Monday, June 04, 2012

Listen to God

No matter how much one tries to ignore God
Or prove He does not exist
In the end
God will prove them to be dead wrong

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Years are often seen as such
Especially when we miss so much
The blessings of a gentle touch
From one whose love we cannot rush

But years are only specks of sand
When seen through what our Lord has planned
For those of us who understand
Why children amble hand-in-hand

Like yours and mine
Dear hearts must suffer
When waiting for a lifelong lover
To soothe Love's brow
When life gets tougher
And choppy seas make journeys rougher

Yet sweeter are the ties that bind
When who we love is on our mind
And hearts rejoice for what we find
At last when tears are left behind

No years for us-
Just weeks to wait
Until at last we celebrate
The fun and joys of our first date
With love's pure-patient perfect mate

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quote of Day

"The fist and almost the only book deserving of universal attention is the Bible."

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Hope - Having a Little Hope

Since my experience on Sunday at church I'd been doing a lot of soul searching. Wasn't sure whether o r not to talk to anyone about what happened or not. All I know For the past three months I've been praying for my C.R.H.P. sisters an my best friend in church Mary-Lynn. They all mean the world to me and they are the closest friends I have in Indiana. Mary-Lynn  and Amy's mom has cancer and going through a lot right now. They need prayers. Plus Amy's daughter is also going through a lot. Plus Helen friend has been dealing with the same form of cancer as my partner's mother type of cancer. I wish there was a way to rid cancer of any form from this world. I know I can't. The only one who can cure cancer is God.

On Sunday an Angel came to me in a visitation after Eucharist. I was whisked away onto a pure white cloud. We waked for what seemed forever. The ground went from white as snow to green and luscious filled with lovely grass and blooming flowers of all different colors. There was an abundance of bloom. we walked down a concrete path. I saw children swinging on swings, playing on jungle gyms. It was beautiful. The Angel told me to have hope. God has plans for you all.

He told me that Amy's daughter will regain her faith in time. In God's time we will have to wait for that time to come. It might be a short wait, or a long wait. Just keep praying and asking for guidance and strength to keep us all strong and never give up.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sacrement: Catholic Marriage

A Union Sealed by the
Sacrament of Matrimony

To understand Catholic marriage in the sacrament of Matrimony, it's best to begin... the beginning.
God didn't have to make the human race male and female as he did. God didn't have to share his creative power with his own creatures and make the beginning of a new human life depend upon the free cooperation of a man and a woman with himself. There is a limitless number of other ways in which God could have arranged for the multiplication of human beings, had he chosen to do so.
But God didn't do it any other way.
He chose to make man male and female, and to give him the power, in partnership with himself, to produce new human life. By the act of intimate union which we call sexual intercourse, man and woman would fashion a physical image of themselves; and into this new body so wondrously begun God would infuse a spiritual and immortal soul.
It is God, then, who bestowed upon humans the power of procreation—as the sexual faculty is called. It is God who planned and who gave to men and women their genital organs. It is God who (to guarantee the perpetuation of the human race) attached to the use of those organs a high degree of physical pleasure.
Since God is the author of sex and since all that God does is good, it follows then that sex in itself is something good.

The sanctity of sex

Indeed, because of its close relationship with God who is a partner to the reproductive act, sex is not merely something good—it is something sacred and holy.
This is a point that needs emphasizing, this basic sanctity of sex.
When the sense of the sacredness of sex is lost, the sanctity of marriage also is forgotten. Sex becomes a plaything, an exciting tool for pleasure rather than an instrument of God. Easy divorce and casual remarriages; prostitution and marital infidelity: these are some of the evils which follow when sex is twisted from its context in the divine scheme of things.

The union of marriage

To ensure the right use of the procreative power God founded the institution of marriage: the lifelong and irrevocable union of one man and one woman.
The necessity of such a union is apparent, since it is essential not only that children be born but that they be lovingly reared and cared for by the father and mother who bring them into the world. Our juvenile courts and mental hospitals bear daily witness to the evils that follow when the unity and permanence of marriage are forgotten.
But it was not merely for the purpose of peopling the earth that God instituted marriage. "It is not good that the man is alone," said God as Adam slept in Eden. "I will make him a helper like himself." It is God's design that man and woman should complete each other, draw strength from each other, contribute to one another's spiritual growth.
It is in the lifelong espousal of one man and one woman, wherein minds and hearts as well as bodies are fused into a new and richer unity, that this purpose of God is achieved.
Jesus explicitly affirmed the permanence of marriage: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:7).

A new sacrament

Up to the time of Christ, marriage, although a sacred union, was still only a civil contract between a man and a woman.
Jesus, however, took this contract, this exchange of marital consent between man and woman, and made the contract a conveyor of grace. He made marriage a sacrament, the sacrament of Matrimony among Christians.
Matrimony is defined as "the sacrament by which a baptized man and a baptized woman bind themselves for life in a lawful marriage and receive the grace to discharge their duties."
It is not hard to understand why Jesus made marriage a sacrament—the sacrament of Matrimony.

Grace supports a natural union

From man's beginning, marriage was a sacred union.
It was God's instrument for the begetting, the rearing, the education, and the moral training of successive generations of human beings. Marriage was a "natural," we might say, for elevation to the holy rank of a sacrament. Besides the priesthood, there is no state in life that pleads for grace as demandingly as does marriage.
No matter how well matched they may be, it is not easy for any two people to live together day in and day out, year after year, with their inescapable faults and personality defects grating upon each other. It's not easy to help one another grow in goodness and nobility in spite of those faults—little by little adjusting to one another so that the faults of one "fit in" to the perfections of the other and unity arises from the very differences of the two persons. This is a beautiful evolution, like the emergence of the butterfly from its chrysalis; but it is not easy.
No matter how selfless a couple may be, it is not easy for them to face the prospect of responsible parenthood, with all the sacrifices that entails. Especially it is not easy to face the prospect of an ultimate judgment, in which they will have to answer to God for the souls of the children who have been entrusted to them.
If ever there was a state of life which called for grace, marriage is it.

