Papal Encyclical LAUDATO SI (Part II)

As mentioned in the last posting, this posting appeared in the Pastor’s column of the parish bulletin at Assumption Parish in Chicago. This is work of Father Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M. I hope that this helps the reader understand Pope Francis’ Encyclical.
Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

PRAISED BE TO YOU (PART 2)
In last week’s column I talked in general about the new encyclical from Pope Francis, Laudato Si (Praise Be To You). I discussed what an encyclical is and why the Pope was “taking sides” in the climate change debate. I promised to follow that up this week, with a look at some of the highlights in this more than 100 page document.
Some have found the Pope’s remarks on the environment too extreme (“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”) and his analysis of capitalism too harsh (“market forces . . . see nature as a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation”). But in his encyclical the Pope is asking us to see the effect of environmental damage from the perspective of the poor—who are most affected when natural resources are extracted from the land to feed the market for consumer goods and who have the fewest options when violent and extreme weather caused by climate change rolls across the land. When we travel to third world countries most of us only see the parts of these countries that their governments and the tour companies want us to see. But the Pope knows first-hand through his own travels and his own ministry among the poor in South America about the destruction of rain forests, the “desertification” of peasant farm lands, and the poisoning of drinking water from industrial production.
The Pope is speaking out so strongly because he sees the environmental crisis as essentially a spiritual crisis (“an economic sin”), which manifests itself in at least three ways. First, our unbridled appetite for material goods contradicts an essential tenet of our faith that true and lasting happiness is in God and not in the things of this world (“The mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart”). Second, protecting our environment must be seen as an essential component in our care for the poor and the marginalized (He says we cannot claim to respect nature while supporting abortion or be pro-life without a commitment to reverse the damage to the environment; likewise we cannot oppose the trafficking of endangered species while remaining indifferent to human trafficking). Third, our indifference to the state of the environment is a betrayal of our most basic responsibility given to the human race in Genesis (human beings “endowed with intelligence must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibrium existing between the creatures of this world . . . All living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes . . . . Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”).
In the end, the Pope is warning us that the cavalier way that our present economic-political system treats earth “our common home” is unsustainable. Today it is the world’s poor who are most affected; tomorrow it will be us. He then proposes very concrete actions, some of which we can take as individuals and some require systemic change. We can practice environmental responsibility by “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can be reasonably consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transportation or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights . . .” He suggests that even saying grace before meals can be a wonderful reminder that all that we have is truly a gift. At the national and international level, the Pope calls for policies reducing “carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases . . . and developing sources of renewable energy.” He also challenges the nations of the world to place the common global good ahead of their national interests in negotiating treaties on the environment, recognizing that some nations can do more to mitigate a future environmental catastrophe than others.
There is much more that the Pope has to say about the state of the world in this encyclical, which was released on June 18. However, my impression is that his words, after creating an initial splash, are already in the process of being ignored and forgotten. Perhaps the message seems too much like the same old stuff. I was in high school when the “environmental movement” began to solidify in the late 1960’s and I remember the immense activism of that first Earth Day in 1970. Since then I think most of us have simply grown used to dire warnings about the environment. After all the years of hand-wringing, it is hard to believe that we might actually be heading down a path of destruction from which we cannot return. Essentially the Pope is asking us to see that caring for the environment is just as essential to practicing our faith as obeying the commandments and being charitable. Maybe if we told ourselves that every day for a month we might begin to believe it.
Fr. Joe

Papal Encyclical LAUDATO SI

Father Joe Chamblain, O.S.M., pastor of Servite Assumption Church on Illinois Street in Chicago has written two articles for his bulletin. One on the place of Encyclicals in the teaching role in the Church. The second one reflects on the contents of the Encyclical. I believe these articles are well thought out so I asked Father Joe if I could publish them on our blog. The first article follows. This is not my writing but that of Father Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M.

Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

BLESSED ARE YOU
After months of speculation, intrigue, and anticipatory criticism, Pope Francis issued his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si (or Blessed Are You) this past Thursday June 18. The entire document runs more than 100 pages and addresses lots of topics beyond the controversial discussion on climate change. I will try to cover some of the highlights in next week’s column. In order to properly understand what the Pope is saying, though, it is important to understand what an encyclical is and why a Pope thinks it appropriate to teach us about science.
In discussions about the Catholic Church people often use the phrase “the Pope said,” as if everything that comes from Rome is equally important and demands the same level of attention. That is not how they think in Rome. The highest level of Papal teaching is the “infallible statement” or definitive pronouncement on some matter of faith and morals. This level of Papal authority has only been employed a few times in all of history. The next level under infallible statement is the encyclical, which is “a pastoral letter written by the Pope and sent to the whole church and even to the whole world, to express church teaching on some important matter related to faith and morals for which, we, the faithful, are bound to adhere.” It differs from an infallible statement in that it is not necessarily intended to be the final word on that subject. For example, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption into heaven at the end of her earthly life is a definitive statement that precludes new developments and further discussion. Many Papal encyclicals, on the other hand, attempt to apply Biblical truth and Church Tradition to an ever changing landscape. For example, Popes began speaking out on the rights of labor and human rights in general in the late nineteenth century. Throughout the twentieth century Popes have written other encyclicals on labor and human rights because new challenges to human rights have appeared.
Below the level of encyclicals in magisterial importance are Apostolic Exhortations (a Papal reflection that does not contain new teachings or policy directives) and Apostolic Letters (a Papal teaching that seeks to apply an existing doctrine to a particular situation or region). Other declarations, decrees, and instructions also come from Rome, but are issued by various commissions or departments (called Congregations) within the Vatican and are not necessarily initiated by the Pope. Thus, we can see that as an encyclical, Blessed Are You is a teaching to which all Catholics are expected to adhere, but it does not necessarily represent the final word on climate change or the environment. Right now the Pope believes that climate change threatens life on this planet, and that climate change adversely affects the poor the most. He sees climate change not just as a scientific problem but as a moral issue: how we care for the environment is directly linked to how we care for the human person.
A big question that has been raised about this encyclical is why the Pope is taking the side of those who believe that human beings are causing climate change when some scientists claim there is no such thing as climate change and others agree that there is such a thing as climate change but that human beings have played no role in it. Here’s the thing about science. Non-believers often make the point that science is based on facts and religion is based on stories and legends. While it is true that science is based on data that has been carefully measured and recorded, that data still has to be interpreted. Hence, two scientists can look at the same information and draw two different conclusions. Sometimes scientific studies are conducted by industry groups or other special interest groups that have a vested interest in a certain outcome and that internal bias can influence the interpretation of data. And, of course, some people are just plain stubborn. I have mentioned my relatives the Collinses who refused to accept the American Revolution and still considered themselves British subject as late as 1940.
In his encyclical the Pope has joined the vast majority of scientists who believe that human beings have contributed to climate change; but we may never reach the day in which every scientist will agree with that position. In fact, those who disagree with the majority opinion play an important role, because they keep the discussion honest. They force us to keep looking at new data that may come in and not just decide that the matter is settled. Right now, though, the Pope is asking all the people of the world to take better care of the one habitat that we have. If we get this wrong we may not have the benefit of a second Noah.
Fr. Joe

Happy Birthday, America!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA!!!

Things to be thankful for:
– I am thankful for the teenager who is not doing dishes but is watching TV because that means he is at home and not on the streets.
– For the taxes that I pay, because it means that I am employed.
– For the mess to clean after a party because it means that friends have surrounded me.
– For the clothing that fits too snug, because it means I have enough to eat.
– For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home.
– For all the complaining I hear about the government, because it means that we have freedom of speech.
– For the parking spot I find at the far end of the lot, because it means I am capable of walking and been blessed with transportation.
– For the huge heating and air conditioning bills because it means I am comfortable.
– For the person behind me in church who sings off key, because it means I can hear.
– For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means that I am alive.
– I am thankful for crying babies because they remind me that young people believe in the future of this country and that tomorrow has promise.
These thoughts might seem frivolous and too light hearted, but hidden in their humorous expression, is some serious thought—we are a nation mightily blessed.

