I don’t love you…

“I don’t love you,” my little three-year-old son said this morning at daily mass, looking up at me, his eyes wide and open, his expression clear and bright. It was a statement of resolute fact, not vindictive. He shook his head slowly, for emphasis. “I don’t love you.”

Then it became more urgent. The sweeps of his head quickened, and a smile crept over his face, causing his wide eyes to furrow into a squint, tiny little creases appearing at the corners. “I…. don’t love you!” He whispered, hissing a bit at the end. “Yes,” he seemed to be thinking, it is fun to say this.

This “I don’t love you” game was standard fare for the past couple of weeks. Children say plenty of hilarious things. In fact, we were grateful just to hear him stringing together complete sentences. This little boy was behind in speech for his age. I might have winced, but I would have even accepted mild profanity if it were contained in a phrase, out of sheer relief of hearing him communicate. For nearly a year, I’d needed an older brother to interpret his peculiar language.

He continued to shake his head, smile, and whisper his statement of non love. He turned to a brother, to see whether he would get any mileage from telling him the same thing. Big brother was only interested in seeing how much he could stir up the baby.

For the passing instant, his “I don’t” was genuine. He meant it — without guile, but he meant it all the same. Wisdom and age offered the knowledge of another reality he had yet to grasp.

As a father, I could look past the “disobedience” because I understood what a tiny, simple, innocent child he is. In fact, I loved his innocence. I loved him deeply because of his innocence. I celebrated the freedom he enjoyed — to speak his mind; to say silly or even stupid-sounding things; to act a fool; to mistake.

“I don’t love you, daddy.” And then, following the Consecration, we rose from our kneelers and stood, to pray the Our Father. The little boy, who was surrounded by my body and arms while we knelt in prayer, who, as he spoke of not loving me, would reach out and touch and grab me the entire time, tugging on my beard, tussling my balding hair, was now standing far below the tower of my frame. Now there was a need for him to be lifted up — a distance that he could not bridge without my assistance.

And he, now on his feet, recognizing the change in posture, looked up toward me, and reached out his arms, his eyes speaking this time: pick me up, daddy. It’s time to pick me up now. Pick me up. I am ready. I love you. Pick me up.

God knows our hearts, just as I knew that this precious boy never changed his mind. He just spoke silliness. I felt foolish for the times and the ways that I had smiled at God, acted a child, and casually tossed my rejection at him, while knowing how false I was.

God might chuckle to Himself, waiting for me to appreciate the distance of our relationship; waiting for me to reach out; waiting for me to manifest my expectation that He lift me up; loving me beyond measurable fullness, celebrating my freedom all the while.

[NOTE: Please, I’d really like to go to Beer Camp. If you can spare a moment, would you please vote for me?]


A “Catholic” Retreat “Celebrating Leather Sexuality” in the Diocese of Sacramento? Cancelled!

Thank God for Courageous Bishops.

My bishop is His Excellency Jaime Soto, Diocese of Sacramento. I was alarmed to find an article on another blog regarding a “Homosexualist and leather retreat” to be held in the Diocese of Sacramento at Christ the King Passionist Center in Citrus Heights. The retreat is co-sponsored by the Dignity/Defenders SF, and scheduled to run from August 30 – September 2.

The retreat is described as follows:

The first two days of the retreat we will be with those attending from the Dignity chapter, followed by a third day that will emphasize integrating leather and spirituality. The retreat will be lead by a Catholic priest who works with Dignity.

According to the article:

The Defenders describe themselves as “a Catholic leather club,” and the About Us section of their webpage says “The Defenders/SF is a club for individuals who value and wish to celebrate both their Leather sexuality and their Christian spirituality.” The webpage of Dignity USA says “The Defenders believe that the leather experience can, when integrated and spiritually informed, actually produce a richer spirituality for us, and for the Church.”

I called the Bishop’s office, and inquired if this was true. The Bishop cancelled the retreat. It is not being held on Church property. I assume they’ve relocated to another venue.

Thank God for Bishop Soto. Pray for him.

[Please continue to vote for me for Beer Camp!]

