not in vain; something will come of it, I'm sure of it! I must be strong for their sake; I must share the hope I have in me with them. It is not fair to make them suffer as I do.


Ninth Station: Jesus falls a third time
I've come a long way and it crushes my spirit to fall yet again. The end is in sight but it can go only two ways: I give up, or I finish. I want to finish but I feel as though every force out there is working against me. It is only the forces within keeping me going. The spirit is truly willing, but the flesh is weak. This has made me think of the times I have started something and never finished. There have been too many of these things. I decide that if I go through with this until the end, then I finish all that start. There's no turning back and there's not starting things over. What's done is done, and the steps that I have taken are what has gotten me here. I walk on; I walk forward.


Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments
A colleague approaches me and asks casually in conversation, "How are you?" Such a simple question but like a massive crane attached to a floating glacier, when lifting it it reveals the concealed 80 per cent below the water's surface. I feel exposed and I hate it. I've made a habit this year of holding a hand close to my chest or intentionally being vague in personal conversation with some people so as not to reveal my vulnerabilities. Some have noticed this distance I keep from them and others but I lie and dismiss it as a misread of body language and non-verbal queues. But now I am exposed and I feel as though I'm being judged; I'm afraid that others may notice. There is, however, something liberating in being this vulnerable. If my wounds are visible, others know where I need healing.


Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
I begin to talk about some of my problems with some of those close to me and some colleagues at work. I talk about my failings, my worries, my fears, my insecurities, my inadequacies, and it begins to hurt. It hurts reliving and rethinking each moment of fear and failure. It is nothing compared to having nails driven through flesh and muscle as what Our Lord endured, but isn't this why I sometimes bottle up these sorts of feelings? Because talking about them or dealing with them is only going to make them hurt more. The journey is not yet complete; I burn and feel as a marathon runner does on the last leg of the race. The time is now; it is almost accomplished.


Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross
I know what it is that makes me feel this hopeless and lost; my sins, my pride, and my wrong doings brought me here... ultimately I am at fault. How selfish I have been for contemplating suicide and wiping my own existence from this world by my own hand. In order to heal, there must be wounding; I see the redemption in suffering now and I see now where my sins have led me. My friends see first hand my suffering and want to do more for me, but this I can only do alone. It is accomplished.


Thirteenth Station: The body of Jesus is taken down from the Cross
From beginning to this end, I have endured the most anguish I have ever in my entire life. When I needed them most, my friends and loved ones were there to both to lift me up and now they help bring my tired self down to rest. I feel peace. There is no more pain, no anguish, and no more hurt. Even though I didn't know it, these friends that now carry me were the ones that were with me from the beginning. Although at times I felt abandoned, they were there.


Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb
Rest. Finally. "What happens next?" I ask myself, and this I'm sure my friends and loved ones have asked too. There is peace in dark, quiet places, where I don't have to worry about the battles going on beyond that stone door. I am alone with my thoughts and I look back to where I began. I was sick and needed help. I wonder now why I didn't call out for help sooner; why I let my pride get the better of me and hold to my inhibitions. I realise now more than ever that I - still to a point - weak and this is why I need God; I do things by the grace of God; I live because of His grace and the good that I do is because of His grace. I can do nothing, and it for this reason I am free.


The Resurrection
I am a resurrected soul; lost but found again by the Good Shepherd and lifted high by angels watching over me. Can there be a promise that I will never suffer as I did again? No, but this I do know: one of the most repeated phrases in the Holy Scriptures is "fear not", and it was by pondering this year on Christ's death and resurrection that I learned to place my troubles at his feet and be not afraid. For now I wear the full armour of God (Ephesians 6) and I am prepared and I remain vigilant. Try as he may, the devil may send his demons to taunt and disturb me, and they may sway my balance from time to time and make me struggle, but I have overcome this evil before and I will, by the grace of God will do so again.


"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." - Proverbs 3:5-6


Amen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Seal of Confession: What's said in the box, stays in the box... or not?



