Tuesday, February 28, 2006

And now, Something for us Catholics

This post has to do with the upcoming Lenten season, so those of you of a less religious bent might want to skip this one. This will be my first Lent back as a regular churchgoer and I honestly can't wait. I've been trying to figure out the modern meaning of Lent, since it's usually a time that people give up something bad for them, but not necessarily something they need to be comfortable. You know, things like alcohol or cigarettes or dessert. Usually people give something up, but they give it up for a selfish reason, like to lose weight or kick a habit or something to better their own person. Lent is a time of denial, yes, but it's not so much for personal improvement as it is for personal spiritual purification. We're getting ready as Catholics to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we want to be as ready as we can to receive his spirit within ourselves and our world. This is why we give things up. This is why we give up things we enjoy, things that bring us some kind of extra comfort beyond our regular level of comfort. By denying ourselves something, we understand a little more about Christ's suffering and the suffering of the world around us.

So, what does this lead up to, dear readers? Easy. For you Catholics out there, here's my challenge. If you give up some kind of food for Lent, don't do it because you want to lose a few pounds. Do it to remember that not everyone goes to sleep at night with three meals a day plus round-the-clock snack availability. And don't just give up the easy stuff like candy or soda. Make it sting a little. For example, I'm giving up red meat and pork for Lent in addition to all the usual not-good-for-me things. I'm giving up the snacks in between meals because not everyone gets that kind of lucky break to overeat. The light growling in my stomach pales in comparison to someone starving, yes, but it is a reminder that many people have it much worse.

Something else that might also be a good thing to do is remember to go to confession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also a foundation for a proper Lent. We don't just purify ourselves by denying the pleasures of this world, but we also purify our souls by absolution of sins. Why do we do this? It's pretty simple. When you die, you stand before God in judgment. If we go with unrepented sins on our souls, without any kind of final absolution, entering into Heaven is going to be a bit difficult. Likewise, we're celebrating the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We may not be standing before Him in judgment, but we can only experience His suffering, death, and final glory of
returning to life if we are prepared. Confessing our sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that preparation.

I can tell you a few things about the sacrament, too, if you're willing to read further. One, it doesn't matter how long ago your last confession was. If you go back now, you're a step closer to salvation. There have been people who haven't gone to confession for over 50 years. They stopped going for a myriad of reasons which usually boil down to "There's no way God can forgive me for that." Well, He can. God is infinite in His mercy, so your sins can be forgiven. You may not escape legal action if you've done something criminal (No, Mom, I haven't! You and Dad raised me better than that!) but your soul is cleaned for when you stand in Final Judgment. Priests have heard everything, too. Remember, these are men who have ministered to the sick and those without hope. Whatever you've done that you think is beyond forgiveness, well, your priest has probably heard far worse. He is also bound to the Seal of Confession. What you say never gets repeated by the priest. Go with humility and a desire to change your ways, and you will leave that confessional feeling better. You'll be reconciled with God, the Church, and your fellow Catholics. You'll be in that state of grace that will allow you to return to Mass without fear and allow you to share in the Holy Eucharist. Your Penances can be simple, maybe a few Hail Marys or a simple Act of Contrition. It might be as complex as going to those whom you have hurt and asking forgiveness. In extreme cases, maybe even turning yourself in to the police is an option, I've never been sure on that. I can witness to the sacrament's effectiveness, too. I hadn't been to Confession since I was in basic training in the Air Force. When I went back after all those years and was given absolution, I actually felt the weight lift off of me. I can honestly say that all of those burdens I had placed on myself with each year were removed. Sure, it's difficult to get to Confession now that there are fewer priests in each diocese, but it's worth it, trust me. Make an effort to wake up early one morning and go. Most dioceses will have an online list of their churches, and those will usually have a schedule that includes Reconciliation. Go, and go without fear. If anyone laughs at you, well, you'll definitely be one step ahead of them.

Okay, that was a bit more than I expected to write, but when you get motivated it's tough to stop. I'll be back again soon with something else to write about.

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