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Anni Confession Ink Slingers

An Uncomfortable Truth

During a homily a couple years ago, the chaplain at the time shared a quote based on Pope Saint John XXIII’s Coat of Arms. The quote said, “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.” At the time, this quote gave me the gentle reminder that it was okay to observe, and just as okay to hold my tongue. It was a powerful reminder that, while a spiritual work of mercy is to Instruct the Ignorant, instruction may not even require words and instead could take the form of modeling by our actions.

However, seeing everything, overlooking a great deal, and correcting little does not give us a green light to overlook our own thoughts, actions and words. As St. Teresa of Avila is credited with saying, “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.”

In today’s culture, there seems to be an emphasis on pointing out another person’s faults, and finger pointing, instead of taking some thought to account for individual actions. The tendency to blame others, and the ease of getting away with blaming others, has led to a culture in which introspection is on the decline. Add in a lack of catechesis, we are seeing Catholics struggle with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, choosing to stand adamantly against the notion of confessing “to a man.”

Combine those with an attitude of only serious crimes (i.e. murder or robbery) being sins, there appears to be a serious lack of accountability…

…and, lack of the recognition of the severity of our sins.

Sins simply aren’t considered polite conversation. However, at times in our lives, we should be challenged to squirm in our seats.

We should be willing to face our own reflection in the mirror, and thoroughly examine what we have done in our days…

… and even more uncomfortably, what we may have failed to do.

Sin, no matter how small, separates us from God. They start small, with a nudge to perhaps sleep in a little bit one week, then the next, then the next – until it becomes an exception to the rule to actually go to church.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 states, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God.

The small sins snowball – starting from a single flake, compounding to an avalanche if we are not careful. We begin to be dismissive of the little things, placating ourselves with a mantra, “At least I haven’t done…”

With that seemingly small statement builds the roots of one of the deadly sins – pride.

Fr. Juan Jose Gallego, an exorcist from the Archdiocese of Barcelona once explained the devil’s favorite sin is pride. When we try to justify our thoughts, actions, or behavior, instead of simply holding ourselves accountable, we are weakening our connection with God. We are telling God we are disinterested in being transformed by His grace, mercy, and love.

Sin is an uncomfortable subject.

Based on human nature, sin is an uncomfortable truth.

Yet, if we are truly being nourished by God’s word, and allowing the Church to guide us into a deeper relationship with our Creator, we will begin to be able to look sin in the face. While we won’t be perfect, we will have the grace to seek forgiveness for the times we slip, with a truly contrite heart, intent on strengthening our bond with God.

While we should continue to observe everything, overlook a great deal, and correct little in others, we will be able to be gentle toward them, but stern with ourselves.

If we focus on our actions, our behavior, our thoughts, and are truly introspective, we will be able to dig out the roots of pride and emulate the tax collector in Luke 18:13, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Therefore, let us take some time to stop pointing fingers. Let us stop justifying our actions. Instead, let us spend some time truly sitting and reflecting on our individual relationship with God, celebrating our successes, but more importantly, acknowledging the moments we have created tension in that most loving and sacred relationship in our lives – with God.

And, let us seek God’s forgiveness – allowing our souls the reward of knowing they are forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession, and allowing our human nature to be transformed through the sage wisdom of our priests, as they are guided by Christ Himself in the confessional.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth is, we can’t save ourselves on our own – we must be willing to reach out, run to embrace the outstretched arms of our Savior, and allow Him to transform our lives. Allow Him to save us – today, and every day.

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Lent Liturgical Year Prayer

Removing Distractions, Seeking God

February2014CSPostLife is full of distractions. Anything and everything around us can be a distraction to something else. Some are good distractions (our kids being silly and distracting us from some household chore that can likely wait while we enjoy the distraction). Some distractions are neutral in that maybe they would be considered a waste of time in some instances, but in others they simply provide a welcome respite from a busy day. And then there are the negative distractions, the ones that pull us away from the good things in our lives.

