Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance, Confession)

I had planned on writing on the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) next, but my nephew, Kenneth Beckman, posted a quote from the book “7 Secrets of the Eucharist” by Vinny Flynn that got me thinking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The quote, as posted on Ken’s Facebook page:

The sacrament of reconciliation: "there our misery meets His mercy, and we are restored to grace, so that we can now more worthily enter into Communion with Him through the Eucharist."
In this quote, the word “misery” caught my eye and sparked my thinking.  If we approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a state of misery, then we might as well be wearing hair shirts and flagellate ourselves on the way into the confessional, that we might thereby best acknowledge our sinfulness and the breach we have caused in our relationship with God.  Should we be miserable as we come to terms with our sinfulness and what hurt that causes in our relationship with God?  I think so.  Misery is an appropriate reaction to that realization and self-acknowledgment.  If we stay in an attitude of misery once we attain that self-knowledge, then I think we short-change both God’s mercy and our own role in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

To Catholics, every Sacrament is or has an outward sign.  Some are easy to recognize, e.g., the water of baptism and the bread and wine of Eucharist.  The visible sign of God’s grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the penitent.  For the penitent to attempt to reflect God’s grace by reflecting an attitude of misery is certainly not what we, the people of God, would hope to see.  Rather, the penitent is to adopt the attitude of the prodigal son, who, though very conscious of his sin and the consequences of that sin, nevertheless approached his father’s lands in an attitude of hope, even though he had no expectations of being offered anything more than a place as one of his father’s servants.  He certainly had no expectation of the reception he did receive, but we do know what our Heavenly Father will do when we approach him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

He will forgive us. He will love us. He will embrace us and offer us His blessing.  How can we maintain a state of misery when we know what will be the result of our reaching out with a firm purpose of amendment, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with God?  To do so would be to deny our knowledge of what will happen once we complete the act of Reconciliation.  Should a state of misery precede our journey toward Reconciliation? I concede that’s a valid and licit state of mind, but one that should be but transitory.  Let us approach our Father with all humility, and with full knowledge of our sinfulness, but also with the certain knowledge of His unending love and forgiveness and consign the hair shirts to the dustbin of a misguided past.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Annulments - Just Catholic Divorce?


Since my first blog post was about marriage, I thought I’d spend a little bit of time talking about annulments.  First of all, annulment is NOT Catholic divorce.  A divorce acknowledges the existence of a legal, civil marriage which has now been irretrievably broken.  As such, all of the legal entanglements that go with marriage have to be dealt with so that civil and legal authorities know how to deal with each separating party.  Divorce requires agreement (either bipartisan or court-imposed) on custody, care and funding of children; disposition of property; disposition of other assets; potential for ongoing financial support of one party by the other - all in recognition of what once existed but now no longer does.

An annulment in the Catholic Church, however, says that a valid Christian marriage never existed between the two parties.  Since it never existed, both parties are therefore free to marry again in the Church and contract new, hopefully-valid Christian marriages.  The Church does not annul marriages in a cavalier fashion, however; it takes work.  Here’s some of the rationale.

First of all, the Church presumes all marriages entered into by two baptized Christians and solemnized by a Christian minister of some sort are, in fact, valid Christian marriages.  For the Church to decide otherwise and grant an annulment, proof to the contrary is required.  So, in the annulment process, testimony as to the state of the relationship prior to and at the time of the marriage is required from at least the partner applying for annulment.  Every effort is made to obtain the testimony of the other partner, as well, who may well view events much differently.  Supporting testimony from witnesses who had solid knowledge of both parties and their relationship prior to and at the time of marriage is also required.  The local (arch)diocesan Tribunal will evaluate the evidence and render a decision as to whether the marriage was valid at its inception or not.  Please note that adultery by one or both parties AFTER the marriage is not grounds for annulment.  What matters is what was in the mind of one or both parties at the inception of the presumably-Christian marriage.

Issues such as hidden addictions (gambling, alcohol, drugs, pornography, computer games, etc.) could be grounds for annulment.  A clearly stated intent by one or both parties to others that he/she will never have children is another.  Maintaining an illicit relationship on the side while getting married is proof of lack of the proper intent.  There are other grounds, but those are best reviewed with the person to whom your parish refers you as you seek annulment.

My point, which I hope isn’t lost here, is that the Church so values the sacramental value of Christian marriage, that is the pouring out of the grace of God inherent in the marriage covenant of the two baptized Christians, that the Church:

  1.      Presumes the validity of all Christian marriages prima facie and absent solid testimony to the contrary.
  2.       Offers annulments so that those desiring to live in a sacramental marriage can still do so, despite entering into an invalid marriage relationship earlier in life.

 tSo, to repeat: an annulment is NOT Catholic divorce.  It is a process, often painful, by which the circumstances of a presumably-valid Christian marriage relationship are examined and either found valid or not.  Not every annulment that is sought is granted.  That is why, if you are planning to get married in the Church, you should take advantage of all that your local parish offers in terms of marriage preparation. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Sacrament of Marriage

Okay, here goes.  This is my attempt, as a layman and a minister to the engaged, to explain the sacramentality of Christian marriage within the context of the Roman Catholic faith.

