The Catholic Weekly

I so imperfect

resentful

You can start over even if you’re not sure God loves you. You can start oven even if you’re not sure He should.

And you don’t have to run. You can shamble over resentfully. You can sidle in doubtfully. You can skulk in with fear, doubt, despair, or even rage. As long as you go because you’re acknowledging that things are not good as they are, then that is good enough. It may not feel like it is enough, but that is what Christ has promised.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: photo credit: trepelu toes (detail) via photopin (license)

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Your friendly last-minute Advent reminder!

Somehow, even though Advent is as long as it can possibly be this year, I didn’t make it to confession. I don’t absolutely have to go, having (thanks be to God) no mortal sins on my soul. But it’s such a basic way to prepare for Christmas. I’ve said it myself several times: If I manage to have an advent wreath in the house and get to confession, I’ll call it a good advent. Well, we do have a wreath, anyway.

When I realized that I was missing my last reasonable chance (and no, it doesn’t seem reasonable to call up our unbelievably overworked priests and make a special appointment, when it’s not a spiritual emergency), I started casting around in my mind for something else I could do, something that would be almost as good as going to confession.

I had a chat with God about my sins, of course, and that was pretty good. I thought about some penitential things I could do. I even briefly considered cleaning the kitchen without complaining. And I remembered one more time: There is no substitute for the sacraments.

Of course there isn’t. I mean, we can make do in an emergency. If I were in an airplane that was spiraling toward the ground, I could make an act of perfect contrition, and I would be all set. If I were someone who had never heard of Jesus, I could regret the things that even a pagan knows are wrong, and I would be welcomed into my unknown father’s kingdom, right alongside the elderly priest who had the seven precepts of the Church memorized before he was weaned.

But those aren’t substitutions, so much as accommodations. There’s nothing better than the real thing, which is why Jesus gave the sacraments to the Church to give to us. I felt so stupid for missing my shot, but feeling stupid made me feel so grateful that there will be a next time. No need to invent anything, or figure out on my own how to wallow my way back to God.

So, don’t be stupid, be a smarty! If you still have a chance to get to confession, why not take a load off and be really ready for Christmas? And if you’re in a state of grace right now, don’t squander it! You’ve got an open line set up right to the Father, so talk talk talk. And put in a good word for me while you’re at it.

 

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So I says to God, I says . . .

mad mama

The following story is not for the squeamish.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written much this week. This is mainly because I, and several members of my family, have been hit hard with a bug that is taking its sweet time meandering its way through our intestines. In short, we have turned into incredible pooping machines. I seriously didn’t know it was possible to poop this much and still function, but there you go. The baby, of course, has it too, which means that I’ve been spending most of my waking moments racing back and forth between the bathroom and the diaper box. (No, she’s not getting dehydrated.)

Friends, it is all shit, all the time.

Then, a few days ago, one of the little guys messed with the dog’s electric fence transmitter, and the poor dummy got zapped just for coming out of his crate. So he got all shell shocked, and refused to go outside. This went on for a little too long, and the inevitable just happened: he crapped all over the house, and his crate, and his giant spongy cushion, and everything.

So, like the reasonable adult I am, I hollered and screamed at him, threw him outside, and cleaned up the mess. Picked up the shrieking baby, sat down to nurse her, and what do you know? She pooped all over my lap.

At this point, I did what any pious housewife would do. I yelled at God, “YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY TO ME?”

And He said, “Yeah, go to confession, dummy.”

FINE. Some people need to be drowned in poop before they even start looking for a shovel.

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Supreme Court will not hear confession confidentiality petition

confessional

By Ib Rasmussen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Not good: U.S. Supreme Court will not hear Baton Rouge Catholic confession case.

Backstory: A young woman is going to testify in a civil suit against the Diocese of Baton Rouge. She says that, when she was a girl, she revealed during confession that a member of the parish (who has since died) was molesting her, and that the priest told her she should hush it up.

Every priest who hears something during confession is morally obligated not to reveal what he heard during that confession. So if this woman testifies that he told her not to speak about her abuse, he may neither confirm nor deny that she said what she claims she said, or that he responded the way she says he did; and he may go to jail for refusing to testify.

So the diocese asked the federal Supreme Court to consider their petition to prevent her from testifying about what was said during the confession, and to prevent the priest from being compelled to respond to her testimony. Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the diocese’s petition.

I previously didn’t understand why it was dangerous for the woman to be allowed to testify about her confession, because I erroneously believed that a penitent may release a confessor from the seal of confession. I thought that she would simply have to give her permission for him to testify, and that he would then be free to confirm or deny what she said in the confession; but this is not so:

Can.  983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

If a penitent wishes to discuss something he or she revealed during confession, he or she must have the conversation again, restating the issue outside of the sacrament. That is the only way that a confessor may morally discuss the topic that was confessed: if he hears the information outside of the seal of confession.

The young woman is, of course, still free to have a second conversation with the priest, and the priest would then be free to testify about that second conversation; but what is at issue is what happened in the original conversation, years ago.

Please note that there is no reason to believe that the young woman is lying about what she told the priest or about what he told her. The diocese is not trying to impugn her reputation, and we should not assume that its goal is to protect a guilty priest. The point is that the seal of confession is there to protect both the priest and the penitent. If the seal of confession may be legally violated, it would prove disastrous both for priests and for penitents, who have both always understood that what they say in the confessional is known only to themselves and to God. Jen Fitz explains, with her usual clarity and concision, why the seal of confession is vital for the safety of both the priest and the penitent.

If the woman’s testimony is allowed, then priests will constantly be in danger of having to remain silent in the face of accusations against them. I could make up any dreadful story about what happened inside a confessional, and a priest would not be able to defend himself. They would have to choose between going to jail and endangering their own souls by betraying their vows.

A well-trained confessor can find a way to get help for someone who has been victimized. It is not necessary for anyone’s safety to destroy the long-standing legal respect for the seal of confession.

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It was a beautiful confession.

PIC crying kid with running nose

[T]he priest said what this particular priest always says: “Thank you for that beautiful confession.” He says this when I have a long and sordid list, or a short and sordid list, or when he can barely understand me because my nose is running from the sordidness of it all. The point is, I am not aware of ever having made a confession that any normal human being would consider “beautiful.”

But the confessional is not a normal place.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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At the Register: Some Questions about the Seal of Confession

As far as the state is concerned, the statutory respect for the seal of confession is intended to protect the penitent, not the confessor (although an unscrupulous confessor could certainly take advantage of the privilege in order to protect himself, if he did something wrong in the confessional). As far as I can tell, the same is true as far as Canon Law is concerned: the seal of confession is there to protect the penitent, not the confessor.

However, a penitent may give a priest permission to talk about what was confessed. The penitent may release him from the seal.  And this is why the recent legal case in Louisiana doesn’t quite make sense to me.

Read the rest at the Register.