Lately I’ve been more aware of the negative distractions in my life. I’ve been home on maternity leave since December, enjoying time with my newest bebe and the welcome break from my work. During these last few weeks of my leave I finally feel well enough to do more around the house, to get out to run errands and meet up with friends, and overall I just feel more like myself. Through all of this, I have had more time to evaluate things in my life, something I never get to do while balancing family and work, and I’ve taken more notice of the things that have become negative distractions. I have come to the stark realization, therefore, that there are things in my life that have to go.

Begone. Scram. Outta here!

For me, right now, I’m looking at the time wasted in front of the TV, my time online, and the piles of stuff I accumulate that need to be read, filed, or tossed. Those are the most looming at the moment. The most important realization in contemplating these negative distractions is how they affect my prayer life and my relationship with Christ.

That relationship is something I have been seeking for a long time. It’s something I greatly desire. And yet, no matter how much I desire it and seek it out, I feel like I haven’t grown in this area at all. And it’s not for want of trying. But there is an element I keep missing:

A regular, scheduled prayer time.

I’ve always taken a casual approach to prayer, basically that I will fit it in during the day “at some point.” You know what happens when you do that, right? Yea, I’m sure you do! We’ve all done it, I’m sure. You say you’ll spend time in prayer “at some point.” The first day you spend a bit of time in prayer after the kids go down for a nap. The next day you get it in before bed. Then you remember after you’ve climbed into bed, you tell yourself you’ll do it in the morning but mid-way through the day you realize you once again forgot. Slowly it becomes harder and harder to fit it in or you forget completely or something else distracts you and before you know it things start to unravel.

Calendar-Clip-Art-FreeI schedule almost everything in my life. If it’s not on my calendar, it won’t get done. I’m also a list maker. There are three lists at work: a yearly “big projects” list, a monthly goals list, and a weekly to-do list divided up by each day of the week (which technically could be considered two lists in one). At home I also have at least one to-do list, sometimes two. I keep an electronic calendar at work which syncs with my iPod Touch calendar. At home we also have a wall calendar and I try to put everything from the wall calendar on my electronic calendar as well. Most things on the electronic calendar also have 15 or 30 minute alarms set. And the older I get, the more I rely on all these calendars and lists and alarms.

You know what the one thing is that is not on any of my lists or my calendars/schedules? Prayer!

You know what else is not on my to-do list? Watching TV, reading blog posts, sifting through Facebook, and playing online games. And yet I somehow manage to do all those things, practically daily.

They are all distractions. That has been my (oh so obvious!) conclusion. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, but sometimes genius thoughts escape me. Oh, who am I kidding, genius thoughts never get anywhere near this girl.

It’s easy to get in a rut. And when that happens it’s easy to not see the obvious. I kept looking at prayer as something to add to my day, on top of everything else I was already doing. Instead, I need to refocus, get rid of the distractions, and make prayer a priority. A better prayer life will lead to a better relationship with God, which will in turn also lead to a healthy family life.

After thinking through all of this I realized that I have a good opportunity to start working on this. Lent is coming!! Less than two weeks from now we’ll be starting the penitential season of Lent. It’s a good time to work on a more intimate relationship with Christ. So this year, my husband and I have decided to give up TV.

As we approach Lent and you start thinking about what you are going to “give up,” I challenge you to consider this idea of “giving something up” as a way to clear the cobwebs and distractions from your life so as to have a clearer path for seeking a more intimate relationship with God. Hopefully in giving something up for Lent we are doing so in order to gain something else. That’s what I’ll be doing this year.

What distractions in your life are keeping you from bettering your relationship with God? Will you take those distractions into consideration when discerning what you will be doing this Lent?

If you need suggestions for things to do in Lent, check out last year’s Handy Dandy Resource Guide to Lent.

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Apologetics Communion Confession Conversion Ecumenism Evangelization Matrimony Sacraments Spiritual Growth Testimonials Tiffany P

The False Dichotomy of Religion versus Relationship with God

In 2007, the year I graduated high school and the year Facebook began to popularize, the “religious views” section of my profile stated: “Relationship with Christ—religion has nothing to do with it”. This statement wasn’t something unique that I came up with, but rather the mantra of evangelical Protestantism, the faith tradition of my upbringing. The Baptist and non-denominational faith communities instill in their congregants the belief that true Christianity is not a “religion” comprised of rules and rituals, but simply a personal relationship with Christ without rules or rituals. They continue to state that religious traditions and regulations are merely a trap set to deprive people of that deeper friendship with Christ, and adherence to such traditions can keep people from experiencing eternal life if people cling to religion “instead of” developing that relationship.