The “Antithesis of Manhood” is Now a Series

Last month, I wrote an entry concerning the “Bro-Choice” movement entitled The Antithesis of Manhood. Today it becomes a series, and this is the second installment.

Thanks to a group of vapid milquetoast male juveniles hosting a website euphemistically named “Return of Kings”, and an article entitled “How to Convince a Girl to Get an Abortion“, we have this steaming nugget of offensive tripe:

How The “Hail Mary” Works

You need to bring up the subject of abortion with every ounce of verbal finesse and situation-appropriate sensitivity. You should sound as sincere as possible and tell her that you want her to be the mother of your children one day, but that now is not the right time to start a family. Explain you want to wait until you are further along in your career/life goals and you can afford to give your future family all the comforts of life you cannot deliver today. Finally, explain if she has the abortion now, you will be able to plan your lives together so that everything is perfect. Then, after she agrees and has the abortion, dump her. It’s called a “hail mary” in part because of its difficulty to execute, so if you stay with her post-abortion and she becomes pregnant again you’re really f………

And that’s only the first strategy. The standard of indecency is elevated for the woman who isn’t just a casual hookup, but is more of a “girlfriend” (i.e., lets a guy fall on top of her more than once or twice), because she gets treated to “The A$$#*%e Method”:

You need to channel your inner cold, unforgiving, unapologetic a$$#*%e nature, as nothing less will suffice. You must not ask, but rather tell her to get an abortion because if she refuses this child will be a bastard.

This is what becomes of a society of “men” who have squandered their cherished freedoms and forgotten their sacred duties. I’ll wager that very few of these so-called “masculine men” actually had a father playing an active role in their lives. These guys actually think what they are describing constitutes “masculine” behavior. That means they do not know how to actually be men.

Finally, maybe you’re bored with the “tried and true” options, in which case you can employ the “Wildcard Method”:

If an ultrasound finds that the child has a developmental problem like autism, many couples choose to abort. You can use this knowledge to your advantage because you can tell the girl that a rare genetic disease is common in your family…..

…..And that smell? The disgusting odor wafting in the air? That is the hot fetid stench of the decayed and rotting Sexual Revolution. Congratulations to all who made it possible. It took a lot of effort to get to this point, but with a lot of teamwork, synergies and strategic partnerships, we’re here! It won’t be long until the last prize is finally realized: the abolition of the age of consent.

This isn’t real freedom being exercised; this is licentiousness. Real freedom is choosing the good. Not the feelgood of the moment. Not the temporary and passing pleasure of a “consequence-free” sexual act with someone who has been objectified to the point of being rendered practically faceless.

There are always consequences. The principal one here is the impending total loss of freedom. If freedom is no longer exercised in order to choose the good, it no longer exists at all, because it isn’t really freedom. It’s slavery.

That’s why laws that make sinful acts legal are so detrimental to society. Legality has a way of becoming the lowest common denominator for morality, and the consequence is plainly seen throughout modern culture. We can become enslaved by laws that remove actual freedom while permitting and encouraging the pursuit of our base passions.

To the flaccid, weak-willed, more-teletubbies-than-actual-men at “Return of the Kings” I say: a “masculine man” does not deceive. Does not cheat to get his way. Does not disrespect a woman. Does not abuse or belittle the disabled. Does not aid or abet the killing of his offspring. Even as satire (and I’m not sure you mean this to be satire), the garbage that you exude is the supreme antithesis of anything approaching a scintilla of authentic manhood. You win the gold star for today.

I’m sorry you make it so easy.

[NOTE: Please continue to vote for my video, “Dispensing Catholic Joy” so that I can go to Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp!]

My Conversion to Catholicism was Because of Coffee Hour in the Episcopal Church

[Note: This is Part 3 of my Conversion Story. The other parts can be found here.]

“You should be baptized,” said the Voice.

It was the night of Holy Thursday, 1991; the start of the Easter Triduum. I sat by myself on a pew in the little Episcopal church. It was nearing ten o’clock. The service was over. I was reflecting upon the evening’s liturgy while the ladies in the altar guild assisted the vicar with stripping the altar and shrouding all of the immovable items in the sanctuary with a fine violet gauze.