A higher calling in the New Covenant

And, in Christ's new plan for mankind, there was a further need for grace in marriage.
It would be upon parents that Jesus must depend for the continual replenishment of his Mystical Body: that union-in-grace whereby all baptized Catholics are one in Christ. From now on, for Christian parents it would not be enough to beget, rear, educate, and train offspring.
From now on Jesus would expect parents to form and nurture the souls of their children in the pattern of sainthood.
Without guiding grace and strengthening grace, this would be a hopeless task.

Unbroken tradition testifies to this sacrament

It is no wonder, then, that Christ made marriage a sacrament.
Just when he did so, during his public life, we do not know. Some think that it may have been at the marriage feast at Cana. Others think it may have been at the time he instructed the Pharisees: "Have you not read that the Creator, from the beginning, made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:4-7).
However, such speculations as to the exact time at which Jesus made marriage a sacrament are rather fruitless. It is enough for us to know, by the constant and unbroken tradition of the Church, that Jesus did so transform the marriage bond.

Who administers this sacrament?

A sacrament, as we know, is an outward sign that confers an inner grace.
In the sacrament of Matrimony, the outward sign is the exchange of marital consent on the part of a baptized man and a baptized woman. In other words the couple who are getting married administer the sacrament of Matrimony to each other.
It is not correct to say (although we often do) that "John and Mary were married by the priest." More correctly we should say, "John and Mary married each other in the presence of the priest."
The priest cannot administer the sacrament of Matrimony; only the contracting couple can do that. The priest (or deacon) is simply the official witness, representing Christ and Christ's Church. The priest's presence is normally essential; without him there is no sacrament and no marriage. But he does not confer the sacrament.

Catholic marriage requires
sacramental Matrimony

Aside from exceptional cases, a Catholic cannot validly contract marriage except in the presence of a priest.
A Catholic who attempts to enter into marriage before a minister or a civil magistrate (such as a judge or a justice of the peace) is not really married at all. He commits a grave sin by going through such a ceremony; and the couple will be living in habitual mortal sin as long as they continue to cohabit.
Two non-Catholics who are married by a minister or a civil magistrate are genuinely married. If the two are unbaptized, theirs is a "natural" marriage, such as was marriage before Jesus instituted the sacrament of Matrimony. If both non-Catholics are baptized, however, their marriage is a sacrament.
But for a Catholic, there just isn't any other way to marry validly except to receive the sacrament of Matrimony. When Jesus institutes a sacrament, he requires that his followers use it.

The promise of grace

If a husband (or a wife) is having a bad day, perhaps discouraged under the pressure of an acute domestic problem, tempted to self-pity, with the awful feeling that it was a mistake ever to get married—that is one good time to remember that Matrimony is a sacrament.
It is a good time to remember that each spouse has an absolute right to whatever grace may be needed in this emergency; whatever grace may be needed to strengthen human weakness and to guide to a solution of the problem.
To Christian spouses who do their human best to make theirs a truly Christian marriage, God has pledged his grace, when needed and as needed.
God will not default on his pledge.

Two kinds of grace

Since Matrimony is a sacrament, we know that it gives grace.
Like every sacrament, it gives two kinds of grace. First of all there is the increase in sanctifying grace, imparted at the very moment that the sacrament is received.
As the just-wed couple turn away from the altar, their souls are spiritually stronger, spiritually more beautiful than when they came to the altar a few moments earlier.
It is essential, of course, that they present themselves to receive this sacrament with souls which already are in the state of sanctifying grace. For a person to receive this sacrament with a mortal sin upon his soul would be a sacrilege, a grave sin. The marriage still would be a true and valid marriage; but it would be a most unhappy beginning for what is designed to be a partnership with God.

Matrimony's sacramental grace

Besides this increase in sanctifying grace—which all "the sacraments of the living" confer—Matrimony gives its own special grace, its sacramental grace.
This consists in a claim upon God for whatever actual graces the couple may need, through the years, to make a happy and successful marriage.
For its full effectiveness this grace needs the cooperation of both partners to the marriage. The grace is intended for that single entity, that "one-from-two," which a married couple have become. But if one partner should prove derelict to Christian duty, the other spouse still can count on exceptional graces of strength and wisdom.
To be more specific, the sacramental grace of Matrimony:
  • Perfects the natural love of husband and wife;
  • Elevates this love to a supernatural level which far surpasses mere mental and physical compatibility;
  • Gives to marital love a sanctifying quality, making it an instrument for growth in holiness and marriage a path to sainthood;
  • Imparts conscientiousness in the begetting and rearing of children;
  • Gives prudence in the innumerable problems consequent upon family life;
  • Enables husband and wife to adjust to one another's shortcomings and to bear with one another's faults.
This is only a little of what the grace of Matrimony will accomplish for those who, by their cooperation, give God a chance to show what he can do.

Grace merited by Christ's Passion

Four hundred years ago the Council of Trent, in propounding the Catholic doctrine on the sacrament of Matrimony, said:
The grace which would perfect that natural love (of husband and wife) and confirm that indissoluble union and sanctify the married, Christ himself merited for us by his Passion; as the Apostle St. Paul indicates, saying, 'Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.'
It seems to me that it should be a wonderfully inspiring thought to a Christian husband and wife to realize that Jesus was thinking of them as he suffered his Passion—to realize that one of the things for which Christ died was the graces they would need in marriage.
Equally inspiring should be the knowledge that the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to compare marriage to the fruitful, grace-filled union and interchange between Christ and his Spouse, the Church.