The intent that surrounds these ideologies is honorable. Faithful evangelical Protestants have an intense love for Jesus and heart for worship, and it frustrates them to see people who bare the Christian title going through the motions of worship and tradition, while showing no evidence of Christ otherwise in their daily life. As faithful Catholics, we sympathize with such frustrations. It pains us to see our fellow Catholics recite the words at Mass without meditating on their meaning and receive the Sacraments without openly embracing the graces that flow from them. Evangelical Protestants address this issue by creating unofficial categories for all those who identify as Christians, as seen through statements such as, “You should have a relationship with God instead of being religious”.  This, however, is a false dichotomy.

In the words of Father Claude Burns, who wrote and recited a poem addressing the issue of relationship vs. religion, “blaming religion for contradiction is like staring at death and blaming the hearse…those who choose to sit in the pews and refuse the good news is not the fault of religion”. Anywhere you go, you will find those who are blindly going through the motions without a true heart for Christ. While this is a severe problem in the Church that needs to be addressed, the answer is not to abandon the traditions Christ handed down to us; quite the opposite, we should cling tighter to them and strive to teach their meanings more diligently. Christ never condemns traditions in themselves, as many Protestants claim, but only the empty practice of them. True religion will enhance and deepen our ongoing relationship with God if practiced as He intended: with a full and focused heart. Similarly, the fruits produced from our relationship with God should stir in us a desire to be faithful to His commands and to the Church He built. “Religion” and “Relationship”, therefore, are not contradictory to each other, but rather they are beautifully intertwined and feed off one another.

As a former evangelical Protestant, this is something I had to slowly come to learn. Though confident as I was in my decision to become Catholic, realizing that it is the historical Church established by Jesus and commissioned by the apostles, I remained hesitant to become too devout in her Traditions and too dependent on the Sacraments. The Christian teachings of my upbringing imparted in me the belief that my relationship with God should be the foundation of my faith and becoming too religious would hinder that friendship. The Sacraments themselves showed me the faults in the latter part of that statement.

Indeed, my relationship with Christ is the center of my faith. The Sacraments have brought that relationship to a more intimate level by allowing me to experience God with all of my human senses. In the Holy Eucharist, I taste Christ. In Reconciliation, I hear Christ’s physical voice, spoken through one of his servants, say “I absolve you of your sins”. When the incense is used during mass, I smell the prayers of the faithful being lifted up to the Heavens. I feel and see Christ’s love daily through my Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. None of this is to say that my relationship with Christ was not deep or sincere as a Protestant; it certainly was alive and real and I was growing daily as a Christian. However, the religious rituals of Christ’s one Church have brought me to a new level of intimacy with Him, and this is because He physically dwells in the Sacraments.

Father Claude ends his poem with this final remark: “So as for religion, I love it. I have one because Jesus rose from the dead and won. I believe when Jesus said it is finished, His religion had just begun”. As someone who formerly claimed to hate religion, I now echo these thoughts. I am convicted that the Christ who came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” gets the greatest glory when His religion is practiced the way He intended: with hearts open and alert, striving to know Him more.

Fr. Pontifex Responds to Jefferson Bethkes Hate Religion, But Love Jesus

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Mass Prayer

Silence in Music: God’s Lesson in Listening

Just this past Saturday I was chatting with a friend about the many distractions in our lives. The gist of the conversation was that we live in a society that does not place a high priority on “down time.” Time away from the every day. Time to rejuvenate ourselves. Time to relish silence.

This kind of down time is a requirement of the human condition. We just can not go, go, go endlessly. Our minds and bodies need a break.

Afterwards, that conversation remained with me and I started thinking beyond just the rejuvenating aspect of having down time. Going a bit deeper, as Christians we need a regular prayer life to help us rejuvenate ourselves spiritually so we can face the secular world on a daily basis.

