Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Life Issues

God's blessings to you all!

Last Thursday, my husband and I attended the annual dinner for the local Right to Life group.

We went to this a couple of years ago and had a nice time. We were away last year, but when I heard that Michael Coren was speaking this year, I HAD to go!

Michael Coren is a journalist who is a syndicated writer for some Canadian newspapers. He is also and author, and a recent convert to the Catholic Church.

He did not disappoint! He is an entertaining speaker, and definitely lets us all know how he feels on the issues he addresses.

In the case of this dinner, the issues were Life issues...abortion, and euthanasia in particular.

I cannot speak for the denominations present, but I would like to address the Catholic teachings on these issues, as I understand them.

The Catholic Church is the only mainstream Christian church which has consistently taught that a) Life begins at conception (not implantation, as is often argued) b) We do not have the right to deliberately end a life, either at its beginning or at its end, therefore induced abortion and euthanasia are not something the Church permits for any reason.

That life begins at conception is part of the reason the Church also cannot allow the use of abortifacient forms of birth control, such as The Pill, IUDs and diaphragms. (The Church does not allow any other form of deliberate pregnancy prevention either, but the other forms do not fall into the abortifacient category, so I will not deal with them here).

Euthanasia is often touted as humane or compassionate. As God is the author of life, only He has the right to end life. We do not have to look far to find examples of people with no 'reason' to be alive. They may have been chronically ill, severely handicapped or mentally incapacitated. But in this group are also those who have given and received great love. There are those who, although mentally affected, are used by God to teach the "wise" great lessons. Some have even become canonized Saints.

Families have stories of their elderly members who, although weakened by age, managed to dispense wisdom to the other family members, sometimes despite chronic pain. These people are often the 'praying arm' of their families and parishes.

Who are we to decide when to end a life? Who can know the mind of God? Is this degeneratively ill person here in order to allow someone to learn how to love him or her? Is someone in need of lessons in compassion? Is the ill person themselves in need of lessons in humility? Patience? We don't know.

To my mind, abortion is a self-evident evil. I know, however, that I seem to be far from the majority in this. It is certainly not reflected in our national lack of ANY regulation concerning abortion. Imagine! In Canada, a small person can be aborted, killed, up to the very last days of in utero development!

People do not realize the connection between abortion and birth control. It is relatively recently that countries have allowed access to abortion. Some still do not allow unrestricted access.

What people also do not realize, is that NO major Christian Church (and I'm not aware of any minor ones either!) allowed any form of birth control until the Anglican church allowed it for grave reasons. This happened at the Lambeth Conference of 1930.

I would like to point out that the Muslim religion does not allow birth control or abortion either. And they're supposed to be the 'bad guys'?

At this point in time, the only major Christian Church to withstand public pressure to give in to abortion and birth control is the Catholic Church. I will add here that I do know that there are many non-Catholic Christians who, as individuals and in some cases parts of their denominations, also eschew BOTH abortion and birth control...but usually birth control is not seen as an evil.

So what is the issue with birth control? Well, as mentioned above, some forms are abortifacient (they cause a very early abortion by allowing the woman's body to shed the fertilized egg before it implants). These would be seen as abortion is seen.

Other forms of birth control are still interfering with God's work of starting and ending life. It is strange to me that people who strive to have God in control of their lives, will not allow Him to be in charge of their reproductive lives! But in a society which can allow the death of a child within its mother, why should we see the value of children outside their mother?

It strikes me as sad that when someone is talking about the value of planning their family naturally, they lose credibility when it is found that they have more than three or four children!

What people do not understand is that many people WANT lots of children and view them as gifts, not problems.

Even when I was at the doctor expecting my last child, they asked what form of birth control I was using. I said none. Then I clarified that we had used Natural Family planning, but this pregnancy was not a failure of the method. They don't have a category for that, I don't think.

This is a rather scattered view of some life issues. I will explain Natural Family planning another time. Good night!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Greetings in Christ!

Late last week, I had the privilege of receiving one of the healing sacraments. In other words: Confession, Reconciliation, Penance. Those names are all aspects of the one sacrament of forgiveness.

This is probably one of the least favourite sacraments. Arguably the other is probably Holy Orders!

