Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Absolutism of Same Sex Marriage

There are three primordial covenants.

The first covenant is that of body and soul; the most intimate union. This union we protect through the directive, “do not kill.”

The second covenant is between parent and child. This is the bed rock of human community.

The third is that of man and wife.

These three covenants carry with it the warning “what God has joined man must not divide.” And their inter relatedness is expressed beautifully in Genesis when it says “a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife and the two of them become one flesh.” The relationship of marriage is like the relationship of parent to child and body to soul.

These primordial relationships form the natural institution of the family. This primordial institution is the foundation of the institution of the state and of religion. Religion seeks to elevate, redeem, and celebrate these primordial covenants and the state seeks to protect them and build them up.

In the recent discussions on same sex unions, the state, and religious freedom a certain power play is going on. Throughout history there has been this tug of war between the state and religion, and it was for this reason that the founding Fathers of the United States sought to protect these realms of influence through a philosophy of the separation of Church and State. However, throughout history there have also been power plays between the state and the family (and religion and the family). We can see examples of this in the one child policy of China and state restrictions on home schooling.

Now, the boundaries between three institutions are not absolute. All three are codependent and therefore must continually be in healthy dialogue with each other. For example, sometimes the state has to intervene in unhealthy family relationships.

However, same sex marriage is the ultimate power play of the state over the family. This is because the state not only claims the right to redefine marriage, but it now claims the right to redefine the family. Through same sex marriage the state nullifies all special claims of Fatherhood and Motherhood. Any special preference for motherhood and fatherhood is now discrimination. If an adoption facility prefers to give the child to a mother and father over a same sex couple that is now discrimination. If a child prefers a mother and father over a same sex couple that is now a perverted attitude and they will have to be reeducated, taught how to get over it.

Ultimately it leads to the homogenization of all relationships, even the relationship of man and wife, to the same level under an absolutism of the state. Taken to its extremes, the state can now arbitrarily redefine which relationships would be the right one for children. It is the ultimate state take over.

In abortion we saw the state divide body and soul; in divorce we saw the state divide man and wife; in same sex unions we see them separate mother from child.

(for a more extensive discussion on same sex marriage follow this link)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Divorce Does Not Exclude Anyone From Communion!

A short blog; please read to the end.

I've run into it again; somebody saying that because they are divorced they cannot receive Holy Communion.

Can we yell this out to the mountains; Divorce does not stop anyone from receiving the Sacraments!

Women, if you are in an abusive relationship do not hesitate to leave him. Men, if you are being manipulated by a woman then perhaps you need to separate.

Let me repeat it again; divorce is not a separation from the Church, it may even be something you need to do. In fact, if you are going through a divorce you need to draw even closer to the Sacraments, to the Faith community.

I don’t know what knuckle head nun, catechist, or priest instilled this into our people that divorce is a separation from the Church. Please, let’s stop this terrible and hurtful heresy.

In fact, there needs to be an avenue by which the state can intervene and assist in the separation of a couple. The state calls this divorce; the Church calls this physical separation. The state believes that a “divorced” couple can remarry; the Church does not; this is where there is a disconnect between the two. However, as I said, Christians often have no option but to seek a physical separation by means of the intervention of the state in the form of a divorce.

Therefore, the point of conflict between divorced individuals and the Church only comes when they attempt to remarry, to enter into a pseudo marriage. The previous covenant, established to last until death do us part, is still binding even though they are forced to live apart. Presuming that the original covenant is solid, there are no grounds for a remarriage.

It's not divorce that separates a couple from Communion but remarriage.

The reason that a Christian who is attempting to live in a second marriage is unable to receive Holy Communion is because they are persisting in a continual state of adultery. It’s not because their crime is more heinous than any other sin and it’s not because the Church is denying them mercy. The mercy is there, they just need to say they are sorry and ask forgiveness. However, part of asking for forgiveness is stating that you will amend your ways; that you will not sin anymore. That means that they have to stop living as man and wife and honor the covenant of marriage. It’s not the Church that is keeping them from Communion, its they who are keeping themselves from Communion, because communion is not simple receiving the Blessed Sacrament, it is also a sign that you are in Communion with the rest of the Church in what you believe and how you act. Even if the priest “absolved” you of your sin, you would still not be in communion because your way of living is not in communion. If a person was a stripper, bank robber, belonged to the mafia, etc . . .  and didn't want to change their life style it would be the same situation.

Now there is a caveat here. If you seek a divorce for a flippant reason, believing that it gives you the right to remarry, i.e. as a disparagement of the marriage covenant; then yes, that is a grave sin, and you need to confess it and recommit to living your marriage covenant. Once you have confessed, you are free to receive the Sacraments.

But, please, tell your relative and friends, divorce does not (in itself) separate you from Holy Communion.   

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Modesty is Still Relevant

Spring is upon us, summer is fast approaching. It’s a time for flowers, fun, and very personal self-revelations. Yes, it’s that time again; so let’s talk about modesty, a greatly misunderstood and underappreciated virtue in our society.

First, some basics:

The first thing that I want to make absolutely clear is that talking about modesty is not about excusing men and blaming women for their bad behavior. There is no foundation for the so called “rape culture.” Even if a woman walked down the street with only her birthday suit, there is never permission for a man to assault a woman. I state this first, because, as I have dialogued with different individuals on this matter I have been surprised by this accusation that those who preach modesty are putting the fault on the woman. So, for further emphasis, immodesty never is a permission for a man to “have his way” with a woman and such an ideal is abhorrent.