As a musician for more than twenty-five years I was able to relate the need for silence in our lives as Christians to the combination of musical notes and rests that together make up a musical composition. Thinking more deeply about the importance of silence in music I saw parallels to the relationship God wants to have with us.

Read the Rests

I was in the sixth grade when I started both piano lessons and learning a band instrument in school. One of the hardest music lessons to teach a room full of a hundred 11 and 12 years olds is to read the rests.

Music is made up of notes and rests. The musical notes you play will not make sense if you ignore the rests. And the lengths of the rests is very important as well. If you make it too short, you will start playing over someone else and potentially cause a clash of sounds that is unpleasant to the ear. Conversely, wait too long on the rests, come in late, and you stick out like a sore thumb while also causing a clash of sounds unpleasant to the ear. Get too many people not reading the rests properly and the result can sound rather chaotic.

It can be extremely hard to learn to read the rests as a young musician. You are anxious to get to your part, the rests are boring, the rests feel longer than they really are, and you just want to play the notes. That is where the fun is after all!

Just like in life, we often find the most fun in doing stuff. And it is all usually good stuff, just like the music notes are all good. But focusing on the notes to the detriment of the rests can create chaos and unpleasantness.

Good Music Can Still Be a Distraction

I was out of town recently and on the Sunday morning of that weekend, my husband and I attended Mass at a church in the area in which we were staying. We walked in about 10 minutes before the start of Mass. The praise and worship style band was practicing in the church and people were talking and chatting with those around them in normal speaking voices. I tried to pray before Mass and had a difficult time concentrating because of all the noise around me.

The Mass itself was fine, for the most part, but the music was very loud. It is a good sized church and we were not sitting particularly close to the musicians, but it still seemed louder than I am accustomed to. I left that Mass feeling like I had not really had a chance to focus on why I was there. Instead of adding to the reverence of the Mass, the music seemed to be a constant distraction.

There was nothing wrong with the music itself, it was good music, but it created a distraction because of the need (it seemed to me) to fill the silence with some sort of sound. Ultimately what I missed during that Mass was the reverence that is often accomplished from some degree of silence.

Finding The Silence towards a Fuller Relationship

Just this past Sunday I attended a Holy Hour and Benediction and finally had an opportunity to sit in silence. And it was hard. I’m so used to distractions that when given the opportunity to relish silence I do not know what to do with myself. I loved that I could pray without distraction. I loved sitting in the huge cathedral with about 20 other people in complete silence. I loved gazing upon Jesus in the Eucharist. And I loved the opportunity to pray and talk to him. And I had a lot to pray for.

While I sat there I also thought about the conversation I had just had the day before about silence in our world. We need down time to rejuvenate ourselves so we can be productive in our day to day work. We need time one on one with our husbands on a regular basis so we can continually rekindle the love we have for each other. And we also need time with Jesus. But we need to listen too. I tend to spend my prayer time talking to Jesus. I pray for the intentions on my heart, I pray for the intentions of friends, I thank Him for the many, many blessings in my life, and I offer Him praise just for being God and my creator. What I often do not do, forget to do, is listen. I do not sit in silence and give Jesus the opportunity to speak to me.

As I sat in the church the other day thinking about all this I tried to empty the thoughts from my mind, gaze upon Jesus sitting on the altar, and allow Him to speak to me.

I was not completely successful, but it was a step in the right direction. Just as I learned from spending over 20 years as a musician, practice makes perfect. I only need to remind myself of this lesson and keep practicing it and one day I will be able to relish that silence more completely and at least give Jesus the opportunity to speak to me.

I can speak to him all I want, but that will only create a one-sided relationship. I want a complete relationship with my Lord and my God. I am working on listening.

In Conclusion

Music is more than just the notes on a page that creates a beautiful sound for an audience. The music is also made up of rests. These moments of silence add to the drama and intrigue of the music; it is what makes the music interesting. The silence is just as important as the notes the musicians play. In the same way, we need silence in our life. Not only should we use those silent moments in our lives to lay our petitions before God, but we also need to stop talking, start listening, and allow God to use that silence to speak to us.