4th Sunday of Lent 2013

Let us pray for the cardinal-electors, and for the election of the new Pope.

And as we continue with our Lenten penances, I republish this column slightly modified from previous years, since it seems to have been helpful to many of you…

While the Sacrament of Penance (or “Confession”, or “Reconciliation”) is particularly important during Lent, as we meditate both on the sins that permeate our lives and the forgiveness Christ pours out on us from His Cross.

But how do we make a “good confession”? We begin by prayerfully looking at our lives to recognize the sins we’ve committed since our last confession, i.e., “an examination of conscience.” This requires both honesty and humility—we must not deceive or excuse ourselves about anything we’ve done.

In particular we need to look for mortal sins, i.e., a sin that involves all three of the following criteria: 1) grave matter, 2) full knowledge of the sinful character of the act, and 3) complete consent. Note, if any one of these is lacking the act is not a “mortal sin” (although may still be a “venial sin.”)

“Grave matter” means the act involves some very serious moral evil, found either in 1) the act itself or 2) the intention behind the act. Grave matter can sometimes be difficult to identify, but sometimes it is not. Clear examples of grave matter include (but are not limited to): violence (in word or deed) against parents; children disobeying parents in a serious matter; neglect of elderly parents (in serious need); serious parental neglect or abuse of their children (including neglecting proper formation in the Catholic faith or unnecessary postponement of the sacraments, especially baptism); murder; abortion; euthanasia; drunkenness; denying just and serious assistance to family members; abandoning a spouse or children; remarriage after a divorce (without annulment); sexual activity before or outside of marriage (including “petting”); viewing pornography; masturbation; contraception; direct intentional sterilization (including vasectomies and tubal ligations); theft of valuable items; unjustly or unnecessarily and seriously damaging reputations; lying about important matters; perjury; cursing someone using God’s name; “dabbling” in occult practices or witchcraft; willful dissent from Church doctrine or dogma; serious and unjust infringements on religious liberty; serious and unjust discrimination; missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day; receiving Holy Communion unworthily; . direct material cooperation in another’s mortal sin (e.g., paying for a friend’s abortion; voting for a pro-abortion politician when a viable alternative existed); directly leading another into mortal sin.

Note that there are many “guides” available to help us with our examination of conscience (several are found in pamphlet form in the church, and several are available online and as “apps” for smart phones).

Also, in confession you must distinguish the “kind” of mortal sin committed, i.e., be as clear as possible about what the sin was, but refrain from being graphic or giving long explanations. So it is not enough to say “I had bad thoughts,” rather one should say “I had thoughts of violence,” or “I had lustful thoughts,” etc..

Also, you must give the number of times you committed particular mortal sins. Sometimes this is difficult to do, e.g., if you haven’t been to confession in a while. In that case, give the priest some idea of the frequency or number; for example, “at least once a month for several years,” etc..

Besides mortal sins, we should also consider venial sins, especially any vices (sinful habits) or other venial sins that are particularly problematic—perhaps they lead to mortal sins, or cause others unnecessary pain, etc..

Next comes going to confession. Here’s a step-by-step guide you may cut out and take with you to Confession:

A Guide for the Penitent in Confession.
You may go to Confession kneeling or sitting, anonymously behind-a-screen or “face-to-face”—these are usually your options, although the priest has the right to require anonymous confession.

After greeting the priest, you begin by making the sign of the cross saying:
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The priest may invite you to confess your sins, but he may remain silent, in which case you go on.

  • You say these or similar words:
    “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been [number of days, weeks, months, years] since my last confession.”
  • It is then helpful to reveal your “state in life”: e.g., “I am a married man,” etc…
  • Then say: “These are my sins.”
    • List by number and kind all mortal sins you have recollected in your examination of conscience.
    • You may also describe the types of venial sins you have committed, and list any which are of particular concern to you.
    • Close with these are similar words:
      “For these sins, and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”

The priest may ask you some questions to understand your situation better. He may also give you advice/counsel as you are confessing.

The priest then gives you a “penance” to perform. If you know you can’t fulfill his penance, tell him so he can give you another penance; (sometimes you don’t know the particular prayer, or you have limitations due to physical impediment).

You then make an Act of Contrition, in these or similar words:
“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishment; but most of all because I have offended thee, My God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”

Either during or immediately after your prayer the priest will say the prayer of absolution which concludes with the words (as he makes the sign of the cross):
“I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

You make the sign of the cross and respond: “Amen.”

The priest will then say a dismissal to which you respond, using one or both of the following:

  • Priest: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”
    You respond:“His mercy endures forever.”
  • Priest:“Go in peace.”
    You respond:“Thanks be to God.”

