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A number of fellow Catholics over the years have asked me for advice and encouragement about going to Confession.  Few things make me more glad than to share my love and appreciation for this very special Sacrament, and I pray very hard that all Catholics may be drawn to it.  At the same time, I also understand that it’s not an easy thing to do.  So, especially now that we are in Lent, I would like to offer some encouragement for my brothers and sister who might be having difficulty approaching the Sacrament.  (The following is from a letter I wrote to one dear person this evening; but I think it might be applicable and helpful to many people.)

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I understand how much trepidation we can experience about going to Confession.  It never completely goes away; I still struggle with it occasionally, and I’m sure everybody does.  The reason is that the devil wants to prevent us all from going and receiving the tremendous grace, nourishment, and healing of the Sacrament.  He will throw every lie and every negative feeling at us in order to stop us, to make us afraid, to make us distrustful and doubtful.

To withstand these difficult things takes God’s grace.  Nobody can do it alone.  And so, what you should do now and very often is simply ask the Lord for His peace and for the grace to go to Confession.  It may be helpful to pray this Act of Contrition–and note especially the part I’ve emphasized:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest my sins because of Thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen. 

Pray that at least once a day, and it won’t be long until you start to feel much more at ease and even eager to go to Confession.

Trust that there are good reasons that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation and made human priests ministers of His mercy.  The Sacrament itself provides not only sanctifying grace, but a very special, particular sacramental grace–that of stronger resistance to sin.  The priest, as a fellow sinner and fellow penitent, can provide valuable help and guidance.  As a fellow human, he can speak those wonderful words of absolution in a voice we can hear.

You certainly have nothing to fear from a confessor.  You may think that he will be judgmental or perhaps even outraged at your sins.  But he won’t.  I’ve heard many priests say that sin is just sin–it’s boring, it’s dull, it’s unimaginative, it’s completely unremarkable.  What they find truly remarkable is the courage and humility and faith of the penitents who come to them.  And they feel privileged to be able to help and heal and minister to them.

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I will just add here what I have told myself and others many times:  In the whole universe, there is only one person who benefits from our not going to Confession–and that’s Satan.  Don’t give him that benefit!

Also, I welcome anybody to contact me to ask further questions about Confession.  I don’t ever get tired of talking about it!

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Today we celebrate a great and extremely interesting Saint, Mary Magdalene.  Maria_Magdalene_crucifixion_detail

A woman of considerable mystery and controversy, her exact identity is not clear.  Is she the same as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus?  Is she the unnamed sinner who anointed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair?  Was she a prostitute?

Her name brings to mind repentance, conversion, and liberation from evil.  One of the few clear statements about her in scripture says that she was exorcised of seven demons, and after that she followed Christ on His journeys.

We also know with certainty that she was present at the Crucifixion and that she was the first person to receive and announce the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection.  Dominicans regard her as a patroness of our Order, for she was the preacher to the preachers and the apostle to the apostles.

Even with such scarce evidence, we can conclude that St. Mary Magdalene had a remarkable and dramatic spiritual journey, a profound conversion.

While some might take umbrage with identifying her as a great sinner, the mention of her possession by seven demons suggests that for some period of time her life was far from saintly.  As a woman who has in the past has lived dangerously close to the demonic, I have long identified closely with St. Mary Magdalene.  When talking about my experiences with fellow Catholics, I have occasionally been met with appalled and scandalized responses, a very un-Catholic recoiling from my past as if it were still my present and my future, as if there were no such thing as repentance, conversion, and salvation of sinners.  And I have to admit that I am sometimes the most appalled of all, nearly tempted to doubt my own salvation.

But just as St. Mary Magdalene cannot be defined by her past errors, neither can I be, nor can anybody who turns their face to Christ and opens their heart to His saving grace!  The only sense in which we are defined by our past is that the great darkness which is behind us makes the transforming light of Christ gleam all the more radiantly!  Where sin abounded, grace abounds all the more, as St. Paul said.  And as St. Augustine said, every Saint has a past, and ever sinner has a future.  (Sts. Paul and Augustine should know very well, for they too are well-known as repentant and converted sinners.)

What greater grace could there be than to encounter the resurrected Christ in person?  And what greater future for a sinner than to announce that Good News for the first time in human history?  Those are the reasons we honor the great Saint, Mary Magdalene, and because she who was once Satan’s possession became Christ’s, preacher to the preachers, apostle to the apostles, and a glorious model of hope, repentance, and conversion for all of us sinners.

