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Archive for September, 2012

What is sin?  Sin is the failure to follow God’s instruction manual for living, rejecting his loving concern for us, and listening to society’s lies.  Sin is seeing God’s Commandments as limiting us, rather than the truth; God’s Commandments protect us and give us true freedom, contentment and happiness.   Sin is an offence against God – it is in direct opposition to God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from his love.

The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, lust, sloth, gluttony, anger and greed.  We all have these inclinations or feelings, but it becomes sin when it becomes disordered, or excessive.  The initial emotion of anger is not a sin.  The sin comes when you make a choice to brood and allow your anger to simmer and grow into rage.  When you are angry do you yell at others, or throw things?  Or do you make a choice to let go of your anger?

You don’t just “fall” into sin.  If someone is married and commits adultery there were steps all along the way where one could have made a different choice.  If a married man meets a woman and finds her extremely attractive, he may flirt with her, and afterward may spend considerable time fantasizing about her.  The flirtations continue, and then the couple starts meeting for lunch or cocktails.  It seems innocent, but they are playing with fire.  By fantasizing about each other, they are already sinning by “lusting in the heart” (Mat. 5:28). “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  As St. Augustine tells us“He has not entered her bedroom, yet he has ravished her within the bedroom of his heart”.

This is why pornography is sinful; you are lusting in the heart.  When you look at someone lustfully, you are reducing the other person to an object for your own selfish pleasure.  Graphic novels, movies and video games can be an occasion of sin.  When my faith deepened back in 1993 I developed a more heightened awareness of sin, and realized “R” rated movies are offensive to God, so I quit watching them.  Now I have to be careful of PG-13 movies, because they sure can be steamy!  “Custody of the eyes” is a term for guarding yourself from exposure to erotic images, which can violate the purity God expects from his followers.

The steps to sin are first, seeing something desirable such as  an arousing, suggestive picture, or possibly a new car or other object that makes us envious.  Second is the reaction; one feels drawn to dwell upon the thought or desire.  Third, realization: grace makes you aware your reaction is sinful.  Fourth,  the decision:  Choose whether or not to indulge.

Do you struggle with sloth, or laziness?  Do you procrastinate and put off until tomorrow, the work you should have done today?  St. Thomas Aquinas defines sloth as “sluggishness of mind which neglects to begin good.  It is a kind of oppressive sorrow which so weighs upon a man’s mind that wants to do nothing.  It is an inordinate love of rest, which leads us to neglect or omit physical, mental and spiritual duties.”

Man Watching TV from ReclinerSloth is very subtle.  Sloth of the intellect manifests in daydreaming; sloth of the will can manifest in avoiding obligations and responsibilities.  The spiritual writers tell us this particular sin is more dominant in our times than in any other.   Laziness sets in and can show up in indifference, or by doing something sloppily.   Amazing!  Even with all our gadgets, we don’t have enough time to make the effort to grow in our spiritual life.  Sloth can lead us to skip our daily prayer so that apathy sets in, followed by fatigue and weariness.  Without prayer we lack the power of the Holy Spirit, and can become discouraged and lukewarm, which is extremely dangerous.

“I know your deeds; I know you are neither cold nor hot.  How I wish you were one or the other – hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth! (Rev. 3:15)

Turning from sin is crucial if you want to enter heaven; our salvation is dependent on dying to sin and growing in holiness.“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23.  Perseverance is key in fighting sin. It takes effort to be really free of our sin and imperfections.

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When I joined the Catholic church many years ago, the thought of going to a priest and telling him my sins made me literally “quake in my boots”.  The very thought of baring my soul to some stranger and asking for forgiveness, filled me with dread and fear.  So when I entered the Catholic Church at age 30, I simply refused to go to confession (a/k/a reconciliation), which is one of the sacraments you normally receive during this process.  To enter the Church, you must also be baptized.  It turns out my parents had just moved to Florida shortly before I was born, and they never got around to baptizing me!

So I had the glorious privilege of being baptized, along with my youngest daughter, at the Easter Vigil in 1987.  Luckily for me, since I was being baptized, I wasn’t required to go to confession, as the baptism would wipe away my sins and restore me to grace.  But I was certainly “encouraged” to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation; I graciously declined.  I reasoned that I didn’t have to go to a priest; after all, I could go directly to God!

For the next six years I steadfastly refused to avail myself of this beautiful sacrament.  My pride blocked me for a long time; it’s quite humbling to look at your sins, acknowledge and name them, and confess them out loud to another person.  Another reason I was terrified to go was because I was afraid my dastardly deeds would shock the priest; I could just hear him say “you did what?”.

