January 22, 2023
Can you believe it is already the year 2023? I’m still writing ’22 on everything! It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting in the first grade and celebrating the change to a new century.
I know we really haven’t chatted since Christmas, Mom, and I’m sorry. Anyway, I have some difficult news to share with you and, to be honest, I really didn’t want to call or talk about this face to face.
But before I get to that, let me report that Ted just got a big promotion, and I should be up for a hefty raise this year if I keep putting in all those crazy hours. You know how I work at it. (Yes, we’re still struggling to pay the bills.)
Little Timmy’s been okay at kindergarten, although he complains about going. But then, he wasn’t happy about the day-care center either. So what can we do?
Mom, the way he looked at me just about broke my heart, but I honestly believe this is better for Timmy, too. It’s just not fair to force him to live in a family that can’t give him the time and attention he deserves.
And please, Mom, don’t give me the kind of grief that grandma gave you over your abortions. It’s the same thing, you know. There’s really no difference.
We’ve told Timmy he’s just going in for a “vaccination.” Anyway, they say the termination procedure is painless. I guess it’s just as well that you haven’t seen that much of little Timmy lately.
Please give my love to Dad.
I’m in the final phase of selecting the logo for my new radio show “Right Here, Right Now.” Please take a look at the logo options below and, in the comments section, tell me your 1st & 2nd choices by the designated number (below each version). I’ll be deciding very soon, so your help now will be much appreciated. Be sure to click the image to see it larger and less compressed.
Please pick the numbers you like best and also tell me your overall impression of the logo design as a whole (i.e., too feminine? too masculine? just right? etc.).
Here are the two finalists.
On my Thursday broadcast of the EWTN “Open Line” radio show, I am often asked by callers questions pertaining to their marital status.
The twin issues of divorce and remarriage are extremely common today, and many people, including many Catholics, find themselves confused and unsure about what God and the Church require from them in this area.
This uncertainty has various causes, such as failure to seek answers from the competent authorities in the Church (e.g., canon lawyers) out of a lack of realization that they should do so (i.e., the result of poor catechesis), or because they were given erroneous information by well-meaning but ignorant fellow Catholics, or even because they are simply afraid of discovering what the Church’s answer to their situation might be and prefer instead to live in an “ignorance is bliss” cloud of unknowing. There are other reasons why many divorced Catholics don’t really understand what the Church requires, but the three just mentioned seem to me to be among the more common ones.
To help clarify these issues, I asked two canon lawyers, Jacqueline Rapp, JD, JCL, and Pete Vere, JCL, to write an article for Envoy Magazine that would cut through the ambiguity and confusion and answer the more common questions Catholics have about divorce and remarriage. Their article, “Do I Need an Annulment?” appeared several years ago in Envoy’s 6.2 issue, and I post it here as a service to all who may be wondering about that very issue, whether for themselves or for someone they care about.
As a Judge and a Defender of the Bond within our respective dioceses’ Catholic marriage Tribunal, we encounter misunderstandings every day about the declaration of nullity (or annulment) process. Often, the people who come into our offices question the need for an annulment before approaching a new marriage. Their misunderstandings commonly arise from misconception as to what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage, and consequently, why the Catholic Church judges some relationships not to be marriages.
What is a Christian marriage according to the Catholic Church?
In the law of the Church, many ingredients make up a Christian marriage. First, marriage is a covenant. The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides the following insight about the word covenant: “The theology of the covenant in the Bible is consistently a theology of divine promise. Whether in a profane or a sacred sense, the sacred authors utilize the berit [Hebrew for “covenant”] to trace the line of salvation history toward its divinely willed goal.” In short, the idea of covenant in the Bible is one of a strong pact between humans or between God and humans, in which each promises to assist the other towards a common goal.
In marriage, the covenant is between a man and a woman. The spouses establish this covenant through their marital consent, by which they intend to establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life. This means each spouse will assist and support the other in all areas of their common life, the best he or she is able, so long as the other spouse is alive.
