Tuesday 30 July 2013

No confessions here

It was Saturday morning and Father Ignatius had just got out of the confessional when Benjamin hurried into the church and asked the priest “Father, would you hear my confession please?”

“Do I have to?” asked the priest.

“Hein?” muttered Benjamin, “I am sorry I am late Father …”

“It’s got nothing to do with your lateness,” answered the priest, then, looking around to see that the church was empty he sat down on one of the pews and invited Benjamin to do the same.

“The thing is,” continued Father Ignatius, “I know exactly what you are going to confess. Week in week out you come here and it is the same old sins.

“Let me guess. You’ve lost your temper with your wife … again. You’ve been impatient with your children and scolded them unnecessarily. And you gave the finger to drivers who cut you off on the road. Am I right?”

“Well …” Benjamin hesitated, “I gave the finger to only one driver. So it’s an improvement I think …”

“That is not the point,” continued the priest with a smile to show that he was not being over critical, “what I am trying to say Benjamin, is that when we come to confession we should be sorry for our sins and for hurting Our Lord, and we should resolve not to repeat our sins.

“If we come back every week with the same sins it means that we were not serious at the previous confession …”

“Or that we’re weak …” interrupted Benjamin.

“Yes …” agreed the priest, “and you’re not alone in this Benjamin. You’d be surprised how often people come confessing the same sins over and again … Sometimes I can guess the sins once I recognise the voice of the person kneeling at the confessional.

“Let me explain … do you remember when the people brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery and they wanted to stone her? When Jesus said let those with no sin throw the first stone, and when every one of them had left, He said to the woman ‘go and sin no more.’

“He did not mean do not sin any more sins ever throughout your entire life. Jesus knew that she, being human, being weak as you’ve just pointed out, will inevitably sin. We are all susceptible to sin.

“What Jesus meant is do not sin this particular sin any more because it will get you in deep trouble with the authorities and with God Himself.

“And that’s what I am saying to you. And to everyone who comes to the confessional for that matter. At the very least we should all make a serious effort not to repeat the sins we have just confessed and resolved not to sin again.”

“I understand …” mumbled Benjamin.

“And in saying so” smiled the priest, “I am not encouraging you to go out there and sin some novel new sins just to entertain me and to bring variety to the confessional!”

Benjamin laughed.

“Seriously though …” continued Father Ignatius, “we’re all sinners … even me as a priest would you believe. And in seeking God’s forgiveness we should at least try our hardest not to offend Him again.

“Now go in peace, you are absolved. That is unless you have some new serious sins which you want to confess!”

Benjamin went away feeling much lighter than when he came in and having learnt a real lesson at this most unusual confession.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Meeting Jesus

It was a very hot summer’s day. The sun was bright and not a cloud in the sky.

Father Ignatius was in the Sacristy preparing for Sunday Mass. He asked one of the Altar servers to open all the windows in church to cool it down a little and he resolved to keep his sermon particularly short to spare his congregation, the very young and the elderly especially, from staying indoors for too long.

The previous Sunday a teenager had fainted during Mass because of the heat, and the considerate priest did not want a repeat performance this Sunday.

Father Ignatius had also devised his own make-shift idea to cool down the church a little by inventing his “Ignatius Air-Conditioning” system, as he called it.

The previous night he had asked Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, to place four large bottles of water in the freezer. By the morning, they were frozen solid and as hard as rocks.

The ingenious priest then brought two electric fans on pedestals and stood them on either side of the Altar facing the congregation.

In front of each fan, a few inches away, he placed two bottles of solid ice and switched the fans on. The warm air whizzing past the bottles cooled down a few degrees by the time it reached the congregation.

He was well pleased with his invention that he left the Sacristy for a moment to check it was working all right, when he heard a commotion at the back of the church, in the area they called the welcoming lounge.

“That’s not very welcoming …” he thought as he walked to the back of the church to investigate.

There were two young ladies there wearing very low cut T shirts and equally minute shorts. One of the ushers, an elderly gentleman who always wore a three piece suit and tie to come to church, no matter the weather, had taken it upon himself to object to the girls attire and refused to let them enter the church.

“But it’s very hot …” pleaded one of them, “what’s wrong with what we’re wearing?”

“You’re not coming in like that …” replied the overheated usher getting redder in the face by the minute.

