Sundays in Lent – 5th Sunday

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​All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

Jer 31:34

I enjoy finding verses that put us all on equal footing. We can say that we’re all the same until we’re  blue in the face, but until we can read it in black and white I fear that some will not believe it.

The verse perfectly encapsulates that feeling.

All.

From least to greatest.

All shall know me.

I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

I have just come from reconciliation. I try to go once a season, more if there is something significant happening in my life – traveling, going on retreat, teaching a class. My church does a Lenten Penance Service for the parishioners together. You still have the privacy of the confessional, but your penance is said together. There’s music. I find it a very nice way of bringing the community together. Unfortunately, we had a snowstorm on that evening so I wasn’t able to attend, but I was able to make the time today, a week before my retreat, two weeks before Easter to go to reconciliation.

When I went in it didn’t feel like much, but it was the first time that I remembered my act of contrition card (I don’t have it memorized yet.) It was the first time that I made the sign of the cross and said, “bless me father for I have sinned.” It was the first time that I stated when my last confession was without being prompted. It was the first time I didn’t umm through my sins or wrongdoing.

It was the first time it felt normal-ish.

Remember their sin no more.

I go in, close the door, state my sins, talk, receive penance, and then I’m absolved. I don’t have to worry about G-d bringing it up like an ex might continue to remind you of that time you whatevered twenty years ago and that’s why you’re not married now. I also don’t have to worry about my priest remembering. I’m absolved, and it’s gone for both of us. All of us who seek reconciliation.

G-d doesn’t hold anything against us, and we should learn from that to not hold things against ourselves. Once we’re forgiven in the confessional, we should let it go and not feel guilty or bad about it any longer.

On this fifth Sunday of Lent, don’t forget your responsibilities for the Lenten season. Have you gone to reconciliation? Have you stuck by what you’ve given up or abstained from? Have you prayed more? Is there a special devotion that you like to pray to? Mine is Mary, untier of knots. Lent continues for another two weeks. There is still time to find your way. Each day is a new beginning. It’s not too late to start.

29/52 – Penance

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​Penance is a funny thing. Well, not funny, but you know what I mean. It’s not the stereotypical say one Our Father, and three Hail Marys. It can be that, but it’s not always that. In the times that I’ve gone to reconciliation and received a penance to do it is usually related to what it is that I feel I needed to confess at that moment.

It’s almost never a punishment. Punishment is not the point of giving a penance. Whatever I’m reconciling has taken me further away from G-d, and the penance is supposed to bring me back; set me back on the right path.

After missing a couple of masses, I wasn’t surprised that I was asked to attend one of the daily masses this week. Sure. I wanted to get back to them, but then I realized that this week’s masses are all scheduled for 7am instead of 9. Oh boy. I can do it. I put Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in my cell phone’s alarm, and figured I could make at least one of those.

Who would have thought that Monday morning would have me up so early?

My alarm went off, and I was immediately like who set an alarm for 6:30? Oh yeah.

No snooze. Got up, got dressed, grabbed my purse, silenced my phone, and stepped out of the house. The screen door closed behind me. [I call it a screen door – there is no screen, but for some reason that’s what it’s called to me.] I closed it quietly; everyone in the house was asleep.

I was immediately struck by the cool air on my face. It stopped me, and I stood for a moment, listening to the early morning sounds.

There were none.

The air smelled fresh, the animals were still, the sky was bluish, and I was filled with gratitude that my morning was going to start with mass.

I arrived at church, and this week’s mass has been moved to one of the parish center rooms. Vacation Bible School is taking place in the church. The room is a more intimate setting. There were no missals; it’s hard to remember everything that needs to move over for the mass – the hosts, the wine, water, the priest’s vestments, the Bible, and whatever else is hidden right in front of us during the daily service.

I looked around the room, seeing the usual people who come to the daily mass, but everyone was sitting closer to each other. The front two rows were still empty. You know, you come lat, you sit in the front.

We opened with a song that everyone knew. Everyone sang.