I hope that language was strong enough.

The second thing that that I want to emphasis is that modesty is not simply a virtue for women. Immodesty is any action by which someone seeks to obtain illicit sexual attention; this includes men. Being a man I can only guess what women would consider to be immodest behavior by men; but I think a Speedo fits somewhere in that category. Men are very attracted by the visual, which is why the porn industry caters heavily towards them, while women; well, I’ll leave it to my audience to fill in the blanks. Therefore, modesty is not simply about women or about dress, but it is about any action that seeks to arouse sexual interest outside of the marriage covenant.

Continuing this preamble, modesty is also not prudishness. When talking about virtue it is important to remember that every virtue sits in the middle of two extremes. For example, courage is obviously not cowardliness (being dominated by fear) nor is it rashness (having no regard for any consideration). Love is not hate nor is it false compassion, permissiveness. The list could go on. This aspect of virtues has often been referred to as the golden mean; that virtue always sits gently between two points. In the virtue of modesty the points are immodesty and prudishness; both points are immature ways of behaving. Prudishness is based on fear and shame; I hide my body because it is bad. Immodesty is also based on fear, but we will unpack that later. The central point is that modesty, like all virtue, sits between two extremes, both of which are immature.

Immodesty and modesty is also not necessarily about having cloths or not having cloths. It is, however, about communication. Communication always involves a dialogue, a relationship, between the community and the individual. What we say and do is only understood within the context of the greater community. Thus, if I say a bad word in English in China no one will be offended because that arrangement of sounds does not signify the same thing. However, what is being expressed, the meaning, remains constant. Anger remains constant throughout cultures, even though some cultures express it differently; the same way with grieving, anxiety, and even sexual arousal. Thus communication is always about a relationship between the community, the object being communicated, the person communicating, and the manner that it is expressed.

This is why the virtue of modesty is not disqualified by examples of nudist cultures. There is always, even within the context of a nudist culture, immodest ways of behaving, because sexual attraction is always a human constant, it always has a way of being expressed, and always has a meaning. For example, some cultures don’t allow women to climb over fences or be in the same room alone with a man. Some cultures find feet to be very attractive, or lips, and are less aroused by breasts or other physical qualities like western cultures. What is constant is that every culture has rules of modesty, and there is no way that one can be in such a space that they are above the community, outside of any context, without any norms. There is no neutral ground where you can be “yourself” without having some relationship to the community. In fact, to seek such a context is to make war on yourself, it is an immaturity that sees community as an imposition, an enemy, a limitation instead of the context that helps understand identity and direction.

However; a culture’s way of expressing modesty may be based on an imperfect living of chastity and marital relationships. Certain cultures may practice open relationships, swinger cultures, or polygamy. There may be a lack of respect for woman which can be expressed by under clothing or over clothing. What has been expressed as “Machismo” culture in some Latin American cultures often cultivates an exaggerated need to “keep the man interested;” and certain Arab cultures may place the burden of sin on the woman. Thus, simply because it is “cultural” doesn't, by default, make it mature behavior, expressing the fullness of human dignity. In like manner, one would have to be very discerning with regard to a nudist culture and whether or not they have a mature respect for woman and the nature of marriage. It also must be remembered that these communities are often very small, isolated communities where that level of familiarity and trust can be sustained and guarded.

Within cultures there are also places of covenant, of defined parameters, where the body can be celebrated and respected. For example; the doctor’s office, the covenant of marriage, and art studios are places where mature respect for the body can be fostered. These are places of professional discipline and the images are oriented to celebration and respected. Those who enter into these realms are asked to make a covenant, whether presumed or expressed, by which they realize what they will see and are asked to respect the parameters of the context.

Going back to this principle of communication and modesty; virtue always calls us to elevate our manner of communicating, to be experts at communicating. The forces and stresses of life are always pulling us to use impulsive and manipulative means of communicating. We are tempted to manipulate with money, violence, deception, and even lust in order to communicate and obtain results. The mature person recognizes the power of money, force, knowledge, and the erotic and keeps them in their proper place and time. They obtain immediate results, but they are not the best for fostering lasting relationships. They always seek to foster more relational ways of communicating such as love, respect, patience, forgiveness, self-giving, etc. . . 

Now, in discerning modesty, it often gets very particular as the pendulum draws closer to the center between prudishness and immodesty. As with all discernment; it is easy to discern the extremes. A stripper trying to arouse an audience is a pretty blatant image of immodesty, and a person who covers everything up and avoids eye contact is often a pretty good example of prudishness. But whether or not a particular outfit is modest can come down to a prudential judgement. To make this judgement we need to ask ourselves; “what do I intend with this outfit?” “How does the immediate and greater culture interpret it?” “Will wearing this elevate the greater culture?” “If I must go against the culture, what is my just cause?” In general, the community will tell us if something is immodest; because immodesty is always created by contrast, that is contrasting with the general manner of behaving, like the bright colored feathers of a peacock. Immodesty is always created by difference, and it is always an act of rebellion against the community, which is why it is connected to fear. In immodesty the community is painted as restraining me from obtaining what I want; it is the enemy of my gratification. Now, at times rebellion, prudently done, is necessary. Sometimes the constraints of the community are too restrictive. However, it should be done in the least disruptive way possible, for the purpose of elevating the virtue of the community, and, through a dialogue, work to redefine the boundaries (not simply removing all restrictions).  