Marriage is permanent and exclusive (monogamous). The goal of this covenant, by its nature, is the mutual welfare of the spouses (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) as well as openness to the procreation, welfare, and education of children. The Church commonly refers to the good of the spouses and the good of children as the two elements of marriage. All genuine marriages, whether Christian or non-Christian, must contain these elements. Such a partnership is commonly referred to as a “natural marriage.”
We base this understanding of natural marriage on the text of Genesis 2:18-25, which teaches that God’s will has established all marriage. True marriage is heterosexual (between a man and a woman); it is monogamous (one man and one woman); it is exclusive (the two form a new and unique relationship; the two become one); and it is permanent (if the two become one, this new union cannot be divided; a conclusion Christ confirms in Matthew 19:3-12).
The purposes of marriage are also taught in Genesis. First, we read there how God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:27-28). Thus marriage is about “fruitfulness,” or bringing children into the world and raising them to maturity (procreation and education).
In addition, we read in Genesis 2:18-25 that God created all the animals and brought them before Adam to be named. But a “suitable partner” was not found for him among them. So God created the woman, and Adam responded: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v. 23).
This passage confirms what the Church teaches about marriage: that it involves the partners being suitable for each other through the sharing of strengths and weaknesses. When Adam says, “bone of my bone,” he is saying “this one is strong where I am strong.” And when he says, “flesh of my flesh,” he is saying, “this one is weak where I am weak.”
Thus canon law defines natural marriage this way: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its very nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children” (Canon 1055, § 1).
When both the husband and the wife are baptized Christians, this natural marriage takes on the element of sacramentality. A marriage between baptized persons is a sacrament, a visible sign of God’s love in the world. This means that the couple finds in their relationship a source of God’s grace, and through their partnership they assist one another in coming closer to God.
By the very fact that both the husband and the wife are baptized, their marriage becomes a sacrament. It is not a matter of where the wedding takes place or who officiates at the ceremony. Whether marriage is a sacrament is completely based upon the baptismal status of the parties.
When does a marriage come into being?
Marriage comes into being through lawfully manifested consent – that is, there must be a taking of the other as spouse in a way recognizable to the community. When two people give themselves to one another in order to create a partnership of life and love (marriage), and they do so in a manner recognized by the community, they marry. For two unbaptized people, this can be in front of a justice of the peace in the middle of a field. For a baptized Christian, this can be wherever their faith community recognizes the marriage.
For Catholics, as a faith community, when at least one of the parties is Catholic, the Church requires the parties to express their desire to give themselves in marriage before a priest, deacon, or designated minister, with two witnesses. We call this the canonical form of marriage. If a Catholic desires to enter marriage with a non-Catholic, a dispensation (relaxation of the law) may be granted, allowing the parties to exchange their consent in another manner. Nevertheless, this kind of dispensation is the exception.
What is an “annulment”?
A Catholic annulment, also known as a declaration of nullity or invalidity, is a statement of fact by the Catholic Church. After carefully examining the couple’s broken relationship, the Church states that a valid marriage, as the Church defines marriage, never existed. It is not “Catholic divorce,” as some have called it, since divorce looks at the moment the relationship broke down and says, “A marriage existed, and now we are ending it.” The annulment process says, on the other hand, “From the very beginning, something was lacking that was necessary for this relationship to be called a marriage.”
Quite often, what is lacking at the time of the civil contract is one of the essential elements or properties of marriage we have noted. The mature consent of the spouses in undertaking the marriage covenant may also be lacking.
Of course, the Church recognizes the couple’s initial love for one another. It also realizes that this love led to some form of relationship. In addition, the Church acknowledges that there was a valid civil contract and recognizes that the spouses were lawfully married in the eyes of the state. Therefore, all children born of this valid civil contract are legitimate, according to the Catholic Church. In keeping with canon 1137, they are known as the legitimate children of a “putative marriage.”
All these civil and legal realities the Church recognizes. But the annulment process looks at an entirely different realm – the spiritual – which falls within the Catholic Church’s domain of competence to judge.
Why is an annulment necessary?
The Church teaches that marriage is permanent. If a sacramental marriage is created, no human power can separate what God has joined together (see Mt 19:6). According to the Church, not even a civil government with the power to end the civil contract (which the state calls “marriage”) can terminate a sacramental marriage.
For this reason, once two people stand in front of God and contract a marriage, if they enter into a marriage covenant as defined by the Catholic Church, this covenant cannot be dissolved so long as both parties remain alive. The marriage bond is in place until death. As a result, no new marriage covenant can be created with someone else.
Any person who has entered a genuine marriage remains bound to that spouse. The spiritual bonds of marriage, if formed, cannot be ended by civil divorce. In the eyes of the Church, divorce ends the various civil, financial, and legal bonds previously contracted between spouses, but not the spiritual bonds.
For this reason, the Catholic Church investigates, through the annulment process, whether an actual marriage, as defined by the Church, came into being. In carrying out this investigation, the Church examines various facts presented to the marriage tribunal by those seeking the annulment and their witnesses. If the Church then determines that no genuine marriage came into being, these individuals are free to marry someone else if that person is also free to marry.
Why do I need an annulment if I’m not Catholic?
If you’re not Catholic, but plan to marry a Catholic, you might be asked to go through the annulment process. This seems odd to most non-Catholics because neither person from the first union is Catholic. Therefore, why should the Catholic Church investigate this marriage?
The Catholic Church presumes the validity of any marriage between two people who are free to marry at the time of their wedding. (They must have no previous marriages.) Basically, if the non-Catholic religious community of either spouse recognized the marriage, so does the Catholic Church. Since marriage, as God created it, is permanent, then the Catholic Church must also investigate these marriages. Because the non-Catholic wishes to marry a Catholic, the Church’s law applies to the proposed marriage, since canon law still binds the Catholic whom the non-Catholic wishes to marry.
In short, the Catholic Church believes her teachings concerning the essence and the properties of marriage bind all people, regardless of whether they are Catholic, as part of God’s natural law.
Are there options for working with previous marriages other than the annulment process?
Yes. For a person who was either Catholic or married to a Catholic, and did not marry according to the canonical form of marriage (in front of a Catholic priest or deacon with two witnesses), and if the Catholic Church’s permission was not obtained for this marriage (called a “dispensation from canonical form”), then the Church could process this case as a “Lack of Form.” The Church calls this an administrative process.
In this case, the individual must prove that one of the former spouses was Catholic, that the couple attempted marriage outside of the Catholic form without first obtaining the proper dispensation, and that the marriage is now irreparable. The individual must also establish that this marriage was never subsequently convalidated (commonly, and mistakenly, referred to as “blessed” by the Church.) Most marriage tribunals accept as sufficient proof of these circumstances the Catholic’s baptismal record, a copy of the marriage license, and the couple’s divorce decree. Nevertheless, depending upon particular circumstances, more evidence may be necessary.
If one of the spouses was not baptized during the first marriage, and the lack of baptism can be proven (provided the person applying for this process did not cause the marital breakdown), then a “Privilege of the Faith” case (or “Petrine Privilege” case) can be sent to the Holy See. If the Holy See approves, the non-sacramental marriage may then be dissolved in favor of a new marriage.
If neither of the spouses was baptized during their marriage, and now one of the spouses wishes to become baptized and marry a Catholic, provided one can prove the non-baptism of each former spouse, a Pauline Privilege is possible. In this situation, the diocesan bishop or his lawful representative, having established the non-baptized status of both parties, allows the non-sacramental partnership to be dissolved in favor of the new marriage. Of course, the spouse desiring baptism and the new marriage must first receive baptism.
A Basic Rule
If you are trying to determine whether you need an annulment, these explanations may be helpful. In any case, keep in mind one basic rule as you approach the process: If either you or your intended attempted a previous marriage, be sure to tell your priest. Before you attempt another marriage, the Church must address the previous marriage in some form or another, either by a documentary case, a privilege case, or a formal annulment process.
Copyright © 2003-2012 Envoy Magazine www.envoymagazine.com
When this deeply misguided young man grows up to be a mature Christian, he will be embarrassed by his “Why I Hate Religion”video
Since a number of folks have asked my opinion of the new “Why I Hate Religion” video, here it is:
The video is a jumbled mish-mash of biblical error and fashionable non-denominational Protestant jargon. No substance. No coherence. Zero credibility. When I watched it, my heart went out to that zealous but woefully misguided young man, Jefferson Bethke. When he grows up and becomes a mature Christian (please God he will), his embarrassment for having mouthed such cant will be acute.