The marriage bond

In addition to the conferring of grace, another effect of the sacrament of Matrimony is the forging of the marriage bond, a moral change wrought in the souls of the married couple.
Of course, it is only the three sacraments whose fundamental objective is the worship of God—Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders—which work in the soul that physical change which we call the "character" of the sacrament. These are the three sacraments by which we share, in varying ways, in the priesthood of Christ.
However, theologians have not hesitated to compare the marriage bond to these sacramental characters and even to term it a quasi-character.


It is from this "quasi-character," this matrimonial bond, that result the two properties of marriage: unity and indissolubility (such a jaw-breaker!).
By the unity of marriage is meant that a man can have only one wife, and a woman only one husband. They are two in one flesh, not many in one flesh. The unity of marriage is opposed to polygyny (many wives) and polyandry (many husbands).
Since Christ's time, monogamy (one spouse) must be the rule without exception.


By the indissolubility of marriage is meant that marriage is a permanent union.
Once a man and woman are completely united in a consummated Christian marriage, there is no power on earth, not even the Pope, who can dissolve the bond. "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6).
The Church does have the power, under very special circumstances, to dissolve a marriage that was not a sacramental marriage (for example, the marriage of two unbaptized persons when one of the parties has later been baptized), and to dissolve a sacramental marriage that never has been consummated.
But even the marriage of two validly baptized Protestants is a sacramental union which, once consummated, the Church herself cannot break.
The state laws which permit divorce with remarriage are meaningless as far as God is concerned. The divorced person who remarries, and his or her new partner, are living in habitual adultery if the previous marriage was valid; legalized adultery, but adultery nonetheless.

The reality of hardship in some cases

There are times when the unbreakableness of the marriage bond seems to result in a great hardship.
We are thinking of such instances as that of a husband whose wife becomes mentally ill, or the wife who must flee from an abusive husband, or the husband or wife who is deserted by a spouse.
Each of these cases is certainly very difficult in human terms. But the permanence of marriage means there can be no remarriage so long as the deserter lives.
That is, there can be no remarriage for such persons so far as God is concerned. They can, of course, secure a civil divorce (with the consent of the bishop) if it is necessary to protect themselves against a vicious or a deserting spouse.
But the civil divorce cannot break the marriage bond.

Permanence is part of God's purpose

We feel a great pity for persons caught in such a dilemma.
We are tempted to ask, "Why is God so adamant against any breaking of the marriage bond? Why doesn't he make some provision for especially deserving cases?"
The answer is that God, once he decided to create the human race male and female and to have men and women cooperate with him in peopling the earth and heaven too, was compelled to make marriage a permanent union in order to fulfill his purposes. (When we say "decided" and "compelled," we are speaking of God in purely human terms.)
If children were to reach adulthood in the full nobility which God willed them to have—children of God and images of him—it was essential that they should have the emotional, mental, and spiritual stability which could be achieved only by growing up with their own parents. (The writer, whose principal work is with children from broken homes, can bear witness to the harmful effects of step-parentage.)
Moreover, even where there are no children to consider, the secondary purpose of marriage still demands a permanent union. The secondary purpose is the mutual completion which a man and a woman are destined to find in one another—the enrichment and growth which results from their fusion into a new unity, one from two. This is a purpose that never could be fulfilled if the marriage bond were temporary or terminable.
That is why we say that the indissolubility of the marriage bond flows from the natural law, even aside from any positive decree on the part of God. It is based on the very nature of man as he is.

God's care for us, even in difficult times

Yes, someone may say, that is all very true. But couldn't there be a dispensation in cases of exceptional hardship?
Unfortunately, there can be no exceptions if God's plan is to succeed.
When a man and a woman know that "this is for life," that they have to make a go of their marriage—then ninety-nine times out of a hundred they will. If adultery were grounds for severing the marriage bond with the right to remarry, or brutality or desertion, then how easy it would be to provide the grounds.
We have seen that very result exemplified in our own country, as our divorce-and-remarriage rate grows and swells. No, this is a case where God must hold the line firmly or God's cause is lost.
It is a case where an individual (an innocent deserted mother, for example) is sometimes called upon to suffer for the common good. Those who say that the innocent should not have to suffer are saying in effect that virtue should be practiced only when virtue is easy. By this principle it would be quite all right for a Catholic caught in a Communist land to deny his Faith if it would keep him out of prison. By this principle martyrs would be fools, and goodness would simply depend upon how low the pressure was.
The deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of Matrimony the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it. Through the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper meaning.(Catechism, 1647)
As for the deserted wife or lonely husband, God knows their problems better than anyone else. He can be depended upon to give the needed courage and strength and help if given the chance. The abandoned children need a father, yes; but they do not need a stepfather more than they need God. God will be doubly a Father to them.
Surely he can be given credit for caring at least as much as we.

A special blessing for
successful marriage

Of course, marriage is so much more than just a permanent commitment. It is the place where a man and a woman seek—and find—deep union with each other. It is where spouses cooperate with God in the creation of new life. It is a channel of divine grace, and a place of life-long support and love—love which is a beacon of God's own love for us, a testament of faith to the world.
The bride and groom who are seeking all the grace they can obtain for the fulfillment of their vocation will want to exchange the vows of Matrimony within a Nuptial Mass. The Nuptial Mass is a special Mass with a very special blessing which the Church provides in her liturgy for those who are embarking upon the holy vocation of marriage.
There is a special Mass of Ordination in the liturgy for the young man who is offering himself to God in the priesthood. There is a special Mass of Consecration for the offering of a new church edifice to God. It is not surprising, then, that there is a Nuptial Mass for the couple who are dedicating themselves to God as cooperators in his work of creation and redemption, as a little "church-within-a-church" in the Mystical Body of Christ.
It is a measure of the importance which the Church attaches to the sacrament of Matrimony.
A Catholic couple, both esteeming marriage as a vocation under God, receiving the sacrament of Matrimony after a chaste courtship in which prayer and the sacraments have kept God close, kneeling together to receive Holy Communion at their Nuptial Mass—there is a marriage upon which they, and all who love them, can pin their hopes.

