Reconciliation

It is fairly easy to identify where Christ instituted the Sacraments using the Scripture and Tradition that we have today. However, simply knowing where the story begins is of little value to understand how it is important for us today. Any attempt to realize the temporal and eternal value of Reconciliation, or any sacrament, without a fuller knowledge of the realities that surround it is like trying to assemble furniture without an instruction manual. It might be possible to do, but it will be unnecessarily difficult. The scholar, Ralph P. Martin, notes that there is “no satisfying answer” in such an endeavor, and that doing so only tells us what we already know about Jesus Christ.

But it is still helpful for us to identify the post-Paschal foundation of Reconciliation. We find it in the words recorded in John 20:23 where Jesus breathes on the disciples with the Holy Spirit and says: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” It is worth noting that the word used for breath is the same as that used in Genesis and Ezekiel when God breathed life at the first creation and the new eschatological creation. Also, the words “forgiven” and “retained” are in the past tense, which usually represents that God is acting through His Church.

In the centuries that followed the understanding and practice of Reconciliation developed. In the sixteenth century, at the Council of Trent, it was stated that “The Church has always understood – and has in fact defined – that Jesus Christ here conferred on the Apostles authority to forgive sins, a power which is exercised in the sacrament of Penance. “The Lord then especially instituted the sacrament of Penance when, after being risen from the dead, he breathed upon his disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit…”  The consensus of all the Father has always acknowledged that by this action so sublime and words so clear the power of forgiving and retaining sins was given to the Apostles and their lawful successors for reconciling the faithful who have fallen after Baptism (De Paenitentia, 1).

We also see many instances of pre-Paschal foundations for Reconciliation. The chief amongst these is certainly the passage of the prodigal son from Luke. The sacrament of Penance is the most sublime expression of God’s love and mercy towards men, described so vividly in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The Lord always awaits us, with his arms wide open, waiting for us to repent – and then he will forgive us and restore us to the dignity of his sons.

Stratford Caldecott, in his work, The Seven Sacraments, notes that in John “the Lord’s word, a well of living waters, takes over from the healing waters of Jerusalem. The paralysis the man suffers from symbolizes the state of impotence to which we are reduced by sin (Caldecott 61).

Reconciliation is also prefigured shortly before Christ’s death, when he utters the words “Father, forgive them, for they known not what they do (Luke 23:34). According to Adrienne von Speyr “This first of the Lord’s words contain his whole life’s purpose. He hangs on the Cross in order to achieve for sinners their forgiveness before God.” Jesus has lived among men, “He knows that they cannot be held fully responsible, and the conclusion he draws is this: he will bear the responsibility himself” (Speyr, The Cross).

After Christ’s resurrection, it is only through the cross that we can be forgiven. In the mirror of the Cross, the sinner sees what they have become. They are no longer ignorant; they know what they do. At the same time, they see how much the Son has done for them, and this moves them to respond with a love that reunites their wills with his. In the act of becoming aware of what they were doing, they cease to do it. This process – the unveiling of sin, recognizing self, and loving God – lies at the heart of the sacrament of Reconciliation (Caldecott, 63).

On December 8 of last year, the universal Church began celebrating a Year of Mercy. In preparation for this time, Pope Francis gave much instruction on the importance of Reconciliation in our day. At a general audience in 2014, he stated “First, the fact that the forgiveness of our sins is not something we can give ourselves. I cannot say: I forgive my sins. Forgiveness is asked for, is asked of another, and in Confession we ask for forgiveness from Jesus. Forgiveness is not the fruit of our own efforts but rather a gift, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us with the wellspring of mercy and of grace that flows unceasingly from the open heart of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Secondly, it reminds us that we can truly be at peace only if we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in the Lord Jesus, with the Father and with the brethren. And we have all felt this in our hearts, when we have gone to confession with a soul weighed down and with a little sadness; and when we receive Jesus’ forgiveness we feel at peace, with that peace of soul which is so beautiful, and which only Jesus can give, only Him” (Feb. 19 2014).