Then I read some of the messages from the Blessed Mother in her apparitions, where she urges us to pray daily, go to mass often, and reconciliation monthly.  Do you remember the old commercial? “When EF Hutton talks, people listen!”  I figured, if the mother of Jesus is telling me to go to confession, I had better listen.  I pondered her message for several months, and prayed for the courage to go.

Finally I worked up the nerve, and I was ready to make the agonizing trip to the confessional.  As I walked through the door to the church, I thought my sins were so great, the very walls would cave in as I walked by!  I made it safely to the confessional, and as I shared my heart I felt this amazing warmth pour over me.  As the priest gave me absolution, I felt immersed in God’s mercy and forgiveness, which spread over me and seemed to touch every fiber of my being.  Guilt and shame that had burdened me for years were instantly lifted, and I felt as though 100 lbs. had been taken off my shoulders.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives you a heightened awareness of sin and strength to overcome those sins.  God created us in His image and likeness, but through sin that image is shattered.  Confession brings you healing and restoration, and greater abundance of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, fear of the lord, and holiness.    It also draws you closer to God and helps you to become more open to the work of the Holy Spirit, allowing His blessings to flow more freely, and strengthening your virtues.

Years later I started studying the sacraments, and learned that Jesus himself instituted this cleansing sacrament.  In John 20:19-23
“The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (Jesus) said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retained are retained.'”  

So Jesus himself gave this authority to the apostles, which they passed on to the first bishops, who have continued to pass down this authority to our present day priests.  When the priest is there in the confessional, he is “persona christi”; standing in for Christ.  When the priest gives you absolution, he is calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit to heal and transform you.

In Mat. 9, Jesus tells us that you can’t put new wine into an old wineskin, or else the wineskin will tear, and the wine will spill out.  We are the wineskin, and the Holy Spirit is the wine.  Just accepting Jesus into our heart isn’t enough; there has to be change.  If you don’t make changes in your life and become a “new creation”, then the power of the Holy Spirit is wasted and lost.  The powerful sacrament of reconciliation is an extremely effective tool for transformation.  And after all, scripture tells us in James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

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Many of us struggle with the meaning of forgiveness.  I found this great explanation in an article on PBS called Understanding Forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing. Forgiveness does not minimize, justify, or excuse the wrong that was done. Forgiveness also does not mean denying the harm and the feelings that the injustice produced. And forgiveness does not mean putting yourself in a position to be harmed again. You can forgive someone and still take healthy steps to protect yourself, including choosing not to reconcile.” (Link below)

I tend to hold on to grudges and would have to really work hard to remember the story of the ungrateful servant and the mercy God extends to us.  In Matthew 18 a servant owed 10,000 bags of gold to his master, who was about to sell him and his family to pay for the debt.  Begging for mercy,  “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”  You would think the servant would be grateful and kindly forgive a fellow servant for the debt he owed; but instead, the servant angrily threw the other debtor into prison.  When the master heard from the outraged servants what had happened, he seized the unforgiving servant.

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Sometimes we think we have forgiven someone, but instead we just bury the hurt and pain and let it fester. We have to pray daily for God to “open the eyes of our heart” and show us any “bitter roots” which block our heart from God’s love and mercy.

One of the most amazing stories of forgiveness I have ever heard about is the story of Immaculee Ilibagiza. Immaculee lived in Rwanda in 1994, and witnessed firsthand the horrific murder of over one million Tutsis, by the Hutu tribe.  She was able to hide with 9 other women in a tiny bathroom for almost 3 months.  There was so little room the women would take turns laying down and when they did lay down, it was in layers.  The women were forced to listen to taunts by machete wielding, cold-blooded murderers.  These former kind neighbors and friends guessed she might be hiding in the home of the Hutu pastor, so they called her by name expressing their intent to kill her “like a cockroach”.

Food was extremely scarce; before Immaculee went into hiding, she weighed 115 lbs.  When she finally escaped from her hiding place, her weight had dropped to a horrifying 65 lbs.  Weak and frail, she discovered that her mother, father and two brothers, had been murdered, hacked to pieces by the machetes of the Hutu.  Only one brother, who had been away at school, was able to survive the genocide.

But her story is one of forgiveness. Instead of letting anger, hatred, and a desire for revenge take over her life, Immaculée reached inside herself and found only forgiveness.  In her book, “Left to Tell”, she describes meeting the leader of the gang who killed her mother and brother.

“She recognized Felicien as the father of some of her childhood friends, and realized that his voice was among those that had called out her name during one of the searches of the pastor’s house. He had been a handsome, well-dressed businessman before the genocide, but now he was an unkempt, limping old man with oozing sores, a shell of his former self. His face paled as he saw who was facing him; he cowered and looked to the floor as Semana screamed at him to face the girl whose family he killed. Felicien was sobbing, and Ilibagiza wept for his suffering. Their eyes met for just a moment; she touched his hands and said what she had come to say: “I forgive you.”

