Fr. Paul Farren a native of Clonmany in Co. Donegal, was ordained in 1997. He studied in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth and in the Catholic University of America, Washington DC. He served as a curate in Derry City from 1997 – 2004. Fr. Paul has served as Director of Religious Education in the Derry Diocese and the Director of the Catechetical Centre as well as administrator of St. Eugene’s Cathedral and Long Tower
Church. He has also been a vocations director in the Diocese of Derry for the last 14 years. In 2006 he founded The Pope John Paul II Award to help young people become more involved in their parish community. Fr. Paul joins us to discuss Freedom and Forgiveness: A Fresh Look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
How often are we quick to judge someone who we see as disagreeable, strongly opinionated or assertive? Feeling our own sense of pride offended, and leaving indignant we frequently proceed to telling others or instead harbor that annoyance within. Yet, neither of these options can be understood as beneficial either to our relationships or to our spiritual growth.
Scripture firmly emphasizes the importance of conflict resolution as a community if we are to be the body of Christ in the world. No pretenses, we are to leave our gift on the altar, and work towards reconciliation. Moreover, we are to speak to that person privately first. “If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (Matt 18:15-17)
In doing so love, and not self righteousness, needs to be the intent of reconciliation. For “if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2-3)”
Only love connects us divinely with God, unites us in faith, and holds the promise of our salvation.
Yet, how do we walk this path of reconciliation equipped only with love? With humility, leaving our pride and righteous offense at their actions aside and choosing love. We cannot hold both love and pride in our hearts. We must look at ourselves, ask for God’s grace and desire our own conversion of heart. Though it has taken me a lifetime to understand, this is for me the meaning of turning the other cheek. It does not mean that we are to become a “doormat” for others to walk on, but that in following Christ we are to seek to meet all-even those most difficult-with light and love.
With this being said, a few days ago I spoke my goodbyes to a dear friend who had lost his very painful battle with cancer. To many, including members in the family he was commonly referred to in words of frustration, and actions of avoidance. An extremely intelligent man, who had so much to share, he would habitually though unintentionally irritate others. And because those around him seldom found it easier to talk to him than to one another, true reconciliation was difficult. In the months before he died, he asked me to call him regularly while just to chat briefly. He had lost so much in life- his daughter to drugs, his first wife to cancer, and his son still battling addiction. Looking at the end of his life all he sought was forgiveness, acceptance and love.
How is this so different from our own desires in life?
So, today I ask you to unstrap your sandals, step into those of another and walk a spell. How would Christ meet the difficulty in your life today? If you feel challenged to make a change, put your feet in motion and seek reconciliation. The first step towards peace, and forgiveness of others is to make time for the sacrament of reconciliation in our own lives. Only from the depths of God’s love and mercy can we truly understand the steps that Christ has walked and where He is leading us to go today.
If you are reading this you might be thinking to yourself… Well where else would my foot be?
Let’s start with the fact that I am by nature a problem anticipator. Typically, my feet are moving forward and mentally I seek to be two or three steps ahead to better assess where I need to go. This works well in project management, and parish planning where long range goals and timelines are essential. And yet spiritually, God is simultaneously reminding me that, as with Martha and Mary, sometimes the best place to be is right where I am at the moment. Sound familiar?
On the commute into work this past week, I found myself with a lead foot and an unusually impatient spirit. Did they not understand that leaving a gap a mile wide just encouraged people to cut in? Were they not aware that those they shared the road with were indeed trying to get TO their destination sooner than later? Such was my conversation with God and myself and the more I nodded in agreement, the less concerned I became with my other highway companions. So much so, that my arm actually ached from throwing it up in indignant frustration.
That was when the truth hit me. I had become so focused on where I thought I needed to be, that I neglected to meet God in the present. The more I pushed him aside to consider all that was to be accomplished, the more I also failed to choose what is better. My time could have been spent differently..I had a choice.
Father, patiently train me to value these precious moments with you. Instead of time squandered in useless irritation and in anticipation of something greater- let me appreciate the gift of the present. I need not be the first or the fastest of those around me but in truth will reach my destination eventually. For Your invitation – to gaze upon the horizon, prayerfully offering the day and petitions, and to listen for Your guidance awaits. You have a better plan in mind for my day than all of the schedules that I have made.
