Confession: God’s Mercy Poured Out on Us

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An Eastern Confession

I remember my first confession. I was a convert to the Catholic Church. Having been baptized prior to my conversion, and due to odd circumstances which prevented my confirmation/chrismation from occurring for a few years, I was granted a rare privilege of going to confession before my reception into the Catholic Church. Most pre-baptized converts will confess right before their reception, so the administration of the Mystery of Repentance/Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to someone not officially a Catholic is not unheard of, provided that they are, indeed, becoming Catholic.

Anyways, I think the hardest part of my confession was waiting in line for it. I remember staring at this examination of conscience pamphlet produced by the Fathers of Mercy, looking at all of the sins. As I read each one, I grew more nervous and fearful. But the hardest part was the wait! Sitting in line waiting to tell the priest my sins. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I finally get to walk into the confessional.

It wasn’t a proper confessional, so to speak, but rather a room that they were using to hear confessions. Regardless, I speak to the priest and inform him that this is my first confession and that I would like to become Catholic. I had never seen a man so excited in my life. I pulled out the pamphlet and asked him if it was alright if I used it to help me. So I go through each one and as I tell him each sin, he gives a bit of advice. But I eventually finish my confession, 15 minutes later. However, what I remembered the most was the feeling of having this heavy weight lifted from my shoulders and how clean my heart felt afterward. I walked out of that confessional feeling like a new man. Because I was.

CONFESSION IS A SECOND BAPTISM

Baptism is the sacrament where we are brought into the Church by the literal and spiritual washing away of our sins. But as sinners, we stain our souls with our misdeeds and sometimes we even commit sins that cut us off from the grace of God completely! In this way, we excommunicate ourselves (literally: cut ourselves off from communion) and the only way to be brought back into communion is to be forgiven of the sins that separated us, to begin with. To do that, we need to first be truly sorry for our sins, resolve to sin no more, and resolve to repair whatever damage we have caused by our sins. It is then and only then we can be forgiven. Because anything less than that isn’t true repentance.

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The reality of confession – This teaching icon presents someone going to confession. The angel stands with the scroll of life, blotting out the sins committed, while the demon shrieks in terror since he has lost his grasp over this soul.

But when we sincerely repent, and we go to confession, we are forgiven of our sins, and those sins are wiped off of our souls, and it is just like we had been baptized all over again.

SO, HOW IS CONFESSION MADE POSSIBLE?

By, Jesus’s death on the cross of course! And it is also through His resurrection. When Christ died for our sins, He died for all who sincerely repent of their sins so that they may live in the newness of life. It is only because Christ paid the price for our sins, that is, death, we can live. Without the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection, there would be no forgiveness of sins. All sins that were forgiven by God in the past, in the present, and in the future, were made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We are only saved by His grace, not by any work that we do.

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Christ our Passover is Sacrificed for Us

Yet, even with sincere repentance, we are still unworthy of forgiveness. It is only through the supreme mercy of God that He pardons our transgressions, our offenses against Him, numerous as they are. After all, if someone offended us the same amount that we offend God, we would find it hard to forgive someone. People have been executed for much less, after all. However, my point isn’t to show how unworthy we are, but rather show how great God’s mercy and goodness is since He forgives us for all of our transgressions when we truly repent.

CONFESSION ENABLES OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE

I was living in mortal sin for a little while in my life. How can one be spiritual with God while in a state of sin? You can’t. Our spiritual life is based on us trying to grow closer to God through prayer and repentance. If we are doing things that we know separate us from God, we are doing the exact opposite. Even worse, if we do those things, and are knowingly in a state of mortal sin, yet still go to communion, it is even worse!

The receiving the Eucharist both physically and spiritually unites ourselves to Christ. Yet, if we eat and drink the Eucharist in a state of sin, rather than eating and drinking salvation, we are eating and drinking judgment and damnation upon ourselves. In fact, St. Paul writes this:

26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 
28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 
30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 
1 Corinthians 11:26-30 (ESV) – For more commentary on 1 Corinthians 11, click here

Yes, the sacrilege of receiving unworthily can even induce physical ailments and even death!

Why is it a sacrilege? Every sacrament comes from the sacrifice of the Cross. Baptism and Confession are the most obvious, but every sacrament is tied to the cross and is made possible only because of the cross. The Eucharist is more than bread and wine transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is actually the entire service of thanksgiving, i.e. the Divine Liturgy is rightly and properly the Eucharist. And in this Eucharist, we are brought back to the death of Christ on the Cross for our sins. By receiving unworthily, we are making a mockery of His death. We are, in essence, saying that Christ died in vain since I can be united to Him without being forgiven of the sins I have committed/am committing. I am now taking my salvation for granted and even worse, not discerning the body and blood (i.e. the sacrifice, not just the real presence). This is why receiving unworthily is considered such a mockery. It is one thing to have committed venial sins, as those do not take us out of communion with God. It is another thing to physically unite ourselves to God when we are spiritually out of communion. That is why receiving worthily is actually a big deal.