“You should be baptized.” It did not repeat itself. It was the same statement, outside of time. It was not like an utterance normally heard and then passing attention or capable of being forgotten, rather it felt as though my soul could see the words upon a grand illuminated sign.

Nobody in my immediate family was baptized, except my Dad; he was baptized as a child in the Methodist Church. I only knew this because I saw the certificate once in an old family scrapbook. He never brought it up. The only thing that I knew about him and his experience with church was that my grandparents made him go to Sunday School, he had perfect attendance as a boy, and he grew to hate everything about it.

In 1989, my family moved from Sonoma County to the Northern Central Valley of California, from a “city” of 100,000 to a “town” of 5,000. A square whitewashed building with wood siding, a small belltower and wide porch in the main commercial district of the town purported to be the Christian Science church, but we never made it inside because there were no members left in town. The local paper reported the times in its “Church Services” section, but the doors were locked. No services. We tried a few other churches, and within a few months we started attending the Episcopal Church.

I would have preferred not going to any church at all. It seemed a waste of a perfectly good Sunday morning. I objected. Why did I have to go? Why couldn’t I stay home, like Dad? Apparently Dad preferred having the house to himself, and offered no asylum for me.

Since I was being forced to go to church, I made it known that I preferred the Episcopal Church to other options. First, it was close to home, just down the street. But the thing that mattered most, the thing that stayed my objection from evolving into obstinate refusal was: Coffee Hour!

Episcopalians know how to lay a spread. The ladies in the parish essentially served lunch to the entire congregation every Sunday after the 10 a.m. liturgy. Cookies, cupcakes, doughnuts, tiny egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Coffee for grownups and juice for kids. For me, it was one of the better meals of the week – far better than what waited at home – and as an awkward fat kid, I relished eating more than anything else. While I resented being forced into spiritual practice, I consoled myself with the anticipation of being rejoined with my one love.

Coffee Hour kept me going to church; I would have increased my efforts to avoid going otherwise. And while I believed myself to be immune to all the prattle about liturgy and creed, God was silently working on my heart, planting seeds here and there. Perhaps I might like to be an acolyte. An invitation to youth group, where a few of the kids were actually cool. A request to help work in the kitchen on Shrove Tuesday or in concession stand at the county fair, which carried the bonus of free admission each day that I worked.

“You should be baptized.”

“But… I’m only here for the food.”

[Chuckle.] “You should be baptized.” (“There will still be food.”)

With that, I received a vision of the Paschal Mystery. Jesus asking me to remain with Him while He prayed. Jesus inviting me to walk with Him to Calvary tomorrow. Jesus assuring that I would see Him again on Sunday. Jesus offering to remove every pain and anxiety in my life, replacing what I felt with love and mercy. Jesus knocking at the door to my heart. Jesus even suggesting who to ask to be my godmother.

I rose from my pew a Christian. I had met Him. He had actually spoken, to me! I had heard the Lord.

“You should be baptized.”

On the night of that vigil in the Garden, nothing was left for decoration but for the small tabernacle behind the altar, and the sanctuary candle which bled its red flame like a distant beacon at the shore of salvation – a symbol representing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

I walked my dog every morning before school. After Holy Thursday, we would walk to the church and I’d stare inside at that candle, always lit. “I am within,” this church, and your heart. And whispering the Doxology heard each Sunday, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”, sometimes again and again and again while the melody filled my mind, living in the beauty of praise and prayer, I began to know the meaning of another word: “Amen.”

[Note: Voting for Beer Camp is still going on! Please vote for me for Sierra Nevada Beer Camp!]

Msgr. Benson, New Religion, and LCWR

In a previous post, I provided an excerpt on prayer contained in Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson. The book, written in 1907, is set in England and concerns a dystopian future in the late twentieth century, and a mysterious antichrist figure named “Felsenburgh” who is somehow capable of unifying the world and installing a new order. This new order is supposedly based on rational ideals meant to elevate humanity.

