From his column in the St. Louis Review with my emphases:
I remember as a boarding student in the seminary when one priest would monitor several study halls, and a student would go to the door to peek and see if the study hall monitor was in the area. If he was not, the student would then turn back to the class and tell a funny story.
However, if the study hall monitor was at close range, the student would turn back to the class and whisper loudly the code word, “Chiggers!” It meant that we should each pretend to be studying so that we might be caught doing what we were supposed to be doing.
The code word in today’s Gospel is “Be watchful! Be alert!” This is very good advice for all Catholics, especially in the wake of the recent election. We have just elected a very pro-death-for-children candidate to the most powerful secular office in the world. Recently, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, in an address to the Catholic University of America, stated, “On Nov. 4, 2008, a cultural earthquake hit America. President-elect Barack Obama and Vice-president-elect Joseph Biden were elected President and Vice-President of the United States together with a significant majority of their party in the federal Congress supporting their deadly vision of human life.” This could never have happened without the help of a very large contingent of Catholics.
From published records, we know that President-elect Obama has promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would remove all pro-life legislation for the past 35 years. We also know that he would sign legislation making it legal to kill a baby that has survived a botched abortion! We also know that he indicated that if one of his daughters made a mistake, he would not want her punished with a baby.
As horrible as this may sound, I do not blame President-elect Obama as much for this as I blame ourselves as Catholics for helping create such a secular society by allowing ourselves to fall asleep as Catholics. To be honest, I do not blame President-elect Obama, because I do not think he knows what he is doing, but we should know that when we allow abortions to take place, we are allowing our children to be killed.
We as Catholics need to wake up and re-establish our Catholic identity. In looking back over the past 40 years, many of us remember what a tragedy it was that President Kennedy was assassinated. However, in retrospect, perhaps it was also a tragedy for the Catholic Church that he was elected as the first Catholic to the highest office of the land. To many Catholics, this meant that we as Catholics had arrived. Getting ahead in society became more important than living our Catholic identity. However, we continued to live its semblance. We could accommodate our Catholic principles in order to get ahead in society, and that is all too often what we have done! As a consequence, we lost so much of our Catholic identity. For 40 years we have been sleepwalking Catholics!
Let me ask you, what would this country be like if our Catholic senators and representatives in Congress had made a good monthly Confession while serving in Congress? What would have happened if our Catholic Supreme Court justices did the same thing? Abortion would be outlawed!
However, we seemed to have allowed political power to anesthetize us toward Catholic teachings. Practicing artificial contraception has put us to sleep spiritually. The widespread use of abortion by Catholics has put us to sleep. Indulging in pornography and the viewing of adult-rated movies has put us to sleep spiritually.
“Be watchful! Be alert!” As Catholics we have lost so much of our Catholic identity. When we went to Confession on a regular basis, we were so much more aware of sin and its ability to put us asleep. But once we neglect Confession, we fall asleep. In so many ways, we have lost the sense of sin in our lives. I will never forget how edifying it was for me to hear Confessions at Holy Cross Parish in Baden when Msgr. Martin Hellriegel was pastor. He preached on virtue and on sin on a regular basis, using both the Scriptures from the Mass and the Fathers of the Church to elucidate the reality of sin. Many people went to Confession weekly, and they were joyous Catholics in love with the Catholic Church.
“Be watchful! Be alert!” Once we throw Confession out of the window, then we fall asleep. Our Lord is telling us to be prepared, to be ready for His return at any time. It may be that some people reading this column will not be around to read next week’s column. It may be that I will not be around to write next week’s column! We don’t know, and we should never take any chances. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
“Be watchful! Be alert!” Our Lord would like to catch us going to Confession before we meet him. In fact, our Lord would like to catch us often in the confessional. His return is as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise.
Before we go to Confession, we need to first become aware of why it is that we need to go to Confession. One of the best ways to prepare for Confession is to pray to the Holy Spirit who has come to convict the world of sin. The Holy Spirit has not come to condemn, but to convict. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we simultaneously feel ashamed of what we have done, but we feel so loved that we want God’s mercy immediately. After all, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter of the afflicted, and some would also say the “Afflicter of the comfortable.”
“Be watchful! Be alert!” Our Lord would love to meet us in the confessional. He always shows up with His power to forgive. Once He has forgiven, He has forgotten. “As far as the east is from the west, I have put your sins behind you and remember them no more.” Again, our God tells us, “If your sins be red as scarlet, I will make them whiter than snow.” Once we make a good Confession, our Lord forgets our sins. Should we not agree with him? I always do!
If you have lost a sense of what sin is, then I encourage you to get out the Catechism of the Catholic Church and study it. For example, our Lord has told us, “Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.” We need to call sin what it really is. It is refreshing for us to take ownership for our actions as they really are. No matter if it has been 10 years, 20 years or even 40 years, do not be afraid to go to Confession. I am certain that the priest hearing Confessions would be most edified to realize that someone is returning to Confession after many years of neglect.
It is time for us Catholics to wake up to Catholic identity. It is time for us to wake up to the teachings of the Catholic Church and to realize that the Sacraments are for sinners, not for saints. Don’t be afraid to confess the use of artificial contraception. Don’t be afraid to confess premarital or extramarital sex. That is what Christ’s mercy is for. That is what the confessional is far. The confessional is there to help wake up Catholics to the reality of sin, and it needs to be used more than it is.
“Be watchful! Be alert!” For the rest of your life, become spiritually awake. For the rest of your life, come back regularly to Confession. For the rest of your life, stay spiritually awake to the reality of sin. We can’t avoid all sin, but we can certainly get rid of all sin, and it does not even show up on the charge card at the end of the month. The only cost is a little humility, and we all could use more of this!