And this is why confession is so important. When we commit a mortal sin, all we have to do is sincerely repent, confess our sins, and receive absolution. This prevents us from eating and drinking unworthily.

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CONFESSION IS NOT A CRUTCH

When I was a Protestant, I had the mindset that since I was already “saved,” I could commit sins without any consequences. When I became Catholic, I learned that we had a bad rap for doing the exact same thing. The only difference was that we confess our sins to a priest for forgiveness rather than just assume forgiveness. If we go to confession insincerely, I assure you that we are not only not forgiven for what we have confessed, but we also commit a great sin of sacrilege. At this point, we are no longer seeking God’s mercy, but rather going through a ritual that lets us go to communion. There is also another sin, called presuming on God’s mercy, in which we say something along the lines of “I can eat this meat today,” or “I can watch this porn,” or even “I can hit that person,” because “I can just go to confession later and be forgiven of it.” Essentially, you are committing a sin with the intention of making an insincere confession. When you repent of that sin, on top of the other sin you committed, then you can have a sincere confession.

God has given us this wonderful sacrament of mercy and peace, but it is up to us to not abuse it.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I GO?

The most famous answer is “as often as you need to.” However, I will say that there are two camps of people. Those who go to confession way too much (rare, but still exist) and those who do not go enough (the vast majority of people). The people who go too much are the ones with tendencies to scrupulosity, who go to confession every 3 days or so. Really, what is recommended to most people is that if you are not committing mortal sins, you should go to confession at least on a monthly basis. Some people recommend going weekly. It is truly something you should work out with your spiritual father. Going weekly will benefit some people without a doubt, but there are others who, by going weekly, turn it into a ritual that actually causes them to sin more. As crazy as that sounds, going too much could lead someone into a presumption of God’s mercy.

Here is a scenario. Confessions are held before liturgy each Sunday. You have a sin you commit on a frequent basis. You go to confession, are absolved, and then go to communion. You get home from church and go on to sin for the remainder of the week because you know that you will be able to confess your sins and approach communion. In fact, some people only use the confessional because mortal sins cut us off from communion. Not surprisingly, if people in mortal sins were allowed to go to communion, the lines for confession would be much smaller. It is our human nature: we do not like admitting that we are wrong.

However, the mindset of going to confession just to be able to receive communion is a dangerous one. The reality is that when we are in mortal sin, we are liable to the fires of hell. Again, I reiterate, if we are not forgiven of our mortal sin, we will go to hell. While wishing to receive Jesus is not wrong, don’t go to confession for just that purpose, but out of heartfelt sorrow for offending God.

But, at the end of the day, it is better to avoid sin than to ask forgiveness. How do we do this? By prayer and fasting of course!

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The Singing Tradition of Byzantine Rite Churches

Technically speaking, we are “sui iuris (self-governing) Churches using the Byzantine Rite.” There are quite a few different churches using the Byzantine rite, and they can be grouped into categories of church, i.e. slavic, Greek, Russian, Antiochian, etc. The ones that most people are familiar with are churches in the slavic category (Ruthenian – which goes under the name of Byzantine Catholic Church in America, and Ukranian) as well as the Melkites. There are plenty of other Eastern Catholic sui iuris Churches that utilize different rites, i.e. Maronites, Chaldean, Syro-Malabar, etc. but for this article, I will be focusing primarily on churches using the Byzantine Rite, as this is where I have most of my experiential knowledge.

First Things First: Traditionally We Sing Everything

I know what some of you may be thinking: “at our church, we recite some liturgies.” Technically speaking, we aren’t supposed to be doing that. It continues for a few reasons:

  1. Back in the era of forced latinizations, many parishes adopted Romanesque practices such as kneeling during Sunday and Paschal liturgies (in violation of the 2nd Nicean Council) which have stuck because the people who grew up with the latinizations thing this is what a Byzantine Catholic church should look like and don’t want to change it.
  2. The parish is in a tourist area and wants to appeal to Roman Catholic visitors on vacation. Yes, this actually happens. You can tell it is a tourist church when the priest or some parishioner has to announce before liturgy that it is an Eastern Catholic Church but “we are still under the Pope, but we do things a little differently.” So, in this case, they are sacrificing their identity for tourist dollars.
  3. People and Priests are too lazy to change. Remember that this is a list of potential reasons, and I am not writing about anyone’s church specifically (i.e. I’m not calling anyone lazy or saying anyone is lazy. I’m saying that there are people who *might* be lazy. One is calumny or gossip, the other is just throwing out potential ideas. Know the difference). Let’s be honest, singing a liturgy takes effort. And it makes the liturgy take a lot longer. A recited liturgy will be over in 25 to 30 minutes, whereas a sung liturgy will take a minimum of an hour. For time reasons alone, some people prefer recited liturgies.