Just how do we practically do this?
Try starting your day with a reflection and coffee. Though I may read a reflection over coffee, often I do not really unpack or unearth its richness right away. As you travel or wait, just hold the questions or scripture in your heart. God is there ready to inspire you and your day.
Get accustomed to the silence: Breathe and take a few quiet moments to allow God to speak to your heart. Notice the details of the landscape, the color of the sky and the rhythm of the world around you.
Music: They say that music soothes the savage beast…well, for me this is true. My IPod is replete with almost 1,000 Christian songs from every music style imaginable. If one song doesn’t fit that day, there is always another one right behind it.
If your mind and heart are busy, use this energy to pray the rosary. There have been days where I have had so many thoughts that I offered each bead/prayer for a different person or intention. With each name and concern spoken I ease into a more peaceful way of being. Why? Because I recognize that God has it covered!
Fr. Dan Horan, O.F.M, is a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province (New York) and is currently a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at Boston College. Fr. Dan has previously taught at Siena College and St. Bonaventure University and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the International Thomas Merton Society. The author of many scholarly and popular articles, Fr. Dan received a 2011 Catholic Press Association first-place award for his writing on spirituality. He is the author of several books, including Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis, Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith: Exploring Franciscan Spirituality and Theology in the Modern World, and The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton. In addition to his column in America, Fr. Dan is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, The Huffington Post and blogs at DatingGod.org.
Some time ago, I had promised to share my own story of conversion to the Catholic faith. The anecdote, if you will, of how a young Southern Baptist girl found herself walking in the doors of a Catholic church and leaving forever changed…
Freshman year at Mount Holyoke College was an exciting time of rigorous study, new friendships, challenging adjustments and unbelievable growth. Over 1,200 miles away from home, I found myself both seeking comfort in the familiar but also joy in discovering who I was to become. Though I studied hard and partied equally so, I still made time to attend church either on campus or locally in town with a classmate. Yet, I was noticing that something was missing, something I couldn’t define but leaving me incomplete. Perhaps the experience of worship service had changed, or I had –even a bit of both.
Then one Sunday as the minister spoke of metaphorically of finding one’s center, I realized that was it! While I knewmy center was Christ, I could no longer feel his presence as near and tangible. My soul yearned for so much more. This internal pull was intense, and over the course of the proceeding months I truly felt God working within asking me to let go and let Him lead.
That morning getting myself ready after a late night out had caused me to miss the first half of service.
I could just go back to my dorm room I thought.. but wait, there is a Catholic mass starting soon. Rather than being uncomfortably late, I could be on-time. Yet, I know so little of Catholic practices…will my unfamiliarity be too easily distinguishable? What I heard in response within my heart, was “This is an opportunity, to find what you have been searching for. God is here.”
As I turned the handle on the door of the chapel and took my seat towards the middle of the church, I knelt before God for the first time. In this silence before mass began I found such peace and comfort in my anonymity. Here in this sacred time and place, I whispered “I am here too Father”. Admittedly, as mass began it was all too obvious as I looked to my left and right for guidance, that I was a newcomer. Yet, just when I started questioning the reasoning that had brought me here, God reached out and drew me close. On either side hands outstretched were the beautiful recognizable words of the Our Father echoing throughout the chapel space. I was home.
Soon thereafter, I was to discover the love of my life in the deep friendship that had begun previously that fall. (That story featured here) A Catholic and sophomore at UMass Amherst, I couldn’t believe how blessed I was that God had planned it all! Though we frequently attended mass together I still held back, for some time, in telling him how God was moving me ever closer to conversion. With prayer and discernment so significant in my life, I was cautious and wanted to be certain that this was indeed where God was leading me to go.
Yet, when that moment did arrive, there was no looking back. My searching heart had been filled with a fullness of faith, joy and love. And to my surprise, my family not only respected my faith decision, but prayed and supported me throughout it all. To this day, I still remember the phone call to my mother. After sharing the events that had brought me to this place, there was a long pause for what seemed like an eternity.
“It all makes sense now”was her response.
“What makes sense?”, I curiously asked.