Receiving the Lord: Holy Communion

Holy Communion is the act by which we receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
A Separate article discusses the nature of the Holy Eucharist. This current article explains Communion, the reception of Holy Eucharist as asacrament:
  • What is the purpose of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist?
  • What effects does it produce in the soul?

The purpose of the Eucharist

We know that each of the Catholic sacraments produces its own special effect or effects. If the purpose of all sacraments were simply to give a single kind of grace, one sacrament would be enough; there would have been no need for our Lord Jesus to have instituted seven.
The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist was instituted as a food, a spiritual food.
That is why the outward sign of this sacrament—the appearances of bread and wine—is a sign of nourishment, just as in Baptism the outward sign is water, a sign of cleansing.
The action by which we as individuals receive the Holy Eucharist is an act of eating. We swallow the appearances of bread and wine under which Jesus is present. This is the action which we call Holy Communion.
The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: "Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." [Jn 6:53](Catechism, 1384)

Union with the Lord

Since the Holy Eucharist is a spiritual food, it does for the soul what physical food does for the body.
When we eat physical food, it becomes united to us—it is changed into our own substance and becomes a part of us.
In Holy Communion something analogous happens to us spiritually, but with a great difference: in this case it is the individual who is united to the Food, not the Food to the individual. The lesser is united to the Greater.
We become one with Christ.
This sacramental union of ourselves with Jesus is more than the mere physical union between our body and the Sacred Host which we have swallowed. More importantly, it is a mystical and spiritual union of the soulwith Jesus. This is produced in the soul by our physical contact with the sacred Body of Jesus.
This marvelous blending of the soul with Jesus is a very special kind of union. Obviously we do not become "part of God." It is much more than the "ordinary" union with God which the Holy Spirit establishes in us by sanctifying grace. Yet it is less than the ultimate and most intimate union with God which will be ours in the beatific vision in heaven.
This union is simply called Communion.

The Mystical Body

Being united with Christ in this close and personal union, we are necessarily united also with all others who are "in" Christ—all others who are members of His Mystical Body.
Union with Christ in Holy Communion is the bond of charity which makes us one with our neighbor.
When we grow in love for God through our union with Jesus, we also necessarily grow in love for our fellow man. If we have the right dispositions, our Holy Communions should produce fruits in ourselves that we notice over time: a lessening of racial and national prejudices, of neighborhood resentments; an increase in neighborliness, in compassion, in patience and forbearance towards others.
The very sign of the sacrament symbolizes our total oneness in Christ:
  • Many grains of wheat have been compounded together to make the one bread which has become the Body of Christ.
  • Many grapes have been crushed together in the press to make the contents of the one chalice which has become the Blood of Christ.
We are many in One—and that One is Christ.
"And the bread that we break," says St. Paul, "is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Communion's sacramental grace

It is characteristic of every sacrament either to give or to increase sanctifying grace.
Each of the other sacraments however has a specific purpose of its own in addition to the bestowal of sanctifying grace:
  • Baptism cleanses from original sin
  • Penance forgives mortal sin
  • Confirmation strengthens faith
  • Matrimony sanctifies marriage...
...and so on.
But in the Holy Eucharist we have the one sacrament whose principal purpose is to increase sanctifying grace, repeatedly and often, through personal union with the Giver of grace Himself.
That is why the Holy Eucharist is preeminently the sacrament of spiritual growth, of increase in spiritual stature and strength.

A state of grace is required

That also is why the soul already must be in the state of sanctifying grace when we receive Holy Communion—in other words, free from mortal sin.
Physical food cannot benefit a dead body, and the Holy Eucharist cannot benefit a dead soul.
Indeed, a person who knowingly would receive Holy Communion while in the state of mortal sin, would add a new dimension of guilt to his already sinful state: he would commit the grave sin of sacrilege. In the very act of outwardly offering himself to Jesus for the union-in-love which is the essence of Holy Communion, he would be opposing Jesus by that rejection of God which is inherent in all mortal sin.

A grace that protects

However, the reception of the Holy Eucharist will forgive venial sin—presuming of course that the communicant has sorrow for his venial sins.
Here again it is love that does the work. What we might call the "charge" of love which Jesus unleashes upon the soul in this moment of personal union, is a purifying force; it purges the soul from all lesser infidelities. Whatever accumulation of venial sin may encumber the soul, it is dissolved and annihilated (if repented) as Christ's love makes contact with the soul.
Another effect of Holy Communion is to preserve the soul from spiritual death, to preserve the soul from mortal sin.
The strength of our inclination to sin (called concupiscence) is also reduced each time we receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

A rich banquet of the Lord

Holy Communion unites us with Christ and intensifies our love for God and for neighbor.
It increases sanctifying grace. It remits venial sin, lessens concupiscence, and thus preserves us from mortal sin.
Finally, as good food should, it readies us for work. A frequent communicant who receives worthily and fruitfully cannot possibly remain wrapped up in himself. As love for Christ more and more fills his horizon, he feels the urge to do things for Christ and with Christ. Powered by the graces of Holy Communion, he becomes an apostolic Christian.