With this out of the way, we should understand why we sing and why it is bad when the liturgy is just recited. St. Augustine says “he who sings prays twice.” In the Metropolitan Cantor Institute (Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh), it states that singing indicates “oneness of heart.” Our singing changes liturgy from being a ritual to being a truly communal worship, a joyful, yet a reverent celebration of the resurrection. When we reduce it to a recited liturgy, the goal shifts from prayer and worship to simply receiving a sacrament. That issue will be covered in a later (and likely shorter) article.

THE MUSIC IS DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT JURISDICTIONS

That’s right. Just because you walk into a church using the Byzantine Rite does not mean they use the same music. They have the 8 tones and they have the same responses, but they are written to different music. This is because when churches began to develop in certain areas, popular melodies were adapted to fit the words of the liturgical words. Thus, Ruthenian tone 1 will be different than Ukranian tone 1, which will be different from Melkite tone 1, etc.

They are different sui iuris churches. Again, it is important to emphasize that there is no one single Byzantine Catholic Church.

CANTORS OR CHOIRS?

Some churches use a cantor or two to lead the congregation in singing. Some churches use a choir to sing the responses and the people will sing along. In my church, as the cantor, my priest tells me to let the people sing. That means I start the music, and then I let the people sing it (i.e. I shut up and listen) and if they start going off track, I jump in to correct them. Yes, it takes practice to learn how to do this while still providing for a reverent liturgy, but it is possible. My priest likes it because it forces the people to sing rather than rely on me to do it for them. Some cantors are told to sing at a regular volume so that the people have a base melody to sing along to. In this case, a lot of the people will listen rather than sing. Other churches have choirs who are told to sing in plainchant (i.e. non-harmonized melody). Lastly, there are choirs who harmonize melodies and sound truly beautiful. My priest doesn’t like the idea of that because he thinks that with a harmonized choir, the people will not sing along.

So what is the right way? Obviously, I have my opinions and my priest has his opinion, but it really depends on the tradition of your church. One thing I learned in the Roman Catholic Church is that you do not need to be singing or saying anything to be actively participating in the mass (internal participation). This is the case in our church when parishes choose to use the language of their ethnicity rather than in the vernacular (in our case, English). Some prefer to use Church Slavonic, and despite what some may think, that is not a latinization. Many Orthodox churches will choose to sing more ancient languages rather than the vernacular. (Ironically it was Saint Cyril and Methodius who translated the original liturgy into Slavonic – the vernacular of the Slavic people, who they ministered and brought the gospel to.) Singing in Slavonic or in Ukrainian, while it may be nice for immigrants isn’t so great for potential converts or visitors. An example would be a Melkite Catholic who moves and only has a UGCC nearby, which sings solely in Ukranian.

In these cases, if the person doesn’t know the language, they cannot sing along, but they can certainly pray in the reverent atmosphere of the church, thus actively participating without saying a word. Of course, unlike a Latin Mass, this shouldn’t be the primary means of worship, but rather a way of worshipping when one cannot sing along. And yes, it is possible to sing along without actually praying along, but again – a different topic for a different day.

SUMMARY

Overall, music is deeply ingrained in the liturgical life of Byzantine Catholics and is more than just background music or ambiance. It is truly the outpouring of one’s heart in the worship of God. The music may differ between jurisdictions, but the fact is that they all have their own music, thus a testimony to the great importance that it has in the liturgical life of the Church.

The Apostles Fast

We are about 11 days away from the conclusion of the Apostles Fast. Of course, unlike any other fasting season on the Calendar, 11 days doesn’t really have meaning since this is the one fast that does not have a set number of days. This year, the Apostles Fast began toward the end of May, so 11 days means that we are over halfway done and there isn’t much left to it. Of course, in some years, this fast only lasts 2 days, and others have been longer than Lent.

It concludes on the Feast of Peter and Paul on June 29th. But outside of that, it is really a mystery. Unlike Nativity, Dormition, or Lent, this fasting season doesn’t exactly end on a day of any particular significance. In fact, it is not even one of the 12 solemn feasts. It is a day of Obligation for those in the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburg, and it may be in other Greek Catholic sui iuris churches as well, but if you look at the Eastern Orthodox, the fast just ends on that feast day.