They all stopped talking as the priest approached them.

“Welcome ladies …” said Father Ignatius with a smile, “it’s good to see you here … you’re new here aren’t you?”

They nodded.

“It’s always nice to see new people coming to church … now what’s the problem?” he asked looking at the usher and the girls in turn.

“He doesn’t want to let us in dressed like this …” said one of the young girls.

“Hmmm…” said Father Ignatius, “if you were to meet Jesus in person, would you dress like this?”

“No … perhaps not …” they mumbled in unison.

“What makes you think He is not in church today?” continued the priest gently.

“Maybe we’ll come again next week …” said one of the girls as they left.


Sunday 14 July 2013

Father Ignatius' sin

The following Sunday at Mass Father Ignatius was determined to make a stand. He approached the lectern confidently and said:

“As many of you know by now we had an incident here at last Sunday’s Mass. Two youngsters came up front for Communion and instead of placing the Host in their mouth when I put it in their hands, they ran away. In their hurry to escape one of them dropped the Host on the floor. The other Host was also retrieved by Father Donald who had followed the youth out in the park.

“What happened here last Sunday is a sacrilege.

“The Host as you know is not just a wafer, or a biscuit. It is the Body of Christ.

“And I allowed the Body of Christ to be desecrated by handing it out in peoples’ hands. For this grave sin of thoughtlessness I have begged Him for forgiveness.

“I am personally responsible for what happened last Sunday to the Body of Christ and I know that I will be answerable to Him personally one day for my sin."

The priest paused for a while.

“I have decided that from today, Communion will no longer be given in the hand in this church. Not as long as I am here.

“From now on, I would like you please to come forward and genuflect side by side here by the Altar rail. I will then give Communion on the tongue as we used to do previously.

“I’ve discussed this with Father Donald and he agrees and he will be following the same practice too.

“I have also discussed this matter with the Bishop who said that although the decision is ours to make in this parish; he will not be advising other parishes to change their practice.

“If anyone has a problem with this change please have a word with me afterwards or with Father Donald.”

Father Ignatius stopped for few moments to let the message sink in, then continued:

“I think you ought to know that we have identified one of the youngsters who ran away with the Host last Sunday.

“He is a Catholic boy who has in the past attended Mass here and was educated in our local Catholic school.”

The congregation gasped almost in unison. The priest waited for the noise to die down and then went on:

“I also feel responsible for that fact in itself.

“The fact that one of our own children could carry out such a deed proves that we have failed him somehow.

“It is obvious that we failed to teach him, and possibly other children, the true meaning of the Eucharist. As your priest I am guilty of that grave omission.

“I fail to understand how a child who took First Communion in this very church and was educated by us, amongst our own, did not understand the reality of Communion.

“I have discussed this at some length with Mother Superior at St Joseph School and the Headmaster at St Andrew’s. Both will take action to remedy the situation.

“But most of all I would like to plead with you parents. You are the first point of contact with your children, and rightly so. You promised at their Baptism that you will bring them up in the Faith. Please remember this and use every opportunity to teach your young ones the reality that is Christ and His Divinity.

“Teach them by example. Teach them by words. Teach them by praying together daily as a family, and by reading passages from the Bible.

“Father Donald and I are here to help you if you wish.

“The Lord God has given you the gift of children. Your gift to Him is to bring them up in the Faith.”

Friday 12 July 2013

On the tongue

Father Ignatius considered himself a “traditionalist priest”, as he liked to call himself.

Sure enough, he accepted that changes happen in life generally as well as in the Catholic Church, and that he had to accept them; but it didn’t mean that he agreed with the changes that came his way from “earthly above” – a term he used to describe the church’s hierarchy, as opposed to “Heavenly above” when he referred to the Almighty.

One particular new development which the priest didn’t like was handing the Host during Communion to people in their hands. He preferred the traditional placing of the Host on the tongue, and for people to genuflect by the altar rail to receive Communion. But change he did, and he gave way to new procedures as an obedient priest must.

This Sunday, however, his concerns were put to the test.

As he gave out Communion to the queue of parishioners walking up the center aisle he noticed two youngsters, both aged about eighteen or so, coming towards him. He had not seen them in church before and assumed they were visitors to town. As they came to him in turn, they both held out their hands and he placed the Host in it.

A sixth sense perhaps prompted him to keep an eye on them as they moved away. And he noticed that neither placed the Host in their mouths but walked away slowly.

“Would you please stop” he said sternly, at which point they both hurried and then ran away. Unfortunately in doing so one of them dropped the Host on the floor.

The priest went to recover the fallen Host and shouted “Stop those two …” but unfortunately they escaped through a side door followed by two parishioners.

By the time they came out the parishioners found the car park totally empty … there was no one in sight.

“Which way did they go?” asked one.

“They were too quick … didn’t see them …” replied the other; and after a few moments’ conversation they went back into the church.

That would have been the end of it … but God had other plans.

At that very moment Father Donald was coming out of the parochial house and making his way to the church. He had seen the youngsters running and overheard the conversation of their pursuers. Rather than continue his way towards the church to find out what had happened he had the presence of mind to follow the youngsters at a distance.

They made their way into the park opposite the church and eventually sat down on one of the benches. Father Donald approached quietly and hid behind a tree.

“Have you got it then?” he heard one of them ask.

“Yeh … here it is” replied the second youth, “where’s yours?”

“I dropped it in church.”

“Idiot …”

“Sorry … let me see it … it looks like a piece of thin paper or card … why do they call it a Host?”

At this point Father Donald realized what had happened and knew he had to act quickly. He approached the bench from behind and grabbed both individuals simultaneously from the back of their shirts. He was really strong and knew how to take care of himself. A skill he had learnt in his native Glasgow where he fought many a street fight in his youth.

He asked them to turn round slowly and face him, kneeling on the bench whilst doing so.

Perhaps because of his broad Glaswegian accent, or perhaps because of his stature and the fact that they were taken by surprise, both youngsters obliged and turned round slowly. Neither made an attempt to escape or pull back. They knelt on the bench facing him whilst his strong hands held them tight by the back of the neck.

“Now then …” he said calmly, “which one of you has the Host?”

“I have Mister …” replied one of them.

“OK … I’ll let you on my right go. Please walk away slowly and stand by that tree.” said the priest releasing the youngster without the Host, who obediently walked way towards the tree.

“As for you young man, please place the Host in my hand,” continued Father Donald holding out his hand and retrieving the stolen Host.

After releasing the second teenager the priest stood there and asked them “Do you realize the seriousness of what you have done?”

They shook their heads “No …” said one of them.

It was certainly not the time for a discussion on Christianity or the reality that is the Eucharist. The priest had to say something to end this encounter.

“In the name of God whom you do not know I forgive you and so does He. I pray for you that you may yet get to know Him.”

He turned back towards the church and never saw the two of them again.

NOTE: Fr Ignatius and Fr Donald are characters from the book "Visions" by the same author. See details on the right of this Blog.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Are you invited at Jesus' wedding?

In Matthew Chapter 22:1-14 Jesus tells a parable about a king preparing a wedding feast for his son. He invites many guests who do not turn up, so eventually, he invites all the people his servants can find in the streets until the wedding hall is full of guests.

In this story, the King is God. And His Son getting married is Jesus; marrying His Church here on earth - this means everyone, you and I included.

We are all invited to God's Kingdom, but many don't answer the call.

At the end of this parable there's an intriguing bit. The king enters the hall and sees a man not wearing wedding clothes. He is angry with him and gets him tied up and thrown out into the street.

Now this seems rather harsh treatment for someone not wearing the right clothes. Until we stop and understand Jewish tradition.

Jesus was talking to the Jews who understood very well that there are special clothes to wear at weddings. Almost every family had such special clothes in case they were invited to a wedding; even the poor would either have such clothes or borrow some. No one would dare go to a wedding without special clothes. Even more important, traditionaly the host of the wedding also provided special garments for those who did not have any, so they can borrow them for the occasion. So it was more offensive to the king for this guest to wear no garment.

This guest in the parable just did not bother; he showed disrespect to the king and his son; and was thus thrown out.

But how about us? What are our special clothes for our entry into God's Kingdom in Heaven?

Our wedding clothes are our good deeds here on earth. Whatever we do for anyone in need, however small, constitutes our wedding clothes.

It is just not enough to spend a lifetime on our knees praying, or going to church, if our deeds are far from what is expected of us as followers of Christ.

Jesus said, "Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of God, but only those who do what my Father wants them to do". Matthew 7:21.

In other words ... action not words.