The book discusses the emergence of a sort of religious Humanism that replaces the creeds and worship of God (Creator) with a new creed and worship of Man (the Creation). The argument given is that through the ages, man actually created God to satisfy man’s innate desire for worship, and that thanks to the enlightenment of the new age, man can now realize that it is Himself who should be worshipped.

The Masons are mentioned throughout the book, which brings to mind some things Pope Francis has recently said about them.

In the book, protestants and secular types succumb to the new ideology almost immediately, as do the vast majority of Catholics, many of whom are actually nominal Catholics only. Authentic Catholic devotion is way too out of step with the rest of society to be tolerated. There are grave consequences for the Catholics who refuse to abandon their faith, and they begin to suffer persecution, which intensifies through the events in the book.

Church buildings are not razed; rather, the Christian symbols are removed and the churches are re-styled as houses of worship for the New Religion. (Not unlike the idea discussed here).

Laypeople, but also many Catholic priests leave the Church under the persecution. Some priests offer to assist as “masters of ceremonies” for the new state-established worship, proposing that they have special knowledge (of liturgy, of use of sacred space, of ceremony and ritual) to help people acclimate. A former priest (Francis), presents himself to a government minister (Oliver Brand) to offer his services:

“But I hope you will allow me to say how much we all appreciate what you have done, Mr. Brand. I do not think it is possible for any, except ourselves, to understand what the loss of worship means to us. It was very strange at first–-”

His voice trembled a little, and he stopped. Oliver felt interested, and checked himself in his movement to rise.

“Yes, Mr. Francis?”

The melancholy brown eyes turned on him full.

“It was an illusion, of course, sir–we know that. But I, at any rate, dare to hope that it was not all wasted–all our aspirations and penitence and praise. We mistook our God, but none the less it reached Him–it found its way to the Spirit of the World. It taught us that the individual was nothing, and that He was all. And now–-”

“Yes, sir,” said the other softly. He was really touched.

The sad brown eyes opened full.

“And now Mr. Felsenburgh is come.” He swallowed in his throat. “Julian Felsenburgh!” There was a world of sudden passion in his gentle voice, and Oliver’s own heart responded.

“I know, sir,” he said; “I know all that you mean.”

“Oh! to have a Saviour at last!” cried Francis. “One that can be seen and handled and praised to His Face! It is like a dream–too good to be true!”

One of the principal characters, Mabel – a young woman married to one of the powerful new ministers of the unified world order – is meant to represent man’s desire for “spirituality.” Based upon her view that the new order and its ideology are goods to be embraced by all in society, she welcomes the nearly-unanimous imposition of “compulsory worship” on citizens:

…although worship was to be offered in every parish church of England on the ensuing first day of October, this was not to be compulsory on all subjects till the New Year; whereas, Germany, who had passed the Bill only a month before, had caused it to come into full force immediately, thus compelling all her Catholic subjects either to leave the country without delay or suffer the penalties. These penalties were not vindictive: on a first offence a week’s detention only was to be given; on the second, one month’s imprisonment; on the third, one year’s; and on the fourth, perpetual imprisonment until the criminal yielded. These were merciful terms, it seemed; for even imprisonment itself meant no more than reasonable confinement and employment on Government works. There were no mediaeval horrors here; and the act of worship demanded was so little, too; it consisted of no more than bodily presence in the church or cathedral on the four new festivals of Maternity, Life, Sustenance and Paternity, celebrated on the first day of each quarter. Sunday worship was to be purely voluntary.

She could not understand how any man could refuse this homage. These four things were facts–they were the manifestations of what she called the Spirit of the World–and if others called that Power God, yet surely these ought to be considered as His functions. Where then was the difficulty? It was not as if Christian worship were not permitted, under the usual regulations. Catholics could still go to mass. And yet appalling things were threatened in Germany: not less than twelve thousand persons had already left for Rome; and it was rumoured that forty thousand would refuse this simple act of homage a few days hence. It bewildered and angered her to think of it.