It is a mysterious fast, because unlike Nativity or Lent, this fast doesn’t come from pious preparation for a major feast. Yet, early Christian texts show that this was indeed one of the original fasts celebrated. And the reason? “After feasting from Pascha to Pentecost, it is only proper that we fast while our bodies are refreshed.”

Yet, upon further research, I found that the Apostles fast used to not end on June 29, but actually on August 15. Yes, the Apostles Fast and the Dormition Fast were originally 1 long fast. For whatever reason, it was decided to cut July out and just have it as a regular season.

SOOO, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING, CANTOR?

I know that previous section seems to provide information without really providing anything else, but one thing to take away from this is that the Early Christians thought it was important enough to have a post-pentecostal fast, and that the Church Fathers for over 1500 years decided that it was worth keeping on the Calendar. Yet, for some reason, this seems to be one of the most unpopular fasts. By unpopular, I am not saying that people don’t like it. Rather, people don’t even care enough about it to even do it.

No one really knows why they are fasting during this time period, as it is not in penance or in preparation. It is essentially a fast for the sake of fasting. But despite what some may be thinking, that actually is NOT a pointless endeavor. In fact, we fast every Friday from meat as a minimum. Why? The western mentality is that they are fasting because that is the day Christ died on the Cross, and they are crucifying themselves with Christ. I assure you that despite what you may think, that is not the reason. The cross is actually not something to take sorrow over but is actually our victory over sin and death.

Rather we fast on Wednesday and Friday because the Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday, and the Christians while not wanting to fast with the Jews, wanted to continue the practice. Wednesday was chosen because it was the day Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday was chosen because it was the day of the Crucifixion.

“But I thought you said we didn’t fast because of the crucifixion.”

We do fast in penitence as well as better equipping our bodies to resist sin. We, however, do not fast as a way of beating ourselves up for being the ones responsible for making Jesus die on the cross.

Likewise, the apostles fast should be for us a means of turning away from sin, not because we are preparing for a feast, but because we have feasted and are thus better equipped to fast for the sake of our souls.

The Rich Man Who Walked Away

This parable is probably the most striking to me. I’ve heard this parable, along with many others, a lot throughout my Christian journey. I heard this as a Protestant, I heard this as a Roman Catholic, and I hear it now as a Ruthenian Rite Catholic. It is a parable I will hear at least once every year. But why does it strike me?

We all know the story from Matthew 19:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The thing is that every single pastor I had ever met had focused on one thing. That the guy was too greedy to follow Jesus. He liked his possessions too much to even seek after eternal life. Every sermon or homily I ever listened to was a scoff-fest. We would all listen disapprovingly, and then the pastor or priest would lay into his greed. And I agreed with them. The man knew what he had to do and rejected it to keep his possessions. Most sermons never called on US to change but rather chastized “the rich” in our society who choose money over God.

Then, one Sunday, the priest of my parish read the gospel and began the homily. This homily stands out above all of his other homilies since he had the tendency of putting me to sleep. He was so boring and I could predict what he was going to say. “Gospel was about this and that and this relates to the eucharist because blah blah and in the eucharist we can…” But on this day, his rhetoric was somewhat different. I remember snapping out of a daydream (I was 16 at the time) and he said “here is a man who’s observance of the commandments could put all of us to shame.” And that statement struck me. We were so busy accusing him of greed that we ignored the part where he had never broken a commandment. His issue wasn’t greed. If he was greedy, he’d have been violating the commandment to not covet. In fact, he obeyed the law to “love his neighbor as himself.” This means that he was even GENEROUS with his possessions and gave some things away to help others.

He was more righteous than the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t chastise him for deception or for only following the letter. Jesus recognized in him a genuine heart that wanted to serve Him. But he was too attached to the world. He helped the poor, but he also enjoyed his money. He liked the licit pleasures of this world too much. He figured he could serve God while maintaining a comfortable standard of living. Even after the man walked away, Christ didn’t condemn him. Christ said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. After the disciples noted the impossibility of that statement, Christ said that with God, it is possible. Essentially, it is possible, but it will be very difficult. But Christ can save him.