Confession, as I tend to call it, is the act of publicly (to a priest) naming sins, and, hopefully, being absolved of those sins.

People tend to avoid this sacrament, often putting themselves in grave danger of being "guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ" as St. Paul said, by receiving the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist unworthily. The avoidance is akin the avoidance many people have of the doctor's office. They may well suspect they are ill, but don't want to hear it said aloud, as if this somehow makes the illness non-existent.

The illness dealt with by the sacrament of Reconciliation, as it is usually called at present, is the spiritual illness of sin. We all do it. If anyone has doubts, they only have to read Scripture to hear that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". Taking that sin into the confessional and speaking it aloud to the priest is a difficult thing to do.

Sin falls into two categories, Venial Sin and Mortal Sin. Venial sin is the type that damages, but does not break, the relationship between God and His people. Mortal sin, on the other hand, breaks the relationship between God and His people.

This is actually a scriptural distinction, although many are not aware of this. 1 John 5:17 (RSV): All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal. {KJV: "not unto death"}

The Church teaches us that all mortal sin must be confessed sacramentally in order to be absolved.

Venial sin can be absolved in several ways. During the Mass itself there is more than one instance when venial sin is absolved. We may say during Mass "I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault: in what I have done and what I have failed to do and I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord, our God." This is in the Roman Canon, now called the first Eucharistic Prayer. In the Tridentine Rite, we would say "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" (By my fault, by my fault, by my most grievous fault) and acknowledge our sin. Just before Communion we now acknowledge our imperfection and say "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I ("my servant" in Scripture)will be healed.

What is the difference between mortal and venial sin? For a sin to mortal, it must involve grave matter and the sinner must have full knowledge of the sin and give it full consent.

It's pretty hard to commit a mortal sin accidently. In actuality, what is a mortal sin for one person, may be only a venial sin to another if they are ignorant of what they are doing.

Now, should ONLY mortal sins be confessed sacramentally? You might hear different things from different people. I think it is good to remember that no sin can enter heaven. If we persist in venial sin, we can find ourselves sliding into mortal sin without much thought. In a way, unrecognized venial sin desensitizes us to more serious sin. One speaker I heard likened unresolved venial sin to a callus that can grow over an irritation on our skin. It can make the irritation less irritating, and cause our conscience to go into a sort of hibernation.

Many people develop a devotional relationship to the sacrament of reconciliation. At one time it was not at all unusual for people to go to confession every week, before they received the Eucharist at Mass. Now, many people do not do the bare minimum, which is reconciliation once a year. Some people, however, go to confession regularly, monthly or even weekly.

Are these people greater sinners than other people? They may actually be less sinful. People who confess often get into the practice of monitoring their behaviour, with a mind to change what needs changing. They may do a daily examination of conscience, which has them deliberately reviewing the day's activity.

Regular confession to one confessor (that would be the priest) helps to expose recurrent behaviours and helps to eradicate them.

Some of our Protestant brethren take issue with confessing sins to a man and having him absolve. After all, priests are sinful people too, right?

Scripture very clearly gives the ability to bind and loose on earth and in heaven to the apostles (Matthew 18:18). By apostolic succession, this ability has been passed on to the priests of today.

The one actually absolving the sin is Christ. We say that the priest, when absolving sin, is acting 'in persona Christi Capitis'. By virtue of his holy orders, the priest is binding or loosing, in this case sin.

I try to receive this sacrament frequently. Frequently enough? I don't know. Sometimes, I feel very light when I am absolved. Sometimes I don't feel much of anything. But I am always touched when I hear the words of absolution. It is a tremendous gift. I can tell you quite cleary what my most persistent faults are! I confess, I mess up, and I confess again. I do not confess as a 'cop out' as some would say. I confess what I truly want to change.

Occasionally, and it is rare, I have been 'talked out' of a sin. The circumstances around what I saw as a sin were such that Father did not believe my behaviour was actually a sin. That can certainly give one a moment of thought!

Unfortunately, it can happen that the confessor does not believe in the confession of venial sin, and will discourage this practice. These men are really robbing the penitent of a great tool for achieving holiness! In a society which seems to like to tell us or show us that nothing is sinful, it can sometimes be a quite a challenge to take up the call to holiness.

I would challenge whomever finds himself (or herself) reading this to consider going to confession soon. For a Catholic, this is one of our most valuable gifts.

God Bless

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hello friends

I apologize for my lapse in posting here. We've had computer trouble, now apparently mended, and I am also working on a posting that is actually requiring some research, and it's far from finished yet. In the meantime...

A very dear priest-friend of mine once said that Catholics do funerals very well. Sadly, we tested this comment once again this week.

Canada is at war. The troops in Kandahar province of Afghanistan are suffering what seems to me to be a high number of injuries and deaths over there. An inside source tells me that there is a news blackout regarding the injuries. For morale, I suppose.

The deaths cannot be hidden.

On Friday at our chapel, I sang in the choir for the funeral Mass for a soldier, and member of our chapel parish. Although I did not know the family personally, I had certainly seen them frequently. This was about the hardest funeral I've ever been involved with. I was not the only participant who felt very drained when it was over.

Catholic funerals are not what people generally think of when they think of funerals. There are similarities of course, but also many profound differences.

The Catholic funeral is less a memorial to a life ended than it is a celebration of new life with God. In fact, the only two times a person will have the large Paschal (Easter) Candle lit for him or her during the lifetime, is at the person's baptism and at his or her funeral.

What is the connection between Easter, Baptism and the Funeral? The Paschal Candle, which should be brand new each year (and incidently is the only candle in the church required to be wax, specifically at least 51% beeswax) is lit during the Easter Vigil Mass each year. It is lit from a special fire made for just this purpose. The light from this candle symbolizes Christ's light of salvation given through His resurrection from the dead. The candle is plunged into the water to be blessed at this Mass as well.

So, the candle is a sign of Christ's resurrection. It stays lit during every Mass of the 50 day Easter Season.

When a person is baptized, they are baptized into Christ's death and resurrection. The pouring of water on the one being baptized symbolizes, among other things, death! This is seen somewhat more clearly if the baptism is done by immersion. Coming out of the water symbolizes rising from death as a new creation in Christ. Infants being baptized have the stain of Original Sin removed. Adults, or anyone over the age of reason, have Original Sin and any sin they've committed (Actual Sin) up to that time, removed. This symbol is further exhibited when the newly baptized are clothed in a white garment.

When a baptized person has died, Catholics believe that he is passing into everlasting life. "You raise the dead to new life in the Spirit" go the words to the Kyrie we chanted at this funeral when we asked for Christ's mercy for the dead and for ourselves. The funeral pall draped over the casket is a reminder of the white garment given at Bapism!

I'm not sure, but I surmise that this is why the Catholic military funerals I've seen do not drape the casket with a Canadian flag. My understanding is that the flag may be placed on the casket before burial, but not within the Mass.

Catholics do not properly have a Eulogy at a funeral Mass. The priest or perhaps a Deacon as I saw at another funeral, will deliver the Homily, as at a Sunday Mass. This homily will almost always give those at the Mass examples of what kind of a person the deceased was. Sometimes funny stories, collected from friends and family in the days before the funeral, are related. But always, in my experience, the emphasis is on eternal life. Family and friends are usually given other opportunities to share stories of the life of the deceased. This can happen before or after the Mass, at a wake or at a reception.

We are a Church that prays for the dead. We believe the dead are "alive in Christ". In John 11:25, Jesus says "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

So death of a believer is a type of resurrection. This is the Easter connection.

I am not sure I've ever been to a Mass that did not involve incense. Before the casket is taken from the church, the deceased is commended to God. The casket is blessed with Holy Water and is incensed. Holy Water is another reminder of Baptism and incense is symbolic of our prayers rising to God. At Friday's funeral, we sang a short song during the incensing which wished the deceased a greeting of angels when he entered heaven.

As hard as this funeral was for the choir, who must sing on, often through choked back tears (on a personal note, I saw that the deceased had surviving him a son who was only about as old as our youngest, which us under three), we can only imagine what this was like for the family, who we saw throughout. The choir left with headaches, the family, who appeared very strong in Faith, left with heartache, which cannot be cured with an aspirin.

God Bless