For herself the new worship was a crowning sign of the triumph of Humanity. Her heart had yearned for some such thing as this–some public corporate profession of what all now believed. She had so resented the dulness of folk who were content with action and never considered its springs. Surely this instinct within her was a true one; she desired to stand with her fellows in some solemn place, consecrated not by priests but by the will of man; to have as her inspirers sweet singing and the peal of organs; to utter her sorrow with thousands beside her at her own feebleness of immolation before the Spirit of all; to sing aloud her praise of the glory of life, and to offer by sacrifice and incense an emblematic homage to That from which she drew her being, and to whom one day she must render it again. Ah! these Christians had understood human nature, she had told herself a hundred times: it was true that they had degraded it, darkened light, poisoned thought, misinterpreted instinct; but they had understood that man must worship –must worship or sink.

The book’s been haunting me, forcing me to ponder whether Benson could actually be correct in his vision of the future. So many things in the book ring true and can be connected with things that are happening right now.

Then, I recently read an article about the most recent gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (the erstwhile “Nuns on the Bus” group), where the keynote speaker Sister Ilia Delio, director of Catholic studies and visiting professor at Georgetown University, delivered an address entitled, “Religious Life on the Edge of the Universe”.

In her address, Sister Delio stated, “If we are to rethink in terms of religion, we have to think in terms of cosmology.” “We have to understand the order of the whole,” adding, “There is no cosmos without God, and no God without cosmos.” “Literally, we are stardust.” She also said, “We are on the cusp of an evolutionary breakthrough – one that requires our conscious participation as co-creative agents of love, midwives of the new creation.” “God is within and up ahead – not above. God is the power of the future. To rest on God is to rest on the future.” “This universe will have its future based on our decisions. When the level of our awareness changes, we start attracting a new reality. Our challenge this day is to begin to name that new reality.”

Finally: “Nothing is more awesome than to give birth to God.” Unless Sister Delio is referring to one person in particular, she is much like the priesthood that departs from the Church in Lord of the World to escape persecution and embrace the New Religion.

We are not God. Only God is God.

“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

“No other gods” includes ourselves, no matter what “evolutionary breakthrough” allows us to midwife ourselves into the new creation and become more cosmo-divine than before.

Sister is correct about one thing: our future will be based on our decisions. Is it a “new reality”? Not quite. As Goethe says, “Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago.” The “new reality” that we “attract” is heaven. Or hell. But rather than worshipping Humanity, I prefer to worship the One who actually decides where we go…..

[Note: Please continue to vote so that I can go to Beer Camp!]

Need to Pray About Something that’s Important?

Try a Novena, or prayer for nine days. You can turn any prayer into a Novena simply by praying it for nine days. There are some favorites, like the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which we started last night with some friends for a particular intention that we share. Perhaps if you start a novena, you would include our intention?

I Believe in One God

This is Part 1 of my personal conversion story.

I have never been an atheist. Have I ever doubted God? Yes. We all have. But on the other hand, God first revealed Himself to me when I was very young, because I really needed Him.

When I was a little boy, my mother was a practicing Christian Scientist. She took me and my sisters to Sunday School at the Christian Science Church.

My great-grandmother — who was nearly a 100 when she passed away — was a Christian Science practitioner (a faith-healer of sorts), whose prayer was capable of bringing about miraculous healings. If someone in my mom’s family was sick, they called my great-grandmother.

My mom didn’t take us to the doctor. My dad forced my mom take my sisters and me to the county health clinic for vaccinations. The rest of the time, if one of us was sick, my mom prayed for us and called the practitioner. Thankfully, we were healthy kids.

My father was an agnostic alcoholic who had no use for organized religion. He disliked my mother’s piety and devotion to Christian Science, especially because Christian Scientists aren’t supposed to drink alcohol or smoke. To him, religion was something to be argued, not something to be practiced.

My father’s arguments against religion were not purely a means to satisfy some vindictive aspect of his nature relative to my mother. Perhaps he sought company in his unexplained despair, and so I began to understand that he wanted me to agree with him.

I was the audience, more than anyone else. I was meant to be formed in my father’s unhappy worldview, where booze and sex and loud music were seen as the cure, but in reality were only topical antiseptics to a heart pickling in its own rot.

My father’s instability and the effects of his alcoholism created a type of dysfunction, and I — as the oldest child — was vulnerable. I felt responsible to everyone — my father, my mother, and my sisters. And, while I felt responsible, I was also powerless.

I couldn’t prevent the verbal abuse and disrespect shown by my father to my mother. I was powerless to stand up to my father about his constant harassment of my mother and her faith. I wasn’t even capable of ensuring my own safety or the safety of my sisters, when many times we were placed in vehicles with an intoxicated driver at the wheel, or made captive to other unsafe situations.

Between Mom and Dad, my stoic and patient, kind and gentle mother represented the only version of personal peace in our home. The whole family was immersed in a pattern of chaos which was secondary to my dad’s alcoholism. We were all alert to the many pitfalls and dangers that the next hour and the next drink might present to us. And yet my mother was unflappable, at least on the surface. Her calm to weather the storm was the only thing that kept us afloat.

On quiet afternoons, I sat at her feet while she studied her KJV Bible and Science and Health with Key to Scriptures. In those moments, when all was peaceful and Dad was out of the house, I recall a sense that a spiritual dimension was alive and open, and that all that stood between us and being totally engulfed in the relieving arms of God were our own fear and hesitation at being drawn in so far that we could no longer pretend that we weren’t there. Since there would be consequences to doing that, the calm was always only temporary, just brief respite from future madness.

I had nightmares. Most of my dreams dealt with an imposing male presence. Hidden, shrouded. Not chasing, but following. Walking behind. I could walk, but not run. It should not catch me, but I would not escape.

If the walking stopped, that meant the presence was close, imminent. Bringing silence. Like my soul was drawing to a black hole whose void could swallow my whole existence.

In one dream, I was walking on a footpath surrounding a house beside a retaining wall of stone. Extending outward from the house beyond the retaining wall was a lovely lawn with a grove of redwoods nearby. There were iridescent-winged insects sweetly singing, and sweeping through the bright light filtered overhead, which dappled the stones along the path. Mossy rocks and trickling waters supplied unnatural calm to the space.

I turned my gaze toward the house. The bay windows of the house were open to the receive the light from outside but the rooms were dim and unoccupied. It looked cold and lonely inside. The outside was as alive as the house within was dead.

Beneath the shadow of the eaves, between a great window and side door, stood my father, against the wall of the house facing outward, standing at attention like an undead beefeater. He was taller than usual, clad in black, his eyes grey and lifeless and his skin green and pallid. He took no notice of me, and yet I appreciated malice. I was not welcome. I should not wish to explore his heart.

At Sunday School, a teacher taught us a simple rhyme: “There is no spot where God is not.” This truth, this one solitary thing about God, this reality that He existed, He was everywhere — even in my nightmares — was the thing that began the journey of the soul of this little boy to Our Lord.

“There is no spot where God is not,” rang in my heart like the clarion call of an angelic host. It cleared the fog that framed my fear. I could whisper or shout in my dreams, I could think the words, and they always broke every power seeking me. God filled me with a comfort that I could not explain and did not know in any other aspect of my life.

God alone delivered me — from my dysfunction, from my fear, and from my father. God was my Father. I could face my dreams, and my life. God became the One who accompanied me, the One who delivered me from evil (and was never the source of it). The One who could save me from ruin.

I have experienced enough judgment and pain in my own life, but I have never known a God who judges more than He loves. “God is Love” was printed on the back wall of the main hall of the Christian Science church we attended. There wasn’t much else I understood about God for many years, until I came to the Man who is God upon the Cross.

For a four or five-year-old boy, “God is Love” and “There is no spot where God is not” is profound theology. In fact, it worked a miracle. It saved me. God followed me even into my dreams, and He drew me away from myself, over and over again.

Thank you, Lord. You are so good.

On RCIA and Confession

This is Part 5 of “My Conversion Story“. This part deals with our experience going through RCIA (spoiler: it isn’t always easy to be Catholic in RCIA!).

Back in 2000, my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil by Cardinal Francis George. You’ll have to take my word that the (fuzzy) picture above is of my wife and Cardinal George.

There are two types of converts to Catholicism: those who have never been baptized (“catechumens”) and those who have been baptized in another Christian tradition (“candidates”). My wife and I were both candidates because we were validly baptized in other Christian churches.

Prior to Vatican II, if a person wanted to convert to Catholicism, the conventional approach was to visit one of the parish priests and go through the process one-on-one.

RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) is a newer innovation that is supposed to mirror the process of conversion in the very first centuries of the Church, when “catechumens” (there were no candidates then, because there was only the Catholic Church!) were formed into a community and taught the faith. Sometimes catechumens would undergo catechesis for years before receiving baptism.

For my wife and me, the road to that Easter Vigil in 2000 wasn’t easy. In fact, it was made more difficult because we had to go through RCIA. It wasn’t because of inadequate resources. Our RCIA program was well-supported by the parish. There was a dedicated team that led the RCIA group, we had a wonderful place to meet after mass, a priest who attended the meetings and led the RCIA team, and a large group of interested candidates and catechumens who regularly attended and participated in the discussions.

The problems began in the introductory sessions when, rather than offering the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a good resource for additional reading, it was urged (frequently!) that candidates purchase a copy of “Catholicism for Dummies”.

The suggestion that the best way for an ordinary Catholic to understand the profound mysteries (not to mention the intellectual beauty) of the Faith was with a book written for “dummies” did not sit well with me. (Note to self: check Amazon for an “Aquinas for Dummies” book).

The problems continued to build over the months, and finally culminated when we candidates approached the upcoming vigil and would receive the sacraments of initiation, because every convert to Catholicism needs good instruction on Confession. Converts to Catholicism, who have never been to confession and have only seen it on television and in movies (and have lots of ideas but little understanding about it) need special care and support in this area.

Confession isn’t easy. It is beautiful. It is a gift. It is a sign of God’s great and true love and mercy for us. But in fact, it’s really, really, hard to go the first time, especially for people whose first experience with it occurs after decades of living their life. A young Catholic being properly formed in the faith starts going to confession just before their first communion, when they’re seven or eight years old! Imagine the fear and anxiety of confessing ALL of your sins (for the first time), from the age of reason all the way up to present adulthood!

The way our RCIA program acknowledged this issue was seriously bad. I mean, bad.

Father, one of the associate pastors at the parish who led the RCIA team, told us that it might be nice for candidates to go to confession before being received into the Church, but that it wasn’t necessary since almost no one was guilty of committing mortal sin, which is the only reason you need to go to confession, and also because it was really only for those who were “already Catholic” and “liked to go”.

Following Father’s talk, I approached him one-on-one to ask him about what he told the group. He insisted that there was no reason for me to go to confession before receiving the Eucharist for the first time.

About eight weeks later, after reflecting on what Father told our group and researching what the Church actually teaches regarding confession for baptized candidates, I wrote Father a letter:

Following our discussion at the RCIA retreat concerning baptized candidates, the sacrament of Reconciliation, and your comments to the RCIA group on Palm Sunday, I want to reopen our discussion — this time in writing, so that my concern may be fully explained. I highly regard you as a person and as a priest, and I hope you will carefully consider the information that follows.

My understanding concerning your position on candidates and Reconciliation is that previously baptized Christians not baptized in the Catholic Church should not receive the sacrament of Reconciliation until they are received into the Catholic Church and take their first Holy Communion. I assume this is your position regardless of whether one has committed grave or mortal sin.

During our conversation at the RCIA retreat, I allowed the topic to needlessly gravitate toward the question of defining mortal sin. This was an error on my part; the question of sin is one for each person making his or her own examination of conscience. The question here does not pertain to defining types of sin or sin itself. The question is whether baptized candidates should be instructed that they must be in a state of grace before receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and first Holy Communion.