So, for example, if lingerie is a type of vestment that is designed to express the erotic within the American culture; and your swim wear is of the same cut and size as lingerie, then one needs to seriously consider whether or not it is a modest vestment. At the same time, this respect for the community should be balanced with functionality, that is, can you swim in it and is it comfortable. It also does not need to communicate prudishness, neither contrasting too sharply with the local custom nor simply following the local custom.

And why not challenge the culture to some degree? Do we really think that women wearing bikini's to play beach volley ball is just about playing the sport when the men are wearing beach shorts? Are super short dresses and shorts really about comfort when there are plenty of other more modest options? Why make yourself uncomfortable for the sake of immodesty with the constant adjustment of strapless dresses and mini skirt when there are many other beautiful and elegant options?

But, in a way, we have to avoid over delineating the living of the virtuous life. It is in a very real way an art form; not a series of requirements and restrictions. The virtuous person does not see this dialogue between the community and the individual as a burden but a harmonious interchange through which something beautiful is created. In modesty this dialogue is between the sexes and asks the question; “How can I help you to flourish and be comfortable?” It is a positive virtue, not a negative imposition. When a woman dresses immodestly she places a barrier between her and the virtuous man. He either has to leave or has to keep compensating for her lack of consideration. She makes it difficult for the virtuous man to encounter her person and makes it easy for the man who has little respect for women. The purpose of dressing modestly is to create a welcoming space where the virtuous man can comfortably enter and encounter the woman’s humanity. She creates a home for him, and he for her; and through modesty are able go beyond the immediate physical attraction and enter deeper levels of self-revelation. 

It is about removing the barriers that impede us from encountering the human person. We have all encountered a person who smells bad or whose appearance is unkempt; and we all understand how difficult it is overcome the distracting messages that our senses are giving us in order to love, respect, and encounter the person. While there are situations where this cannot be avoided, It would not be right for a person to tell us, “Get over it” if they can do something about it. There would be a lack of respect for the humanity of their neighbor. In the same way, immodesty creates a barrier with the opposite sex, makes it difficult for them to encounter the humanity of the other. A man will find it difficult to have a serious conversation with a woman when she is showing everything with a bikini top (a fact that science has confirmed in various studies). It is a lack of respect for the man and a woman’s lack of respect for herself. 

It also has nothing to do with being unattractive. Modest vestments can be very attractive. As an example, Women who wear veils can be very attractive. Truly, let your vestments be a celebration of your femininity or masculinity, but there should be an awareness of where you are leading the other; what sort of encounter are you encouraging.

In the end, our sexuality is a gift we give to another, and modesty and covenant are the parameters by which we appreciate this gift. At birth we were dressed; one of the first acts of love and reverence done to us; it is not something we should sell cheaply. Our vestments are thus signs of covenant and love, given to us by the community, by our parents; and we should only remove them within the context of a similar covenantal arrangement, a similar space of respect.  Doing otherwise makes them cheap, underappreciated, and not a path by which we encounter the other. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fostering the Gift of Faith in Your Children

Throughout my ministry I have run into countless mothers and fathers who share with me their sorrow as they see their children abandon their faith and follow the ways of the secular world. It is a theme I keep running into over and over again. Of course, by the time they come to me there is not much that can be done since their children are already adults or well beyond the formative years. In seeking to offer guidance I have often found myself reflecting on my own formative years. No parents are perfect, but somehow my parents discovered some sort of receipt for giving the gift of their Christian faith. All of their 9 children have strong and vibrant faith lives and are in turn are transmitting this on to their children. What did they do right and what lessons can be gleaned? Here are some thoughts from that reflection.

1.     A Faith Filled Marriage: I was always struck by the fact that my parents only had one picture of their wedding. They were not that big into taking picture and capturing memories; which is reflected also by the fact that there are no pictures of my Baptism either. It was always, for me, a statement of simplicity, a focus on the substantial and less on the superficial. I think this has been a crucial part of their success both in marriage and in raising a family. A faithful marriage is the first sign of faith we give to our children.

2.     The openness to Children and the practice of Natural Family Planning: This is the subterranean stream that feeds the faith and virtue of the whole family. An open availability to the gift of life cultivates a spirit of generosity in the whole family, a spirit of self-denial, a school of poverty and simplicity of life. It is not merely the formative experience of living with many siblings, which is not always possible or advisable, but it is the spirit of self-denial that the couple lives and the hidden witness that marks the couple’s life that the fast and easy ways of the world are not the ultimate criterion for living one’s life.

3.     Sunday is nonnegotiable and daily Mass is something you should try and attend: At one point my family could not pay for car insurance due to a series of unfortunate events; so for many months we were without a vehicle. Therefore, we got out the map and discovered that the nearest church was 3 miles away. So every Sunday, and sometimes weekdays, the whole family walked 3 miles there and 3 miles back for Mass. Of the many life lessons my parents gave me, this one was one of the best. Our obligations to God and Church are not a hobby but a sacred trust. Attendance of daily Mass, when possible, is also a great way to inform the faith of your children.