I own a Catholic bookstore and carry Immaculee’s book, but I had never read it, knowing her story would break my heart.  But God works in mysterious ways!  A customer came in one day, opened Immaculee’s book to the section on forgiveness, and without knowing my story, insisted I read that chapter.  I reasoned one chapter couldn’t be too bad.  I was so moved by the healing Immaculee experienced, that I continued to read the remainder of her book.  The compassion she showered on this man who had destroyed her family, touched me so much that I was able to look at the areas of hatred in my own heart that I had been harboring for decades.  Asking God to fill me with his mercy and forgiveness was miraculously healing; I felt as if chains were removed from my heart, and that I was set free!

Another wonderful story of forgiveness is about St. Maria Goretti.  In 1902 a neighbor, Alexander, grabbed her from her steps and tried to rape her. When Maria fought him off,  Alexander began stabbing her with a knife.  As she lay dying in the hospital, she forgave Alexander.  Her death didn’t end her forgiveness, however.

“Alexander was captured and sentenced to thirty years. He was unrepentant until he had a dream that he was in a garden; Maria was there and gave him flowers. When he woke, he was a changed man, repenting of his crime and living a reformed life. When he was released after 27 years he went directly to Maria’s mother to beg her forgiveness, which she gave. ‘If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withold forgiveness,’ she said.” (from Catholic Online)

Whenever I am treated rudely, misjudged, harassed, mocked or misunderstood, I meditate on these words in Eph. 4:32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Below is a video where you can hear Immaculee’s story:
http://www.virtuesforlife.com/immaculee-ilibagiza-forgives-family-killers/

Related article:

Understanding Forgiveness
http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/forgiveness/understanding-forgiveness

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I love Padre Pio’s words about the importance of humbleness “You must always humble yourself lovingly before God and before men, because God speaks only to those who are truly humble and He enriches them with His gifts.”

Saint Padre Pio stated: "Through the stud...Padre Pio was ordained a Capuchin priest in Italy on August 10, 1910.   His life was made up of sacrifice and prayer, and this amazing priest became one of the greatest mystics of all time.  He was given the gift of reading hearts and consciences, and would spend up to 16 hours a day in the confessional.  Padre Pio is known for many miracles, and for the ability to bi-locate (be in two places at once).  The stigmata on his hands, which he received in 1918, bled profusely and caused him immense embarrassment.

Nightly Padre Pio would battle the devil; sometimes the devil would pull him from his bed and physically beat him.  He became so well known for reading hearts, that women would stand in line for days to see him. Unfortunately his abilities caused problems; there were accusations that he used carbolic acid to cause the stigmata, and his other supernatural abilities lead to tremendous controversy.  From 1923 to 1933 the Vatican forbade Padre Pio to say mass publicly, while he was under investigation.  When asked why he simply didn’t leave the priesthood, knowing he was innocent, he replied that even if his superiors were wrong (as long as it wasn’t a matter of doctrine), it was more important for him to be humble and obedient, and wait for God to reveal the truth.  Through humbleness and obedience, we become holy.

The difference between humble and humility is that humble is an adjective; humility is a noun.

When I am in a situation where someone is rude or attacks me personally, my pride is immediately ruffled.  “How dare they treat me that way”! But then I remember Padre Pio’s words about humility, and realize I need to be humble in my response.  Most of the time when someone has made accusations, or called me vicious names, if I can respond with love and kindness, it diffuses the situation.  Responding with equal arrogance only fuels the fire.

I love Peter’s humility when he realized that three times he deliberately denied Christ; instead of despair, he went out and “wept bitterly”. (Luke 22:54-62).  On the other hand, Judas also betrayed Christ. Instead of humbly admitting he made a mistake and asking forgiveness, Judas’ pride caused him to “go away and hang himself.” (Matthew 27:5)  It wasn’t that Judas’ betrayal was so much worse than Peter’s denial; it was simply Judas’ pride which blocked him from humbly asking for forgiveness.

God desires for us to cling to him as closely as underwear on a person.  Yes, you heard me right, underwear!  In Jeremiah 13, God told Jeremiah to buy a loincloth and after wearing it for a while, to take it off and hide it “in the crevice in the rock”.  Many days later, when Jeremiah retrieved the loincloth as God instructed, he discovered the loincloth was rotted and ruined.   God chastised his people by saying:
“In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless!”

If we want to be humble and “cling” to God, Mary is a wonderful role model.  The virtues emulated by the Virgin Mary of humility, sacrifice, submission, purity, and faith are the complete opposite of Satan.   Satan absolutely hates Mary.  Why?  Because as St. Louis De Montfort puts it “Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God, and her humility humbles him more than the divine power”.   Mary was conceived without sin, and through her womb came the son who would bring freedom and salvation to the world.

 

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