Three questions. Catechism 101. Hint: Each question has the same answer.
First question: Why did the Father send his Son to become Man (i.e. Jesus)?
Second question: Why the Catholic Church?
Third question: What’s it about?
It has been said that Catholics are hard to live with but easy to die with. Given that everyone is hard to live with, I usually find Catholics easier to live with and very easy to die with. But the bonds “one mind and one heart” run thick, and that’s another story. So I challenge you: go ahead. Sell out the Catholic Church on its moral teachings. Compromise all you want. You may as well ditch the whole thing and go back to snake handling and consulting Druids. In fact, if I wasn’t a Catholic, I’d go Druid. It’s more interesting than either Protestantism or Secularism. Catholic writer and convert, G.K. Chesterton, got it. When asked why he became Catholic, he said: It’s the only Church that can forgive my sins. He was referring to the Priesthood and Confession.
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Christ did a live demonstration of this when he asked the woman caught in adultery, “Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Jesus replied, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” It’s as simple as that. Encounter Christ at your worst. Sin no more. And you’re on your way to being your best. A saint. Yes, you.
When Jesus forgives sins, He reveals himself as both God and Priest. When sins are disclosed to a Priest of Jesus Christ (including non-Jesuits and slobs like me), with repentance and regret, there’s no condemnation. He forgives. He restores life.
Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to his own town. Just then, some men brought to him a paralytic lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” On seeing this, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming!” But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said, “Why do you harbor evil in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk?’ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” And the man got up and went home. (Matthew 9:1-7)
The Church, through the Priest, does the same thing. How? Through the sacraments. In its own way, every sacrament makes Christ present – and his good works (in the Holy Spirit).
Reflect for a minute. The spiritual potency of the Priest, and the sacraments that he performs, flow from Christ’s Passion. When we approach the Sacraments, we approach the Cross of Jesus Christ and its life-giving power.
At the Last Supper, Christ consecrated Priests to administer this healing power. When a man is ordained a Priest in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ empowers him through the Bishop’s “laying of the hands,” to pardon, heal and sanctify the People of God in the Sacraments.
Consider the Mass. It must be celebrated by a Priest. It’s often called a “Holy Sacrifice.” It is a re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus’ Sacrifice is re-presented when the Priest consecrates bread and wine separately on the Altar. When he says the “words of institution” – “This is my Body…This is my Blood” – over the bread and wine, they become the Body and Blood of Christ. Separately. When Christ died on the Cross, his Body and Blood were separated. His Blood poured from his wounded Body. During the Communion Rite at Mass, the Priest must consume both the Body of Christ (the host) and the Blood of Christ (from the chalice). This action represents the coming together of Christ’s Body and Blood at the Resurrection. When we receive Communion, we receive Christ’s Risen Body.
When we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – if we have no unconfessed mortal sins – venial sins are forgiven by the power of that Sacrifice. Also, when we participate at Mass, we join Christ in the Sacrifice that saves the world. When we attend Mass, our life becomes Christ’s gift to the Father. Our sacrifices and Christ’s Sacrifice are no longer two, but one. They become one single offering to the Father.
Jesus’ Sacrifice is also made present in another Sacrament: Confession. How so? It has been said that, when Christ was on the Cross, he knew and felt the grief and sadness of every sin ever committed. He confessed them to the Father. “He who knew no sin became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the Cross, Christ became our sins, but without guilt. On the Cross, he confessed those sins to the Father, on our behalf. He felt the shame. He felt the full force of all the guilt, sorrow, anguish, grief, darkness and despair of every sin ever committed and that would ever be committed. He felt abandoned by his Father on our behalf. “My God, my God,” he cried, “why have you abandoned me?” From the Cross, he made the supreme Confession of sins – of each and every one of them. It was the first real Confession. Redemption began. The Church’s mission began. The Cross was the first Confessional.
When we confess to a priest in the Confessional, Christ confesses to the Father for us. And we join Christ’s confession of our sins to the Father. We participate in his Confession. In so doing, we receive forgiveness and healing. We are on the Cross with Christ at Calvary.
Good Friday is less than two weeks away. Take Jesus’ Sacrifice seriously. Feel its power. Confess your mortal sins, if you have them, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No mortal sins? Then confess your venial sins. If you do, Christ will nonetheless make a perfect act of his Love in you. Don’t refuse God’s mercy.
Here’s a dumb one: “I don’t need a priest. I tell my big sins directly to God.” Snake handlers don’t need priests either. They live in illusions. It’s a rejection of the Incarnation and the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. It’s a rejection of rationality. No more cockamamie excuses. Unload your sins on the priest in the confessional. Set yourself free. Join Christ’s last utterance from the Cross to the Father: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Only the Priest can make present the Sacrifice of Jesus – and its power to save – in Confession and at Mass. The patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney, said, “Neither angels nor even the Virgin Mary can forgive sins. Only a Priest!” St. John Vianney also said, “Without the priest, the Death and Passion of our Lord would be of no avail…The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself; he is for you. After God, the priest is everything. Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts…See the power of the priest; out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God…If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The [angel] is a friend of God, but the [priest] holds His place…The priest continues the work of redemption on earth. If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love. The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.”
Now for the answers to the three questions:
Answer One: The Father sent his Son to become Jesus (i.e. to become man) to save us from our sins. This is the only reason. Forgiveness brings on the Holy Spirit, who gives us grace – the God-given power to become holy in this life and gain Heaven in the next. Find me another reason, and my credit card and frequent flyer miles are yours. Back to the answer: The angel said this to a dreaming Joseph: “You shall call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Answer Two: The purpose of the Catholic Church is to save us from our sins. The absolution of sins invites the Holy Spirit, like a dinner invitation.
Answer Three: It’s about saving people from their sins in order to invite Jesus to dinner. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor