Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas is almost here. Are you prepared?

A week from today, Christmas Day will be here. Are we ready? I've always felt that all of the shopping and other things that people do can become a metaphor for being prepared for Jesus. Are we prepared for Him as we meet Him in the Sacrament of Penance? Are we prepared for Him as we meet Him in the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist? Are we prepared for Him if He were to call us to Himself at an hour we do not expect? Are we prepared for our personal judgment? Are we prepared for His Second Coming?

None of this is meant to create anxiety. If we are prepared, like so many prepare themselves well in advance to Christmas for all the things they must do, we have nothing to worry. We should never despair of our salvation. By the same token, like those who wait to the last minute to do their Christmas shopping and thus get harried and bent out of shape, so too those who postpone their preparations for Christ. This can cause anxiety to run a muck or it could indicate the presumption of salvation which like the despair of salvation is not the best course to take.

Last night we had our Advent Penance Service. There was a good attendance and the five of us priests stayed busy until about 9:00 PM. There was a good mix of people there too including a good number of children brought there by their parents. It is wonderful seeing parents training their children in the ways of faith by bringing their children to confession. These people are ready for Christmas!

I've always had a hard time believing that Christ would condemn to hell someone who committed what we would call a "mortal" sin and then died before they had a chance to go to confession. In the old days, the sisters would have taught us that we would go directly to hell. However, it seems to me that if a Catholic goes to confession regularly, at least once every month or two, that this implies a "confession of desire" on the part of the penitent. If in a moment of weakness or because of a general human weakness, the penitent committed a mortal sin and then died prior to confession, it seems to me that the principle of "confession of desire" would kick in and the Lord would know that the penitent intended to go to confession shortly after the sin was committed. Would not the Lord then apply the gift of forgiveness in view of the penitent's practice of confession?

I'm not condoning committing mortal sin under the presumption that it will be forgiven prior to going to Confession in the case of immediate death, but I do think it is something that could help the practicing Catholic to feel a bit more secure in his or her salvation and not despair of it. Your thoughts?


Dan said...

In a culture where the sense of sin seems to have all but evaporated, I sometimes wonder if ANYBODY besides those who go to the Sacrament of Penance regularly can be held fully accountable for their sins.

I often receive this sacrament, and it seems as though the words of Luke 12:48 "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more...." applies to my/our response to our conscience.

Jon said...

This reminds me of a question that came up in the seminary: If a man were on a desert isle and had committed a mortal sin, how would he be saved without confession? The good father giving the class said, basically, that he could only say the best Act of Contrition he could and commend himself to God's mercy--that's all he could do. I think the holy fear inspired by the nuns was a good thing--if, after committing a mortal sin, I thought, Well, I'm a regular confessor. I'll say my act of contrition now but get to confession at my regular time and be ok I would think I would be on the path to presumption if not already there. Yes, I believe the grace of God can save a person who commits a mortal sin and hasn't had a chance to confess yet--after all, He is God and doesn't think the way we do: He can forgive when we would think it unmerited. In Hosea 11, God is justified in destroying Israel, but He says instead,

How shall I deal with thee, O Ephraim? Shall I protect thee, O Israel? ... My heart is turned within me, my repentance is stirred up. I will not execute the fierceness of my wrath: I will not return to destroy Ephraim: because I am God, and not man: the holy one in the midst of thee[.]

Because He is God, He can dispense the grace of the Cross as He sees fit. But I think we think too little of sin, like Dan said, in our age. And it reminds me of this story from the Wisdom of the Desert Fathers:

In a monastery there were two remarkable brothers who soon merited to see the grace of God descend upon each other. Now one day it happened that one of them went out of the monastery on a Friday and saw someone who was eating in the morning, and he said to him, ‘Why are you eating at this hour on a Friday?’ Later there was the synaxis [assembly] as usual. Now his brother saw that grace had withdrawn from him, and he was grieved. When they had returned to the cell he said to him, ‘My brother, what have you done? Indeed, I do not see the grace of God upon you as it used to be.’ The other answered him, ‘I am not aware of having done anything wrong, either in act or in thought.’ His brother said to him, ‘Have you spoken any words?’ Then he remembered and said, ‘Yesterday I saw someone who was eating outside the monastery early in the day, and I said to him, ‘Why are you eating at this hour on a Friday?’ This is my sin. But labor with me for two weeks, praying God to forgive me.’ They did this, and at the end of two weeks one brother saw the grace of God come upon the other and they were comforted and gave thanks to God.

I think this remarkable because it highlights how grievous even the smallest sins can be in the eyes of God, and how much "labor" and praying--two weeks!--seems to have been done so that the grace of God was restored to this monk. It makes one tremble to contemplate how often we take the Sacrament of Confession for granted, and how prayer and penance we'd have to do without it, to achieve even the tiniest measure of the grace supplied there.