The ironic thing is, that all of us scoffing at him are essentially in the same situation. Everyone reading this has access to an internet browser, probably lives indoors, and probably hasn’t genuinely faced starvation. Even more ironic is that everyone scoffing at the churches I went to all had cars and owned homes. Some had 2 cars. Some had fancy cars. Some had fancy homes. Then they come to church and hear the Gospel messages. And when they (myself included) heard this call to give up EVERYTHING, they make excuses to why it doesn’t apply to them. And guess what. They are NOT wrong. Nowhere does Christ say that owning property is a sin. No saint has ever said that rich people can’t get into heaven. There have been some really well-off people who have been canonized. In fact, many Popes who went on to become saints lived in a very luxurious Vatican. They spent their days sitting on a papal throne, being carried about the streets like a king.

The issue isn’t a question of sinfulness but rather of theosis. We can begin our transformation now or after our death. It’s going to happen sooner or later. The difference is that it is easier for us to do it while alive since we can use our bodies to help perfect our souls, but while dead, it is a lot harder to purify our souls without a body. That is why it is said that being present at a single liturgy in life will benefit one’s soul more than hundreds of liturgies offered for them after death. That is why it is hard.

But financial possessions aren’t the only thing that tethers us to this world and prevent our theosis. What about family or friends? What about our desire to be successful? What about our education and careers? Every person, unless they are a monk or nun who has literally given up everything and has no possessions, spending their days at a monastery praying and helping others, is that rich young man. We have to give up even our relationships with our family and friends if we want to be someone who follows Christ directly.

That is the purpose of that parable. Many of us are that rich man, unable to part with our possessions, while still upholding the commandments. And this parable is actually a message of hope. Even though we can’t part with everything to cut ourselves off from the world, God says that it will be hard, but not impossible for us to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Church teaches that those who repent and try to seek after Christ will be saved. And for those of us who never get around to abandoning all of our possessions to enter into monastic life, maybe as we go through purgatory in the next life, we will realize how foolish we were for holding on to something that we were destined to lose anyway.

 

Technology in the Liturgy

If there is one thing that I cannot stand, it is the placement of projector screens in churches. This hasn’t really occurred in the East as much as it has in the West. But why is it an issue? Is it that we should be opposed to new technology? We have books, and some of us have pews, and those didn’t exactly exist when the Christ founded the Church, so that argument is out. (Plus, I would be hardpressed to find a Church that didn’t use a heater or A/C – or electric lighting). It isn’t technology that I dislike.

The issue is about what is in the front of the Church. In our Byzantine Catholic Churches, we have beautiful icon screens, which really convey the sacred nature of the place that we are in. Those images, along with the candles, really set a prayerful climate. It is a climate that is meant to put us into a different time period so that we can fully place ourselves into the liturgy. Church has always placed us in the past, even back in 33AD! The first liturgy, the Last Supper, celebrated by Christ Himself, occurred in concordance with a Passover Seder, which called its participants back to the Exodus. Every Liturgy looked to the past as well as forward to the Second Coming. That is why our Churches have maintained the same sacred architecture that it had since our victory over the Iconoclastic heresy.

In the West, after the Second Vatican Council, the architecture of their churches was changed to reflect their “meal theology.” Essentially, the Eucharist is a communal meal of “we and God” and so they changed the architecture of the Church to reflect this. Age old designs, such as the Church being shaped in the form of a cross, or the Church representing a ship on the way to heaven was thrown out to be replaced with a semi-circular concert hall to reflect the meal in the “here-and-now.” The Romans previously had too much of an emphasis on the Sacrifice of the Cross (to the detriment of the focus on the Resurrection – in my opinion. Others may say that you can never be too focused on the cross) but now the sacrifice is denied almost completely in this architecture. It becomes less about worshipping God and more about having a good time in God’s presence. You must acknowledge the Cross in the liturgy, but you must remember the resurrection as well.

With this change, there was a lot of empty space created. In one corner, tabernacles were stashed aside. Towards the front, there was nothing next to the sides of the crucifix. No icons, no paintings, not even statues. While in the past, Roman Churches would have side altars with statues, now there is nothing. With this, the Church also realized that they didn’t have much money left over after “renovations,” so things such as vestments and decent hymnals became something the local churches had no interest in investing in. And with technological advancements, they solved two of their problems. They could eliminate the blank space as well as the need to buy books by placing projector screens in the churches. While this may be a very utilitarian solution, imagine coming into a church to pray. Towards the front (which all the pews face), there is a very un-ornate altar table with a crucifix (if you’re lucky- if you’re unlucky you get one of those weird resurrection crucifixes). You might get some statues, but that’s about it. Then you see two blank projector screens. The tabernacle is off in the corner. If you are lucky, there are kneelers in front of the tabernacle. These new churches are not very prayer-friendly.

Thankfully, I do not anticipate this ever becoming an issue in our Eastern Catholic Churches. After all, where would they go? Icon screens cover up the majority of the front, if not all of it. They simply do not have a place to go in our worship – and that is a good thing.

