It's been awhile since I've done a post about my Catholic Faith. I've been thinking about some things I've been wanting to post about. So since my hubby is napping on the couch next to me, I have some quiet time to write my thoughts down.
I had an embarrassing and somewhat sad thing happen to me recently about my Catholic Faith. I was having a conversation with a loved one. This person seemed to have forgot that I was a Catholic Christian. But we were deep in conversation when this person was telling me of someone in their life who was returning back to their Catholic roots. As the conversation unfolded, I quietly listened as that is what I felt this loved one needed...someone to listen to them. But then the conversation went where I wasn't expecting - some Catholic bashing in a belittling sort of tone. How embarrassed I felt for this loved one. And saddened. And shocked. I stayed silent and listened. It wasn't like I hadn't heard any of this before..."Catholics aren't really even Christians. They don't even read from the right Bible! They worship Mary and Saints and Statues." I was saddened because I knew this person probably learned these false, ignorant accusations and misunderstandings from their church or pastor. This person attends a non-denominational church. I've heard from many Protestants whom have shared that Catholic bashing comes up in their pastor's sermons. So. Incredibly. Sad. Never once in my entire life have I heard a priest ever bash any Protestants. In fact numerous times, too many to recall, do our priests ask all the parishioners to pray for the well being of others with different beliefs than ours. The conversation with this person went on to other topics. I felt like it wasn't the time or place to correct this loved one. I wonder if this person ever realized after the conversation that they said all they did to a Catholic? The ironic thing about it all is that this person has come to me in the past with their troubles and has said to me they felt like my Faith with God was strong and that I could help spiritually lift them up. I've been keeping this person in my prayers and asking God for His grace to help me in approaching this person in the future about all that was said.
Another topic about my Catholic Faith that I've been wanting to post about is how I am teaching and helping prepare Madeline and my other CCD students for their First Reconciliation, also known as their First Confession. It is at their age that the Church believes they are old enough to understand their sins and the importance of repenting. Today I took Madeline to a Reconciliation workshop at our parish. It's final preparations given to the students and their parents before they make their First Confession next week.
I always like to show the Scriptural basis for the Church's Holy Sacraments. This being one of them, here are some scriptures that show how Jesus gave authority to His Apostles and their successors to hear our confessions and forgive us of our sins.
John 20:21 - before He grants them the authority to forgive sins, Jesus says to the apostles, "as the Father sent me, so I send you." As Christ was sent by the Father to forgive sins, so Christ sends the apostles and their successors forgive sins.
John 20:22 - the Lord "breathes" on the apostles, and then gives them the power to forgive and retain sins. The only other moment in Scripture where God breathes on man is in Gen. 2:7, when the Lord "breathes" divine life into man. When this happens, a significant transformation takes place.
John 20:23 - Jesus says, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." In order for the apostles to exercise this gift of forgiving sins, the penitents must orally confess their sins to them because the apostles are not mind readers. The text makes this very clear.
Non-Catholics might view these passages to contend that Jesus was simply speaking about believers forgiving those who have wronged them. The Catholic Church teaches such a view is impossible. If we look closer to understand Jesus' statement "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." It raises the question, in what manner was Jesus sent to forgive? Mark 2:5-12 gives us the answer. Jesus said, "But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins..". So when Jesus said to His Apostles, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." He was giving them authority here on earth. That authority, that gift, lives on through the Apostles successors. The second reason that John 20:21-23 does not refer to believers forgiving others who have wronged them, is that we are not given the option of retaining anyone's sins. In fact, our own forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving others. Jesus tells us this very thing in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Today at the workshop it was really stressed that when we confess to the priest, we aren't confessing and asking a man for forgiveness, it is God. The presence of Christ is working through the priest, "in persona Christi".
We also studied the parable of the Prodigal Son (Gospel of Luke (Luke 15:11-32) today as it is a great example to show us that we are all like the lost son, dead in our sins, but that our Father will always welcome us home, that He is "rich in mercy" and always ready to forgive. I had a lightbulb moment today that I think the famous painter Rembrandt had about this parable too. Even though the story is about the Lost Son...it's really more about our loving and merciful God, our Heavenly Father. One of Rembrandt's famous masterpieces is of the Return of the Prodigal Son, pictured above (bottom). In Rembrandt's earlier sketches of this piece (above top) he wants to show us the son's face of despair, and how desperately poor he looks. But in his final painting of this piece Rembrandt wants to depict what this parable is really about...a Father who is full of compassionate love and mercy. God who is love. The focus is no longer on how the lost son appears, we don't even see his face anymore. Instead the focus is on the embrace of a forgiving father. I am so very thankful that God gave His Church the gift of Reconciliation. I agree with St. Augustine when he said, "The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works."