I have a memory of being a five-year old boy in a pre-primary class at a Catholic school in the western suburbs of Melbourne (St. Paul's, Sunshine - this is a shout out to you). I was with a couple of other classmates: Justin, a Vietnamese boy who lived down the road from me; and Steve (yes, another Steve), a Maltese boy (yes, another Maltese boy); and we had decided to go into our classroom during Recess and steal the lollies (that's "candy" to you North Americans, I suppose) from our teacher's lolly container. A bold move, especially for three five-year old boys.


Just to give things a little perspective: I had two main baby-sitters as a young boy growing up in the western suburbs of Melbourne: Sesame Street, and my grandparents who - despite being in Australia for around 40 years at that stage - spoke english well enough to get them by, but would hear english words correctly but they'd come out all wrong (e.g. my nanna was recently told she had inflammation in her knee which caused swelling; she told us that it was "inflation" causing the swelling). Combine the two "teachers" of the english language together and you get a five-year old experiencing some difficulty in articulating his thought. Anyway, back to the lolly container caper, but remember this detail...


So there was Justin, myself, and Steve all at the lolly container which was perched on our teacher's desk which at the time was about 10 feet high to us. I had already stuck my my hand in the container and pulled out a few lollies to feast on (liquorice all sorts, a favourite of mine) and somewhere in the middle of or chewing on my first one I witnessed Justin and Steve debating on who of them should go first. To cut a long story short, they took some lollies - as did I - and we high-tailed it out of there! The game was, however, up when we resumed class after Recess.


I was dobbed in and the only one with blame laid. Even my five-year old mind could not comprehend it because I knew that there should be two others up there with me enduring the brutish verbal lashings of our pre-primary teacher, Mrs. Gardener (I can still smell the coffee on her breath even today). The problem was though that I didn't know how to articulate the fact that there were others in on this dastardly crime; Sesame Street and my broken English-speaking grandparents never taught me how to rat-out someone or even how to proclaim my [partial] innocence! All I could think of was how to ask for more food! So I had no choice but to confess. The experience was completely humiliating and my poor mother - much to her own embarrassment - was made to purchase replacement lollies. I remember walking into the classroom the following morning with my mother holding my hand, and in her other hand a bag of new liquorice all-sorts. I was then made to apologise to Mrs. Gardener in front of the whole class; my sin was known by the entire class, and all the while my "partners" in this crime, Justin and Steve, were too giving me a look with my classmates as if to say, "How could he do such a thing?" I later learned that if you're going to do something naughty, put all the blame on the kid who couldn't speak English that well.


So what does that story have to do with the Seal of Confession? Well first all, confessing a wrong that you've done sucks. Getting the truth out there doesn't suck, but it's looking at the people you've hurt in the eye and admitting that you're the cause of that hurt. It's also tough saying sorry for what you've done even though you know very well that you should not have done those things in the first place, and this is what hurts others the most. I struggle with Confession for these reasons. Yes, I go to Confession willingly, but no matter how many times I have been, the confessing never gets any easier, so I do take solace in the fact that my priest is the only other human being apart from myself hearing these confessions and that my sins are for no one else but God. It is with this in mind that we place a high level of trust in our priests; they are bound to the Seal of Confession, that your sins confessed will not leave the confessional.


Let's first have a look at what the Code of Canon Law says (addressed in canons 983 and 984, and paragraph 1467 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church) about the Seal of Confession and then apply this to one or two hypothetical situations:


Can. 983 §1 The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a *confessor in any way to betray the **penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion. 


§2 An interpreter, if there is one, is also obliged to observe this secret, as are all others who in any way whatever have come to a knowledge of sins from a confession. 


Can. 984 §1 The confessor is wholly forbidden to use knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent, even when all danger of disclosure is excluded. 


§2 A person who is in authority may not in any way, for the purpose of external governance, use knowledge about sins which has at any time come to him from the hearing of confession.
(http://www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0017/_P3F.HTM)


*the priest
**you


The key things to take away from canons 983 and 984 are the following:


1.) The sins that you confess stay in the confessional, i.e. what's said in the box stays in the box, and you'll be surprised at how poor your parish priest's memory is regarding your sins, even your habitual ones. You might even excuse your priest for being an amnesiac!
2.) Anything you say in the confessional will not be used against you to your detriment and no "external governance" (e.g. the police) has the right to go to your priest and make them share any information relating to a crime, investigation, etc.