For those who want actual truth on the subject of “religion,” I’d suggest starting with Fr. Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” Project.
A new communique was released from the Bishop of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno (the ecclesiastical territory within which the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje are allegedly taking place) helps clarify things by providing a meticulously-documented refutation of what it refers to as six “untruths” being peddled by some promoters of this phenomenon.
Share this with those who may be confused by the relentless barrage of promotion from those Medjugorje boosters who, for whatever reason, do not take into account all the facts surrounding this controversy.
Facts can be quite inconvenient, as this communique shows.
BISHOP ŽANIĆ IN “THE MYSTERY OF MEDJUGORJE”
Diocesan Chancery, 2011-12-31
In June 2011 the newspaper Večernji list published a book written by four journalists: Ž. Ivković, R. Bubalo, Z. Despot and S. Hančić, titled “The Mystery of Medjugorje: 30 years of the phenomenon. For the first time: the documents of the Yugoslav secret police”. On June 17, the day before the book’s release, one of the authors wrote an ad in the same newspaper. The book was also mentioned on the website of the Italian vaticanist Andrea Tornielli, on September 9 and 20, 2011. The Canadian psychologist Louis Bélanger responded to him on the internet, on September 19, 20, and 21 of this year.
Tornielli writes that, according to the 1987 UDBA (Ured državne bezbednosti: Office of State Security) document called “Crnica”, it turns out that the principal tool seems to have been “Bishop Žanić, who in the beginning showed himself to be open to the possibility that there was a supernatural event taking place, but later became its most committed enemy”, and that Bishop Žanić’s aversion toward Medjugorje “had been fed by a series of documents manufactured by the secret police.”
In sum, according to the UDBA report, Tornielli says, it turns out that “Bishop Žanić was ready to accept any document against the Franciscans and against the apparitions, even if it was of suspect origin.” Very grave accusations. The author concludes that the Commission of the Holy See on Medjugorje will need to discuss these documents too.
Louis Bélanger reacted on September 19, primarily because Tornielli was attacking the “intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral integrity of the former Ordinary of Mostar, Msgr. Pavao Žanić”. The Italian vaticanist, said Bélanger, “doesn’t ‘document’ anything, doesn’t verify anything: he copies/pastes very serious allegations without granting his readers any factual historical retrospective.”
Tornielli then mitigated his assertions and, on September 20, wrote to Bélanger that it “is a fact that the Communists were trying to control and influence the Medjugorje phenomenon, and that they were trying to influence Bishop Žanić.”
Bélanger replied on September 21, agreeing that the Communists had tried to manipulate both Medjugorje and Bishop Žanić. “My main point is that you convey the allegation that the Secret Service so heavily influenced Mgr. Žanić’s decision that he changed completely his position from January 1982 – does the choice of that date point to a specific historical document? – making him a tool of the communist regime, thus its marionette concerning Medjugorje. As if the Ordinary had no legitimate intimate intellectual, spiritual and pastoral motive for the change of his initial spontaneous and positive assessment of the supernatural quality of the Medjugorje events – completely independent of the regime’s political stratagems.”
Tornielli did not respond further.
Since the late bishop Pavao Žanić is mentioned in numerous pages of the book “The Mystery of Medjugorje” (MM), and not in a complimentary way, it is our duty, for the love of truth and out of respect for Bishop Pavao, who was a bishop in Herzegovina for 23 years, to respond to such arbitrary claims and insinuations. But, as an introduction, another topic:
The first untruth: The journalist Ivković writes: “The day the seers met with the Gospa for the first time, June 25…” (MM, p. 120).
Which Six? It is commonly known that the “seers” met for the first time on June 24, 1981. This also turns up in the same journalist’s writings on pages 9, 17, 29, 166, etc.