Perhaps another way of looking at it is to capture the thoughts of our founders—

We the People of The United States
in order to form a more perfect union,
establish justice,
insure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare,
and secure the blessings of liberty
to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this
Constitution of the United States of America.

Two messages: one light, one serious, both worthy of thought. Come to church on July Fourth or Sunday, the Fifth, and thank God for the blessings we enjoy as a nation and individually.

Yes indeed, Happy 239th Birthday America!

Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day! Or is it? I ask this question only because I hear so much about the drastic changes taking place in family structures today. No one is immune to these happenings. Yet, today is set aside to remember and emphasize the best meaning of the word “father”. Looking back and reflecting on my own father, I must admit mostly “father knew best”, especially when I didn’t agree. And disagree we did. Does that mean this was an idyllic, perfect relationship? No. But I owe a lot of who I am to him. He taught me self-discipline, the value of hard work, and a sense of responsibility. He held me accountable for what I did and for what I didn’t do. He was publicly loyal and protective, but privately, blunt and corrective. Not all my memories are fond, but I knew he loved me and that I was important to him, though he was awkward in expressing this.  He told me as I was leaving to join the Servites that I wouldn’t last there and would be home in thirty days. That was 1956 and I wonder sometimes if I stayed to spite him. It might have motivated me in the early months of being away from home, but it would never have lasted this long. He wanted me to succeed and I knew this, though he died before I was ordained. I had a child-father relationship with him. I was never his buddy and never called him by his first name. Years later my mother remarried. Yes, I married my mother; that is, I witnessed her marriage to my stepfather. He was a very different man than my father. He was a widower with no children and became an instantaneous grandfather and loved it. He was no where as intense as my father, nor was he as talented. He was wonderful to my mother. My father was an emigrant from Ireland. My stepfather was the son of Polish immigrants that spoke limited English. He introduced us to new ideas about food and fun. He quickly captured the hearts of my family, like we always knew him. Wherever he was, there was laughter. I never called him “dad”, but always used his first name, George. We had a good relationship, a strong adult friendship. Both these men have given me much, yet they were fathers in very different ways at very different times in my life. I love them both and am grateful for what each has given me. I recognize how good each man was in his own way. I pray for them constantly. But remembering them makes me happy and it is in this sense that I say Happy Father’s Day.

Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

 

The Servites’ Marian Inspiration

 

I first learned about the Blessed Virgin Mary from my mother.  Some of my earliest memories are of my mom sitting at the kitchen table, early in the morning, with her rosary in hand.  One particular memory taught me about the importance of having a devotion to the Mother of God.

Roma_Madonna_del_Pozzo_-_pittore_romano_XIII_secOne day, when I was about 11 years old, I found myself awake for school earlier than usual.  As I walked toward the kitchen of my family’s home, I heard my mother talking.  When I quietly entered the kitchen, I found my mother alone, talking to herself. Somewhat concerned about my dear mother’s mental stability, I looked closer and saw my mother’s rosary beads in her hand and realized that she was praying.  I did not say anything and went back to my room.  Many, many years later, I asked my Mom about what I saw that day.  She told me that a mother’s heart is always filled with profound love and concern for her children that she always thinks of them, is concerned about them and prays for them always.  She told me that as she made Dad’s lunch and the lunches of my siblings and me each day, she prayed her rosary, asking the Lord to bless our day and us.  In her devotion to the rosary and the Blessed Mother, mom found a mentor and friend who knew what it was like to be a mother.  In Our Lady’s joys, sorrows, and faith, my mom’s faith was strong for all of us.  What I learned from my mom was that devotion to Our Lady was a way of finding faith throughout life’s experiences, just as Mary did.  My devotion to Mary, learned from my mom, was what led me to join the Friar Servants of Mary.