I often hear critiques of Church doctrine (and all my references to “Church” here are meant to be solely in reference to the Roman Catholic Church) as being reactionary – the Church hierarchy disagrees with some popularly or semi-popularly expressed view and comes up with an argument against it.  I have found from my own research and studies that, most times, the Church goes back to fundamental principles and builds from those in understanding, applying both Scriptural examples and the wisdom that comes from over 2,000 years of existence.  This is certainly the case in the understanding of how Christian marriage can be sacramental.  I’ll be tackling this topic in three sections:
1.    The Sacrament of Marriage
2.    Sexuality in Marriage
3.    Forgiveness in Marriage
For my readers who may not be Catholic or didn’t get to experience full catechesis on this topic, a primer on sacraments seems appropriate here. 

Part I – The Sacrament of Marriage
What is a sacrament (within the Church)?  St. Augustine put it quite simply: A sacrament is a visible sign of the invisible.  Those of us who were at least partly catechized prior to Vatican II learned in the Baltimore Catechism that “a sacrament is a visible sign, instituted by Christ to confer grace.”  The current Catholic Catechism tells us “the sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.”  I’m not sure that the current catechism adds more clarity by adding more words, but then I’m not (yet) a degreed theologian.

The Church recognizes seven sacraments (yes, I know that’s more than most of our Christian brethren, but that’s what we do): the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, First Eucharist, Confirmation; the sacraments of healing – Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick; and the sacraments in the service of communion (not Holy Communion – more like the community) – Matrimony and Holy Orders.  In keeping with the three definitions of sacrament in the preceding paragraph, each sacrament has a visible sign:
·         Baptism – the water with which original sign is washed away
·         First Eucharist – the bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Christ
·         Confirmation – the oil of chrism by which we are anointed as soldiers for Christ
·         Reconciliation – the penitent, freely choosing to acknowledge his/her sin and seeking forgiveness from and reconciliation with God and the broader Christian community
·         Anointing of the Sick – the oil of chrism (different than that used in Confirmation) with which the sick are anointed for spiritual and physical healing
·         Matrimony – the couple united in marriage in the presence of God and modeling His love and forgiveness and the potential for the creation of new life
Holy Orders – the priest/bishop living his vocation in service to the people of God.

Okay, so how can a married couple be a sign of the sacrament?  By being a daily, living example of the way God loves us, by loving and forgiving each other each and every day, and by always being open to the possibility of creating and nurturing new life within their marriage relationship.

Part II – Sexuality in Marriage
All right, how did we get to this understanding?  Ah, here’s where we go back to first principles and our best understanding of what God intended in His creation.  We know from Genesis that God created us male and female.  We also know that it is not good for man to be alone (and that has so many other meanings beyond marriage, but those are other topics).  We know that man and woman are made for each other, that they are to be fruitful and multiply.  Jesus added that the marriage covenant is meant to be eternal and precludes divorce.  So God intended men and women to be united and to be fruitful, that is, to procreate.  God gave us these bodies that we might do so, and in that gift, He also gave us the gift of our sexuality.  Let’s deal with that aspect of marriage first.

Far from proscribing sexual activity, the Church celebrates it, but only within the context of marriage.  That is because the Church recognizes that our sexual activity has two basic expressions, one procreative and the other unitive.  The unitive aspect is best explained as that incredible openness and vulnerability with each other that is only achieved when two people who truly love each other and are committed to each other make love to and with each other.  Those of you who have experienced that know that’s the most incredible experience and is so much more than merely physical.  So the unitive aspect is the aspect that makes us desire to make love and share love with our spouse.

The procreative aspect is where the married couple shares something with God – the ability to create new life.  Yes, animals do that, too, but they do not create life that has a soul.  This shared ability with God is considered so sacred, so special, that the Church teaches it must be reserved to couples who have publicly committed themselves to marriage.  Certainly, non-married persons can also create new life, but it again is not the same thing as when a married couple does so.  The commitment of the prospective parents to each other and to that new life is what makes it so special.  Certainly, God valued the experience of being raised in a home with loving parents, as evidenced by His choice of Mary and Joseph to parent Jesus.

Okay, so the unitive aspect helps inspire and better the procreative aspect.  So we see that part of what makes a Christian marriage sacramental is the ability to bring new life into the world.  What about couples who are infertile or past child-bearing ages?  Well, God has shown us that those two things are no barrier to His plans.  Abraham’s wife Sarah conceived long after she was considered barren and too old.  So did the mother of John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s cousin Elizabeth.  What humanity views as a barrier is no barrier to the will of God.  The issue for the presumably-infertile couple or the couple past the age of child-bearing is their openness to the possibility of new life.  This ability to create new life solely from the union of the two married couples is integral to our understanding of sacramental Christian marriage.