4.     Do not be afraid to discipline your children, even in Church: A matter of pride for our family was the fact that all the children were so well behaved during Mass. Now, this was not always the case; a few of the toddlers got away from the fold on occasion and made a scene on the Altar. However, we were generally well behaved, and I think my parents secret was the fact that they were not afraid to discipline their children, even at a young age, to let them know that this is something important and sacred. Be careful not to use the cry room and day care as your default approach to handling unruly children. Don’t bring toys and don’t bring food; but with a firm hand and voice let them know that this is serious, and take them outside and reprimand them if necessary. The first duty and prayer of a parent at Mass is the formation of their children. Teach them the signs of reverence in the Church and if you have to use the cry room make sure that you are following the Mass and giving an example to your children of proper posture.

5.     Read to Your Children: Faith is best transmitted through story and example. My mother read to us many stories of the saints and the history of the Church. She would also read to us from the Baltimore Catechism. When I was 5 or 6 my mother read us the Story of Soul, the autobiography of St Theresa. There were no pictures, but I still remember that story to this day. When we were in elementary school we took turns reading the Bible while the dishes were being done. We started from Genesis and got tangled up in Leviticus, and that is where it ended, but it was a fruitful experience.

6.     Moderate the Use of the Media: One of the best things that my mother did was to get rid of the TV. Our family would go through cycles. We would be without TV for a few years and then we would bring it back, then after a few years we would get rid of it again. Through that experience I can say that the years without the TV were the most fruitful and rewarding. We discovered the joys of books, games, and other activities. Now days TV is the least of our media outlets. While getting rid of all media may not be possible, regulating it and having periods of abstinence from it is one the best things you can do for your children.

7.     Resist the Dictatorship of the School System: Schools are not an absolute authority and to make them so will kill the your child's faith. In 5th grade my family returned to Texas from Washington State and we had to make a decision. In Washington State we had attended an excellent Catholic School where we had received superb formation. Now that we were back in our home town the only option available to us was the public school system. It is at this juncture that my mother made the decision that she would home school us. At that time home schooling was not very common, and being so different the children were resistant, but we soon became comfortable with the ideal. Now, to be honest our experience with homeschooling was not all flying colors; but our faith was cultivated and placed on a solid foundation. My main point here is not to advocate for homeschooling but that when it comes to a question of school, education, and the gift of faith; the gift of faith should have priority. It would be better that our children were ditch diggers then to have them loose their faith. We should all ask ourselves, “If school was corrupting the faith of my children, at what point would I be willing to take my children and educate them at home?” If I do choose to use the public school system; have I invested heavily in supplementing their formation with a solid spiritual and catechetical formation? On the same note; we should be very mindful of the priority that is given to extracurricular activities such as sports. Sunday Mass, Catechetical formation, Confirmation retreats should always have priority over sports and extracurricular activities.

8.     Openness to Vocations: Every good Christian parent should tell their children that they would be happy if their children gave their life for the service of God. Simply expressing this changes so much in terms of the horizon of their Faith perspective; and every young man or woman should consider this as a possibility for their Christian life. Whenever possible take them to encounter religious communities and their way of life. This is one of the best ways to cultivate their faith life.

9.     Do not under estimate your child’s capacity for spiritual things: Too often we dumb things down for our kids or given a flowery, entertaining faith without any challenge to it. While we do not want to press them too hard, we do want to encourage them to go the extra mile. As an example, I went on my first silent retreat when I was 15. I was the only teenager there among all these other adults. If your teenager is a step above the other teenager, or finds the youth group unappealing; then take them to the adult faith formation programs for a change.

10.                        Your own faith formation is critical: My mother would attend faith formation classes all the time and do spiritual reading on her own. You cannot give what you do not have and your children will not respect what you do not invest in yourself.

11.                        Come early and leave late: Come early to Mass, sit in prayer and silence, leave reverently, after a moments prayer, and then spend some time mingling with others after Mass. These are crucial elements to celebrating the Mass well and grounding yourself in the faith community. And whatever you do, do not leave the Mass early because your children are rowdy, and for any reason for that matter short of an emergency.

12.                        Pray together as a family, especially with Dad: Let’s face it men, we too often avoid prayer with the family or prayer in general. Prayer is for women and children. However, when Dad got on his knees and prayed we took it seriously, and it is a powerful witness for children when they see their Dad pray.

13.                        Traditional prayers are great, but are not always the best: There are many ways of praying and celebrating in our Christian tradition. At the root of these celebrations are the Sacraments; but connected to the heritage of faith is a diverse array of pieties and devotions: the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Stations of the Cross, etc.  .  . While every child needs to be familiar with these devotions so that they can be connected to the shared heritage; not all of these devotions are the best for children. Prayer is work, a work of love, the hardest work we will undertake; and we should familiarize are children with that sacrificial element of prayer. We should teach them that prayer and feeling good are not necessarily always connected. However, there is no reason why we have to be unreservedly tied to a certain act of piety, especially an act of piety that is repetitive and monotonous. There is a real danger that our disproportionate attachment could be the death of a child’s faith; that we can drown it with Hail Mary’s. However, with a little imagination, prayer can be engaging. The use of ritual, images, story, and song can help the child engage in the continuous prayer of the people of God.