We do have technology in our churches, and that is also a good thing. The air conditioning, the books (yes books are technology), the lights are all things that make it easier to focus on prayer. And that is what technology should do in the Church: focus us in our prayers to God.

What is the Purpose of Prayer?

A lot of people ask this question. However, the thing they forget to do is ask themselves this first: What is Prayer? After all, if we don’t know what something is, we can’t know it’s purpose. Prayer, in its simplest definition, is communication to a spiritual entity. We pray to angels, saints, and God. Here, we must draw a distinction. There is a difference between prayer and worship. All worship is prayer, but not all prayer is worship. Worship literally means to give worth. So we worship (in the literal sense) God, Mary, the angels and saints, and even anyone we respect and admire.  However, our understanding of worship is an action in which we give to recognize one as a Supreme being. So, using our colloquial understanding of the word, we would say that we worship God, glorify Mary, praise the angels and saints, and honor those around us who we respect and admire.

Prayer can be broken down even further into: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplications (abbreviated ACTS). This leads into the purpose. We adore God just for the sake of His goodness. We pray to express sorrow for sin and to beseech forgiveness. We give thanks to God for his great goodness. The last is supplications. A lot of people question this aspect. After all, there have been cases where areas were threatened with destruction, but since everyone prayed for deliverance, God delivered them. Then, there are cases where Christian areas were wiped out by natural disasters or by murderous psychopaths. Some people say that the more people praying for something, the more likely God will answer the prayer. Sometimes, that is the case, sometimes it isn’t. And we don’t always get what we want.

A lot of times, we treat God as a cosmic Santa Claus to give us whatever we want and whenever we want. We pray for people to not die, we pray for storms to be averted, we pray to win the lottery, we pray for other people to convert, etc. We forget that His plan is sometimes nonsensical to us.

So, sometimes our supplications are answered, sometimes their not. So why ask? We have an inherent need to be in total communion with God. Our created purpose is for worship after all. It is by telling God all of our cares, even when we know what we want won’t occur, that we fully trust in Him. Even Jesus prayed to God the Father and wasn’t given what He asked. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, but not My will but Yours be done.”  See, here we see a perfect model of supplication. We pray for what we want and for deliverance from what may occur. But we accept God’s will regardless.

What is Consent?

Pretty much every Catholic is familiar with the concept of Mortal Sin. We all know that there are 3 conditions: it must be grave matter, you must have full knowledge, and you must give full consent. In my opinion, consent is the most important part, since consent is the only part of the sin you can actually do. The gravity of an action is objective and will always be the same when factoring in the object, purpose, and circumstances of the act. The knowledge is variable but is set at the time consent is given. Without consent, an act will not take place. It is possible to fully consent to evil without knowing that it is gravely evil. Then again, the grave evil this usually refers to is that of breaking a disciplinary law such as meat on Friday. It is a sin because of the disobedience, not because meat is bad. (So, I guess it really isn’t gravely evil since you can’t intentionally sin through disobedience if you didn’t know it was a rule, to begin with).

Now with consent to a sin, there are many different levels.

The highest level is full consent. This means you are allowing your body to perform the act and you are participating without resistance. This does not mean you aren’t facing temptation. For instance, there is a party going on at the same time as church, and you really want to go to it and you are seriously considering skipping mass/liturgy.

Then there is consent through habit. It is something our body has been used to doing, so the body has a stronger inclination to do. We feel bothered when we don’t do it. An example here is foul language. We are so used to using Jesus’s name in vulgar ways that it happens automatically. We don’t mean disrespect but we do it anyways.

Then there is consent through addiction. This is where the body feels like it NEEDS to do something. This is something that happens when you are actively trying to stop but can’t stop easily. There are people addicted to pornography, people addicted to eating, people addicted to smoking, etc. Yes, you are allowing yourself to perform the act and participating in it, but if you didn’t have that addiction, you could go periods without considering it. An example is the people who do drugs even when they know they will be caught and lose everything. Or someone who cannot function normally without a substance. Yes, there are people addicted to coffee, even if coffee isn’t immoral.

Then there is consent through violence. For instance, you commit a sin because you are being threatened. An example is being forced at gunpoint to perform sexual acts. It’s still considered consent because you could resist, but without the threat, you wouldn’t have done it.

Then there is involuntary reaction.You don’t actively give consent or participate, but you don’t resist either. An example is throwing a punch without contemplation. The fist flies before you can even think to stop. Or when you injure yourself and you shout Jesus’s name.

