Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday - March 29, 2015

Some years ago I read a science fiction novel called The Technicolor Time Machine by Harry Harrison. The inventor of a time machine, unable to get a government grant, sold his invention to a movie studio on the premise that it could now do a thoroughly historical drama. Imagine being able to say that you were actually seeing the great events of history. We may not see the actual Battle of Gettysburg, the signing of the Magna Carta or Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 1960 World Series. But we can be present at the events surrounding our Salvation. As we enter Holy Week today, the liturgies are much more than just a historical pageant meant to remind us of events long past. Christ is truly present to us in the Sacraments, and that is particularly true of the highest celebrations of our liturgical year. The Paschal Mystery, so ancient, is ever new in our liturgies as Christ is ever present to us.

Today, with Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we commemorate the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, but we also read the Passion and thus set the tone for the remainder of the week.

There is not much out of the ordinary for Monday through Wednesday of this week, though our liturgies become a little more somber, a little “darker” than usual as we see the Passion approaching in the gospel. To bring our Lenten observance to completion, we will offer Confessions on each of these days. Fr. Russell and I will be available from 3:00 to 4:00 on each of those days, and again from 6:00 to 7:00  on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we will have Confessions from 7:00 to 8:00 (or later if needed). Please note that there are no Confessions after Wednesday of Holy Week.

Holy Thursday has three main themes. At the Last Supper, Christ gave us the Eucharist, He instituted the priesthood and He gave an example of service by washing the feet of His Apostles. Our Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which begins the Sacred Triduum, will begin at 7:00 in the evening.  Church will remain open until Midnight for anyone who wants to spend some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Good Friday is the only day of the year on which we do not celebrate Mass. There is a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at 2:00 (after Stations of the Cross at Noon). The Liturgy is divided into three parts. The first is a Liturgy of the Word at which we proclaim the Passion of the Lord, then we have the Veneration of the Cross, followed by Holy Communion (from the Eucharist consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass). This liturgy is very simple but very powerful. We also have the opening of the Divine Mercy Novena at 4:00 and the Living Stations of the Cross (with Veneration of the Cross) at 7:00 in the evening.

Holy Saturday is a very quiet day, with no official liturgy during the day (although we will have the blessing of Easter food at noon). That night, however, we have the most joyful liturgy of the whole year. The Easter Vigil begins at 8:30 (as it cannot begin before dark) and is always the liturgical highlight of the year for me as we begin our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection and our share in His new life through our baptism. There is no 4:00 Mass that day.

That Easter Vigil begins our time of greatest joy, which we continue with the Masses next Sunday, Easter Sunday. Masses will be 8:00, 9:30, 11:00 and 12:30. So please come join with us to experience the greatest event in the history of the universe, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

                                                                                   Father H

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent - March 22, 2015

Over the past few weeks, I have used this space to give some thoughts on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As next week’s column will be in preparation for Holy Week, I would like to offer a few final thoughts on Confession this week.

Overall, I hope that the image I have given of this sacrament is of a joyful celebration of God’s merciful love. Reconciliation is a wonderful experience when we get into the habit of going. I suspect many of us may still think like former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, who in 1928 was the first Catholic to be nominated as a major party’s candidate for President. One day, so the story goes, Governor Smith got in line for Confession at his parish church. One of the other parishioners, thinking that such an important man should not have to wait, offered him his place in line. Smith stayed at the end of the line as he responded, “I’m no more eager than you to go in there.” I hope that we can develop a love of the sacrament so that we look at it as something we can indeed look forward to.

Toward that end, I would like to offer another suggestion to anyone receiving the sacrament. I offer this thought for you, but I’m sure it’s going to become more important to me as the years go on – try not to whisper. My hearing is still good enough to handle the whispers, but I do sometimes wonder how priests with diminished hearing are able to celebrate the sacrament. More importantly, though, the whisper sets a tone. Many of us probably began whispering in the confessional when it was a dark box and there was another penitent on the other side of the priest. Please do speak in a lower tone of voice so that your voice does not travel, but speak in a conversational tone. What I find is that the whisper sets the tone of a deep, dark secret. Yes, your confession is secret, and every priest is taught to regard the “seal of Confession” (by which we promise never to repeat anything we hear) as an ultimate obligation. But the whisper seems to me to make it sound as if we are here only out of a sense of shame.

When I say that I do not want to sound ashamed, I do not mean that we should be proud of our sins. There is an old story of the man who was going on and on, in great detail, about his sins. Finally, the priest interrupted him and said, “My son, you’re not confessing; you’re bragging.” Rather, we want to come with a spirit of confidence. We know that God will forgive us, and there is no reason to be afraid. We can admit our sins frankly, knowing that they will soon be gone.

Once again, I hope that these reflections on the Sacrament of Reconciliation over these past few weeks have been a help. There is nothing quite so joyous as coming out of the Confessional with our sins forgiven, and there is nothing quite as satisfying for a priest as knowing that we have helped someone get a fresh start. There are two weeks left in Lent. If you have not yet been to Confession, the God is waiting for you with open arms.

                                                                          Father H

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 15, 2015

At the beginning of mass, the priest makes the sign of the cross and greets the people. In most of the Church’s liturgies, in fact, we follow the same pattern. We say that the priest “presides” at the liturgy. That means, among other things, that the priest sets the tone and gets the ball rolling.

The same pattern can occur in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When a penitent comes into the confessional, I usually try to take the lead with the sign of the cross and the greeting “The Lord be with you.” That sometimes startles people, who are used to a certain pattern. When we were making our First Penance as children, we were taught that as soon as the priest opened the slide to the screen, we started with “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” That formula is very good for teaching children how to receive the Sacrament, but I think it can be helpful to let the priest take the lead. For one thing, letting the priest start is a reminder that this is a sacrament, a liturgy of the Church just like any of the others. That helps us bring a sense of reverence to the sacrament, but it also helps us in other ways to receive the grace of the sacrament more effectively.

One result of this approach is to help us relax. That can be particularly helpful to someone who is nervous about the sacrament, especially if he or she has not been to confession in quite a while. Sometimes it becomes even harder for such people to come back because they do not remember what to do. In that case, I tell people to relax and let me do the work. Yet of course the real message is that it is God who is “doing the work” of this or any other sacrament, who is forgiving our sins. Remember Christ’s parable of the Prodigal Son. Before the son can say, “Father, I have sinned against God and against you,” the father is already embracing his son and planning the party. The son still needs to make his confession in order to open his heart to receive forgiveness, but the father has already started the celebration. So if we worry less about what we are to say, then we can be more open to place our lives in the hands of God.

I realize that the standard formula is very comforting for some. Feel free to keep using it if you like, but first ask yourself if you have gotten into the habit of rattling it off without thinking of what you are saying. If so, slow down and try to make the sacrament a more spiritual moment. Meanwhile, there are other parts of that formula that we are used to. After “Bless me, Father,” we were taught to say how long it has been since our last confession. While this is not strictly necessary, I find it helpful to know how often someone receives the sacrament. If you do not include it, I do not worry about it. And please do not worry about accuracy, for all I am looking for is a rough idea.

The other part we were taught as children was to tell the priest how often we committed each sin. Don’t worry about numbers. The idea was to get us looking at which sins we committed over and over again. I would much rather have a penitent say that a certain sin is something he or she has been struggling with (lately, or perhaps for years), without an attempt to count every incident. That simply helps me to advise someone better.

Again, the main part of the story is to relax. God is here to forgive us, so let’s allow Him to take the lead.

                                                                                     Father H

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Third Sunday of Lent - March 8, 2015

In last week’s reflection on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I wrote trying to overcome the reluctance to go to Confession face-to-face. It is, of course, easier at first to go face-to-face to a priest who is a stranger. But that leads us to the question of choosing a priest. Of course, there are not as many choices today. When I was a boy, my home parish had a pastor and three assistants. Today there is one priest in that parish. Yet I also know that people travel. I have had parishioners tell me that they like to go to Confession with a priest in another parish, and I know that a number of people mention to me that they belong elsewhere. The key point is to find a priest with whom we feel comfortable.

That feeling of comfort means more than just finding a priest who will get it over quickly or who, no matter what we confess, will say, “Two Our Fathers.” We want someone who will actually help us. In that regard, my suggestion is not so much on what kind of priest to choose as it is simply to choose one. It helps to have a regular confessor– particularly, as I suggested two weeks ago, if we go to confession frequently. With a regular confessor, each confession takes place in the context of our broader spiritual development. After all, most of us find that we continue to struggle with the same things over and over again. I find that I often start my confessions with something like, “Everything I said last time is true today.” Strange as it seems, though, that opening is not an opportunity to gloss over my confession. I then have a tendency to look more closely and reflect that I seem to have struggled more (or less) than usual with a particular sin during the past month. That allows my confessor, to help me to understand what leads to certain sins and what progress (however small) I am making.

Choosing a regular confessor is a big help, but we are still free to go to another priest under certain circumstances. For example, I always go to confession as part of my annual retreat. An occasional “new” priest gives us a fresh perspective and also helps us bring some new insights to our “regular” confessions.

My final note comes from my own reflection. I am a much better minister of God’s mercy when I myself have received it. I decided long ago that if I ever find that a certain priest does not go to confession himself, then I will not go to him for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

                                                                                 Father H

Second Sunday of Lent - March 1, 2015

Last week, I began a series of reflections on the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this column that will carry us through the season of Lent. As we continue to think about that sacrament, we realize that we have a decision to make as soon as we get to the confessional. In many churches, we make the decision by choosing one door or another. At St. Malachy, the decision is what we will do once we get inside and see a screen in front of us.

Many of us grew up when every confessional was a “dark box,” a room with no light and with a screen separating us from the priest. (I remember getting into a discussion with a classmate about whether the priest had a light in his compartment. The answer, as I later learned, was yes.) The purpose of the screen was to make us feel more comfortable by keeping us anonymous. We did not need to worry about what Father would think of us, for he would not know who that was on the other side of the screen. To answer that point, I am tempted to say that I’ve heard it all and that nobody need worry that you are going to shock me. Unless you confess to having been part of the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy, the chances are that I’ve heard it before. But there is another reason for everyone to consider going “face to face” for Confession.

The sacraments are encounters with God, but God comes to us in ways that we humans can comprehend. As humans, we communicate with more than words; we communicate with looks and gestures and many other forms. If we cannot see one another, we miss out on part of that communication. For my side, I feel like I can do a much better job as Confessor if I can see the penitent. I feel like I can tell more about how to advise someone if I can see his or her expressions. I often find that to be true especially with the children who come for their First Confession. As we begin, I often ask if they are nervous. Some of them say no, but I can see them fidgeting and fussing, and I know that I have to try to help them feel at home. That visual communication works the other way as well. It can be so comforting to hear the priest speak the words of absolution, but that comfort is even stronger if we can see the priest giving the blessing as we hear those words.

With that reflection, I should probably ask everyone to try coming face to face at least once. But the first time can be rather disconcerting if we are used to the screen. It may take a little time to get used to seeing the priest. So the best advice I could give is to try face to face confession at least two or three times. If we take the sacrament seriously, we will come to find such a greater sense of comfort that we will wonder why the screen is there.
                                                                             Father H