This is a big untruth that creates confusion if this whole thing has been elaborated throughout the journalist’s writing. But if the author is thinking of the stable Six, it is worth mentioning here that, in regard to the “seers”, the “mystery of Medjugorje” has not been resolved yet: who was present on the second day of the “apparition”? In fact, the first encounter was on June 24, and this Six was present: Ivanka, Mirjana, Milka, Vicka, Ivan Dragićević and Ivan Ivanković.
The second day, June 25, Milka was not present, nor the second Ivan; and Marija, the sister of Milka, and Jakov Čolo were added. And then: Vicka states that Ivan Dragićević “stood with us and saw everything like us” that second day, while the same Ivan categorically denied to Fr. Zrinko Čuvalo, on June 27, that he had been present at the “apparition” that second day, and he denied it three times.To which testimony should we give credence?
Why is the anniversary the 25th and not the 24th of June? The same author reports the news that the Gospa said “this to the seers a month before the first anniversary of the apparitions, and then they conveyed it to the parish priest so that he could make it known to the faithful” (p. 17).
This news was made public by Vicka in 1985. She added that it had happened in 1982, “about a month before the anniversary, or maybe more.”
It is strange that such a piece of news was not recorded in the Chronicle of the Apparitions, in which its scribe, and moreover the illicit head of the parish at the time, Fr. Tomislav Vlašić, was accustomed to writing all sorts of banalities; and yet he must have left out such an important message. Otherwise, this would be a case of some false recollections and memories.
It is much more probable that this choice was the fruit of a tacit understanding, as has since been recounted: Podmilačje at Jajce has been celebrating St. John the Baptist on the 24th of June for centuries, and it would not be opportune for the young Medjugorje to compete with that celebration. So it was all attributed to the Gospa who supposedly established, on the occasion of the first anniversary in 1982, that the anniversary be celebrated on the 25th of June, as was made public in the book A Thousand Encounters only in 1985. In any case, over time the group of the stable Six was formed.
Let it be said, incidentally: according to the Chronicle of the Apparitions at Medjugorje and in the vicinity about 120 people have affirmed that the Gospa appeared to them between 1981 and 1985, and that Jesus and angels from God also appeared to some of them. If necessary, we could call them all “seers”. Anyway, the Six were chosen.
In the article, “The secret dossier. How the UDBA suffocated Medjugorje” (MM, pp. 119-169), Ž. Ivković reports many untruths in regard to UDBA and he seems to accept them.
The main piece of news goes back to November 17, 1987, six years after the start of the Medjugorje phenomenon. UDBA’s informers in the province are said to have boasted to excess in front of their superiors in the metropolis about their “successes”. The rest is numerous untruths, one after another. It’s impossible to rebut all the untruths here, but we cannot neglect the occasion to do so in regard to the matters that seem truly grotesque.
Bishop Žanić – enemy. The municipal Party conference at Čitluk in August 1981 “also energetically condemned the behavior of part of the clergy,” and the following names were mentioned: “Bishop Pavao Žanić, Fr. Jozo Zovko and Fr. Ferdo Vlašić” (MM, p. 121). Bishop Žanić is included here among the enemies of the state along with the two Franciscans. Should we accept this too? It will be useful to make note of it, because later Ž. Ivković will brand Bishop Žanić as a “collaborator” of the UDBA!
The second untruth: The aforementioned UDBA document, reported by the journalist as a discovery, states: “So Žanić in the course of 1986 alone went to Rome 14 times…” (MM, p. 127).
— This is not true. According to . . . (continue reading)
(Courtesy of NewAdvent.org)
This is noteworthy: Father John Corapi’s Internet presence at sites such as the www.theblacksheepdog.us and http://theblacksheepdog.wordpress.com has vanished, ditto for his presence on YouTube and Facebook. No one I know has any clue what happened to him, but there are several possible scenarios that would explain this. The one I hope is correct is that he has reconciled with the S.O.L.T. order he once was a member of and, more importantly, that he has reconciled with the Catholic Church, from which it certainly seemed he was distancing himself in the wake of all the unpleasantness that erupted last year.
In any case, his abrupt disappearance from the Internet serves as good reminder that we should all continue praying for him, whatever path he may be on. May God bless Father Corapi and may He bless us all.
