Reconciliation: The Underutilized Sacrament

A baptismal font in the narthex of a churchThe Sacrament of reconciliation (aka penance or confession) is one of the most available, but underutilized Sacraments in the United States. As many regular confessors know, the lines during confession times aren’t exactly out the door. In fact, in many parishes there aren’t any lines at all.

There are, I believe, many reasons why confession isn’t very common in the USA anymore. However, these three strike me as primary.

First, a sense of sin and weakness is becoming rarer. The “everyone’s A-OK” attitude is pervasive. While I’m not in favor of being overly focused on our sins to the exclusion of joyfulness, we still have lost a real sense of our flawed human nature, especially in the United States and Europe, even though the evidence is all around us.

Second, schedules are becoming busier. Most families, between sports, work, and other commitments, are lucky to make it to mass once a week, let alone throw in an extra few minutes for confession. And, since it’s not a priority (see number one), it’s often forgotten.

Third, confession can be strange and scary since most Catholics have gotten out of the habit. I know Catholics, even regular mass attendees, who haven’t confessed regularly since they were in elementary school! Going back into a small room and admitting all of your shortcomings to another person can be difficult, especially if you’re out of practice.

While I can’t personally change the first and second reasons, I do have a good resource to help those Catholics who are scared of reconciliation or fail to see its purpose.

Visit Reconciliation: The Sacrament of Conversion to learn more about this practice, including its history, contents, some personal experiences, its place in Protestant traditions, and even a FAQ.

The Sacramental Character of Nature and Catholic Natural Revelation

A fall sceneThe Church teaches that we can know some things about God through natural revelation (or natural theology). This means that a person can look around them and reasonably conclude that there is a God. We can also learn some things about God from nature, which is that he is beautiful and rational. We cannot learn everything about God from nature, and thus we still need divine revelation.

Unfortunately, nature sometimes gets a bad rap among Christians. Obviously, some view nature in a non-Christian way, such as worshiping it or believing it to be God. Others are so extreme in their views of nature, they denigrate the role of humans. Some Christians overreact and make their fellow Christians feel bad about encountering God in nature, or working to conserve our environment.

However, respecting and loving nature is fine, because nature is sacramental. Obviously, Catholics believe in seven sacraments proper, but we can also speak of nature having a sacramental character, because it is a way in which we can encounter God. The ancient Gnostics (and there are some modern ones too!) believed the material world was evil, and that the goal of the enlightened Christian was to escape this evil material world, created by the evil god. Catholics have asserted that the material world is good, and that God uses his good creation for his purposes.

Thus, a Catholic can love nature, because it is part of God’s good creation, and is a tool to know God. When God became human in Jesus the entire course of creation changed. This is why sometimes when I would hike in the winter, I would pick up some snow and refer to it as “redeemed snow.”  So, go out and pray in nature. Connect to God’s good creation, and get to know the Creator a little better through it!

Living In The Eucharist, Living In Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday in November.

For Catholics, our union with Jesus in the Eucharist should be a time of giving thanks. And, since the Eucharist is being celebrated somewhere each minute around the world, all Catholics should strive to join in that thanksgiving wherever we are.

Living a life of thankfulness can be difficult. Even the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament only has four psalms of Thanksgiving (compared to many more asking for God’s help). Human nature seems to focus on our woes, rather than our blessings.

One of my favorite practices is to write a daily gratitude list. After Evening Prayer, I write down five things I’m thankful for from the previous day. I keep this running list in a journal. This activity not only reminds me to be thankful, but also lets me look back on my incredible blessings whenever I may feel less than thankful.

Ultimately, as Christians we have a lot to be thankful for, especially the love of God as shown in Jesus Christ. If we can’t think of anything else (but I’m sure we can), that alone is enough to be thankful for every second of every day.