For this Servite, and for all Servites, our devotion to Mary, the Mother of God is personal.  She is our Mother who watched over us on the way of life.  She is our intercessor as she lays our prayers and needs before the throne of grace.  She is our teacher inspiring us to become more perfect disciples of the Lord Jesus as she was.  The classroom for these lessons is our life and ministry in which we strive to bring Christ to others as she so faithfully did.  As the Church teaches that Mary is our sister in faith, sitting in the midst of the Church, so we Servites see Mary as our sister in faith, sitting in the middle of the choir, praying with us that all may know Christ and Him crucified.  She sits in the middle of the chapter reminding us of our vowed commitment to serve God in others, urgently calling all to salvation in Jesus.  She sits in the middle of our community room reminding us to see in the faith of fellow friars the presence of Jesus whose strength and love is found in the brothers of our community.  In the middle of our chapel Our Lady prays for and with us that in our faith we will find the hope to love God deeper.

As each day unfolds, we Servites offer a number of prayerful reverences to Our Lady.  In every encounter we have with Mary each friar is reminded that the focus over our lives and work is give glory to God and help others find hope in the Lord as well.  In Our Lady’s joys, sorrows, and faith, our faith grows stronger.  Our Lady’s life experience challenges us to find God in all moments that we may have hope to minister well.  We friars witness the movement of God and our devotion to Mary helps us in this.  In Mary’s life and faith we Servites have the mentor and friend who inspires us to participate in God’s work with hope, steadfastness and joyful purpose.

After 33 years of being a part of the Servite Community my devotion to Mary has changed a bit, but what has remained constant is the fact that in Mary I have found a queen, a mother, a mentor, a sister and a friend whose yes to God’s will continues to strengthen me in my task of being a better disciple of Jesus.  In Mary’s yes, I find the challenge as a friar to say yes to God and “do whatever He tells” me.  Devotion to Mary doesn’t get any more personal than this.

Fr. Donald Siple, O.S.M.

 

Mother’s Day

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day. I want to share what might be labeled a modern parable of a mother’s wise teaching. I hope you enjoy it.

You will never look at a cup of coffee the same way again…A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that as one problem was solved a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out of the water and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled some of the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed that the egg was boiled hard and wouldn’t break. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich flavor and sensed the aroma. The daughter then asked. “What does it mean, mother?” Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity—boiling water—but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water. “Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?” Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a soft and fragile interior, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart? Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean? Thank God for wise mothers!

My mother is dead and I miss her, particularly around Mother’s Day. When she died I was stationed with the Air Force in Holland. Before I left for Holland, she made me promise to come home for her funeral and I did, not realizing at the time how prophetic her demand would be. I pass on to you one of her many wise statements: “just remember, I am always your mother and you are always my child.” I do remember.
Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

Priesthood

I was ordained on Easter Monday, 19 April 1965 in the Church of San Marcello along the Via del Corso in Rome Italy about a block off the well known Piazza Venezia. The day was a very pleasant weather wise but also an awesome day culminating years of preparation. My mother, sister and cousins came from the United States and military postings in Germany. I hadn’t seen my mother in four years. She awe struck with historical monuments around every corner. Then a friend arranged an audience with Pope Paul VI. I have a picture of the event. My mother’s eyes are popping out of her head. I have classmates in England, Ireland, Canada, and Portland Oregon and also with God in eternal rest.