Now that the much-anticipated new English translation of the Roman Missal has finally been promulgated and is being learned by priests and faithful alike, certain Catholics continue to disparage it, some through mockery. A fatuous example of this recently appeared on the website of Commonweal Magazine.
What’s interesting is that some who denigrate the new translation, such as the ineffable Fr. Richard McBrien, make the similarly fatuous claim that it was rammed through by “traditionalists in the hierarchy and a minority of ultra-conservatives within the Catholic church (sic).” Father McBrien’s recent commentary on the new translation revolves around the notion that there is a war being waged for “control” of the Mass between so-called “right-wing” Catholics and those “for whom Pope John XXIII is a hero and Vatican II was a great event.”
Seeking no doubt to console panicky progressives who are outraged (outraged!) that the pope and the bishops would have the temerity to impose liturgical changes, Father M encourages his fellow travelers to keep a stiff upper lip, secure in the reassurance that . . .
To be sure, the advocates of the “reform of the reform” have won only a partial victory with this new translation (for example, “I believe …” rather than the more communal “We believe …” in the Credo). But the Mass is still in the vernacular; the altar is still turned around; the great majority of people receive Communion in the hand; and there are more likely to be altar girls in the sanctuary than boys.
Notice the irony here. He is thoroughly gung-ho for reform, as long as it’s his kind of reform. You know, the kind that involves jettisoning as much of the Catholic Church’s rich, 2000-year-old liturgical patrimony as possible and replacing it with altar girls and such. How ironic, then, that his heart bleeds for
“those priests who have been reciting these prayers for many years [who] will inevitably stumble over the new wording, and those priests whose eyesight has failed them and who have memorized unchangeable parts of the Mass will continue to recite the words with which they have been long familiar. At least, that is what I would advise them if they were silly enough to ask.”
And yet, in his books and newspaper column, Father McBrien routinely engages in casuistry by scorning those Catholics who’ve had difficulties with or who for whatever reason resisted the far more sweeping and significant changes to the Mass that were enacted by Vatican II.
Happily, Pope Paul VI, the pontiff who presided over Vatican II, offered some prescient advice to those who, like Father McBrien, have difficulty understanding (or accepting) Pope Benedict XVI’s reasons for implementing the new translation of the Roman Missal.
I doubt that Father M has ever even heard of my lowly blog, much less reads it, but if in God’s providence he should happen to do so, I hope he will ponder the following section of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Mysterium Fidei, given in September, 1965, shortly before the conclusion of Vatican II:
It is only logical, then, for us to follow the magisterium of the Church as a guiding star in carrying on our investigations into this mystery, for the Divine Redeemer has entrusted the safeguarding and the explanation of the written or transmitted word of God to her. And we are convinced that “whatever has been preached and believed throughout the whole Church with true Catholic faith since the days of antiquity is true, even if it not be subject to rational investigation, and even if it not be explained in words.”
Proper Wording of Great Importance
23. But this is not enough. Once the integrity of the faith has been safeguarded, then it is time to guard the proper way of expressing it, lest our careless use of words give rise, God forbid, to false opinions regarding faith in the most sublime things. St. Augustine gives a stern warning about this when he takes up the matter of the different ways of speaking that are employed by the philosophers on the one hand and that ought to be used by Christians on the other. “The philosophers,” he says, “use words freely, and they have no fear of offending religious listeners in dealing with subjects that are difficult to understand. But we have to speak in accordance with a fixed rule, so that a lack of restraint in speech on our part may not give rise to some irreverent opinion about the things represented by the words.”
24. And so the rule of language which the Church has established through the long labor of centuries, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and which she has confirmed with the authority of the Councils, and which has more than once been the watchword and banner of orthodox faith, is to be religiously preserved, and no one may presume to change it at his own pleasure or under the pretext of new knowledge.
Who would ever tolerate that the dogmatic formulas used by the ecumenical councils for the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation be judged as no longer appropriate for men of our times, and let others be rashly substituted for them? In the same way, it cannot be tolerated that any individual should on his own authority take something away from the formulas which were used by the Council of Trent to propose the Eucharistic Mystery for our belief. These formulas—like the others that the Church used to propose the dogmas of faith—express concepts that are not tied to a certain specific form of human culture, or to a certain level of scientific progress, or to one or another theological school.