He also stated in an earlier audience that “God forgives every man in his sovereign mercy, but he himself willed that those who belong to Christ and to the Church receive forgiveness by means of the ministers of the community. Through the apostolic ministry the mercy of God reaches me, my faults are forgiven and joy is bestowed on me. In this way Jesus calls us to live out reconciliation in the ecclesial, the community, dimension as well. And this is very beautiful. The Church, who is holy and at the same time in need of penitence, accompanies us on the journey of conversion throughout our life. The Church is not mistress of the power of the keys, but a servant of the ministry of mercy and rejoices every time she can offer this divine gift (Nov. 20, 2013).

In her diary, Sister Faustina recorded that we must “Pray for souls that they be not afraid to approach the tribunal of God’s mercy” (975). To help quell this fear, Vinny Flynn offers us Seven Secrets of Confession. As he notes in the forward of his book, the secrets are not really hidden information, but rather they are things we might not think about. The seven secrets are:

  1. Sin doesn’t change God.
  2. It’s not just about forgiveness.
  3. Your sin is different from my sin.
  4. Confession is not really private.
  5. You’ve got mail.
  6. New wines need new skins.
  7. You have to let go of your chains.

Like all of the sacraments, Reconciliation is a gift to us from God. A gift given not because we merited it, but because God wants us to be eternally happy with him in Heaven. In his work, Life of Christ, Bishop Sheen states that Only God can forgive sins; but God in the form of man forgave the sins of Magdalen, of the penitent thief, of the dishonest tax collector, and of others.” From the day of his resurrection, Christ gave that power to forgive to others. “To be on humble on one’s knees confessing to one to whom Christ gave the power to forgive (rather than prostrate on a couch to hear guilt explained away) – that was one of the greatest joys given to the burden soul of man” (Sheen, Life of Christ, 421).

In my closing, I would like to share something written by Stratford Caldecott just two months before died. He said “The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.” (http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/05/search-secret-life-death.html).

 

 

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Reflection on Psalm 137

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat mourning and weeping when we remembered Zion. On the poplars of that land we hung up our harps. There our captors asked us for the words of a song; Our tormentors, for a joyful song: “Sing for us a song of Zion!” But how could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights. Remember, LORD, against Edom that day at Jerusalem. They said: “Level it, level it down to its foundations!” Fair Babylon, you destroyer, happy those who pay you back the evil you have done us! Happy those who seize your children and smash them against a rock.

As I have learned more and more about the great Magisterium, or teaching office of the Catholic Church, I have come to find that many of the guidelines set forth in Scripture, the Catechism, Canon Law, the writings of important members of the Church, and other sacred texts exist not to hinder me or prevent me from living a full life, but exist, rather, to enable me to find true and absolute freedom. A cursory glance at the written word does not always provide us with the opportunity to truly understand what is being taught to us, and often limits our thoughts to serve only pragmatic purposes. That is not to say that all interpretation of written word should be understood in an allegorical or illusory sense, but there certainly is merit in delving more deeply and uncovering meaning that is beyond the surface level.

For this author, one such occurrence of this was with Psalm 137. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to assist with the editing of a well-done musical arrangement of the song “On the Willows” for the school’s production of Godspell. As a musician, and a very “wise” teenage, I zealously related to the idea of being oppressed by those who I perceived as captors and had terrifying it was to imagine that I would be unable to practice my art. For me, the psalm was a rallying cry to stand up to being held down. I also perceived the willow to be the Cross on which Christ would be Crucified, and the life being spent to only being his. Fortunately for me, I later discovered that I was largely mistaken about my interpretation.

Psalm 137 is a song of lamentation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile, a heartfelt prayer for liberation and an expression of longing for the Holy City. When the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem in the sixth century, they were relocated to Babylon. They mourned not only because they had been deported, but also because everything they knew to be true was taken from them. Their lyres actually represented their lives, which they attempted to raise above the twisted and fouled waters that flowed at their feet, and fed the trees on the shore. Saint Augustine speaks of the waters of the river as watering barren trees which bring forth no fruit; just as there are men greedy, covetous, barren in good works, citizens of Babylon in such wise, that they are even trees of that region; they are fed there by these pleasures of transitory things, as though watered by the waters of Babylon. They seek fruit but it is nowhere to be found.

They were also unwilling and, in a sense, unable to sing. Saint Augustine also notes, we are tempted by the delights of earthly things, and we struggle daily with the suggestions of unlawful pleasures; scarce do we breathe freely even in prayer: we understand that we are captives. But who led us captive? What men? What race? What king? If we are redeemed, we once were captives. Who has redeemed us? Christ. From whom has He redeemed us? From the devil. The devil then and his angels led us captive: and they would not lead us, unless we consented.