At the very least, all baptized candidates should be informed that the sacrament of Penance is available to them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1310, states, “To receive Confirmation one must be in a state of grace. One should receive the sacrament of Penance in order to be cleansed for the gift of the Holy Spirit…” (See also paragraph 1319). Despite its seemingly clear language, this passage alone does not refute your contention that Confession is open only to Catholics.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops addresses this ambiguity, however, and makes it clear that all candidates should be in a state of grace. The National Statutes for the Catechumenate #36 (Nov. 11, 1986), states, “The celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation with candidates for reception into full communion is to be carried out at a time prior to and distinct from the celebration of the rite of reception. As part of the formation of such candidates, they should be encouraged in the frequent celebration of this sacrament.”

Accordingly, there is no distinction between candidates baptized in the Catholic Church and in other denominations. In his article, “How to Become a Catholic,” (published in The Rock, September 1995), apologist James Akin cites the U.S. Conference of Bishops, stating that “Christians coming into the Church should receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before their reception into the Church (there is no established point for when they should do this) to ensure that they are in a state of grace when they are received and confirmed” (emphasis mine).

Finally, the text of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, under the section entitled Preparation of Uncatechized Adults for Confirmation and Eucharist, says this: “The following pastoral guidelines concern adults who were baptized as infants either as Roman Catholics or as members of another Christian community but did not receive further catechetical formation nor, consequently, the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. (Sec. 400, p. 241)… During the Lenten season penitential services [the scrutinies] should be arranged in such a way as to prepare these adults for the celebration of the sacrament of Penance” (Sec. 408, p. 242).

I believe that the sources I have cited constitute an adequate, if not considerable framework on this issue. I do not count myself any more or less sinful than any other person; I only know that I needed absolution so that I could be prepared to receive the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church at the age of 13. As a teenager and young adult, I sinned. Some of the sins I committed were mortal. Despite my sinfulness, I sought out the Catholic Church, recognizing the Church as a gift of Christ’s loving mercy, and I joined RCIA. I took seriously St. Paul’s warning that we must receive Jesus “worthily” (1 Cor 11:27-29); for me, this meant that thesacrament of Reconciliation before Confirmation and Eucharist was not optional, but compulsory. If we are not all sinners, why do we need the Church (why do we need Jesus)?

This issue is very important because each sacrament of the Church is an encounter with our Lord Jesus, including the sacrament of Reconciliation. The cleansing and healing mercy of God experienced in Reconciliation prepares the candidate, as nothing else can, to receive the Holy Spirit in Confirmation and the Body and Blood of Jesus in Eucharist. As His faithful, we have an obligation to approach Him in a state of grace. Likewise, all candidates, as “The Elect” and enrolled into a special order of the Church as such, should be given the opportunity to also receive their first sacraments in a state of grace. It is my hopeful prayer that you will consider this letter in the spirit it was delivered – that is to say in the love of God’s only Son and in the love of fidelity to the teachings of His Church. Moreover, as always, you and everyone in RCIA will remain in my prayers. I humbly hope that you will keep me in yours.

My wife and I went to Confession before the Easter Vigil (thank God).

Father never directly responded to my letter. A few months later, Father was appointed pastor at another parish (a promotion), but not before telling the other members on the RCIA team that I might be a “problem” for other candidates. When we signed up to be sponsors the following year, the RCIA team leader called me and indicated that “Father had some concerns about you returning as a sponsor.” I promised that I would be on my best behavior.

Pray for our priests. We have many, many, good priests, who diligently and earnestly teach and preach the faith. I’m not saying that Father wasn’t a good priest. But for whatever reason, his message to our RCIA group was that this sacrament of the Church would not assist in the spiritual formation of most people. That’s a shame, because Father should have been speaking with joy about the immense value of confession for anyone who wishes to approach Jesus in a state of grace.

We should never be ashamed to be Catholic. There are seven sacraments of the Church. Jesus gave them to us. They are offered to us by His Bride, the Church. Graces are poured out through them. We need them.

Help Me in the Cause of Catholic Hospitality

Beer and Food keep flowing out of the house! Help me improve my “craft” by sending me to Sierra Nevada Beer Camp! Please, go and vote for me! Don’t forget that you can vote once a day until September 30! Thank you!

Note: the pickles I made a few weeks ago are (were) great! Super easy and delicious.