Lastly, there is perfect resistance, where you don’t give into the sin.

A lot of people, especially traditionalists, forget that the condition of mortal sin is FULL consent. Now, these people have good intentions. They understand the serious potential for people to rationalize their mortal sin into a venial sin. For instance, someone could take their temptation and say “I didn’t give full consent because I was tempted” which is absolutely false. Thus, you have people who don’t even repent of their sins or even try to fight sins. To them, full consent is if they do something completely devoid of inclination. The other fear of traditionalists is that the person with an addiction will figure that since they aren’t committing a mortal sin, they won’t have to change. The fact is that not even trying is a different sin. The sin of being lukewarm. Sin is damaging and every time a sin is committed, regardless of consent, you are damaged, and so is your relationship with God. And those sins will cause you to commit other sins that you aren’t addicted to, thus enabling you to give full consent to a different sin. If you don’t fight an addiction, you will fall away from God. The last traditionalist fear is that someone will claim an addiction when they really don’t have one. Thus, they excuse themselves from the confessional. “I don’t need to go since I’m addicted and therefore not in mortal sin.” That distinction isn’t made by an individual. Either a healthcare practitioner or a priest will tell you of your addiction.

The traditionalists have good intentions here, but the issue that occurs is that the addicted person will despair and give up. The same occurs with people with scrupulosity. Saying that someone who is addicted isn’t in mortal sin is not a free pass for them to continue their sin. And it only applies to someone who genuinely repents and wants to change.

The thing about actions, whether good or bad, is that we don’t own them. They don’t originate from us. We are incapable of owning our own actions since due to our corrupted fall, all the good we do came from God, and all that is bad is because of the fall. Yes, we cannot even pride ourselves in having ownership over our sins. We perform deeds. We commit sins. We do not own them. The only thing we do is consent to them and participate in them. Thus, the only action we really own is whether we consent to or reject God’s mercy.

Why Don’t We Pray for Satan (or other Demons)

Someone asked me this question a long time ago. After all, Jesus says to pray for our enemies. The issue with praying for Satan, however, is that it will have absolutely no effect. Why? Because unlike us humans, his sin originated from within. Angels are pure spirits. Spirits differ from corporeal forms, such as ourselves, in that they don’t have a body. Our capacity for understanding is limited by our brain. (we have a spiritual capacity too as far as intellect goes, but we don’t get to use it unless we’ve become spiritual masters, for example, devout monks who achieve sainthood, or until we are dead.) Angels, on the other hand, had infinite theoretical knowledge of everything. They knew the law and the truth, and they knew exactly what would happen to them should they reject God. They were not tempted in any way shape or form. The concept of not being tempted into sin seems absolutely foreign to us. After all, there are probably none of us who knows what it feels like to not be at least tempted slightly by something. In fact, when I say I am not tempted, I really mean “the temptation is small enough to where I can unconsciously manage it.”

Before the fall, we could only be tempted externally, but after the fall we became able to be tempted from within, due to the fall corrupting our nature. When we fell, Satan tempted us externally. That means our flesh didn’t crave the sin like ours do. Yet, because of our minds, we saw the benefits of the sin and did not fully grasp the severity of the consequences. We knew we’d be punished, but we figured that the knowledge of good and evil was worth it. However, the understanding is that without the external temptation, we wouldn’t have even considered eating the fruit.

The demons, on the other hand, had no such external temptation. Nothing disordered came along to corrupt them. They became disordered on their own accord. The fact is, the demons, on their own accord, said that they would rather be banished into a lake of fire for all eternity than to willingly serve God. They knew exactly what they were doing and their actions would be irrevocable. Furthermore, they do not have a capacity for remorse. To this day, they are happy with their decision.

Lastly, God has already judged them and sentenced them to eternity in hell. We, however, have not been judged. We can still repent, no matter how evil we have been. We are incapable of committing an evil as pure as the demons. The worst we can do is reject God’s mercy at the end of our lives. Even if one of us was to sit here and wish God dead, that act would have originated from a sinful corruption. The very fact of the matter is that there is nothing that we can do, good or evil, that originates from ourselves. We cannot pride ourselves in any good we have done. Only through God do we perform good acts. But even then, we cannot even pride ourselves in our sins. For there is nothing that we can commit that would truly be original. It is all prompted through demonic influence, whether it be the concupiscence from the fall or from an external temptation. The extent of our action is to give consent. But even with that, it is still us doing it. We participate. We aren’t just robots who hand over the keys to God or Satan.

Who is Satan?