Part III – Forgiveness in Marriage
So that’s a good chunk of what makes Christian marriage sacramental, but it’s not all of it.  The other side of the coin is the manner in which the married couple lives their daily life together, modeling for each other, their children, their families, their friends, and even strangers, the love AND forgiveness of God.  That means the married couple must make a decision to love each other each and every day – and maybe throughout the day – even if, and especially if, they may not be all that happy with each other at that time.  It means acting in a loving and caring way, all the time, showing your love by actions big and small.  It means deciding that the love you have for each other is so much more important than a wet towel on the bathroom floor, or a cereal box that’s not put away.

But forgiveness?  That can be the most difficult part of this whole “living sacramentally” thing.  We know that God will forgive us any sin, even murder, if we are truly contrite and seek reconciliation with him.  We are called, as married couples (and even just as fellow Christians), to do no less.  When Jesus died for our sins, he didn’t say he was dying for these 47 sins, but not those 23 sins.  He died that all our sins might be forgiven.  He even forgave those that murdered him.  That is what we are called to do as married couples, to round out the fullness of living a sacramental marriage. That even means forgiving adultery, should that horrible circumstance become part of our life together, as difficult as that will likely be.

I’m going to suggest a formula for seeking forgiveness from each other, which I freely admit to stealing from Catholic Engaged Encounter: if you are the one seeking forgiveness, say to your spouse, “Please forgive me for hurting you when I did/said/forgot to do/forgot to say _______”.  This formula shows the offending spouse acknowledges that he/she did something to hurt the other and is actively seeking forgiveness for doing so.  On the other side, this formula calls for a response by the offended spouse, a decision to love, to reach out, and to help heal.  All too often in our society, we hear the formula used, often by celebrities and other public figures, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by what I did or said.”  That is useless to me as an apology.  It doesn’t acknowledge an offense was committed and it doesn’t take responsibility for committing the offense, nor does it seek forgiveness and reconciliation.  How refreshing it might be if instead we heard, “Please forgive me for causing you pain and hurt because of my stupidity in acting or speaking the way I did.”  But, I digress.

So, in summation, a sacramental Christian marriage is one between two baptized persons (I know I didn’t cover that part), in which each party is fully and freely committed to the possibility of new life being created from their relationship, and in which each party is fully and freely committed to modeling God’s love and forgiveness in all they do.  By doing so, the married couple truly become a sacrament, manifesting God’s love and presence to all around them.  Look around you – I’m sure you’ll see many married couples who are living sacramentally, whether they are Catholic or not.

If you, dear reader, have any questions on this topic or other topics relative to the Roman Catholic faith, I’d be happy to hear from you.  I will not engage in debate with people who do not agree with the Roman Catholic Church’s position on sacramental marriage, nor will I debate civil marriage equality in response to this posting.  Thank you for reading this and may God bless you in all you do. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Who Are You Really - Mike or Steve?

The answer is...both! My given name is Michael Steven Chavez.  Following tradition in my mother's family, I was called "Steve" - or "Stevie" - from birth by members of my family, including extended family and family friends.  Once I started kindergarten, things changed.  My teacher, while calling the roll, called out, "Chavez, Michael."  I dutifully raised my hand to indicate I was there and said, "Excuse, Mrs. Thompson, but even though my first name is Michael, everyone calls me by my middle name, Steve."  Mrs. Thompson informed that since my first name was Michael, that is what I would be called.  So, I got used to being Mike or Michael at school and Steve with family.  When I started working, it was with people with whom I was friends at school, so thus I was Mike at work now, too.

When Kathy and I got married, our guests were uncertain if they were at the right wedding.  My family saw gifts labeled for "Mike and Kathy" and our friends and Kathy's family saw gifts labeled for "Steve and Kathy."  Fortunately, everyone stayed and helped us celebrate.

I'm occasionally asked if I self-identify as Mike or Steve. In my innermost thoughts, I'm Steve.  Otherwise, I'm quite comfortable with either name.  I used both on my blog because I use both on Facebook.

Why Did I Title My Blog This Way?

For my inaugural post,  I’m going to deal with the name of this blog. 

The “wandering” part is a play on the notion of the “wandering Jew” of this Diaspora (not the plant of the same name, although I’ve been accused before of being in a vegetative state!). 
The Catholic part is self-explanatory – I, as is my wife, am a cradle Catholic, born and raised in that faith and in-bred with the notion that I can’t simply be a passive participant in weekly Mass – I have to do something within the Church, make a contribution, possibly make a difference.  For that, I can thank my late mother, who has been gone from this earth for 22 years. 
The “wondering” part is part of my basic personality, and informs my expression of Catholicism.  While I accept the Church’s teaching authority (magisterium), I still have the need to come to my own understanding of why the Church believes and acts as She does.  Through my own studies, I’ve come to a practical understanding of basic Catholic theology, and I try to share that with others, especially those engaged couples whom my wife and I help prepare to enter sacramental marriage. 
But I wonder about all kinds of things, and try to re-capture a child-like sense of wonder about things like flowers, sunsets, elderly couples holding hands, etc.  So this blog will be a set of random musings from me, with no particular theme or regularity, although my next post will be my exposition on Sacramental Marriage within the Catholic Church.  I hope someone, even one other person, joins me as I wander and wonder.