So practically what does that mean? To iterate the strength of the seal, here's a [bizarre] question a friend put to me concerning something spoken about inside the confessional:


"Would it be okay for a priest to use a recipe he heard about in the confessional spoken about by a penitent?"


Like I said: bizarre question, but it's actually a good example to use to demonstrate the extent to which the seal extends. I first asked the following question to learn a little bit more about the scenario:


"Was the recipe shared before or after absolution?"


If the recipe was shared after absolution, then that information is not bound to the Seal of Confession, so it would be okay for the priest to use the recipe if this is the case.


If the recipe was shared before absolution, then the general rule of thumb would - to be completely on the safe side - that the recipe would not be used even though it seems such a harmless thing.


The follow-up question to this pertained to how the recipe was acquired in the first place. Yes, again, this is a bizarre question to ask and seems highly unlikely to take place, but it's all about the principle:


"What if the recipe was shared after absolution but was stolen from somebody else?"


This required a bit of thinking, but I think I understood the parameters well enough to deliver a response.


The recipe was given after absolution so this would make it okay to be shared since this information is not part of the confession, but it was stolen, and stealing concerns grave matter which is a mortal sin. If the recipe was stolen, then this sin of stealing needed to be confessed. It would also not be moral for the priest to use the recipe due to the means by which it was acquired. By benefitting from something that was stolen, you participate in the stealing, and by participating in stealing, you participate in sin; you participate in evil. Additionally the recipe would still not be allowed to be shared and used externally even after absolution was given for the sin(s) [of stealing]. A confession would then need to be made for the sin of stealing (obviously) but even then - after absolution - the recipe should not be shared/used.


I told you it was a strange question, but despite its peculiarity, it highlighted how indeed tight that confessional seal is.


Your sins will not leave that confessional, and what ever is said - even if it is said beyond the bounds of the confession - it cannot be used against you. Period.


Thank you Jesus for the gift of confession and for giving man the authority to forgive sins (John 20:23).


Ite in pace.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Quick Thought: Who may receive the Eucharist?


We had a school Mass very recently, and I'm pretty sure there were kids who went up to receive the Eucharist who weren't Catholic-Christian. Perhaps they did this out of ignorance or they did this out of spite believing that "any Christian" could go up and receive the body and blood of Christ at a Catholic Mass. So here's something you can share with non-Catholic Christians who believe they should be allowed to receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass, i.e. those who use the "Well Jesus gave it to everybody at the Last Supper anyway..." argument:

The fact is this: Yes, Jesus did give the bread and the wine to everybody at the Last Supper, but who was this "everybody"?

Christ's discourse on his body and blood as being "real food" and "real drink" (i.e. the Real Presence) found in John 6 took place approximately one year before the Last Supper. Jesus was preparing his disciples theologically (and to an extent psychologically) for this last communion in which they shared a mean, in which Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Luke 22:19-20). Keep in mind that those who found Christ's words troubling and offensive walked away from Jesus (John 6:60-66). Only those who truly believed remained with Jesus (John 6:68-69), and only those who truly believed in the Real Presence were present at the Last Supper.

Anyone who doubted Christ's words found in John 6 were not there and did not share in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine. This is why St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (and thus all Christians) exhorting them to take proper care when participating in the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine (1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

If you are not a Catholic, you cannot receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass. For more information about what Catholics believe about the Eucharist, go here: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-real-presence

What you can do, however, as a non-Catholic Christian at a Catholic Mass, is pray for a spiritual communion. This act of spiritual communion is an expression of desire to receive our Lord Jesus and allow him to be present sacramentally within us. Here is a prayer of spiritual communion found on the EWTN website (http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/prayers/blsac4.htm): 

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. 

Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. 

Amen.
Happy Easter and the blessing of Christ be present with you on this Holy Thursday night.