The most common images of the devil are either that of a red guy with horns and a pitchfork or a ridiculously attractive and seductive woman/man. The former points to the ugliness of his sin. The latter points to how enticing his sin is to us. In my opinion, I think Satan is not so blatantly obvious. Sometimes there are events that occur in history when we see complete evil out in plain sight, whether it be a shooting in Nevada or mass genocide in Germany. Yet, Satan works in subtle ways. If you ask me, I would say that Satan brings a false sense of comfort and peace. He’s a friendly person to you. And the most confusing aspect is that he will feed you some truth, and pepper in some subtle lies. Sometimes he encourages strict adherence to religious doctrines. How on earth could that be wrong? Isn’t following the law to the letter a good thing? Jesus didn’t think so. Not in the case of the Pharisees who considered anything that required any effort to be “working on the Sabbath.” Jesus essentially told them that they need to understand the “spirit of the law.” In other words, “use common sense when applying the law.”

Did you know that there are Jews out there who refuse to push buttons on an elevator on Saturdays because it’s technically “work?”  There have also been heretical sects of Christianity which promoted strict fasting guidelines, such as the Montanists, which started off as a strict observance and eventually grew into a full-fledged group of schismatic heretics. This was the group that the great theologian Tertullian succumbed to.

Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum: the liberal interpretation of the moral law. Essentially, this view discourages even following the law in certain areas. This Satanic influence is more apparent and does not need much explanation. But the two ends of the spectrum have one thing in common: both detract a person from having a genuine relationship with God. That’s really what Satan’s aim is. He becomes your friend who slowly directs you off the path of righteousness. There is certainly a balance to genuine worship of God. Certainly in this day and age, in comparison to society, the true church is conservative. However, it was not too long ago in the past when the church was considered liberal in comparison to the societal norms. The command to be fruitful and multiply was liberal in a society that considered licit marital sex to still be inherently sinful. After all, some theologians theorized that it was in the act of sex that original sin was transmitted and some monastics considered all marital acts to be a byproduct of the sin of lust. In fact, some even suggested that there would have been a different reproductive process if it hadn’t been for the fall.

The takeaway here is that Satan is able and willing to be anything and everything to subvert us. Sometimes he uses obvious enticements that we know are wrong but can’t resist. Other times, he disguises himself as an angel of light, using elements of truth to weave heresies to lead us astray. There are 4 cardinal virtues: Prudence, Courage, Justice, and Temperance. Prudence is your compass, temperance is your map. Courage your sword, justice your shield. Employ these tools that God gives you to know and follow the right path. And know that Satan will not stop short of using tremendous good to achieve tremendous evil.

Venial Sins aren’t Good

This is a common sense statement. However, there is a need to say it. A lot of people believe for whatever reason that it is ok to commit venial sins since they don’t require the confessional before communion. It almost seems that people are more concerned about being able to receive communion than they are about developing a relationship with God. People tend to imagine the difference between a mortal and venial sin as being as wide as the Grand Canyon. Venial sins are seen as insignificant, and mortal sins are seen as either the worst thing imaginable (they are) or as being something that you just confess to make go away. The difference they see between the two is that one requires sacramental confession and the other does not. They forget that both require genuine repentance for forgiveness. The fact is, the difference between the two is that one completely kills your relationship with God and the church (and thus you need to be restored to communion. You are quite literally excommunicated. Not in the canonical sense but in a literal sense. You are outside of communion. (There are mortal sins that are automatic excommunications in the canonical sense but that is not what I am referring to). Venial sins damage your relationship with God. To put this in perspective, let’s imagine that a person’s body is the relationship. People see a venial sin the same as being a papercut. No. A venial sin is like having a cannonball blow your arm off. Yes, you will live, but it’s not something you just brush off.

A mortal sin is like being shot in the head. There are different and worse ways to die as well. Likewise, a mortal sin can be anything from sexual immorality to murder. Murder seems like the worst thing a person could commit, but masturbation can also be a mortal sin. These two sins are very far apart in their degree of gravity. But that isn’t what mortal sin means. It means your relationship with God and the Church is severed. The ironic part is that all sins are infinitely evil. All sins are worthy of death, and we do receive that punishment. Everyone WILL die. Mortal sin doesn’t mean sin worthy of death. All sins are worthy of death. An example would be someone who is diseased. A person with the flu would stay in bed, drink water and take medicine. In a few days, they would be healthy again, provided they followed the treatment plan. They wouldn’t need to present themselves to a priest. However, a leper would be cast out of the community and before being able to gain admission, would have to present himself to a priest to be declared clean. Only then could he be readmitted to the community.

Venial sins are something you want to avoid if you are seeking a godly life. They aren’t a free pass at a sin with the assumption that it is automatically forgiven.