Instead they set forth what the human mind grasps of reality through necessary and universal experience and what it expresses in apt and exact words, whether it be in ordinary or more refined language. For this reason, these formulas are adapted to all men of all times and all places.
Greater Clarity of Expression Always Possible
25. They can, it is true, be made clearer and more obvious; and doing this is of great benefit. But it must always be done in such a way that they retain the meaning in which they have been used, so that with the advance of an understanding of the faith, the truth of faith will remain unchanged. For it is the teaching of the First Vatican Council that “the meaning that Holy Mother the Church has once declared, is to be retained forever, and no pretext of deeper understanding ever justifies any deviation from that meaning.”
Over the 25+ years that I’ve been traveling a lot by airplane, I have checked my luggage at the airport literally about 1000 times. Maybe more. Once a bag has been tagged by the ticket agent, who then places it on the conveyor belt, it moves toward the rubber-flap draped entrance to the hidden world of airport luggage processing. This Delta Airlines video shows what your suitcase goes through from the time you check it in till you retrieve it again at the flight arrival baggage carousel.
One Saturday, many years ago, a friend of mine visits from out of town. Looking for some prayerful encouragement and, probably, a kick in the rear to get himself to confession, he confides painfully to me that he had fallen into a pattern of sexual sin, about which he is understandably distressed and embarrassed. (Let’s just say that the particular sins burdening him went beyond the solitary sort which many men are prone to these days.)
During a frank conversation in which my friend is searingly honest with himself, I offer some advice and encouragement, after which we clamber into my car and drive to a nearby parish so he can receive the sacrament of confession.
His discomfiture at having to confess these sins to another man is palpable.
Promising him the meager benefit of my prayers for courage and trust in the Lord’s mercy, I kneel in a pew at the back of the church while my friend approaches the confessional.
The red light above the door indicates that a priest is waiting for penitents. Aside from my friend and me, the church is completely empty.
15 minutes pass. My friend exits the confessional and scuttles to a back pew in the shadows of the left transept, where he remains motionless in prayer, head bowed, his face covered by remorseful hands.
There are no other penitents.
5 more minutes go by.
The priest exits the confessional and walks toward the back of the church . . . where I happen to be kneeling.
The priest does not notice my friend kneeling in the transept.
The priest does, however, notice me.
The closer he gets, the more clearly I see the abashed look on his face as he recognizes me.
Although this priest and I have only ever exchanged but a few words in passing, he knows who I am.
“Awkward” is not a sufficiently descriptive adjective to describe the look we exchange as he passes by. Panicking, I realize the priest thinks he has just heard my confession.
“Oh, ho!” I imagine the good father thinking to himself. “What a fraud!”
Meanwhile, my friend remains conveniently engrossed in prayer for several minutes more, off in his wonderfully anonymous dark corner, unaware of the unpleasant little drama playing out as the priest whisks by me with that look on his face.
I admit, I am tempted to run after him and explain that he has it all wrong, that I am not that guy, that his new-found view of me is really just a case of mistaken identity. But I stay put.
Why? Because, in a momentary flash of (albeit dim) understanding, I am painfully reminded of my own lifetime-constructed ziggurat of sin and, 2) my savior, Jesus Christ, was wrongly accused of crimes He did not commit but for which He willingly suffered the penalty — for my sake. For my countless sins He suffered so that by His stripes I may be healed.
In the years that have passed since that day, I occasionally see that priest. In truth, I have searched for but never detected even a hint of “that look” on his face when he sees me. Perhaps he forgot what he heard in the confessional minutes later (many priests have assured me that this happens to them — a kind of grace of state that enables them to blank out any lingering memories of what is unburdened to them by penitents). Or maybe he is just a kind and compassionate man who would never even think of betraying the thought that he had been scandalized. I don’t know.
I do know this though: My sins may be different from my friend’s, or yours, or that priest’s, but I am a sinner in grievous need of God’s grace and mercy, just like my friend. Just like you. And I am so grateful to the Lord for his gift of the sacrament of confession. He knows how much and how often I need it.