Anniversaries are time points that invite us to pause and look back and to also look ahead. I think that it is time well spent if we discover how much has happened over those years. In my owe case, I am very aware of how different my life as a priest has been over these 50 years than what I would have thought it to have been. It is almost scary. When I was ordained I expected one of two assignments: teach at Saint Philip High School on the West Side of Chicago or serve as an associate pastor in one of the Servite parishes. I ended up teaching at Servite High School Seminary in Hillside and helping out in a variety of parishes for weekday and weekend Masses. Without going into the details of each assignment, I can honestly say that some were complete surprises. Some I accepted gladly, others made me hesitant, and a few I strongly resisted. I tended not to volunteer and the few times that I did volunteer, I wasn’t selected. Sometimes people ask me to name my favorite assignment and I find that a very difficult question. My best answer is the place where I am at the time of the question. I honestly can say that I have had no bad assignments, even the ones I resisted. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching though I am not sure all my students shared my enjoyment. I find the parish probably the most challenging, but also the most fulfilling in those sacred moments when the sacraments bring calm, joy, peace, or healing. My priestly ministry in the military was basically parish ministry with the added dimension of being an officer that involves a lot of administration and also military formalities. The military was very affirming through positive annual written feedback and promotions. A friend of mine called it “external stroking” and I guess he is right, but it also motivated a willingness to work hard to do a good job. I have enjoyed my priesthood. Yet when someone asks me “why did you become a priest?” (A couple preparing for marriage asked that question in the last month.) I don’t know the answer. I can explain it anecdotally with little stories, some funny and others not so funny, but I cannot say this is why I became a priest. I can’t speak for the other priests celebrating anniversaries, but I suspect that there is mystery in every vocational decision and I like to see this as the hand of God. When I look ahead that mysterious hand of God reminds me to be open to the unexpected. We find scriptures that refer to the idea of the shepherd, which is an image associated with vocation—the feeding and tending command given in the Gospel. Is there anyone out there that wrestles with the idea that the mysterious hand of God might be pushing them towards the priesthood or religious life? The fact is that today more seminarians and people in religious formation programs are older than people imagine. Many have had successful careers, including physicians, lawyers, bankers, military officers, just to mention a few. I’ve encountered priests who were ordained at sixty or older and ministered for fifteen years and longer. Father Brown, with whom I live, is over ninety and is still active in ministry.  Each priest has a unique experience of his personal vocation, but all share many common experiences. The shepherd’s ministry is the journey that searches for the sometimes elusive life-giving water. Is God somehow calling you to that ministry? Think about it!

Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

Happy Easter!

Tomb

Happy Easter! This greeting is easily shared this weekend, but I wonder does it mean the same thing to each of us. Even the word “Easter” has roots that could be traced to pagan custom. In the west there seems to be two concepts that are used to name the celebration the Lord’s resurrection. Probably the first name was “Pascha” from the Hebrew “Pesach” or Passover. The Teutonic based languages, however, derive the name from a spring time festival named after the goddess of spring, “Eastre,” which celebrated the triumph of life over death, the winter darkness gave way to the spring light and the sun reappeared. It was very easy for the people to make the connection between their spring festival and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection because whether their route to Christ was “Pesach” or “Eastre” it celebrated new hope in their life. But what about today? A recent theological writer remarked that the time is coming when one will be either a mystic or a nonbeliever. This is based on the fast paced cultural changes that surround us. There is a continued lip service to Judeo-Christian culture and values, but in reality there doesn’t seem to be a single dominate cultural value system, but rather a constant shifting between agnostic, pluralistic, secular, anything goes reasoning systems that challenge the very meaning of Easter. Look at the advertising. Did you know that the very essence of Easter is a honey-baked ham? Those Teutonic people are the cause of this. They brought eggs, and hams and cheese to church for blessing before breaking the long, harsh Lenten fast in the feasting that celebrated Easter. The ham contributed to the celebration—it was their fatted calf—a pig raised for this celebration, but NOT the essence of Easter. Do we really know what we celebrate this Easter? Do we believe that the darkness of our personal winter has given way to the spring light and Son of God has reappeared? Do we see in the Easter Eggs a promise of hope because the egg is the source of new life? The hare (which becomes the American Easter Bunny) was part of the ancient Egyptians spring festival and a sign of fertility or gracious blessings. Do children understand that their Easter Basket is a symbol of abundant blessings, a sign of hope, of caring and nurturing—or does it mean anything to them, beyond the candy? Our Christian, Catholic culture survives when these teachable moments are used to pass on yesterday’s values to tomorrow’s church, to tomorrow’s believers, to tomorrow’s decision makers. With these thoughts in mind, I again say to you “Happy Easter!”