The first reading spoke to me. It was a little depressing, but I was hoping it was coupled with a more uplifting Gospel. Numbers 11:4b-15 was Moses complaining to G-d about the people he was having to deal with. Who of us hasn’t been there? Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this? Why are you punishing me? Why am I responsible for these people?

Boy, can I relate! This week is already too much, and it’s only Monday. I have gishwhes. The kids have VBS, which for me is a lot of driving back and forth. I have this website (which I love, and I love to do, but it is most definitely work and a responsibility. We’re planning our trip, and getting everything ready for it, tying up some loose ends. For all the wonderful things happening, there is a stress that is a constant, bubbling under the surface. Every little whine or moan from someone around me grates like nails on a chalkboard, but it also picks at my patience. I really feel Moses’ pain.

The Gospel, however (Matthew 14:13-21), while representing Jesus’ pain of the loss of John the Baptist and his wanting to be alone, he is still there for his followers. He nurtures them as a parent does, putting Himself second to His people. He feeds them. And I have no doubt that as night fell, and the cold air surrounded them, he made sure they were warm. He knows what they need before they ask, and he takes care of it.

He needs his own time, but he puts that aside for the benefit of others.

I’m not that selfless.

But when mass was over, I slowly walked to my car, knowing I would have to turn around and come back in an hour to bring the kids back, and it was good.

It was exactly what I needed.

Reflection on Reconciliation

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​Tuesday night was my parish’s annual Communal Reconciliation Service for Lent. (We also hold one for Advent as well.) This Lenten service lets me reflect on sins and good deeds and everything in between. I’m mulling over a couple of reflections as I pray and contemplate my sins I’ve committed and what I want to ask absolution for.

The service itself is about an hour long with a short service, that includes what is typical for a daily mass: a reading, responsorial, and a Gospel reading with a reflection in place of a homily. After that we all recite the rite of reconciliation together and are given our penance. We then have the opportunity to confess and receive absolution individually with a priest. The lights are dimmed and we choose our line. There are four priests in four different areas of the church for privacy. Playing the piano begins.

Our director of music is on hand for the musical portions of the service, and he remains to play at this time sharing several quiet, contemplative selections. It is the predominant sound echoing through the chapel, bouncing and being enhanced by the church’s acoustics. That, along with the buzz of a few quiet conversations lays the groundwork for the continuation of reflecting on what we want to say to the priest. There are young adults from the confirmation class lining up in large numbers, some looking a little uncomfortable while they wait, but still talking and laughing a little bit. This is not their first confession.

I think for as important as reconciliation is, and it is important, it is also beneficial to remember that this is a routine; it’s a normal part of the everyday life of the Catholic. It is not anything scary nor should it cause apprehension even though for many of us it does a little bit. The one thing to remember is that lack of judgment that greets you in the confessional. The confession itself and the absolution received is often a relief, and sadly it barely lasts the commute home.

There is that split second of a moment – it might last as long as two minutes where I am without sin, absolved of everything, a clean slate to try anew to be a better person, a better example, a better disciple of Christ.

Sinlessness.

And then it’s gone. As I notice a hairstyle, or curse at the traffic; or the rain. I come home to arguing kids and can’t find the charity that I give to strangers.

But right now, at this very moment, I am free of sin.

There is also the non judgment of my pastor as I alluded to above. He greets me as a friend, calling me by my first and last name, that funny way that people do sometimes, with a grin and a twinkle in their eye. The smile is there to make me feel at east, but not simply for ease’s sake but because he lives the Gospel and confession, reconciliation, penance and absolution are simply one more part of it. One fo the sacraments that allow us to continue our journey and accept the other sacraments and responsibilities of Christianity. One more piece to this spiritual puzzle. He also commented on my shirt which sparkled in the candlelight.

Penance is not punishment as in you were bad, now you are punished. Penance is a consequence. Punishment can be avoided; consequences cannot.

Confession, Penance, and Individual Mandate

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​As a writer, I tend to overshare. 

If I talk about some good deed I’ve done or random act of kindness or whatever, I’m never trying to get a congrats or a pat on the back. I like to show people how easy it is to be kind, to be patient, to simply be nice. I’m not better at it; I just try to be aware of the opportunities when they arise, and in sharing them, I think it shows everyone how the smallest things can affect people.

The same goes for my spiritual postings. If I can feel this, so can you; if you want to. And I do truly believe that we all learn from each other; from each other’s mistakes and from our smallest of victories.

By that same token, I never know if I’m supposed to write about and share the penances I’m given. There is nothing better than that moment my priest says, you are absolved. Second to that is the satisfaction of having completed a penance, whether difficult or easy, rote or inspired. Although honestly, none of them are easy or rote.

In my growing up and seeing confessions on television, I’ve always thought of them as your deepest, darkest secrets that are supposed to be kept hidden away, never to be talked about again.

What I’ve found in practice is much different.

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7/8 – Year of Mercy: Reconcilation

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​On this, the second to last weekend of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, I had scheduled my topic as reconciliation. I wasn’t sure quite what I was going to write about, but there the word said in my planner:

Nov. 13 – 7/8 Reconciliation

It kept getting pushed back and I wondered why. It seems G-d had other plans for this post, which is good because the act of reconciliation, of confession, is still not an easy one for me. I just don’t know how to do it or what counts. Do I ask forgiveness for cursing when I will continue to curse? I don’t know. Perhaps one day it will come to me. My priest is a very patient man.

Today, however isn’t about the Catholic rite of reconciliation, but of reconciling two sides, two passions, two opposites that must come together now or risk tearing it apart forever. Finding mercy for ourselves and for others.

Almost one week ago, on Tuesday, I went from thrilled to happy and excited to numb. When I went to bed at 2:30am nothing was decided, but I knew. The outcome was clear.

What I didn’t know was if I could face the morning of Wednesday. How would I explain this new world to my daughter? Even my son was worried before bed and I reassured him not to worry; that Donald Trump would not become our president. Our country was too strong for that.

As I said earlier today, this isn’t about my candidate losing. It’s about what we allowed to happen over the last fifteen months. Journalists can never give a pass again.

But right now, in the aftermath of an election where in reality apathy won, it is time to stop and breathe and reconcile.

Regardless of where we stand on any one issue, we still must work together. We still must move forward. Together. We don’t have to like our president – Republicans proved that for the last eight years, but we do need to work with him and I can promise you that we will work more cooperatively with him than his party worked with the last president. Cooperation and not obstruction. Maybe we can teach them a thing or two about humanity and grace and dignity. We will stand up for what’s right.

We will reconcile our feelings, our emotions and make sure that we are all on the side of ALL Americans no matter their party or race or religion or gender or any of the other things that make us individuals.

We are all in this together and we can be the example that we talk about setting for our children and our neighbors and our friends.

I have faith in us.

Pilgrimage in the Year of Mercy

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“This (Holy Year) is the opportune moment to change our lives!” the pope has said. “This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched!…May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion.”

– Pope Francis

This is what Pope Francis said when he opened up this Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy. I touched on the idea of what a pilgrimage is a few weeks ago, and as I proceed through this holy year, I’m still wondering.

I have several plans that involve retreats and learning; contemplation and writing, and I’m not sure where one activity ends and one begins.

Is that a pilgrimage? A retreat? A holiday?

And where does mercy fit in?

I honestly don’t know, and part of this year for me is looking for my own form of mercy; for me.

I’m much better at giving mercy to others, forgiving and letting things go, but I still haven’t done my pre-Easter penance for reconciliation, not because it’s too hard, but because it involves another person and that is the hardest thing to ask of me.

So I ask you:

What does this mean for me in particular as I take my retreats this year, and sort of a partial pilgrimage?

Or just wander through my notebook and my Kindle finishing projects and beginning others?

At the end of this holy year, will I have traveled enough to find my mercy?

Our parish is one of the lucky ones that is not a cathedral, but still has a Holy Door to enter. I’ve walked through it once, earlier in the year, simply as an introduction to myself and to G-d of my intentions, but I will be going through it again after some prayer and meditation.

It gives me joy to see it whenever I go to my church, and it also gives me the reminder that the year is not over yet. I still have time to find my way, and my way begins through that door.

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