In an address he gave in December of 2005, then Pope Benedict XVI said of this part of the psalm that:

“Involved in the psalmist’s words are the hand, tongue, palate, voice and tears. The hand is indispensable for the one who plays the lyre. But it has remained paralyzed by sorrow because, moreover, the lyres have been hung on the willows. The singer needs the tongue, but now it cleaves to his palate. The songs of Zion are the Lord’s canticles they are not folkloric songs or performances. Only in the liturgy and in the freedom of a people can they rise up to heaven.”

The grief among the captives was great, they were still hopeful that they would be rescued by their savior. And although they were mocked and persecuted, they would not give way to sinfulness. Before the introduction into the world of the redemption and salvation made possible by Jesus Christ, people assumed that salvation was a literal and experiential principal, understood only in physical terms. There was no sense that what was given by Jesus Christ would be eternal. The prayers and worship offered by the people was important, but did not did not carry the weight of significance that Jesus Christ would add through his death and resurrection.

The Psalm also refers to the person of Edom: a Jewish name for Esau. Just as Babylon and Jerusalem are portrayed as two cities that invite two presences in the world, so do Esau and his brother, Jacob. Babylon represents despair, sorrow, and the devil. Jerusalem is a promise that represents goodness, joy, and eternal salvation. In a similar way, Esau represents the carnal; Jacob represents the spiritual. This idea is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the literal rendering being “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” This suggests an attitude of divine hostility that is not implied in Paul’s statement. In Semitic usage “hate” means to love less. Israel’s unbelief reflects the mystery of the divine election that is always operative within it. Mere natural descent from Abraham does not ensure the full possession of the divine gifts; it is God’s sovereign prerogative to bestow this fullness upon, or to withhold it from, whomsoever he wishes. The choice of Jacob over Esau is a case in point.

The final image in the Psalm is that of the destruction of children. There are historical events when this occurred, but the idea presented here is that the destruction of children represents the destruction of an entire generation. On the spiritual level, Saint Robert Bellarmine, in his commentary upon the psalms, sees an allegory here in which the children dashed against the rock are those who are brought to the Rock which is Christ and who are put to death to their former way of life, to be reborn into new life and salvation. Furthermore, with regards to the “innocence” of the infants who were killed, in the bigger picture it may have been an act of mercy; for if these infants have been rewarded eternal life and happiness in their innocence, far better that than to have grown up in a corrupt pagan environment which may have led to their eternal damnation at the time of their death. The justice and mercy of God extend beyond the grave and we must remember this when confronted with such circumstances of the ancient world—and the present.

Saint Augustine provides us with excellent words to live by. He says:

“Brethren, let not your instruments of music rest in your work: sing one to another songs of Sion. Readily have ye heard; the more readily do what you have heard, if you wish not to be willows of Babylon fed by its streams, and bringing no fruit. But sigh for the everlasting Jerusalem: whither your hope goes before, let your life follow; there we shall be with Christ. Christ now is our Head; now He rules us from above; in that city He will fold us to Himself; we shall be equal to the Angels of God. We should not dare to imagine this of ourselves, did not the Truth promise it. This then desire, brethren, this day and night think on. Howsoever the world shine happily on you, presume not, parley not willingly with your lusts. Is it a grown-up enemy? Let it be slain upon the Rock. Is it a little enemy? Let it be dashed against the Rock. Slay the grown-up ones on the Rock, and dash the little ones against the Rock. Let the Rock conquer. Be built upon the Rock, if you desire not to be swept away either by the stream, or the winds, or the rain. If you wish to be armed against temptations in this world, let longing for the everlasting Jerusalem grow and be strengthened in your hearts. Your captivity will pass away, your happiness will come; the last enemy shall be destroyed, and we shall triumph with our King, without death.”

Psalm 137 is not commonly found in the lectionary. It only appears once – during the fourth Sunday of Lent in Year B. When it is proclaimed, the final three lines are excluded because they portray the people of the Old Testament in a bad light. The Psalm is also found once in the 4-week cycle of the Psalm readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. Again, the final three lines are excluded. When it is found in the Liturgy of the Hours, it is always followed by Psalm 138, which is a Psalm that exults and praises God.

During this Advent season, the Church reads this Psalm, with its plea for liberation and its nostalgic yearning for the Holy City, as an expression of her own prayerful hope for the Lord’s coming. As St. Augustine tells us, we are called not only to sing this Psalm, but to live it, by lifting up our hearts with profound religious longing for the heavenly Jerusalem. There is no doubt that this is a Psalm of great sorrow and lamentation but, as will all things temporal, what it describes shall pass. The captors of the Jews in the Psalm can still be found today in people who oppress and persecute Catholics and what is true; in relativism; in complacency or apathy; by those who stand against the good that people try to do in the world. Despite the oppression we face, we must never forget to turn to God for someday we will all be together in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

***For those who have read some of my other works, you will know that I always cite my references extensively. That was not the case in this paper. The quotations I did use came from St. Augustine and St. Robert Bellarmine’s commentaries on Psalm 137 as well as an address given by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Problem with Three Parents

I think there are two kinds of “new” that we experience. The first is inventive, innovative, and has the potential to provide something that is truly lifegiving. The second seems new, but is really just an old idea or method presented in a different way, in hopes that some good can come of it. Now, it is certainly true that much good can come from second chances, but that is not always the case. Here, I think we see an example of that second kind of “new,” without any of the good.

The New York Times recently published an article titled: “Birth of Baby with Three Parent’s DNA Marks Success for Banned Technique.” Here is some clarification on what happens (emphasis added): The maternal spindle transfer technique involves the extraction of the genetic material from a mother’s egg, which is then inserted into a donor egg in which the maternal spindle has been removed and discarded. The reconstituted egg then is fertilized by the father’s sperm before implantation in the mother. The procedure is known as “three-parent IVF.” This term is not preferred by the scientists involved with the procedures, but it is a true representation of what is happening.

I have a guideline that I follow: I never say something that someone else has said more clearly or better. So, I give you a statement from Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster. He issued a statement on behalf of the bishops after a 2015 ruling by the House of Commons to allow this technique to occur, stating that “Whilst the Church recognises the suffering that mitochondrial diseases bring and hopes that alternative methods of treatment can be found, it remains opposed on principle to these procedures where the destruction of human embryos is part of the process.

There are a number of frightening evils present in this technique. First it requires the removal and destruction of an egg. The second egg is then remade using the material from the first. The end result is that the “waste” from each egg is discarded. Another significant concern is the invasive work that is required to accomplish what is needed. Yet another concern – the chief concern in my opinion – is the removal, in a sense, of the parents. With the removal of the conjugal act, there is no opportunity for the couple to unite as God intended. The entire process takes place solely in a medical facility, and the donors are only needed when they are taking their part in the procedure.

My concerns always exist with the current situations we find ourselves in, but also in the worrisome future that can be created. An example is with abortion and what has happened in East Asia. The legality of the act is no longer being contested on a societal scale. And, it is now permissible to choose to abort a child based on the gender. Recent data shows that there are over 55 million missing women from the last census taken in that area. This technique is also starting to take place in North America. It has been banned in only 2 states.

As of the writing of this article, there is no legislation in the works to lift the FDA ban on three-parent IVF. Please join me in praying that we do not reach that point.

My Trip to Minnesota: Final Thoughts

Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR)

The center is located on the campus of the University of Minnesota. They have a lot of equipment on site. Here is a list for those interested. (https://www.cmrr.umn.edu/resources/) They have a 16.4 Tesla machine but it is not for humans… The building is set up in such a way that there is an MRI room down every corridor. It is quite impressive.

In addition to the CMRR, there are quite a few medical facilities on the campus, devoted to high specialized needs. There is also a hospital, as well as an extension of the Mayo Clinic.

The Study

The study was conducted by Dr. Gulin Oz (U of M), Dr. Khalaf Bushara (U of M), and Dr. Gomez (Chicago). My main contact for the study was Diana Hutter. Diane was the person that initially contacted me about the study, and worked with me during the entire process. She also evaluated me when I arrived at the CMRR and stayed with me while I was at the facility.

While I was there, I also met a graduate student who was doing research to find a correlation between the size of a person’s cerebellum and the intelligibility of their speech. The evaluation only took a few minutes, and I was happy to help.

The MRI

The reason for my trip was to have 2 MRIs. The first was done on a 5 Tesla machine. The second was done on a 7 Tesla machine. As a point of reference, most MRI machines operate at 1.5 Tesla. Although there was a major difference in the overall construction and wiring, the scan was the same as those I had done before. The newer machine actually had a fan, which was nice. Believe it or not, I fell asleep.

Hope

Most of you that know me know that I have a generally positive disposition about my medical conditions. I am very blessed in my life and I have so much that helps me get through the day. However, it is sometimes hard to be hopeful that I will live to see significant advances that will improve the quality of life for ataxians. That was not the case, though, during my visit. I was in a “hotbed” of SCA research and I got to meet many people that were devoted to ataxia. I also saw and read about some of the progress being made, and it was very reassuring.

My Trip to Minnesota: Day 3

My first 2 days were loaded with “free time” but that was not the case today. I was checked out of my hotel and at the center by 7:30 a.m.! The MRI I underwent this morning was in the machine that is rated at 7 Tesla (the one of Thursday was 5). They also have a 10.5 machine – the only one in the world!

After the scan I had a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant and went back to the airport. I got to ride back in a Lincoln with 2 women from Rwanda. We had a fascinating conversation.

At the airport, I had some extra time so I requested wheelchair service. They took me through a side gate and my entire check-in process took about 10 minutes. It wasn’t as easy as it was in Kzoo, but both were better than the alternative of waiting forever in the main line. After the check-in they brought me to my gate, where I watched the arrival time of my flight change to a later time. Then again. Then again. Then again…

When I arrived in Chicago, there was only 4 minutes until my next flight took off. Even if I had rockets on the chair, I would not have made it. The only option was to get a ticket for the next flight for Kalamazoo, which was 5 hours later. The arrival gate also changed 3 times, which meant that I was making a lot of calls to be transported around. I finally arrived in Kalamazoo at 12 midnight.

Tomorrow, I will write a summary of my experience and share some other thoughts.

My Trip to Minnesota: Day 2

My first evaluation today was not until 1 p.m., so I had some time to spare. I spent the morning reading and had lunch at a delightful and delicious Iranian restaurant. When it was time for the evaluation, I took the shuttle to the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research.

When I arrived at the center (only a few minutes from the hotel) I was greeted by Diane. She has been my contact throughout this process. After she completed a brief questionnaire and motor evaluation, we went over the MRI basics. Then I changed into scrubs and we went to the MRI room (the lab has several on site).

For the MRI, they slid my entire body in. My head rested in a “helmet” (a padded square), and they lowered a shield over my face. The scan took about an hour. When it was finished, I returned to the hotel for a nap and went to dinner. I ate at a near little place called the Loring Pasta Bar.

A few fun facts I learned today…

-Dr. Henry Orr, who is currently at the University of Minnesota “discovered” SCA1 in 1993.

-SCA, in its various forms, is more common than ALS.

-The MRI machine is a 110 ton magnet with 720 miles of wire.

-The heating element in the MRI machine requires 40,000 liters of helium to keep it cool.

My Trip to Minnesota: Day 1

Here is some info on my trip to Minnesota for the ataxia research study.

First, I just need to say that air travel with ataxia is not fun. The last time I flew, I went to California. I had a suit, a mini-wardrobe, extra shoes, etc.  This time, I brought a single bag. And even that felt like it weighed 10,000 pounds. It also took a VERY long time to move throughout the airports. During my layover, I was the last person on the flight (instead of the first). I will say that the staff at the Kalamazoo airport was extremely helpful. They gave me a chair to sit on when I needed it, and helped me through the scanner – after I kept crashing into it and setting off the alarm.

Getting on and off the plane, as well as getting in my seat, was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately I only had one charley horse and I was able to control it rather well. If I hadn’t, I might have been considered a security threat.

When I finally arrived at the hotel (via a shuttle) it was around 5 p.m. and I had not eaten. The hotel shuttle did not operate from 4 to 6 because of rush hour traffic, so I walked down to the main area of campus for dinner. It was drizzling which made the walk extra exciting. I had to laugh because each time I crossed a street, the timer started. It used to be the case that I would make it with time to spare. Now, I was getting there after the hand was solid…

Because I still had some per diem left for the day, I went to a local sports bar for a second dinner. Turns out it was karaoke night. So.

Tomorrow, the actual studies begin.

God bless!