So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

FSSP Ordinations - 8am Pacific Time Friday May 26th

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fleeting Gratitude | Confession Illuminates

"Graced Shores"/Sept. 2014 Port Renfrew/Catholic Sacristan

I always knew in my heart Walt Whitman's mind to be more like my own than any other man's living. As he is a very great scoundrel this is not a pleasant confession.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ.
I'm fairly certain that I am not alone when I observe that gratitude for a particular grace or event can easily evaporate at another encounter with adversity.

Imagine for a moment that you are faced with an unexpected development that tests your sense of well being. It may be that you forgot to take care of a piece of business and circumstances suddenly became much more complicated than you could handle at the time. The expression "a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency for anyone else" digs into your consciousness like a chainsaw with a dull chain gnaws at a log. You desperately need a solution, and you pray for relief even though you probably don't deserve relief from the consequences of your actions or inaction. And yet, relief comes. Someone steps up to help, or the problem simply evaporates because circumstances change. Your lack of planning or avoidance is not missed because the event for which you shirked your duty is suddenly cancelled. No harm, no foul. You draw a slow, measured breath, barely able to comprehend how you managed to dodge the problem of letting others down. Your breath is halted by a cognitive hiccup, and that weird mix of relief and culpability hang above you as you literally or figuratively wipe the stress from your tightly furrowed brow. Those wrinkles unravel slowly—well, a few are cut a little deeper by the whole event and those "wisdom lines" may or may not actually represent an increase in wisdom. If you are the gimme-gimme praying sort of person who only visits God with a prayer when you're in a bind, you thank God for the undeserved pass, and you kiss that imaginary get-out-of-jail-free card as if it were a winning lottery ticket.

You are feeling relaxed and relieved, grateful that you weren't hauled to the carpet for your disorganization or some other irresponsible deed. You might even want to demonstrate your gratitude for dodging a bullet by giving something in return, like a form of self administered penance for that unknown crime. A crime unknown to others—except, that is, to you and God. You certainly offer your gratitude to God for an unexpected (and undeserved) mercy. Meanwhile, in the midst of your recovery, your conscience begins to squeak at you with a further reminder that you didn't deserve to get off the hook. That voice sounds a lot like a good parent's voice of reason that calls a child to responsibility. Your self administered penance becomes more clearly seen as an attempt to bribe your way out of acknowledging sin and taking responsibility.

Now, what if circumstances had gone the other way? What if you were caught between that rock and a hard place, a hard place of your own making, and you let others down and they held you to account? Would you still be inclined toward gratitude for the opportunity to be held accountable for your actions? Would you still be grateful for fraternal correction and perhaps being required to provide material satisfaction in reparation for your actions?

As mentioned at the outset of this story, there is a kind of gratitude experienced at getting off the hook, as it were, that is fleeting at best. It only takes another such encounter, an encounter with adversity of one kind or another, for such gratitude to be burned away by current stress and anxiety.

The Discipline of Gratitude

Gratitude, true gratitude, that is, can stand up to adversity. Gratitude is not easily forged in the heart of a man who managed to avoid getting caught and avoids taking responsibility for his actions. Gratitude is a form of equilibrium and clarity that begins with the knowledge that we have not earned our salvation, that our salvation is not merited by anything we do apart from the grace of God. That knowledge is the lived experience of the mercy of God extended to us because God loves us, not because we deserve His love and mercy. We, for our part, respond to God's invitation to salvation. Our response is aided by grace. Love of God grows in us with each act of cooperation with the movement of His grace. That is why faith is a gift. God freely gives His grace to those who ask. With each act of mercy—hear now a reference to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy—we aid others in coming to Christ and we grow in holiness because we serve Christ in others and His Spirit moves through our works as water flows through a channel. In that sense, our "works" are graced works that help us and help others work out our salvation "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

When we know God loves us—and He most surely does!—we experience the freedom to act in ways that conform to His will. We are no longer afraid to lose our sinful ways that we may have formerly thought defined us and bound us to others with whom we shared a life without God. Illumined by grace, we become even more eager to shed the skin of sin that tries to cling to our souls.

Hope must be nourished by prayer that disposes us to God's grace, for without the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Holy Mother Church to help us grow in holiness, we will surely stray into a maze of confusion as to the actual state of our health and well being or lack thereof. Without the certainty provided by the Sacrament of Penance, confession, if you will, a christian may soon become lost in a maze of self doubt. Confession provides Catholics with the opportunity to know who we truly are and that we are truly and fully forgiven by God. The penance given by a priest is a precious gift to help us grow in holiness and put things right.
Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much.—James 5:16.
The Sacrament of Penance, then, is the way to avoid the pitfall of false gratitude and avoiding or fearing fraternal correction. The sting of correction is mitigated when we confront our sins and take full responsibility for our actions and seek to amend our lives because the Sacrament imparts the grace of God to help us accept the justice and mercy of God. Correction, then, is medicine, not mere punishment. We can be grateful for such medicine because we know that by taking that medicine we are perfected by the Holy Spirit.
When gratitude is accompanied by an awareness of our utter dependence on God, then such gratitude is most assuredly authentic, and that should give one the hope to strive to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Lasting gratitude, like faith, is a gift of God. We can and should pray for it. There are an embarrassment of riches to be gained when we surrender (crucify) our daily preoccupations with or attachments to selfish pursuits and instead put ourselves in a place to appreciate the glorious bounty of God's creation. Granted, if you live in a war zone, it would likely be a difficult prospect to find much natural beauty in the bombed out schools and hospitals, desecrated churches, blood-stained streets and denuded landscape of a place like Gaza (Mgr Shomali : “Hope still shines in the eyes of Gazans”/news&images) or Mosul. But, beauty and hope can always be found with the eyes and ears of faith! The heart oriented to gratitude, even in difficult times, can draw on memories of good things to stir in the mind and heart a view beyond an indecent moment or even prolonged agony.

Remembering the remnant or lingering memories of good things previously experienced allow the seeker to dwell, if only for a fraction of a moment, in hope. That moment, however, can mean the difference between life and death. Those memories of signs of God's grace once again activate in the soul a disposition to God's grace. If the seeker commits to following Christ in all things and offers up all sufferings to Jesus, fractions of hope-filled moments can build into a crescendo of hope that will be cause for gratitude. Recall the grace given to saints such as Maximilian Kolbe, grace from God that flowed through him to illuminate the hellish darkness of the concentration camp. Recall that St. Maximilian could embrace death with a saintly resolve because his heart was set in gratitude for Jesus' sacrifice for all men. Because we live in God-given gratitude for that salvation, we can look on the tortured figure of a man, Jesus Christ Who was both true God and true man, and see beauty,... and hope and God's Love supreme.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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