“Before you were born I had a dream that you would be a Catholic. Standing before a multitude of others gathered, you then spoke passionately of your love and faith in God. I know now that God was preparing me for this day.”
“Mom, why have you never told me this before?
“Well, I didn’t want to persuade you should that not be God’s will. I knew that if it was, that God would certainly lead you there.”
Twenty one years have passed since this conversation, yet I thought of this moment again this weekend as I was asked to speak at St. Patrick’s in Wareham. Through these years, I have been blessed with countless invitations to serve, witness and grow in my faith. For me, it is the journey of a lifetime-one I joyously embrace and continuously seek each day.
She was a bit surprised to see him there..standing among his homeless companions of many years. For several months he had found sobriety along with an apartment and a day job, maintaining his distance from a number of his former friends. The last time we had seen him he had appeared healthy and in much better spirits thankful for the care and concern shown. Not today though. Today, he was visibly agitated and the closer she got the more she realized his sobriety was no more. Greeting everyone present, one by one she checked in with them and handing them coffee as they spoke.
“I need 5 dollars and if you really cared about me you’d give it to me”. “Jim”, said one of the other men “now you know she doesn’t give money. Leave her alone.” Yet, he persisted getting more belligerent each time he spoke, till finally he said. “You know what I need it for, and if I don’t have a drink soon I will die”. Sadness, filled her heart at that moment. She had seen him at this point before and it had nearly taken his life. There was no such thing as one small drink, or a stopping point for “Jim” it was all consuming. He had fallen into his addiction again, and all of the old habits that befriend it.
As any conversation with an AA or NA member will tell you..sobriety is not a sprint but a lifelong cross country journey. A constant attraction towards your own destruction, with the deceptive lure of rationalization and self reliance there at the ready. Those family members and friends that stay the course are well accustomed to the roller coaster of pain, joy, success and failure that are present along the way.
Yet this is true, though perhaps to a lesser extent, of every battle with temptation, sin and desolation. Do we recognize our own weaknesses and the slippery slope that we start down when we once again find ourselves facing our worst selves? Will we be pulled under, will we try to go it alone, or will we seek help?
Awareness and Accompaniment.
While each of us were made for more, we repeatedly find ourselves choosing less. Being aware of that which is lesser and our own inclinations to a particular temptation or sin is a good step towards being better prepared when we meet it again. Still, the beauty of our faith is that we are never alone in our journey towards God. Though sin usually carries with it guilt, shame, and insecurities- our faith bears mercy, love and hope. Through reconciliation, and in community we find both strength and accompaniment, encountering not condemnation but an all loving and merciful Father. Only then are we truly able to accompany others- to offer love and mercy in the struggle, and compassion and hope where none were evident before.
“Lord, thank you for loving me- knowing all of my weaknesses and being there to catch me when I fall. Help me to keep my eyes open to the pitfalls ahead, and my ears ready to hear your voice. Carry me through, Lord. And please I ask dear gracious Father, make my heart ready to respond to the needs of others.”
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Jacqueline O’Toole, owner of Sea el Cambio and ONE enterprises, works in close collaboration with artisans in Nicaragua to transform lives and provide handcrafted fair trade products. Translated from Gandhi’s quote “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” Sea el Cambio encourages customers to “be the change.” All products are ethically sourced through long-lasting partnerships with Nicaraguan artisans. Sea el Cambio works with these artisans to design handmade jewelry, pottery, bags, and paper goods. By increasing market access, our artisans have a reliable and steady source of income to support their families. Sea el Cambio donates a portion of its profits to FNE International who is working within the artisans communities to improve their living conditions.
As a backdrop, I would be remiss if I also did not share the infinitely amusing ways God continues to make his presence known in my life and how I obtained my current copy of this book. To my delightful surprise one Sunday, the Pauline sisters visited my home parish of St. Peter’s in Plymouth. After mass, I hurriedly ran downstairs to peruse the numerous collections to be had.
Let’s be honest, the gracious invitation of our sisters and my passion for books are two areas in my life that I find great difficulty saying “no” to.
Having spied this book, my husband saw the gleam in my eyes and knew he would not be leaving church empty handed. However, having only had it in my possession for less than a day, I felt compelled to share it with a friend and her daughter.