As you are leaving the confessional it is polite to say, “Thank you, Father.” Leave the confessional and do your penance as soon as possible, immediately in church in if you can.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

January 20, 2013

March for Life. This coming Friday, January 25, hundreds of thousands of Americans will gather on the Washington Mall to march to the Supreme Court in peaceful protest on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the terrible decision establishing the right to abortion in our country. I hope you will be there with me and 3 bus loads of your fellow parishioners to peacefully show your rejection of our nation’s continuing indifference to the senseless killing of over a million unborn babies a year.

If you’ve never been to the March you really ought to think of joining us this year. It is an incredible experience. Some people hear “March on the Mall” and they think of some sort of angry, even violent, demonstration. But it’s nothing like that. It’s actually an amazingly uplifting and prayerful experience as you walk in common cause with thousands of good people, mainly solid Christians (mostly Catholics, or so it seems). One thing you’d be struck by is the number of young people: little kids in strollers or holding their Daddy’s hand, and teenagers and college students smiling and laughing together, in between rounds of praying the rosary or chanting some youthful cheer for life. And they’re from all over the country—thousands travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles to be there. What a great thing—what a great sign of hope—to see the youth fired up about something as positive as life. But, again, not with anger, but with love.

Then there are older and middle aged people, men and women, and tons of priests and religious sisters. People from all ages, all walks of life, all there to stand in unity to defend life.

Sure, there some fools who show up and are loud and offensive. But those are very few and far between, and they come and go. Yes, there’s an occasional offensive sign, but there are thousands of other signs calling us to prayer and to witness for the love of Christ, and love for babies.

I have to admit something to you. Since the devastating elections in November, re-electing the most pro-abortion, anti-Catholic and pro-decadence president in our nation’s history, I’ve been trying to figure out where we go from here. What do we do to protect our nation and our Church from the evil that lies in store? I’m still thinking about it, but I know that one thing we have to do is pick ourselves up and, by the grace of God, stand strong when opportunities to be heard present themselves. And the March for Life is one of those opportunities. The forces of the Culture of Death have won a victory, but it will be fleeting. The Culture of Life is the Culture of Christ, and Christ cannot be defeated. Sure, sometimes we have our setbacks, but we rise again to fight and win another day. And that’s what I invite you to do in joining us on the Mall this Friday.

I know that many folks won’t be able to join us, for lots of good reasons. But if you can’t come down to the Mall, make sure you do something. Stop for a while at work and pray the Rosary. Come by the church (or a church near your work) and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Start a thoughtful and charitable conversation about the truth about abortion with your co-workers or friends. Do something to peacefully and prayerfully support the Culture of Life.

But if you can join us for the March, we have three buses leaving from the parish after a special 10:30am Mass. Space is limited, but still available, so sign up at the table in the narthex of the church. Come with us, and March for life!

No Priests, No Confessions. This weekend I’m away from the parish, off to South Bend, IN, to celebrate the wedding Mass of one of my nephews. Unfortunately, Fr. Daly is also away this weekend, but Fr. Daniel Hanley (an Arlington priest in graduate studies) and Fr. Philip Cozzi (chaplain at O’Connell High School) have volunteered to lend a hand. Even so, it still leaves a very hectic weekend for Fr. Kenna, so I decided to cancel confessions today, Sunday the 20th. Since the loss of 2 resident priests over the summer we’ve been able to keep most of the regular schedule intact. This Sunday is a rare exception, so I’m sure you’ll be patient and supportive.

But let this remind us all of the need to pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood—especially for the Diocese of Arlington. Over Christmas we were blessed with the assistance of the two seminarians from our parish, Deacon Nick Barnes and Mr. Jacob McCrumb. It’s heartening to see them coming forward to serve, but there is still a tremendous need for so many more priests. And those priests are going to have to come from within our own ranks—from our boys and young men. So pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood from our parish, and from your own families.

The Flu and the Sign of Peace. The flu epidemic is real, and it’s in our parish. Let’s keep each other in prayer so that those who are suffering will be comforted and healed quickly, and that those who are well will not be struck. Let’s especially pray for those who tend to be hardest hit by the effects of the flu, our oldest and youngest brothers and sisters. And thank you all for being so cooperative and understanding of my decision to forego the invitation to exchange a sign of peace at Mass in response to concerns over passing germs along.

My Letter on Fundraising/Collections. By now all of our parishioners should have received my letter presenting my request to prayerfully consider your current level of giving to the parish. Again, I don’t want to pressure you, and I respect your free and conscientious decisions in all this. But I do thank you for taking time to think about my request and respond as best you can.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

September 23, 2012

Good News. I am happy to report that Fr. Joby Thomas has returned to his religious order in India. Thank you for your prayers for him.

Confessions with 2 Priests. Over the last few years our parish has been blessed to have multiple priests available for hearing confessions. Last year, for example, we had 4 priests in-house, plus sometimes Fr. Daly, so that on most Saturday afternoons there were 4 priests hearing confessions, and sometimes 5. However, as you know, we now have only 2 priests living here, and although Fr. Daly is still helping when he can, this will mean that most of the time we will only have 2 priests available on Saturday afternoons, and sometimes only have 1, and he may have to leave the confessional early to prepare to say 5pm Mass.

This will also affect other confession times besides Saturday—there may be some Sunday mornings when confessions will have to be canceled, and our past practice of hearing confessions every night during Advent and Lent seems to be practically impossible now.

I hope to maintain the current schedule as much as possible, but please be patient if and when things don’t work out as we hope. For example, if you stand in line for a long time waiting to go to confession only to have confessions end before you get your chance, instead of being upset, get on your knees and beg the Lord for more priests—both for our parish and for the diocese in general.

But there are some things we can do to make this a little easier on everyone. One thing is to consider the manner in which you go to confession. Some people approach confession as a counseling session, and tell the priest not only their sins but the problems that lead to sin, and even unrelated problems, and hope the priest can give them some good advice. Others tell the priest every detail of their sins, the background of why and when. There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches. Certainly the priest is happy to hear you out, and to give advice in difficult situations. Often it is helpful to the penitent (you) to get some things off your chest before the Lord. I understand that. But perhaps it is not necessary every time we go to confession, especially for those who confess frequently, and especially when there’s a long line waiting to confess. And if it is necessary, sometimes it’s better to schedule an appointment with a priest so that both you and he may talk freely without concern for the people waiting in line.

But sometimes these approaches simply stem from the fact that people don’t know what they should confess, or how to confess. For example, you might confess: “I had an argument with my wife. She wanted me to take the children to confession last Saturday, but I really wanted to watch the Notre Dame football game. I went to Notre Dame, my whole family did, all my brothers and sisters, and we’re all huge fans. So Saturday’s all about THE GAME. So we argued and called each other names, some pretty awful names. I called her one that really upset her, and I knew it would because her father used to use that with her mother, and she always hated it, and when I do that….Finally, she started to cry and took the kids to church herself. I felt really terrible about it right away, especially because not only did they see us fighting and name calling, but I love my kids and it looked like I loved football more than them. Plus I made it look like confession was unimportant to me, and it’s not! I love confession, always have. When I was a kid…”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, although it is a bit rambling. And I don’t write this to make fun, but to make a point. For most people, simply listing their sins, mortal sins being mentioned by kind and number, is adequate. Especially when 20 people are in line behind you, or one priest is hearing all the confessions. So instead, perhaps you might confess: “I have sinned gravely by viciously arguing with my wife, calling her very hurtful names, in front of my children. I also gravely scandalized my children by refusing to take them to confession because I wanted to watch football.” Or even, “I gravely sinned in arguing with my wife and scandalizing my children by demeaning the importance of confession.”

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Another true blessing in our parish is the opportunity to pray before our Eucharistic Lord exposed on the altar every Wednesday (8:30am to 7pm) and Friday (8:30am to 3pm). While I am pleased to see many people take advantage of this, there are some times of the day when it is difficult to find people to pray before our Lord, in particular 9:30am to 10:30am, and 5pm to 6pm (dinner time). I encourage all of you to take time to visit our Lord, whether reserved in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar. And if you can, I ask you to sign up for an hour, especially one of those mentioned, so that our Lord would never be alone as He is exposed on the altar: “could you not watch with me one hour?” Please call Diane Spinelli (703.451.1779) or the parish office to sign up.

Fleur de lis. Several people have commented on the fleur de lis that decorate several of my vestments. Some think it’s the logo of the New Orleans Saints, and I wear it because I’m a fan of that team. Others recognize it as a symbol of France and think I’m giving a nod to my French ancestry. Not quite. The fleur de lis became a symbol of France (and thus the logo of New Orleans’ football team because of the city’s French roots.) because it is an ancient symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the people of France were, historically, deeply devoted. The fleur de lis (“the lily flower”) symbolizes Mary’s unique relationship to the Holy Trinity (the three petals of the fleur) and her unique purity: “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens” (Song of Songs, 2:1-2). (Note: roses are also symbolic of Mary, the “rose of Sharon”).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles