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Q. The older I get the more I think that I never properly confessed my sins over the years and that my confessions were invalid. I believe that I really don't know how to make a good confession. Please advise me.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
I don't think there is one of us who doesn't wonder about our confessions: Did we try to put the best face on our sins? Did we minimize them? Did we conceal the true nature of our offenses? Did we try to fool the priest?
Such questions are natural and are, in most cases, signs of a healthy conscience. Most of us muddle our way through confession; we become anxious and self-conscious, and we often have the feeling afterward that we might have left something out.
As a confessor, I find that it is very normal for people as they get older to fret about their early sins and their confessions over the years. In its extreme form this is called "scrupulosity" -- that is, an inordinate anxiety about sins and failures, and a fear that God may not have forgiven our sins after all.
The fact is God is far more loving and forgiving than we can imagine. He sees into our hearts and knows what our true intentions are. God is not like a human judge before whom we have to make a good and articulate case. He gives us the benefit of the doubt, and we need to approach confession with this sense of trust.
My advice to you is to go to confession at your convenience and tell the priest exactly what you have written to me and ask for his help. That should help clear your anxiety.
It is the responsibility of the good confessor that he assist people with their confessions and, by careful listening and dialogue, enable them to say what they want to say. The good confessor is able to help people make good confessions. My sense is that you are worrying too much.
The Laws for Fasting
Q. With Lent coming up, could you explain the rules on fasting, according to the Church?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
Fasting is one way Christians manifest their “interior penance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1434). The Catechism names “the seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord)” as “intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises … signs of penance, [and] voluntary self-denial, such as fasting” (No. 1438).
The Church’s Code of Canon Law sums up the rules for fasting. “All Fridays throughout the year and the time of Lent are penitential days … throughout the universal Church” (Canon 1250). The text amplifies this, and explains, “The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening — as far as quantity and quality are concerned.”
The law gives conferences of bishops the authority to determine whether the faithful shall abstain from meat on Fridays, but we are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday (see Canon 1251).
All Catholics who have celebrated their 14th birthday are bound by the law of abstinence. The obligation to fast ceases the day after one’s 59th birthday (see Canon 1252).
Pagans and Samaritans
Q. Matthew 10:5 states that Jesus sent out the Twelve Apostles after instructing them thus: "Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town." How should this passage be interpreted?
M.C., Golden Meadow, La.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
The answer to this question is given in the next verse: "Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:6). Jesus' first concern was for the Jews, God's chosen people. The apostles, of course, shared that concern. The Acts of the Apostles reports that the apostles always went first to the synagogue as they evangelized a local community. Rebuffed there, they turned to the Gentiles.
After Jesus' resurrection, He gave the Church a universal mission, as we read in Matthew 28:19-20. While we're examining that passage, we should note that among some Christians, the preceding verse (28:18) is commonly ignored. But verse 19 presupposes what verse 18 tells us.
Verse 19 begins: "Go, therefore …" The word "therefore" refers to the preceding verse 18: "And Jesus came and said to [the apostles], 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me'" (RSV).
The word "therefore" points to the fact that Jesus was bestowing His authority on His apostles as the earthly foundation stones of His Church.
Q. Can you tell me the significance of lighting a candle at the prayer candle area of the church?
P.H. via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
"Lumen Christi!" ("The Light of Christ!"), proclaims the deacon as he enters the darkened nave of the Church each year during the Easter Vigil. As he chants this hopeful note, the newly consecrated burning Paschal candle is raised for all to see, and the people exclaim, "Deo Gratias." ("Thanks be to God!")
The ultimate significance of the lighted candle is to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world. So wrote St. John in the introduction to his lofty Gospel (see 1:4-9). Whenever the faithful leave a lighted votive candle near a holy image of our divine Savior, the Blessed Mother or the angels and the saints, the light of the candle is to hold the attention of the intercessor to pray for our intentions.
You may have noticed that most churches or shrines offer a variety of candle size: one-day, three-day and eight-day are standard. The faithful are asked to make a donation commensurate with the size of the candle. If there is any profit left over, it should go to the support of the Church and the aid of the poor.
Who Were the Magi?
Q. I was told by my daughter that in her history class at school, it was said that the Magi were what would be considered modern-day astrologers. Please enlighten me on how to address this.
The Latin word magus can mean magician, astrologer or simply a learned person. The Anchor Bible commentary prefers the former, and calls the innocuous term “wise men” a very poor choice, as it reduces the magnitude of the Magi’s decision to abandon their old way of life and embrace faith in the newly discovered King of the Jews.
We cannot identify, with any assurance, the Magi, their homeland, their religious beliefs or their occupation. We cannot deny their intelligence, however, nor can we discount the value of their gifts. Many scholars believe these gifts were tools used by magicians, so giving them to Christ is proof of the Magi’s change of heart.
St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Magi the “first fruits of the Gentiles.” These outsiders’ willingness to place what was most valuable in their lives at Christ’s feet is what we should take away from their visit. “Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and savior of the world.… The Epiphany shows that ‘the full number of the nations’ now takes ‘its ‘place in the family of the patriarchs and’ … (are ‘made worthy of the heritage of Israel’)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 528).
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