Holy Communion is indeed the Bread of Life, a banquet overflowing with grace and richness.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

Rising Again to New Life

Many Catholics treasure the sacrament of Reconciliation.
The peace of mind and soul which this sacrament imparts to us is one for which there is no substitute. It is a peace that flows from a certainty, rather than from an unsure hope, that our sins have been forgiven and that we are right with God.
Although many converts to the Catholic Church initially fear it, they quickly come to love the sacrament of Reconciliation once they get over their nameless fears—fears which come from a misconception of what the sacrament really is.

Confession, Penance & Reconciliation

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also known as Penance and Confession, among other names. (There is an explanation of some of these names in the Catechism's section on the sacrament of Reconciliation.)
Although often called Reconciliation in common usage, the term "penance" best describes the essential interior disposition required for this sacrament.
In fact, there is a virtue of penance. This is a supernatural virtue by which we are moved to detest our sins from a motive made known by faith, and with an accompanying purpose of offending God no more and of making satisfaction for our sins. In this sense the word "penance" is synonymous with "penitence" or "repentance."
Before the time of Christ the virtue of penance was the only means by which people's sins could be forgiven. Even today, for those outside the Church in good faith, not possessing the sacrament of Penance, it is the only means for forgiveness of sins.

Continuing the work of redemption

The sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament in which the priest, as the agent of God, forgives sins committed after Baptism, when the sinner is heartily sorry for them, sincerely confesses them, and is willing to make satisfaction for them.
By his death on the Cross, Jesus Christ redeemed man from sin and from the consequences of his sin, especially from the eternal death that is sin's due.
So it is not surprising that on the very day he rose from the dead, Jesus instituted the sacrament by which men's sins could be forgiven.

A power granted by Christ

It was on Easter Sunday evening that Jesus appeared to his Apostles, gathered together in the Upper Room, where they had eaten the Last Supper. As they gaped and shrank back in a mixture of fear and dawning hope, Jesus spoke to them reassuringly.
Let St. John (20:19-23) tell it:
Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, 'Peace be to you!' And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced at the sight of the Lord. He therefore said to them again, 'Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' When he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.'
To paraphrase our Lord's words in more modern terms, what he said was this:
As God, I have the power to forgive sin. I now entrust the use of that power to you. You will be My representatives. Whatever sins you forgive, I shall forgive. Whatever sins you do not forgive, I shall not forgive.

Necessary after Baptism

Jesus knew well that many of us would forget our brave baptismal promises and commit grave sins after our Baptism. He knew that many of us would lose the grace, the sharing-in-God's-own-life which came to us in Baptism.
Since God's mercy is infinite and unwearying, it seems inevitable that he would provide a second chance (and a third and a fourth and a hundredth if necessary) for those who might relapse into sin.

A power of the priesthood

This power to forgive sin which Jesus conferred upon his Apostles was not, of course, to die with them; no more so than the power to change bread and wine into his Body and Blood, which he conferred upon his Apostles at the Last Supper.
Jesus did not come upon earth just to save a few chosen souls, or just the people who lived on earth during the lifetime of his Apostles.
Jesus came to save everybody who was willing to be saved, down to the end of time. He had you and me in mind, as well as Timothy and Titus, when he died on the Cross.
It is evident then that the power to forgive sins is a part of the power of the priesthood, to be passed on in the sacrament of Holy Orders from generation to generation.
It is the power which every priest exercises when he raises his hand over the contrite sinner and says, "I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." These are called "the words of absolution."

Countless benefits

It may be that at one time or another we have found the sacrament of Reconciliation a burden. Perhaps we even can remember an occasion when we said, "I wish I didn't have to go to confession."
But certainly in our saner moments we find Reconciliation a sacrament that we love, a sacrament we would not want to be without.
Just think of all that the sacrament of Reconciliation does for us!
First of all, if a person has cut himself off from God by a grave and deliberate act of disobedience against God (that is, by mortal sin), the sacrament of Reconciliation reunites the soul to God; sanctifying grace is restored to the soul.
At the same time, the sin itself (or sins) is forgiven. Just as darkness disappears from a room when the light is turned on, so too must sin disappear from the soul with the coming of sanctifying grace.
When received without any mortal sin on the soul, the sacrament of Reconciliation imparts to the soul an increase in sanctifying grace. This means that there is a deepening and strengthening of that divine-life-shared by which the soul is united to God.
And always, any venial sins which the penitent may have committed and for which he is truly sorry are forgiven. These are the lesser and more common sins which do not cut us off from God but still hinder, like clouds across the sun, the full flow of his grace to the soul.

Crime & punishment

The restoring or the increasing of sanctifying grace and the forgiving of mortal and venial sins—is there anything else that the sacrament of Reconciliation can do for us?
Yes indeed!
If it is a question of mortal sin, Reconciliation wipes out the eternalpunishment which is the inevitable consequence of mortal sin. It also remits at least part of the temporal punishment due to sin.
The temporal punishment due to sin is simply the debt of satisfaction which I owe to God for my sins even after the sins themselves have been forgiven. It it a matter of "repairing the damage," we might say.
A simply example to illustrate this would be that of an angry boy who kicks at the table leg and knocks a piece of pottery off onto the floor. "I'm sorry, Mother," he says repentantly. "I shouldn't have done that." "Well," mother says, "if you're sorry, I won't punish you. But get down and pick up the pieces, and I'll expect you to buy a new dish out of your allowance."
Mother forgives the disobedience and absolves from the punishment—but she still expects her son to make satisfaction for his rebellious outburst.
It is this satisfaction which we owe to God for having offended him that we term "the temporal punishment due to sin." Either we pay the debt in this life by the prayers, penances, and other good works which we perform in the state of grace, or we shall have to pay the debt in purgatory. And it is this debt which the sacrament of Reconciliation at least partiallyreduces, in proportion to the degree of our sorrow.
The more fervent our condition is, the more is our debt of temporal satisfaction reduced.

Restoring lost merits

Still another effect of the sacrament of Reconciliation is that it restores to us the merits of our past good works if these have been lost by mortal sin.
As we know, every good work that we perform in the state of grace and with the intention of doing it out of love for God is a meritorious work. It entitles us to an increase of grace in this life and an increase of glory in heaven. Even the simplest actions—kind words spoken, thoughtful deeds performed—have this effect, not to mention prayers said, Masses offered, sacraments received.
However, mortal sin wipes out this accumulated merit, much as a man might lose his life savings by one reckless gamble.
God could with perfect justice allow our past merits to remain forever lost even when he forgives our sins. But in his infinite goodness he does not make us start all over again from scratch. The sacrament of Reconciliation not only forgives our mortal sins; it also restores to us the merits which we had so willfully cast away.

Additional graces to strengthen us

Finally, besides all its other benefits, the sacrament of Reconciliation gives us the right to whatever actual graces we may need, and as we need them, in order that we may make atonement for our past sins and may conquer our future temptations.
This is the special "sacramental grace" of Penance; it fortifies us against a relapse into sin.
It is a spiritual medicine which strengthens as well as heals. That is why a person intent upon leading a good life will make it a practice to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation often. Frequent confession is one of the best guarantees against falling into grave sin. It would be the height of stupidity to say, "I don't need to go to confession because I haven't committed any mortal sins."
All these results of the sacrament of Reconciliation—restoration or increase of sanctifying grace, forgiveness of sins, remission of punishment, restoration of merit, grace to conquer temptation—all these are possibleonly because of the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, which the sacrament of Reconciliation applies to our souls.
Jesus on the cross already has "done our work for us". In the sacrament of Reconciliation we simply give God a chance to share with us the infinite merits of his Son.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders

Priests of the New Sacrifice

The sacrament of Holy Orders creates a priest.
There's a little more to it than that, of course. As the Catechism's section on Holy Orders says: this "is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees"—the orders of bishop, priest, and deacon. (Catechism, 1536)
But to keep things simple, let's start with the priest.

The priesthood & the sacrifice

To know what a priest is we have to know what a sacrifice is.
Nowadays the word "sacrifice" is used in many different ways. But in its strict meaning, its original meaning, a sacrifice is the offering of a gift to God by a group, through the agency of someone who has the right to represent the group.
The purpose of such an offering is to give group worship to God; that is, to acknowledge God's supreme lordship over mankind, to thank him for his blessings, to atone for human sin, and to beg for his benefits.
It is not that God needs our gifts.
Everything that exists was made by God in the first place. Even a mountain of diamonds would of itself have no value in God's eyes. Until Jesus gave us himself as the perfect gift in the sacrifice of the Mass, nothing that man could offer to God was really worthy of God.

Prayer in action

Nevertheless it pleased God, from the very beginning of human history, to have man "act out" his feelings towards God by means of sacrifice. From all that God had given, man would take the very best (whether it was a lamb or a bullock or fruit or grain) and offer it back to God—destroying it upon an altar to symbolize the act of giving.
These were only "token" gifts—like the Christmas necktie which a poor man might give to his rich and generous uncle. But the gifts expressed, better than could words, the deepest sentiments of the human heart towards God.
"O almighty God," the gift would say, "I know that all which I have, I have from You. I thank You for Your bounty. I beg Your forgiveness for not serving You better. Please be good and merciful to me anyway."
Sacrifice, in short, is prayer in action. It is the prayer-in-action of a group. And the one who offers the sacrifice in the name of the group is the priest.

Deeply rooted in the Old Testament

Since men have offered sacrifice to God from the very beginning of the human race so also have there been priests from the very beginning.
In the first period of Biblical history—the age of the Patriarchs—it was the father of the family who was also the priest. It was the father of the family who offered sacrifice to God for himself and his family. Adam was priest for his family; so were Noah and Abraham and all the other family heads priests for their families.
In the time of Moses, however, God directed that the priesthood of his chosen people, the Jews, should henceforth belong to the family of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. The oldest son in each generation of Aaron's descendants would be the high priest and the other Levites would be his assistants.
When the Old Law ended with the establishment of the New Law by Christ, the priesthood of the Old Law also came to an end.

A new Sacrifice for the New Covenant

The New Law of love would have a new sacrifice and a new priesthood.
At the Last Supper Jesus instituted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In this new sacrifice the gift offered to God would not be a mere token gift, such as a sheep or an ox or bread and wine. The gift now, for the first time and always, would be a gift worthy of God.
It would be the gift of God's own Son—a gift of infinite value, even as God himself is infinite.
In the Mass, under the appearances of bread and wine, Jesus would daily renew the once-and-forever offering which, upon the cross, he made ofhimself to God. In the Mass he would give to each of us, his baptized members, the opportunity to unite ourselves with him in that offering.
But who would be the human priest who would stand at the altar—the human agent whose hands and whose lips Christ would use for the offering of himself? Who would be the human priest to whom Christ would give the power of making the God-Man present upon the altar, under the appearances of bread and wine?

Priests at Christ's own command

There were eleven such priests, to begin with. (It is not certain that Judas was present at the time the Apostles were made priests.) At the Last Supper, as we know, Jesus made his Apostles priests, when he gave them the command (and with the command, the power) to do what he had just done. "Do this," he said, "in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:20).
It was this power, the power to offer sacrifice in the name of Christ and of Christ's Mystical Body, his Church (which means you and me united to Christ by Baptism), which made the Apostles priests.
To this power of changing bread and wine into his Body and Blood, Jesus on Easter Sunday night added the power to forgive sins in his name. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said; "whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).
This power of the priesthood which Christ conferred upon his Apostles was not to die with them.
Jesus came to save the souls of all people who ever would live, down to the end of the world. Consequently, the Apostles passed their priestly power on to other men in the ceremony which we now call the sacrament of Holy Orders.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read of one of the first (if not the first) ordinations by the Apostles:
And the plan met the approval of the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip and Prochorus and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a proselyte from Antioch. These they set before the Apostles, and after they had prayed they laid their hands upon them.(Acts 6:5-6)
It was as deacons that these men were ordained, not yet as priests. But it gives us the picture of the Apostles sharing, and passing on to others, the sacred power which Jesus had bestowed upon them.
As time went on, the Apostles consecrated more bishops to carry on their work. These bishops in turn ordained other bishops and priests, and these bishops in their turn, still others. So that the Catholic priest of today can truly say that the power of his priesthood has come down, in the sacrament of Holy Orders, in an unbroken line from Christ himself.

Holy Orders is a unique sacrament

There are two notable ways in which the sacrament of Holy Orders differs from the other sacraments.
One is the fact that Holy Orders can be administered only by a bishop. Only a bishop has the power to ordain priests. An ordinary priest cannot pass his power on to another.
The second way in which Holy Orders differs from other sacraments is that Holy Orders is not received all at once.
When we are baptized, we are completely baptized by the single pouring of water. When we are confirmed, we are completely confirmed in a single ceremony. Holy Orders, however, is given by degrees, by successive steps.

Three successive stages

Like a flower developing from bud to full bloom, so does the sacrament of Holy Orders unfold itself through three stages as it confers successively the powers of deacon, priest, and bishop.
Deaconship, priesthood, and bishopric are the three stages in the sacrament of Holy Orders as it was instituted by Christ. At each stage, as in every sacrament, there is an increase in sanctifying grace. At each stage there is the imprinting of a character upon the soul; each successive character, like a progressively brighter sun, enveloping and containing the one that has gone before.
In that character are rooted the right and the power that belong to the order which is being received.
  • For the deacon it is the right to baptize, to preach, and to administer Holy Communion.
  • For the priest it is the power to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and to forgive sins.
  • For the bishop, who alone has the complete fullness of the priesthood, it is the power to confirm and to ordain—to pass the power of the priesthood on to others in the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Then, besides the increase in sanctifying grace and the priestly character with its accompanying power, there is the special sacramental grace which gives to the one ordained a claim upon God for whatever actual graces he may need in the faithful discharge of his office.

The priest & the Sacrifice of the Mass

For priests (and of course bishops), Holy Orders "configures them to Christ" in a special way so that they can act in the person of Christ the Head.
Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Holy Spirit imparts that tremendous and almost unbelievable power to call Jesus Christ himself down upon the altar. It is in the Sacrifice of the Mass that the priest exercises the supreme degree of his sacred office.
This is the supreme Sacrifice, offered in divine worship in the person of Christ (in persona Christi), by which the priest acts as a true priest of the New Covenant.
We must also remember that it is only by this sacred, ordained power to act in persona Christi that the priest has the power to forgive, in Christ's name, the sins of men.

Sustained by grace

No priest would or could wish for more than this extraordinary privilege of acting in persona Christi.
As he bends each morning over the bread and the wine, lending his lips to Christ as he speaks Christ's words, "This is My Body. . . . This is My Blood," the priest time and again feels all but crushed by the sense of his own unworthiness, by the consciousness of his human weakness. He would be crushed, too, if it were not for the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which God infallibly gives to those who humbly ask it.
It is, of course, this power to offer sacrifice, this power to offer the Perfect Gift to God in the name of God's people, that distinguishes a priest from a Protestant minister. The minister does not have the power to offer sacrifice, which is precisely what makes a priest a priest.

A major difference between
Catholics and Protestants

Indeed, Protestant ministers do not even believe in such a power to offer sacrifice.
One notable exception to this belief is the clergy of the High Episcopalian Church, or the Anglican Church. These Anglican clergy do consider themselves priests and bishops, but the Catholic Church does notrecognize them as such. The reason is simple: there is no one who can impart to them the power of the priesthood.
Back in the sixteenth century, the leaders of the Anglican church eliminated all reference to the Mass and the power of sacrifice from their ordination ceremony. Without the intention of ordaining sacrificing priests, the sacrament of Holy Orders is invalid; it is not Holy Orders.
In fact that is true of any sacrament—whoever gives a sacrament must have the intention of doing what the sacrament is supposed to do, or the sacrament is invalid. That is how true priests and bishops died out, in the Anglican church, once the intention of ordaining sacrificing priests and bishops was taken out of the ordination service. The line of succession by which the power of the priesthood has come down to us, from Christ to the Apostles to bishop to bishop to bishop, was broken centuries ago when the Anglican Church rejected the whole idea of the Mass and a sacrificing priesthood.
In later times some Anglican High churchmen have revived the idea of the Mass, but they have no bishops who are true successors of the Apostles, no bishops who themselves have any of the power which the sacrament of Holy Orders gives. This is not said in any spirit of prideful disdain—it is just a sad fact of history; one that should move us to renewed prayer that our separated brethren may return to the one true fold.

An essential link to Christ

In the sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ has provided us with an essential link to himself.
Above all else, Holy Orders makes possible the extraordinary gift of the Sacrifice of the Mass—a gift from Christ himself.

The Anointing of the Sick

Comfort and Healing

The Anointing of the Sick is a remarkable sign of God's great love for us. In his merciful efforts to bring us safely to himself in heaven, God seems to have gone to the very limit.
Jesus has given us the sacrament of Baptism, in which original sin and all pre-Baptismal sins are cleansed from the soul. Allowing for mankind's spiritual weakness, Jesus also gave us the sacrament of Penance, by which post-Baptismal sins could be forgiven. As though he were impatient lest a soul be delayed a single instant from its entry into heaven, Jesus gave to his Church the power to remit the temporal punishment due to sin, a power which the Church exercises in the granting of indulgences.
Finally, as though to make doubly sure that no one, except through his own deliberate fault, would lose heaven or even spend time in purgatory, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

A special sacrament for the sick & suffering

The Catechism of the Catholic Church's section on the Anointing of the Sick defines the purpose of the sacrament as "the conferral of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age." (Catechism, 1527)
In his Gospel St. Mark (6:12-13) gives us an indication of this sacrament of the sick when he tells us that the apostles, going forth, "preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many sick people, and healed them."
However, the classical description which the Bible gives of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is found in the Epistle of St. James:
Is any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters [priests] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.(James 5:14-15)

The Oil of the Sick

The oil used in administering the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is called Oil of the Sick. It is one of the three Holy oils blessed by the bishop of the diocese at his cathedral on Holy Thursday morning, the other two Holy Oils being Holy Chrism and the Oil of Catechumens, which is used in Baptism.
Oil of the Sick is pure olive oil—nothing being added except the blessing of the bishop. Its appropriateness as part of the outward sign of Anointing of the Sick is evident from the healing and strengthening effects which are characteristic of olive oil.
The essence of the sacrament lies in the actual anointing and the short prayer which accompanies the anointing.
In giving the sacrament, the priest anoints the sick person on the forehead and hands. During this anointing, the priest says: "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."

Counteracting undue fear

When faced with the danger of death, a person normally will experience a feeling of great anxiety.
This is to be expected. God has planted in human nature a strong attachment to life which we commonly call the instinct for self-preservation. He has done so precisely in order to assure that we take due care of our physical well-being and do not expose ourselves to unnecessary danger to our life.
We need not feel ashamed, therefore, nor convicted of lack of faith if we find ourselves apprehensive when the shadow of death looms over us.
To counteract this fear of death when it needs to be counteracted, and to remove all cause for fear, God has given us the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

Graces of the sacrament

In common with all the sacraments, Anointing of the Sick confers sanctifying grace.
It is an increase in sanctifying grace that Anointing of the Sick gives, since it presupposes that the recipient already is free from mortal sin. Thus there is intensified in the soul that supernatural life, that oneness with God, which is the source of all spiritual strength as it is also the measure of our capacity for the happiness of heaven.
Besides this increase in sanctifying grace, Anointing of the Sick gives its own special sacramental grace.
The primary purpose of the special grace of Anointing of the Sick is to comfort and to strengthen the soul of the sick person.
  • This is the grace that quiets anxiety and dissipates fear.
  • It is the grace which enables the sick person to embrace God's will and to face the possibility of death without apprehension.
  • It is the grace which gives the soul the strength to face and conquer whatever temptations to doubt, despondency, or even despair may mark Satan's last effort to seize this soul for himself.
Doubtless some who read this have already received Anointing of the Sick, perhaps even several times. If so, they know by experience, as does the writer, what peace of mind and confidence in God this sacrament bestows.

Secondary effects

This spiritual tranquility and strength is further increased by the secondeffect of Anointing of the Sick. This is the preparation of the soul for entrance into heaven by the forgiveness of venial sins and the cleansing of the soul from the remains of sin.
If we are so blessed as to receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in our last illness, we may have every confidence that we shall enter into the happiness of heaven immediately after death. We hope that our friends still will continue to pray for us after death, since we never can be sure of the adequacy of our own dispositions in receiving this sacrament; and if we do not need the prayers, someone else will profit by them.
Yet we should have a high degree of confidence, once we have received Anointing of the Sick, that we shall look upon the face of God moments after our soul leaves our body. The soul has been cleansed from all that might hold it back from God, from venial sins and from the temporal punishment due to sin.
The "remains of sin" from which Anointing of the Sick cleanses the soul include that moral weakness of soul which is the result of sin, both of original sin and our own sins. This weakness—even to the point of spiritual indifference—is likely to afflict that person especially who has been a habitual sinner.
Here again, the soul of the sick person is tempered and prepared against the possibility of any last-moment conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The Anointing of the Sick
Complements Confession

Since Penance (Confession) is the sacrament by which God intends our mortal sins to be forgiven, a sick person who has mortal sins to confess must receive the sacrament of Penance before he receives the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
However, it is a comfort to know that Anointing of the Sick does forgive mortal sin also if the critically ill person is unable to receive the sacrament of Penance. This could happen, for example, if Anointing of the Sick were administered to an unconscious person who had made an act of imperfect contrition for his mortal sins before losing consciousness.

Healing the sick

It is plain that the principal purpose of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is a spiritual one: to prepare the soul for death, if death is to eventuate.
However, there is a secondary and conditional effect of Anointing of the Sick: the recovery of bodily health by the sick or injured person. The condition under which this secondary effect can be expected to operate is stated by the Council of Trent: "When it is expedient for the soul's salvation."
In other words, if it will be spiritually good for the sick person to recover, then his recovery can with certainty be expected.
The recovery, however, will not be a sudden miraculous recovery.
God does not multiply marvels unnecessarily. Whenever possible he works through natural causes. In this instance, recovery will be the result of the powers of nature, stimulated by the graces of the sacrament.
By eliminating anxiety, abolishing fear, inspiring confidence in God with resignation to his will, Anointing of the Sick reacts upon the bodily processes for the physical betterment of the patient. It is evident that we have no right to expect this physical result from Anointing of the Sick if the priest is not called until the body is hopelessly ravaged by disease.
But perhaps "hopelessly" is not a good word. Every priest who has had much experience in caring for the sick can recall some remarkable and unexpected recoveries that have followed after Anointing of the Sick.

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