Oh yes it had found a home and the then 8 year old girl, who was to make her First Communion soon, was reading it every night! So, while I explained to my hubby where our newly acquired copy went, I knew God had a plan of replacing the book one day. Skip forward 10 months, and I now have my own copy again courtesy of A Seeking Heart radio show with Allison Gingras and Pauline Books & Media along with an invitation to write a review. This I do joyfully, with a desire to share what I feel will become a treasure in the hearts of your family as well.
In this story is woven the early childhood of Karol Wojtyla and his response to the burning question of God’s calling in his life to answer who he truly loves most of all. Though each loss of those dear to him left his heart aching, there was also joy in a growing awareness of the great things God was beckoning him to do and to be. Each of us, within our own vocations as single, married or religious is also asked to reply to God’s great gift of love in our own lives. Beautifully this story underscores that a profound love of God does not mean that our love for others is diminished, but magnifies our ability to love and express that love more fully. Captivating and exquisitely illustrated, A Boy Who Would Become Pope is a stirring glimpse into the young inner life of John Paul II and a challenging proposal to seek God’s love in all that we do.
“…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5
With the Easter season upon us, once again my thoughts turn to the witness of the disciples and experience of new believers in an unbelieving world. Where, such witness of faith in a risen Christ required courage in the face of certain punishment or death. Here in the Western world, we may feel a measure of comfort, secluded from persecution or reproof. Though one glace at the evening news reminds us that death is but a daily reality for countless Christians in other parts of the world. And yet we too are called to witness, resisting the temptation to become complacent or falsely secure in the practice of our faith. In this current culture of relative truth, quite often we might even fail to speak to the soundness of our belief for fear of offending another.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31
It was picture day and my then 8th grade son proudly walked into the kitchen displaying his Benedictine crucifix that I had brought back from Rome around his neck. Beaming, he asked me my opinion of his choice of attire and thanked me for his gift once again. Adding that his faith was a part of who he was, and that he wanted this to be evidenced also in the pictorial record. Fast forward a few hours, and that smile so visible that morning had disappeared, along with the crucifix. So transparent that something had occurred, I had to ask, “What happened today?” “Mom, I didn’t want to say anything to you, but…my day went horribly. You know my crucifix? I was told not to wear it. Well, his exact words were to put my faith away, that it offended him”.
Inquiring a bit further, I asked if it was a teacher or student that had made the comment. “Another student”, he replied, “but it really hurt…so insulting that I was being told to be someone else. How can wearing a cross really be offensive?” “Well, oftentimes that response comes from a previous hurt…maybe one that he or his parents may have experienced. The crucifix is a visible sign of the faith that we profess and therefore reminds others as well. What did you do?” “I chose to tuck it inside my shirt, but I really didn’t want to”. “I understand..you have always been so considerate of others, and their feelings. You do know that you and your beliefs are important too, right? It’s hard, I know, to want to express your love of Christ and then be rejected for it. But, just remember, so was Christ and each of the apostles that followed after him. Not everyone will embrace our witness of the great love and mercy of Christ, or accept us for it but that doesn’t mean we are to remain silent and hidden.”
That following Spring, Peter asked his father and I to please consider a small Catholic High School rather than the public high school that he would have attended. We agreed, recognizing that what he was asking for was to be in an environment of teachers and peers that better supported him in his faith. In fact, his confirmation sponsor is his religion teacher from last year who had first mentored him as a new student. His chosen confirmation name? Paul. Who, as he described, was witness to the risen Christ and a bold proclaimer of the Good News.
As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20
Sister Bridget Haase, O.S.U. , is a member of the Ursuline Sisters, and holds an M.A. in religious studies. She has ministered in Appalachia, Mexico and Africa. She presently serves as coordinator of the spirituality program at The Boston Home, a long-term care facility for people with multiple sclerosis and other degenerative neurological diseases. She gives parish missions, days of reflection, and inspirational talks throughout the United States. She has written two other books and published many articles. She sits on the Board of My Sister’s Keeper, a faith-based justice/peace organization to work for the education of women and girls in southern Sudan, and is a frequent guest on Boston, Chicago/Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh radio stations. Visit her website atwww.wisdomwonder.com.