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Older adults' confessions
Q. What do elderly people confess when they go to confession? Most of us do not sin a lot. I find myself praying much of the day. Does the Church still want us to go to confession?
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
One of the things I find myself having to do in confession on a regular basis is reassuring elderly people that they should not be embarrassed when they do not have serious sins to confess. Half-jokingly, I tell them that God is not upset that they do not have mortal sins on their souls -- God is happy about this. Usually, they get the point immediately.
The Catholic tradition holds that confession is good for the soul -- and this truth applies to all age groups and to people in all possible moral conditions. The grace of confession is that it gives us the opportunity to face the good and bad, the negative and positive in us -- and to get a good reading of our moral status before God and our brothers and sisters.
We may not think that we have much to confess. But the fact is none of us -- or at least most of us -- have not reached the perfection of the saints and, when we think about it, there is always something to bring to confession.
I am not breaking the seal of the sacrament when I say that in my experience of the confession of elderly people, their sins are often sins of omission. Examples are: a tendency to get into a rut spiritually, letting prayers become routine and thoughtless; a failure to forgive or to be patient with children, grandchildren and neighbors; a tendency to feel hopeless about the state of the world; letting illness get the better of them psychologically and spiritually -- something that is easy to understand; and a tendency to look back over their past sins and doubt that God has forgiven them.
Priests can often be impatient with the confessions of the elderly and give the impression that they are wasting time by coming to the sacrament. This is most unfortunate. Does the Church want those in their senior years to go to confession? It certainly does. The task of the good confessor is to help people, not least the elderly, make a good confession.
Q. Is there any written or historical evidence that points to how old St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, was?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
St. Joseph is one figure in the Gospel who, though quite active, does not utter a single word. This makes him an important figure in our devotional life, but does nothing to identify him as an individual. As a result, we cannot determine his age.
Because Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, Joseph is usually portrayed as a man too old (apparently) to be interested in sex. Not all embrace this idea, however. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Art and popular imagination have usually pictured Joseph as an old man. But this is surely a false idea. The rabbis at the time of Christ commonly taught that men should marry between the ages of 13 and 19, and Joseph, as a ‘just’… man, would no doubt have conformed to this practice. Since the Gospels never suggest that he was still living during the public ministry of Jesus, he most likely died before he was 50 years old.”
Father Dominic De Domenico, O.P., in “True Devotion to St. Joseph,” presents another alternative. He suggests Joseph may have taken a vow of chastity, which would allow him to be Mary’s age and “her most chaste spouse.”
When Were the Apostles Baptized?
Q. When were the apostles baptized, and how?
W.K, Buckeye, Ariz.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
Acts 9:18 tells us that St. Paul was baptized after his conversion on the road to Damascus. But Scripture never describes the baptism of any other apostle.
We can assume, however, that all the apostles were indeed baptized, even though we don't know exactly when, since Jesus commanded them to baptize others (see Mt 28:19), and baptism was a requirement for entrance into the Church and for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
Can We Receive Communion?
Q. My husband and I are both Catholic, but are not married in the Church, yet. Is it acceptable to receive holy Communion? What rules do we need to follow?
M.P., via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
If it is simply the case that you got married by a civil court, then you need to have your marriage blessed by the Church. In the eyes of the Church you are not completely married until you are married in the Church, following the proper canonical form (pastor of the parish plus bride and groom plus two witnesses).
That would be a real and sacramental marriage. If you and your husband want to remain married, then speak to your local pastor, explain the situation, ask for a validation of the marriage or a retroactive validation as the case may be.
Once that is taken care of, you will be free to receive holy Communion at Mass after you make a good confession.
Q. What defines an apostolic exhortation and, in general, what is the pope’s goal when releasing one?
The Church’s teaching ministry is extremely important, but not everything the Church teaches is presented with equal solemnity to every member of the Church. In matters of greatest importance, “‘the Roman Pontiff … enjoys … infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful … he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium’ [teaching authority], above all in an Ecumenical Council” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 891).
Lesser matters may be defined “in a ‘definitive manner’ … that leads to be better understanding … of faith and morals” (No. 892). Still others (and these are the proper subject of apostolic exhortations) urge the faithful to embrace a practice the pope and his advisers believe to be helpful for our salvation.
The Church distinguishes carefully among its writings. Apostolic constitutions are most important, followed by encyclical letters, apostolic exhortations, apostolic letters and apostolic messages. Each is an example of the teaching authority of the Church, and we are “to adhere to it with religious assent,” although this is distinct from the assent of faith demanded of matters defined infallibly (see No. 892).
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