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

The Scripture readings for yesterday wonderfully communicate God’s abundant grace to us.  They also teach us an important lesson about who we are and who God is–a lesson in pride and humility, doubt and trust.

I can so empathize with the prophet Isaiah:

“Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

And with St. Paul:

For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.

And with St. Peter:

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Even after nearly five years of being back in the Church, I occasionally look at my life and say, “Oh Lord, after all I’ve done, I am not worthy to be part of Your Church!” But then God says, “You are part of My Church for one reason only: because I created you to be.” Or in other words, “It’s not all about you and what you’re worthy of. It’s much more about Me and what My will for you is.”

Sometimes our egos are our worst enemies. What folly to suppose that we could ever be worthy of what God gives us! And what folly to second-guess His freely-given love and blessings! What a cleverly-disguised pride! A pride that preys upon our trust in God and in His providence.

Fortunately, Isaiah, Paul, and Peter also provide examples of true purity and trust that we can follow. Reassured by God, Isaiah and Peter put themselves at His service. And Paul says so beautifully:

But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.

When I look at my life with genuine humility, I too can see that God’s grace has been abundant and extremely effective. It has never failed me. I may fail myself in not being open and receptive to it. But He does not fail me. On Him we can depend completely.

I can’t believe that tomorrow is the last Sunday of the Church year!  Next Sunday it begins anew with the First Sunday of Advent.

The Solemnity of Christ the King can’t help but be tremendously powerful.  One can’t help but be moved to humility and awe before the King of Heaven.  On this day, of all other days, I always feel as though a veil has been lifted from my eyes.  I see Christ as my King, God, and Creator, and I see myself as His creature, created out of nothing, entirely dependent upon Him.  And although I feel like a speck of dust before Him, I rest secure in His love, His goodness, His graciousness, His generosity, and His peace.  I know that it is by and for Him that I exist at all.

Today in Mariology class, we spent most of our class talking about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  Going into the class this morning, I was completely unaware of what riches were there to be mined from this single dogma.  Of course, it is about Mary and God’s singular extraordinary grace upon her, but beyond what it tells us about Mary is what it tells us about God and His very special love for every single one of us!  He wants to be in a special, intimate relationship with each of us just as He did with Mary.  Like Mary, we are each unique persons, with our very own role in God’s creation.  He loves each of us as completely and particularly as if we were the only person in the universe.  What He did for Mary is a sign of the tremendous love and power he offers to each of us.

And our professor pointed out something very important: human beings don’t come into the world on their own, and then God looks down and says, “Oh, here’s another one… Hm, am I going to love it or not? Maybe I’ll decide once I see what kind of creature it is and how well it behaves.”  That’s not how it is.  We come into being because of His love.  His love brings us to life, and it sustains us in life.  His love is a given, and it is a completely free given.  How we respond to it is up to us (because love must be freely given on our part as well).

This Solemnity of Christ the King is a wonderful opportunity for us to recognize and respond to His love.  To reaffirm that He is indeed our King–our King who loves us and gives us our being.  To reaffirm that we choose to be His subjects–subjects full of dignity and freedom and love given in return.  There is no humiliation, no degradation, no oppression, in being subject to the King of Heaven.

And yet so many people in our world reject and despise Him because they hate the idea of being subject to a King.  That’s almost as true of this country as of all of the more blatantly secularist nations of the west.  For all of the United States’ famous (or infamous) religiosity, we Americans tend to be intensely independent, individualistic, and self-autonomous.  You don’t have too search too deeply to realize that much of the religion in this country is really about being prosperous in this world.  At best, it is often confined to Sundays, holidays, and church walls.  Over 230 years after obtaining our independence as a nation, “King” is still a four-letter word in this country.

And because we are all part of this world, it can be very tempting to just go along with that.  But we mustn’t.  The truth is, there is no such thing as life without a king.  Rejecting the true King does not free us.  It only makes us subject to other “kings”–be they rulers of nations, heads of corporations, media moguls, pastors of feel-good mega-churches, or our own flaws.  “Kings” are a dime a dozen in this world, and they all play right into the hands of the “king” of Hell.

Make no mistake: the devil is the only one who benefits from us not serving Christ the King.

So, on this holy solemn feast day, let us make a radical declaration, not of independence, but of dependence.  Let us declare with all our hearts, “I am a subject of Christ the King, the Source of all life, love, and freedom–and of no other!”

