The eight spiritual practices advocated by the Bouchers are intercession, respect, forgiveness, gratitude, affirmation, patience and forbearance, honesty, and a healing presence. Each practice is first explained in light of Sacred Scripture; then consideration is given for how readers can accept the gift of this spiritual practice. Finally, the Bouchers walk through concrete steps for putting the practice into action.
The book is written in an easy conversational style — it is not overly theological, but uses the Church’s tradition to illuminate real human experience. The Bouchers sprinkle stories from the saints and their own lives throughout the book to help illustrate the principles they have layed out. Each chapter also includes reflection questions, suggested skills to practice, and prayer resources.
Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones is a great read for any faithful Christian individually or as part of a small book group.
N.B.: I received a free review copy of this book from the authors.
If we think again of the health of the human body in order to find illustrations of what can happen in the Mystical Body, we shall be struck with another point. It is possible for a body to be free from disease, and yet to lack strength. Suppose a man has had an operation because of some disease: let us suppose further that the operation is perfectly successful so that, after it, he is free from the disease. Nevertheless he will need convalescence before his health is again perfect. For his disease has left an effect of weakness which natural forces will eliminate.
It is similar in the Mystical Body. Even after a diseased member is cured of sin by the sacrament of penance there remain some after-effects. There is what is called the “disposition to sin”; also there may well be a debt of punishment due after the guilt of the sin has been removed. The soul is not a perfect soul, even though it be free from the disease of sin and in possession of the life of grace. There is still weakness.
And just as the natural weakness of the body, after the actual cure of disease, needs to be eliminated by natural means such as rest, careful nursing, good food, plentiful sleep — so also supernatural weakness of the soul, after the cure from the guilt of sin, needs to be eliminated by the action of supernatural means before that soul can be considered a perfect soul.
– Clifford Howell, S.J. Of Sacraments and Sacrifice (1952)
Every year in late winter my mother spends a weekend at our house helping me to paint a room. This little tradition started the first year after we moved into our house and so far we’ve completed the living room, the boys’ room, our daughter’s room, and now the hallways. It’s a lot of work — especially taping off all the windows and woodwork in an old house like ours — but it’s worth the effort for the clean, pristine walls afterward.
(Not that they stay that way with ten little hands in the house, but that’s another story.)
This year as I was rolling a fresh coat over scratches and smudge marks, I thought about how painting a wall is a lot like the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. A wall, when it is first constructed, is a plain thing, not quite white, until it receives the first coat of paint; then it is clean and unblemished. But over time the wall accumulates hand prints and dirt, gouges and pencil marks. Some are due to carelessness, some are deliberate. But in the end the wall is less attractive and in need of some care. So we break out a gallon and with a fresh coat of paint the wall is healed and made new. This process can repeat itself many times over the lifetime of a house; it takes patient care and effort to ensure that the walls are kept fresh over the years.
The wall is like our souls. The first coat of paint is our baptism, through which the stain of original sin is washed away. But we fail to take care of the wall and, through sin, it is marked and beaten. But through the sacrament we can wash away the smudges of sin and heal our souls. This process repeats itself many times over a lifetime through dedication and a deliberate intention to confess our sins and receive absolution.
So this Lent, make sure you get yourself a fresh coat of paint by revisiting the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
During 1937, in Alicante, a young Spaniard of Nationalist sympathies had been caught while trying to board a foreign ship, and lay in prison under sentence of death. Earnestly he was praying, not for release, but to get confession and absolution before he died.
On the night before his execution the cell-door opened and an old man dressed as a pedlar was thrown in.
‘Get in here,’ said the jailer. ‘Tomorrow you’ll have the cell to yourself.’
The first prisoner lay watching the new-comer take off his shoes and cloak, and prepare himself for the night. Before lying down, however, the old man scratched a small cross on the wall and knelt down to say his prayers.
‘Are you a Catholic?’ asked the young man eagerly.
‘I am. And you?’
They talked in low tones, and soon the young man told the other of his longing for confession.
‘I still think God may grant my prayer.’
‘He has granted it already,’ said the pedlar, with a smile. ‘I am a priest. Ever since the war began I have gone from place to place in this disguise to bring the sacraments to the faithful.’