14.                        Be slow to anger and rich in Mercy: This is the hardest one to define, and it’s hard to find that balance. Every parent should remember that a child’s image of God is often profoundly impacted by their parents.  Every parent should ask themselves if they are approachable; if the child has ready access to the father. While a child needs parameters, a sure place to rest in hope; a faith that is constantly based on fear and discipline is no faith at all. It will simply dissipate. They need to be inspired, shown the richness of their faith, the example of the saints, to hear the radical call of the gospel, and to contemplate the things of God. Without discipline they cannot enjoy heavenly things, they cannot enjoy virtue. Likewise, a faith that does not challenge is a hobby, a social club, and will soon be unappealing. On the other hand a faith that is not understood, that is associated with oppressiveness, is equally unappealing and will be resented.

What are your thoughts about this work of giving the faith to your children?   

Friday, February 13, 2015

A guide to Confession

In my perusal of various Examinations of Conscience and guides to Confession I have generally been disappointed. Often times the language is too vague or without nuance. They generally aren't helpful in understanding the Spirit of Confession or the principles of discernment. So, I felt I need to create my own (and I am sure someone else will find my guide inadequate, and I would love to hear their criticism). Now, I must apologize, this post is a little long, but it was meant to be something you can print out and use before and during Confession. If your just a passing reader; the heart of the post is in the beginning. I hope you find it helpful.

Understanding Confession
In order to understand one sacrament we really have to understand how they relate to all the other sacraments; how one sacrament leads to another and have their fulfillment in full Communion with God and our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. A key to understanding how they are related can be seen in how the sacraments were originally celebrated. When an adult or family came into the faith they went through a rigorous process of education and purification sometimes lasting 3 years. During this time they could not be a part of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, i.e. the Mass. They could only hear the Scriptures proclaimed, the sermon given, and then they were asked to leave. After their rigorous preparation they were initiated into the Church. The first part of this rite of initiation was Baptism followed immediately by Chrismation and the laying on of hands (Confirmation), and finally culminating in the participation at the Lord’s Supper for the first time. Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion were thus all together as the one rite of initiation. In this rite of initiation the Christian pledged his faith in the teachings of Christ and swore to make undying war against sin. This pledge is thus renewed every time the Christian receives Holy Communion. In this light, receiving Holy Communion is a statement before God and the assembly that you are in “communion” in terms of what is professed and believed and in “communion” with the assembly in terms of Christian living. It is a sign of communion with God and the Church in both faith and action.

Now, the Christian community is also an assembly of sinners; nobody is perfect, everyone is a work in progress. So, the Christians kept themselves accountable by confessing their sins before they received the Eucharist. We still do this at the beginning of Mass to this day when we, in a general way, accuse ourselves of being sinners. For minor sins a simple, general statement of sinfulness is all that is necessary to receive the gift of forgiveness from the Church and being allowed to take part in Holy Communion. However, there were some sins that were so contrary to true Christian living that one could not simple presume communion without making a formal confession. You could not simply stand with the assembly as if nothing had happened. These grave sins, or deadly sins, were soon called “mortal” sins and smaller sins were called “venial” sins.

When a penitent came and confessed his grave sin to the Church he was given a penance that he had to fulfill before he could receive Communion again, and sometimes these penances could take years. This is ultimately where indulgences came from. Fellow Christians, that is saints, could offer their own sacrifices as a mitigation of the penance given to the penitent Christian. This “indulgence” could either be a full “plenary” remediation, or a partial remediation.

With time Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and Reconciliation became temporally and spatially distinct from each other. Confirmation was a rite done in adolescence; Confession was done in the privacy of a confessional and not within the liturgy of the Eucharist. Penances became a lot smaller (a few Hail Mary’s vs. 3 years of fasting on every Friday) and so indulgences were not as pertinent. Logically, though, they cannot be understood without relating them to each other.

Only God can forgive sins; and only Christ’s sacrifice justifies that forgiveness. To the Church was given the mission of bringing the reconciliation of Christ to men and women and this is a work we all share in. The sacrament of Baptism is the first sacrament by which this gift of forgiveness is given and received. Once bound by the Baptismal covenant, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the ordinary means of receiving forgiveness. The sacrament of Reconciliation is the place where the Church helps us by holding us accountable and purifying our contrition.

The sacrament of Reconciliation primarily concerns grave sin. Since true contrition for what we have done always includes transparency, in confessing grave sins we must:

· acknowledge all the serious faults that we can recall (confession),
· State the number of times or frequency (best estimation) that we have committed these crimes.

· State any details that directly affect the gravity of the sin (stealing $3 vs stealing $3000) but without laboring the confession with unnecessary details.

· Confess to someone who has the authority to forgive (the confessor) or at the very least have had the real intention of doing so (when no confessor is available)

· Make a statement of sorrow (act of contrition)

· State our sincere intention to avoid the sin in the future (a firm purpose of amendment).

· Accept whatever discipline is ascribed (penance) and fulfill it when it is possible.
These are the most essential acts of preparation for confession; all other preparation and ritual only assist this expression of contrition. At the back of this article you can find the ritual of confession written out.
Etiquette for Confession
In preparing and participating in the sacrament of Reconciliation There are some good habits that can help you, the confessor, and the community. Here is a list of some good habits, proper etiquette, for making a good confession:  

1. Call to mind your sins that you know are serious offenses. Then call to mind minor imperfections, defaults of character, venial sins that are most prominent in your life. Avoid being either too general or too detailed.

3. Make a firm purpose of amendment; a renewed vision for your future growth.

4. Make the best approximation as to when you made your last confession.

5. Remember, confession is about your sins, not your husbands or your friends. Avoid speaking about the faults and activities of others unless it directly pertains to your sin.

6. Be considerate and attentive in the line for confession.
A. If the line for confession is long and your confession is routine consider going on another occasion. People who have a good habit of regular confession should avoid Penance services.
C. Be organized and to the point when presenting your offences.
D. Remember that all Christians are bound by the most stringent confidentiality to never reveal what they might over hear in a confession.
E. Those who are waiting for Confession should pray for each other, especially the one who is receiving the sacrament.
F. Know the act of contrition and be familiar with the rite of confession
G. It is courteous to tell the priest the number of penitents who are waiting to receive the sacrament. Tell the priest if you can hear him or the penitents outside the confessional.

7. Never be afraid to ask a priest for confession or make an appointment. (but being considerate of their time)

8. Feel free to either confess behind a screen (anonymously) or in person (face to face) if the option is available.

9. Seek to go to the same confessor as often as possible. Sometimes arranging a regularly scheduled appointment will help if the need for accountability is great.

10. Monthly confession is a good practice. Weekly confession should be carefully discerned with the confessor and should be avoided by the scrupulous. Certain times of life, special periods of discernment or stress, may be greatly aided by a greater frequency of confession (marital problems, transition from home to college living, struggles with addictions, courtship and preparation for marriage, discernment of one’s vocation or path in life, etc. . .)

11. Fulfill your penance as soon as possible and never be afraid to ask the priest to clarify or repeat the penance. Feel free to write down the penance or ask the priest to write it down.

12. Be happy and rejoice that the Lord has freed you from all your sins, even the ones you forgot! Absolution of sin is always universal; only intentionally hiding a grave sin requires a new Confession.
 Grave Sin

Below is a list of actions that are generally considered grave transgressions that require reconciliation before the reception of Holy Communion. These are sins that should give us pause and assess where our life is going. Before perusing this list it is important to know that just because someone has done one of these actions does not necessarily mean you are guilty of that particular crime or that you have gravely sinned (mortal sin). It should give you pause, discern what happened, and consult a priest if you are unsure. In order to be guilty of a grave sin one has to have been deliberate in their actions, fully conscious of their actions, and fully aware that it was a grave sin. They must have freedom to act deliberately and full knowledge of what they were doing. Someone who is under substantial duress, fear, pressure, or who lacks full awareness (half asleep, intoxicated) cannot be fully culpable and thus guilty of a particular grave sin. If someone does not know that their action is sinful or that it was a grave sin, they also cannot be guilty of mortal sin. Even people who have serious addictions or ingrained habits may not be guilty of a grave sin as long as they are sincerely striving to overcome them. People suffering from these inclinations should consult a priest and make regular confession a part of their healing.
The purpose of the Christian life is to grow in virtue, self-knowledge, and union with God and our neighbor. If you have committed one of these actions it should give you pause and it probably points to a place of growth. Determining how guilty you are is not the primary concern. The Church is in the business of forgiveness and growth and less about figuring out how guilty you are (which ultimately only God knows).             
 A general list of sins of a grave nature

· Explicit denial of God, his Church, or some part of Church teaching.
· Active promotion of a pagan or heretical institution, activity, or ritual.
· The deliberate and malicious defamation of the Name of God or the sacrilegious abuse of any Holy person, place, or thing.

· Receiving the Sacraments in a sacrilegious manner.
- Obtaining Baptism or Confirmation for me or a child without any intention of living the Christian life.
- Receiving Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders, or Anointing without confessing a grave sin.
            - Receiving Holy Communion without respecting the hour fast.
            - Granting permission for non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist.
            - Deliberately hiding a grave sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
            - Failing to fulfill the Penance given in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
            - Entering into marriage outside of the Church.
            - Participating in an attempt by a Catholic to marry outside the Church.
- Seeking a civil Divorce for the sake of remarriage or seeking Divorce without respecting the permanence of marriage.
- Entering into marriage through deceit, manipulation, or without any intention to be faithful to the principles of marriage (fidelity, openness to children, the good of the spouse, etc.).
· Failing to attend Mass on Sunday or Holy Days of Obligation.
· Failing to observe fast and abstinence days of the Church.
· Intentionally and without good cause leaving Mass early, arriving late, or generally being non participatory during the liturgy.
· Engaging in work on Sunday merely for profitable gain, without legitimate cause, without any regard to the Sunday rest (family, community, charity, prayer).
· Child abuse, Spousal abuse, abuse of parents /neglect
· Committing a felony or in some grave way disrespected the law or persons in authority (extreme speeding, tax evasion, bribery, voter fraud, disrespecting an officer, etc…)
· Complete indifference or lack of participation in the political life of your country.
· Homicide or doing grave physical harm to another.
· Intending, premeditating, doing physical harm to another or actively aiding a homicide or violent crime.
· Failing to aid someone who is in physical danger (according to one’s real capacity to aid)
· Directly seeking or promoting abortion, euthanasia, suicide, In Vitro Fertilization, the death penalty, or abortifacients
· The abuse of any drug, alcohol, tobacco, or any substance to the point of impairment of judgment (drunkenness), serious detriment of health, or the creation of an addiction. The promotion of or assisting in the misuse of any of these substances.