And then–here’s the really challenging part–let us pledge to live every day of the upcoming new year as if we really meant it.

Somebody recently mentioned indulgences to me.  I am very dedicated to seeking indulgences, especially for the poor souls in Purgatory.  I’ve actually been meaning to write about this topic for a while, and especially since I’ve been trying to write about the Rosary–there are special indulgences related to rosaries (the objects) and to the Rosary (the prayer).  I will highlight these below.  So here we go: indulgences!

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1471)

I’ve heard temporal punishment explained very simply thus *: say that you drop a glass that has a drink in it and make a big mess.  You tell your mother that you are sorry, and she forgives you.  But the mess still needs to be cleaned up.  In justice you should be the one to clean it up.  Having to clean up the mess is your “temporal punishment.”  Every sin we commit makes a mess.  Contrition and forgiveness heal our relationships with God and others, but they don’t clean up the messes.  We each have to clean up our messes, either in this life or in Purgatory.  Indulgences are a divine gift by which we can be freed even from having to clean up our messes.

We can obtain indulgences for ourselves, or for souls in Purgatory.  We cannot apply them to other living persons, however.  Obtaining indulgences for the souls in Purgatory is a great and generous act of mercy.  Personally, I make that my focus.  I consider it a win-win situation; the souls get freed from Purgatory, and I get some new friends up in Heaven to pray for me!

Indulgences are granted via specified actions.  Here are a couple of examples of common indulgenced actions (including the rosary-related ones).  These and many, many more can be found in the Enchiridion of Indulgences along with all the other norms and regulations relating to indulgences.

35. Use of Articles of Devotion (Obiectorum pietatis usus)
The faithful, who devoutly use an article of devotion (crucifix or cross, rosary. scapular or medal) properly blessed by any priest, obtain a partial indulgence.

Get your rosaries (and other items) blessed by a priest!  It’s so quick and simple to do.  I’ve just gone up to my priest after Mass and asked him to bless rosaries.  It takes maybe 20 seconds, and he is always more than happy to oblige.  After it is blessed, you can receive a partial indulgence just by using it.  Partial indulgences, as their name suggests, remove part of the temporal punishment you’ve amassed.  But you can gain them again and again–they are unlimited!

But if you think that’s simple, check this out:

55. Sign of the Cross (Signum crucis)
A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly sign themselves with the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The first time I read that, I was like, “Seriously?  Nah, an indulgence can’t be that easy!”  The thing to remember about partial indulgences is that the extent of the indulgence (whether “partial” means a little or a lot) depends on the devotion with which we perform the prescribed action.  It’s not the size of the action, but how well we do it.

But back to #35 above, rosaries can be used for a variety of prayers, such as the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  The above indulgence would apply to any devotional use of a rosary!  This next one, however, applies specifically to the “capital-r” Rosary, and it is an example of another kind of indulgence, a plenary indulgence:

48. Recitation of the Marian Rosary (Rosarii marialis recitatio)
A plenary indulgence is granted, if the Rosary is recited in a church or public oratory or in a family group, a religious Community or pious Association; a partial indulgence is granted in  other circumstances.

“Now the Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of fifteen decades of “Hail Marys” with an “Our Father” before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption.” (Roman Breviary) The name “Rosary,” however, is commonly used in reference to only a third part of the fifteen decades.

The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms:

1) The recitation of a third part only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously.

2) The vocal recitation must be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries.

3) In public recitation the mysteries must be announced in the manner customary in the place; for private recitation, however, it suffices if the vocal recitation is accompanied by meditation on the mysteries.

4) For those belonging to the Oriental rites, amongst whom this devotion is not practiced, the Patriarchs can determine some other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for those of
the Byzantine rite, for example, the Hymn “Akathistos” or the Office “Paraclisis”); to the prayers thus determined are accorded the same indulgences as for the Rosary.

Note that it specifies that one must meditate upon the Mysteries of the Rosary–just saying the vocal prayers is not enough.  Also, the 5 decades must be said “continuously”–you must pray them all in one sitting, as opposed to praying one Mystery then doing something else and coming back later to pray the others.  Not all plenary indulgences are specified at such length.  Here is another common universal one:

3. Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament (Adoratio Ss.mi Sacramenti)
A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who visit the Most Blessed Sacrament to adore it; a plenary indulgence is granted, if the visit lasts for at least one half an hour.

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?  There are a number of indulgences which may generally be called partial, but in certain circumstances may be plenary.  For example, devoting a longer period of time to the action, or doing the action on a particular day or during a particular season (e.g. when the Tantum Ergo is recited on Holy Thursday or Corpus Christi)

A plenary indulgence such as this remits your entire temporal punishment, no matter how great it may be.  It’s a very powerful thing, and a very huge gift from God.  We are limited to receiving only one plenary indulgence per day.  The only exception is that plenary indulgences can be obtained at the point of death, even if one has already obtained a plenary indulgence earlier that day.

This brings me to the conditions that must be met in order to obtain any indulgence:

22. § 1. To be capable of gaining an indulgence for oneself, it is required that one be baptized, not excommunicated, in the state of grace at least at the completion of the prescribed works,  and a subject of the one granting the indulgence.

§ 2. In order that one who is capable may actually gain indulgences, one must have at least a general intention to gain them and must in accordance with the tenor of the grant perform the enjoined works at the time and in the manner prescribed.

Essentially, you need to be a Catholic in good standing and in a state of grace (no unconfessed mortal sins on your soul).  If there is an indulgence specified by a particular bishop for a particular diocese, you have to be part of that diocese and subject to that bishop.  The rosary-related indulgences are universal.  Also, you have to want and intend to obtain the indulgences.   This is why it is so important that we all be aware of indulgences–and believe in them!  If, after reading all this, you decide you just don’t believe what the Church teaches about indulgences, well, then you’re never going to obtain one.  And that would be very unfortunate.

To obtain plenary indulgences, additional conditions must be met:

26. To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the following three conditions: sacramental Confession, eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is further required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.

If the latter disposition is in any way less than perfect or if the prescribed three conditions are not fulfilled, the indulgence will be partial only, saving the provisions given below in Norm 34 and in Norm 35 concerning those who are “impeded.”

While to receive a partial indulgence you simply have to be in a state of grace, for the plenary indulgence, you must go to Confession, even if you have only venial sins to confess.  And note that requirement that “all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent”!  That’s a tall order.  I think the key word is “attachment.”  We may fall into venial sin, but that’s not the same as being attached to it.  We have to detach and reject sin–we have to be pure of heart and pure of intention.  We have to keep our eyes on our goal, which is to free ourself or some other poor soul from the results of sin.  We can’t very well do that if we ourselves give in to sin all too willingly and perhaps even eagerly.

Note that even if you don’t fully meet the conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence, you can still obtain a partial indulgence.

27. The three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work; it is, however, fitting that Communion be received and the prayer for the
intention of the Sovereign Pontiff be said on the same day the work is performed.

28. A single sacramental confession suffices for gaining several plenary indulgences; but Communion must be received and prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff must be
recited for the gaining of each plenary indulgence.

29. The condition of praying for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff is fully satisfied by reciting one Our Father and one Hail Mary; nevertheless, each one is free to recite any other
prayer according to his piety and devotion.

More details about those conditions.  Regarding the first sentence in 27, “may be fulfilled several days before or after”: traditionally, the set time-frame was 8 days.  In 2000, the Great Jubilee Year, it was specified as “about 20 days.”  This longer time-frame remains in force, per the Apostolic Penitentiary.

I know this may all be a little overwhelming.  All these rules and regulations may seem burdensome.  Really, though, the rules basically come down to simply living out the faith.  If you go to Confession pretty frequently, you’re going to be in good shape to meet all the requirements.  And what Catholic wouldn’t want to offer prayers for the Holy Father’s intentions?  Or be detached from sin?

Furthermore, God is merciful.  There is nothing He would rather do than relieve us from troubles and suffering.  That’s the reason Christ died.  And it is only because Christ died that the Church can offer indulgences.  The graces we receive as indulgences were gained on Good Friday.  So if we approach His great mercy, if we seek out the graces of indulgences for ourselves, or especially for others, following the rules and regulations to the best of our ability, God isn’t going to say, “Oh, you didn’t do x perfectly, so no deal!”  God is not held to the rules and regulations of the Enchiridion.  We are bound to fulfill them the best we can.  They are the Church’s way of showing us what is the best way to follow, the Church’s way of saying, “If you abide by these, your success will be assured.”

So, whatever you do, don’t be discouraged by the rule book.  Of course, don’t toss the rule book aside, either.  Respect it for what it is and try to abide by it.  The rest will be taken care of by God’s mercy.  I think this is especially true when we seek indulgences for the souls in Purgatory.  I pray a little prayer that goes something like this:

Dear Lord, today I wish to obtain every possible grace and indulgence for the poor souls in Purgatory.  Please don’t look on my unworthiness to obtain such tremendous graces, but look in mercy upon those poor souls who are longing and suffering so greatly to be united with You at last! Thank You.  Amen.

If you want more information, take a look at the Enchiridion.  This is a PDF copy that you can search if you’re looking for something particular.  Definitely look at pages 19-40, where the various indulgenced actions are listed.  You might be surprised, as I was!

Really, there is no excuse for not seeking to obtain indulgences.

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* I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly who gave this explanation.  I remember hearing it on the radio, and I’m almost positive it was a priest, so I’m thinking it must have been either Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ on EWTN Open Line, or Father Vincent Serpa, OP on Catholic Answers Live.  Many thanks to whomever it was!

I’m still not having a very good time of things.  My main issue lately has been worrying and stressing out about my cat.  She’s been pretty sick and losing weight.

I’ve taken her to the vet, and they’ve been doing various diagnostic tests.  They still aren’t sure what is wrong with her.

At first, they were pretty sure it was hyperthyroid disease, but her bloodwork and a more specific thyroid test have both come back normal.  Friday I took her for an ultrasound, because the vet was afraid it was cancer.  But the ultrasound didn’t show any tumors or anything alarming.

Currently, an internist is looking things over.  They’ll probably report back and recommend next steps on Tuesday.  Which means more waiting.  The waiting has been really weighing heavily on me.

I am very glad that kitty doesn’t seem to be suffering.  She still eats a lot.  She never was an energetic cat, so her lying around doesn’t seem abnormal.  She doesn’t cry or have difficulty getting around.  She doesn’t avoid me or the other cat (any more than usual).

I’m very relieved about that, but still… it’s been tough!  I haven’t been in this situation on my own before.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it’s almost as bad as when my parents were sick!  I guess because my cat is relying on me so much.  She has nobody else to depend on.  And she can’t speak up and tell me or the doctors what is wrong with her.

The financial impact has been pretty tough too.  I just thank God I got a good-sized reimbursement from last month’s trip to NC, and my annual raise also kicked in this last month.  So, I’m not hurting as badly as I might otherwise have.  Plus, my parents have insisted on sending me aid… God bless them!  I don’t know where I, or my cats, would be without their constant and generous support.

And then, there’s the physical exhaustion of constantly having to clean up my apartment.  Let’s just say kitty’s illness has resulted in some pretty nasty messes.  It can be so frustrating.  I just can’t seem to get ahead.  And as soon as things are clean, they’re soiled again.

I’ve lost my temper at times… not because I’m really angry, but because I just need to vent or else I feel like I’ll go crazy and/or burst an artery and die.

So, that’s what I’ve been coping with lately.  And why I haven’t been blogging much.  I’m just tired.  Worried.  Trying very hard not to worry.  Praying.  Still worried.  Still tired.  I just hope the doctors find out what the problem is… and that it is treatable.

Very dear and well-meaning people have advised me to “prepare for the worst.”  No offense, but I can’t do that.  For one thing, I think it’s impossible to be prepared, no matter how hard we try.  For another thing, I don’t think I’ve yet been supplied with the actual grace needed to cope with that possible eventuality.  Thinking about that is what worries and distresses me so much.  Thinking ahead too much doesn’t help anything.  I trust that God will hold me up when the time comes.  But not any sooner.

Right now, I just need Him to help me with the waiting, the finances, and the cleaning.  And the general worriedness and tiredness.  Just for today.  Just for this hour.  That’s all I need.  Anything beyond that is… well… beyond.

I could surely use some prayers!  Thank you and God be with you.

At Confession this morning, my priest told me to read and pray about the epistle selection for this coming Sunday:

Rom 8:31b-34

Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.

I found it so comforting and reassuring.  I thought it was the perfect scripture passage for my personal life and for our lives as Catholics in the world.  It really bolstered my confidence and my trust… my love too.  Our Lord is so very great, and never outdone in generosity!

I looked up at the Crucifix… what more could God have given us than His own Son?  What more could the Son of God have given us than His own life?  His blood pouring from His many wounds?

And He never ceases to give us His life–His divine life!–through the Sacraments of the Church!  The sanctifying grace we receive from the Sacraments is nothing other than God’s own divine life.  It’s amazing when you think about it.  How He not only holds us and the entire universe in existence, but also constantly sheds His very own life over us–provided, of course, that we are disposed to receive it.

The key to maintaining that disposition is the Sacrament of Confession.  Sanctifying grace and mortal sin cannot co-exist in our souls.  That is why Confession is of such vital importance–it is where we exercise our freedom to choose good and avoid evil, to choose divine life and reject sin.  The choice is ours.  The Lord is waiting for us, waiting to acquit us and grant us His peace, His mercy, His love, His very life.

Choose wisely.

Not only at Lent, but all year long.

I have encountered this question a number of times in the last three years.  It is often a sincere and earnest question, with which I empathize greatly.  Sometimes it is posed more cynically.  I’ve been met with my share of incredulity when speaking of my life as a single Catholic.

The usual point of contention is the Church’s teaching on chastity and on sexual expression being reserved exclusively for husbands and wives–and even within marriage, there are laws of chastity and properly-ordered sexual expression.  For all unmarried people, chastity requires complete sexual abstinence. Again, this is for all unmarried people: regardless of why they are unmarried, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of their state in life, regardless of how imminent their marriage may be.

This is a hard teaching. But is it impossible?  It can’t be if I and many other people live up to it.  So, do I have some kind of super-power?  Is my sex drive abnormally low?  If those were true, then I wouldn’t consider it such a “hard teaching.”  The fact is, I struggle with it as much as anyone, and occasionally I fall–and I’m not sure I would believe anybody who said otherwise.  So, then, how do we live according to this hard teaching?  There are three fundamental and inter-related requirements.

1)  We must stand apart from the secular world. This is important for Catholics to do in every aspect of life, but especially when it comes to chastity.  In the opinion of the secular world, chastity is impossible, or at least miserable.  In the secular world, even children are scarcely expected or encouraged to live chaste lives!  For one thing, chastity doesn’t sell.  For another, it doesn’t “feel good.”  The secular world is very much about money and self-gratification, and nothing is more easily exploited for those purposes than human sexuality.  This is pretty much the way it has always been.

For those who are (rightly) ashamed of being openly in thrall to money and gratification, there are all kinds of supposedly rational and scientific arguments that, as long as it is consensual, all sexual expression is normal and healthy and only natural, and that any kind of repression is harmful and turns people into basket cases–and the Catholic teaching of chastity sounds an awful lot like repression, doesn’t it?  My favorite is the “argument from nature,” in which nature is used to rationalize any and every kind of sexual behavior based on the fact that such behaviors have been observed among animals.  This argument is very faulty and capricious.  I’ve heard quite a lot of people use it to rationalize their preference for promiscuity and conveniently overlook the little fact that some animals are naturally monogamous.  Those who like to use it as rationalization for bad behavior drop it quickly as soon as some unnatural things like fast cars, computers, jet planes, and breast implants are concerned.

As for “repression” turning people into “basket cases,” experience simply doesn’t bear that out.  If anybody can make a good case for me, or any other chaste single Catholic being a basket case as a result of being a chaste single Catholic, I’d really like to hear it.

All of this said, I am not saying that chastity comes naturally.  Not in this fallen world.  But remember: human nature is different from animal nature.  It is partly supernatural. In order to live an authentically human life–which includes chastity–we rely on supernatural assistance.  Better yet, it is there for the taking.

2)  We must trust God completely. There are a great many things I could say about being in relationship with God.  Let it go without saying that all Catholics must have an ever-growing, ever-deepening personal relationship with God.  But I consider trust to be one of the most essential and crucial elements of that relationship.  Lack of trust can make a soul especially vulnerable to ravage by loneliness, despair, envy, and depression.

When we say something is impossible, we imply that it is without hope, that it cannot be helped by anything or anybody.  As we have seen, that is generally the opinion of the secular world when it comes to chastity.  But Scripture and Tradition–our Catholic faith–tell us that we have a God who gives us hope, a God who cares for us and helps us, a God who knows us and knows our needs better than anybody else, even better than we know ourselves, and who provides for those needs. He made us–we hold no secrets, no mysteries for Him.  There is nothing impossible for Him, and He does not ask anything impossible of us.  All we have to do is cry out to Him for help.  And when we are beseiged with temptations against chastity, we must be willing to cry out to Him immediately.  “Lord, I am in trouble!  Lord, please safeguard my chastity!  Lord, please take the edge off of these desires!”  If you pray like that at the first sign of temptation, and if you pray for chastity in general, God will help you!