Next morning the jailer was puzzled to see that the young prisoner, when led out to die, no longer wore a look of fear and strain, but of radiant peace and joy.
– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part IV: The Sacraments (1939)
Lisa Mladinich (amazingcatechists.com) has written an excellent and engaging resource for catechists and catechetical leaders involved in the sacramental formation and preparation of youth and children. Be An Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation (OSV, 2011) bills itself as “a guide for teaching the Seven Sacraments accurately and vibrantly” and it delivers on that promise.
Mladinich offers a variety of reflections, activities, tips, and tricks for catechists to use in their sacramental prep programs, beginning with some nice reflections on what it means to be a catechist. I especially liked her insistence that “It is a joy for the faithful to pass these truths on to their children so that they, too, might live in loving union with God.” (I may be using that line in some upcoming presentations!)
More specific to sacramental prep, Mladinich has some great suggestions to teaching reverence to children. Proper “church etiquette” is lacking in many parishes, so I was glad to see her tackle it head-on.
She then tackles First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation in turn. For each sacrament there are plenty of ideas for activities and lessons that will open up the meaning and impact of the sacraments in surprising and effective ways. These include the fun, the prayerful, and the educational. They are also very “doable”, in that they don’t require special resources or prep time.
I do have a small theological quibble: Mladinich states in the introduction that “the sacraments are administered by those ordained for ministry in the Church: bishops, priests, and deacons.” This statement overlooks the fact that, in marriage, the outward sign is the exchange of consent between the couple. Thus, it is the couple who administer the sacrament; the priest witnesses to the marriage. Similarly, while clerics are the ordinary ministers of Baptism, anyone (including non-Christians) can validly baptize if they use the proper formula and intend what the Church intends in Baptism.
But that’s nit-picking an otherwise excellent resource for catechists involved in the sacramental prepration of children and youth.
Like many people my age I made my first Reconciliation in second grade and then didn’t make it back to the confessional for over ten years.
(Of course, come to think of it, my first Reconciliation wasn’t in a confessional. In fact, I don’t think I used a confessional until I was 24 years old!)
When I did make my way back to the sacrament I felt awkward, unsure of myself and, in my normal fashion, probably over-thinking the whole thing. This made me even more reluctant to go. In fact, it wasn’t until I moved to Michigan for a year that I finally resolved to make Reconciliation a regular part of my practice of the faith.
I’ve never liked confessing to priests that I know (which can make things difficult when you work for the Church!) so I turned to the internet for help. I downloaded a good guide to Confession, wrote down the fruits of my examination (my mind usually blanks as soon as I walk in to the confessional), and sat myself in a pew on a Saturday afternoon. When it was my turn I walked inside with my list and guide in hand, knelt down, thanked God for the anonymity of the screen, and started in with the Sign of the Cross.
I wish I could say that it was a grace-filled, holy experience. Truth be told it was a bit of an anticlimax! I launched into the list, read it off without pausing, and sighed with relief as the priest gave me my penance and recited the prayer of absolution over me.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a believer in what the Second Vatican Council calls “full and active participation.” But recently I’ve been wondering if rote participation in the sacraments isn’t sometimes a good thing. Especially for those who have fallen away from the faith, I wonder if we don’t do them a disservice when we lead them to expect that every liturgy, every prayer service, and every interaction with the Church will be a mountaintop experience. Sometimes I can barely get through Mass because I’m so distracted by kids, the lousy sound system, or thinking about what I’ll be doing that afternoon!
Fortunately the sacrament doesn’t depend on how much I do or how I feel. Even when I’m not giving 100% I can be sure that God is giving his all. We need to remind people that it’s OK to be rote sometimes. It doesn’t diminish the grace of the sacrament. Jesus is still really there! We shouldn’t expect perfection of ourselves every time — that path leads to scrupulosity. Rather, we should recognize that, at this particular time, rote participation gets us where we need to be. Better participating in a rote manner than not at all! And eventually, as we get more comfortable and familiar with the prayer or ritual, we can move towards deeper, fuller, more active participation.
Have you had any experience with intentionally praying or participating int he sacraments in a rote manner? Have you found it helpful in your spiritual journey?