Fr. Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

New Parables

I rediscovered a book hidden on my bookshelf behind other books entitled Feet-on-the-Ground-Theology. It is written by Clodovis Boff, a Brazilian Servite, with whom I spent some time at an international conference quite a few years ago. I was impressed at the time I met Clodovis and the book fascinates me. It is Boff’s diary or log of a missionary journey into Amazonas, Brazil. The author captures faith patterns of people very much removed from civilization and who seldom have the ministry of professional clergy. He uses their perception of life to create new parables. He challenges their concept of baptism with a parable based on their experience of preparing the land. Baptizing children and then letting them grow up like pagans is similar to carving out a piece of ground in the jungle and then doing nothing with it so that the vegetation can grow back and reclaim their piece of land for the jungle. This is contrary to their work ethic and value system. The land is so valuable and visible; it is cared for with diligence and dedication. Religious faith, which people claim to be valuable, but not visibly so, is easily neglected. This is precisely the reason why pastors ask for a commitment from parents to provide religious education to children whom they want to be baptized. Baptism is a commitment to clear out the pagan jungle that surrounds the life of the believer. Religious education is not only the clearing process, but it is also the tilling, the weeding, nurturing of that precious piece of ground claimed from a surrounding world of pagan values. Clearing the land and caring for it becomes easier when it is done together in a community effort. Church is the community effort of keeping precious faith alive despite the creeping weeds of temptation. This is a parable. Jesus taught in parables because parables speak more directly to life than do theological concepts. It’s Boff’s parables that make the book so fascinating—and equally applicable in the Amazon jungle or the urban jungle.

Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.

An Encounter with Reconciliation

There is a lingering question that just won’t go away—what do we do with hidden and closed doors? My mind keeps going back to this question. I keep thinking of a door that is painted shut. It is not impossible to open the door, but it is next to impossible to open it without leaving some damage and scars. Perhaps this is why so often doors closed on anger, bitterness, and resentment are never opened.

The movie, The Straight Story, is really a story of reconciliation. Lent is also an encounter with reconciliation. Maybe each of us needs an encounter with reconciliation. A door limits access. That’s what a door is designed to do. When we seal the door of the heart, we lock in the past, but we also lock out the future. If the locked-in past is harmful memories of bitterness, anger, resentment, blame, then the locked-in past becomes a festering puss pot that needs release before it infects our personality, our whole being, our very existence. The journey of Lent toward reconciliation is designed to unlock the door and gently nudge it open so that the scarring is minimal. It is not painless because it requires moving from a position of pride to an experience of humility. In this sense it is almost counter-cultural. Bitterness, anger, resentment, blame tell the heart that it needs to forgive. Experiences of shame and embarrassment, usually locked out, tell the heart that it needs to seek forgiveness. The stronger these feelings, the more urgent the need. Sealing the door and doing nothing produces a lingering sense of guilt. There is also a difference between saying “I’m sorry” and “will you forgive me.” “I’m sorry” is a unilateral declaration and doesn’t really need a response, though often there is one. It might be a beginning gesture. Asking, “will you forgive me” needs a response and leaves the petitioner vulnerable while awaiting the response. It is the risk of vulnerability that takes reconciliation so much deeper. It is also uncomfortable.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an experience in which we ask forgiveness of God. It is the naming of personal failures in our relationship with God. This can be uncomfortable. The words of forgiveness, however, are a source of reassurance and often of great relief and joy. Why not unlock the door that has sealed past anger, bitterness, resentments as part of your Lent? Overcome any embarrassment or shame by approaching reconciliation with a sense of humble expectation of loving forgiveness. Open wide the door of your heart to Christ and experience the forgiveness of a gracious, merciful God.

Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.