In addition, trust also means entrusting ourselves to God, putting our entire selves in His hands, making a gift of ourselves to Him. It is saying, “God, I want to know and to fulfill Your will for me.  I want to be the person You want me to be, and I want to do the things You want me to do.  I want to follow Your commandments.  I want to walk by Your side.”  Trust in God involves both giving and receiving.  He gives freely, but He does not force anything on us.  We have to assume a posture of receiving.  We have to be disposed to receiving what He gives us.

3)  We must go to Confession regularly. God gives Himself and His eternal, supernatural life to us through the Sacraments of the Church.  The Sacraments we can, and should, receive constantly are Holy Communion and Confession.  Most people have no problem with Communion, but Confession is another matter.  “Oh, I don’t need Confession.  My sins aren’t that bad.  Besides, why do I need to tell my sins to a priest?”  Unfortunately, I think that this attitude has often been fostered by our clergy and religious educators, if not actively, then certainly by omission.  Fortunately, I think that the damage is slowly being reversed.  I am here to do my part by saying:  You need Confession, and you need it regularly. I would recommend it at least once a month, but it is essential whenever you have commited a mortal sin.  There are two basic reasons why.

First and foremost, Confession cleanses and releases our souls from sin and restores them to a state of grace.  That state of grace is necessary in order for our souls to receive the graces offered by all the other Sacraments–it disposes us to receive grace. Furthermore, to receive Holy Communion when in a state of mortal sin not only deprives us of the graces of Communion, but also incurs additional mortal sin, namely sacrilege.  Think about it: if you knew the Lord Jesus was coming to visit you in your home, you would probably want your home spotless and beautiful and full of good things to offer Him.  When you receive Communion, you are bringing Him into your soul, which is to be a temple, a dwelling place for Him, so shouldn’t you want your soul to be spotless, beautiful, and full of delights for Him as well?  You wouldn’t invite him into a sewer tank or a rotting mausoleum, but if your soul is in a state of mortal sin, that’s analogous to what you are doing.  It is an offense to His goodness and His grace, an abuse to His Body and Blood, and hence an additional mortal sin.  So my advice is that if you are aware of having committed a mortal sin, don’t even think about receiving Communion until you’ve gone to Confession!

Secondly, Confession is a Sacrament of healing and strengthening, which is effective even if you are not in a state of mortal sin. I have experienced this so many times in my life.  Times when I have struggled constantly with temptations and come to the very brink of surrendering to them.  Times when I’ve been distressed and exhausted physically, mentally, and/or spiritually.  Times when everything has been in complete disarray and I haven’t been able to “get my act together.”  Times when I’ve been plagued with confusion, doubt, despair, loneliness, envy, or other negativities.  I often say that Confession “sets my world aright.”  It has the ability to fortify me, to give me energy, to help me see clearly, to remind me that I am not in the world alone and I am not helpless.

I know Confession is not the easiest thing in the world.  But I can say that it’s always much worse in my imagination than it ever is in reality!  That’s probably because the devil doesn’t want us to go.  The devil doesn’t want us freed from his slavery.  So, one simple thing you might do if you have trouble going to Confession is pray to St. Michael the Archangel and to your guardian angel–ask them to protect you from the devil’s torments and trickery and to clear your way to the confessional.  There are also Saints who are special patrons of Confession, such as St. John Nepomucene and St. Gerard Majella.

So, assuming it is not impossible to be a good single Catholic… can it make you happy?  The answer to this is very simple: Happiness is not an object; happiness is not an emotion; Happiness is a Person. A divine Person.  Actually, three divine Persons.  As long as we have those three divine Persons in our lives, we can be happy no matter what life is like and no matter what the devil or other people may try to do to us.  Ultimately, the three recommendations above bring us closer to Him.  And thus, they bring us to happiness.  Now, I don’t particularly enjoy being single, because I feel called to marriage, and I desire that will all my heart.  But my life is still happy because I keep bringing it back to God and making Him my focus! This is something I’ve learned entirely by experience.  Therefore, I encourage everyone to experience it for themselves.  It is not always easy, but it is very worth it.  The happiness that comes from living out the Catholic faith is a happiness the world can never afford.

Related posts:

Catholic and single: avoiding idolatry

Catholic and single: when sexuality gets you down…

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