· Driving or handling anything that could cause harm while intoxicated (machinery, weapons, etc.)
· Doing real physical harm or disrespect to yourself (cutting, extreme over eating, extreme under eating, etc. . . )
· The violation of the sacredness of the sexual act and the marital covenant as a sign of unconditional love by the obtaining of sexual pleasure outside of marriage: fornication, adultery, rape, cohabitation, homosexual acts, pornography, masturbation, voyeurism, actively fostering and indulging in sexual fantasies, touching and kissing for the sake of arousal, etc…
· Either directly seeking sexual attention through immodesty or having no discernment or concern for the virtue of modesty either through action or dress (nudity outside of an appropriate context, publicly wearing vestments intended to obtain sexual attraction; lingerie, bikinis, revealing dresses, etc.) 
· Showing a lack of respect to the intimate relationship between marriage, sex, and procreation by the use of any artificial means of contraception or surgical sterilization.
· The use of Natural Family Planning to totally exclude procreation without legitimate cause (danger to health, real financial difficulty, real psychological difficulty, etc.)
· Stealing something of significant value to another.
· Vandalizing with significant property damage.
· Accruing significant debt without real cause; significant mismanagement of funds, gambling with substantial resources.
· Complete indifference or lack of concern for the poor or those in need
· Lying or withholding information from someone who needs to know when the consequences are of a grave nature. Lying under oath; perjury.
· Slander, ridicule, or forgery if they concerns a grave matter.
· Plotting to steal or vandalize if the items are of significant value to the owner. 

The Pious Practice of Confessing Venial sins

Confession of venial sins is a very good and wholesome act of devotion; but it is never required. The universal confession of our sinfulness at Mass and the reception of Holy Communion reconciles us to God and our brothers and sisters and is sufficient for our minor faults.

However, the devotional practice of confessing our venial sins is a tremendous aid to growing in virtue and removing things in our lives that impede others from encountering the love of Christ through us. Through the physical sacramental signs of being reassured of God’s forgiveness we are renewed and strengthened. We are also held accountable, coached through the spiritual life. When we confess our venial sins we should focus on the ones that are predominant in our life.
Below is a general examination of conscience that can help. This list contains both concrete examples and general exhortations for the sake of growth and self-reflection.

The 10 commandments
1 I am the Lord your God, you shall have no strange gods before me.
Have I set apart time for worship, for prayer, for silence; according to the demands of my vocation?
Do I give my commitments to prayer prime of place? Do I put myself in the disposition for prayer (awake, a prayerful posture, a prayerful place) or is it rushed, rote, or unorganized?
Do I persevere in the struggle with distractions, disinterestedness, or the lack of inspiration?
Do I tithed my time, talent, and treasure? Is giving to God something I do grudgingly or is it a prayer, a symbol of the offering of my whole self? Are there any conditions, strings attached in my giving to the Church?

Is the meditation on the nature of God, on the truths of the faith, of the highest priority? Do I attend classes, retreats, seminars on an ongoing bases? Do I provide for my children’s catechetical instructions both at home and in formal classes at Church? Do I pray with them?
Have I renounced all or part of my Faith, given into fear of professing my faith, or treated it with indifference?

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2 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
Do I treat holy things with respect? Have I spoken of holy things in a disrespectful manner? Have I used God’s name as an expletive?
Have I used prayers, rituals, or holy things in a magical way, as good luck charms; with a merely utilitarian end (to get some power or material prosperity)?
Have I committed sacrilege by receiving the sacraments of Confirmation, Marriage, Anointing, Holy Orders, or Holy Communion without first confessing any grave sins? Did I receive Communion in a disrespectful way? Did I respect the one hour fast before receiving Holy Communion?
Have I committed sacrilege by willfully, with deliberate intention, failing to confess some grave sin during the Sacrament of Confession? Did I confess a sin without any intention to amend my ways? Did I fail to do the Penance assigned to me by my confessor?
Did I celebrate marriage outside the Church without due dispensation? Did I participate in a Wedding of a Catholic outside the Church that did not have due dispensation? Did I seek a divorce with the intention of marrying again or without respecting the permanence of marriage? Did I marry more than once without obtaining an annulment?
Did I act in a disrespectful way in a sacred space? Dress in an inappropriate way in a sacred space? 
Did I replace the obligation of Sunday Mass with the prayer service of another faith group?

3 Remember to keep the Lord’s Day holy
Am I faithful to my attendance of Sunday Mass? Did I arrive late to Mass or leave early without good cause? Was I indifferent in Mass, non-participatory, made no effort to move away from distractions?

Did I dress well for Mass, mentally and spiritually prepare myself in advance? Did I support and participate in Parish activities? Have I made any effort to understand the celebration of the Mass?
Have I set as a priority time with family, community, and prayer on Sunday? Have I, in some way, separated Sunday from the labor of the work week? Have I respected the need of others to have time off on Sunday?
Did I attend Mass on Holy days; days when the Church calls its members to celebrate together? (Immaculate Conception, The Assumption, Christmas, Mary the Mother of God, All Saints, etc. . . ) Did I observe the fast and abstinence days of the Church (Ash Wednesday, Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday)?

4 Honor Your Father and Mother
Have I honored and obeyed all lawful authority (Parents, teachers, government officials, Ecclesiastical authority) in all that is not immoral? If I have opposed a legitimate authority was it done in a way that sought to protect the common good, avoids violence and slander, and respects the office that the individual holds? Have I respected due process? If force was necessary was it focused, limited, and the only way of protecting the rights that were threatened?   
Did I respect my parents; taken care of them in their needs, in their old age? Have I forgiven them? Given their wishes and advice the benefit of the doubt? Have I been an active participant in family activities?
Have I been abusive towards a child, neglected a child, been overly protective, overly critical, impatient? Have I neglected to discipline my children; scandalized them through my behavior?
Have I exercised my positions of authority and oversight with prudence; as a servant? Am I overly attached to my position, closed to criticism or feedback? Have I ever used my position to curry favor? Do I hold myself to the same standard as everyone else?

5 Do not Kill
Have I assaulted someone in anyway whatsoever out of anger or revenge (verbally or physically)? Did I (within my capacity and in my immediate realm of influence) neglect to assist someone who was in need? Have I failed or been stingy in my charitable giving? Have I been reserved in giving of my time and talent?
Have I assisted, promoted, or obtained an abortion?
Have I intentionally acted discriminatory toward someone? Have I been attentive to racist attitudes? Have I plotted revenge in my heart; allowed hate to fester in my heart without any restraint? Have I simply been unable to forgive someone on any level; adamantly refused to move toward forgiveness?  Have I shown a lack of gratitude to others, presumed on their goodness, given a cold shoulder, acted with impatience?
Have I in any way abused my physical wellbeing? Have I disproportionately endangered my life by rash activities, stunts, or attempted suicide? Do I find myself involved in drug abuse, cutting, excessive eating, anorexic behavior, drunkenness, excessive smoking, etc. . . ? Am I overly concerned with my appearance; excessively working out, obtaining plastic surgery for no legitimate reason, applying excessive make-up, etc. . . ? Am I lacking in concern for my appearance; unkempt house, room, dress, manners, way of speaking, foul language? If I suffer from compulsive behavior, addictions, or depression am I seeking help?

6. Do not commit adultery; 9. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife
Have I in anyway sought or indulged in sexual pleasure outside of the marriage covenant? (Voyeurism, Pornography, Masturbation, provocative touching, fornication, Homosexual acts, cohabitation, adultery, rape, etc. . .)
In noticing the opposite sex was I been chaste; did I recognize their beauty while respecting them as persons? In recognizing improper desires did I actively cultivate them or maturely move away from them?
Was I modest is dress, speech, and action? Was I discerning in my apparel and not simply following culture? Did I foster modesty in my children’s apparel?

Have I disassociated the sexual act from the procreative through artificial contraceptives, surgical procedures, the practice of withdrawal, or mutual masturbation?  If Natural Family Planning is practiced has the discernment to avoid children been mutual, open to life, and honest about any self-serving attitudes? Have I used NFP for the complete avoidance of pregnancy without a legitimate reason?
Have I disassociated procreation from the sexual act through artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization? 

7. Do not steal; 10. Do not covet your neighbor’s goods
Have I taken what is not mine or not given what was required by agreement or law? Have I accrued a debt for no legitimate reason? Did I accrue a debt that I could not hope to pay off, defaulted on a loan?
Have I given a just wage to my employees; going beyond the requirement of law when possible? Have I shown a lack of concern for my employees’ legitimate needs and concerns? Have I made fair deals with customers? Have I, as an employee, given productive work? Have I been lazy, wasted time on the computer, arrived late, failed to be accountable and communicate?
Have I engaged in frivolous lawsuits? Asked for unfair compensation? Entrapped individuals with high interest rates? Demanded payment of debt without concern for the physical and financial wellbeing of the debtor? Knowingly and directly invested in a nefarious organization (pornography, abortion, morally questionable research, etc. . .)?
Have I been overly concerned with material goods; a lack of stewardship and simplicity with regard to material things? Have I repeatedly purchased items for which I have no need or been overly possessive of material things? Do I use my material goods to create community or to shield myself from others?
Have I been jealous of another’s good fortune, skills, appearance, or possessions? Have I ever conspired or envisioned taking another’s possessions or undermining their success?

8. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor
Have I deceived someone? Withheld knowledge from someone who had a right to know? Have I revealed information that was given in confidence? Have I perjured myself; broken a promise, an oath, a vow, a contract? Did I fail to bear witness to the Truth; encouraged evil? Have I been unreceptive to the truth; unreceptive to compliments and criticism?
Did I make universal statements about others (“they always do this”) or make exaggerated claims? Did I reveal the faults and failings of another to someone who did not need to know or without any constructive intent? Do I communicate my feelings with those who should know? When I express my feelings or thoughts do I claim them as “my feelings” doing so in a way that is respectful and which seeks a resolution?  Have I sought to be objective, understanding, and available to listen? Am I approachable? Am I quick to compliment, flatter, or overly hesitant to criticize? If I do criticize is it done with a view to build up? Am I stingy in compliments?
Did I reveal an image, document, video, or audio reproduction that damaged the good name of another? That was deceptive, incomplete, or exaggerated in its presentation? Did I participate in spreading such an item?

The Rite of Confession
The Penitent begins his Confession with the sign of the cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been (so many days, weeks, months, years) since my last confession.
The confession of sins follows after this introduction
Generally the priest gives some form of council after the penitent has finished enumerating their sins.
The priest then prescribes a penance to be fulfilled after confession.
The priest then invites the penitent to say some form of the act of contrition. The penitent may use these words or a similar expression of contrition:
O my God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and in failing to do good I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.  Amen
The priest will then extend his hand over the penitent and give the absolution of sins
God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The priest may dismiss you with these or similar words:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
Respond: His mercy endures forever
The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.