Pope Francis promotes Confession during Year of Mercy

A few days ago, on February 5th, a unique event occurred at St. Peter’s Basilica. As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic were processed into the Basilica where they will remain for several days to be visited by pilgrims. The presence of these two saints, both of whom are famous for their devotion to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is meant to be a powerful reminder of the incredible gift God offers us in this Sacrament. Padre Pio would often spend 10 - 15 hours a day hearing confessions. In this way, Pope Francis explained, Padre Pio spread “the perfume of the forgiveness of the Lord” and became “a caress of the living Father, who heals the wounds of sin and refreshes the heart with peace”.
For many, however, going to confession can be a difficult experience. In his recently released book length interview called “The Name of God is Mercy”, Pope Francis provides some encouragement. He explains how the eastern form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation strikes him. In this, the confessor welcomes the penitent by putting his stole over the penitent’s head and an arm around his shoulder, as if embracing the penitent. Pope Francis says that this “is a physical representation of acceptance and mercy”. Rather than feeling afraid of judgment when we approach the confessional, we should imagine our heavenly Father embracing us in the same way.

Pope Francis acknowledges that many wonder why they simply cannot ask God for forgiveness directly. Why is it necessary to confess our sins to a priest? I found his answer helpful. Pope Francis explained that “if you are not capable of talking to your brother about your mistakes, you can be sure that you can’t talk about them with God either, and therefore you end up confessing into a mirror, to yourself. We are social beings and forgiveness has a social implication; my sin wounds mankind, my brothers and sisters, society as a whole. Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus.”

Towards the end of the book, the interviewer asks Pope Francis the following question: “What are the most important things that a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy?” The Pope’s response was to the point. The believer should “open up to the mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with Faith. And he should try to be merciful with other.” As we begin Lent, let us follow the Pope’s advice.

Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland ... Ciao Italia!

It's been a long time since I wrote any update about how my studies have been going. Whoops and sorry! So here's an overview of what I have been doing the last few months. By the way, when I say "overview", I mean mostly pictures!

Mid-July, after saying goodbye to everyone in Canada :'( I made my way to Koblenz, Germany. A requirement for my program is to have a decent knowledge of either German or French. In Koblenz, I studied German for about two months in the hopes of learning enough to satisfy this requirement. So I studied mucho .... I mean ... viel! I also had the chance to see some of the sights. Koblenz is a beautiful city relatively close to Frankfurt, situated where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet. There are many vineyards and castles along the banks of the river.
(Maybe I should have studied graphic design...)
Where the Rhine and Mosel meet
They grow wine here
I couldn't fit in this house
Maybe my diet was the problem...
At the end of September I went to Berlin to take my German exam. It was a pretty intimidating experience as the exam lasted two days. The first day we were tested on our listening, reading and writing. I thought I did so badly on the first day that I didn't want to come back the second day for the speaking portion! But I did, and when I received my results (a full three weeks of stress later)! I was surprised to discover that all went well! Passing this exam means that one requirement for my program was met.
Ya! I passed my German exam
In early October I made my way down to Rome for the start of my studies in Sacred Scripture. I now live in the Canadian College with about 25 other priests from across Canada, all taking different programs of study (for example: Liturgy, Moral Theology, Canon Law, Dogma, Ecclesiastical Basketweaving etc.). Our house is just a ten minute walk from St. Peter's Basilica. This makes it easy on a Sunday to go to the Angelus with Pope Francis.

Find Pope Francis!
I have classes everyday excepts for Thursday and Sunday. Its a strange schedule but apparently it's what St. Ignatius of Loyola thought was best! The school I attend is called the Pontifical Biblical Institute, or Biblicum for short.

My school - old like the Bible
In total the Biblicum has around 250 students from all over the world. Currently I am in the "Propaedeutic Year" of the program, which is a technical term for the year in which they make us study Greek and Hebrew until we cry!

The library: where I cry surrounded by old books
In between studies it is great to see some of the sights in the city. Here's something that I see on my way to school:
Pantheon - older than my school
My program is challenging but I am really enjoying it so far. Though I miss parish life in Vancouver, I feel incredibly privileged and blessed to have this change to study in Rome. I am trying to make the most of it! Till my next update (which I hope to do more regularly!), I wish you all the best. God bless!

How we reject Jesus the Prophet

Mark 6:1-6 (14th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

Gideon, one of the lesser-known of the ancient Jewish prophets, once prophesied that the king’s favourite horse would soon die. The horse died a short time later. The king was outraged at Gideon the prophet, certain that his prophecy had brought about the horse's death. The king summoned Gideon and commanded him, “Prophet, tell me when you will die!” Gideon realized that the king was planning to kill him immediately no matter what answer he gave, so he had to answer carefully. “I do not know when I will die,” he answered finally. “I only know that whenever I die, the king will die three days later.”

Sometimes we have the wrong idea of what a prophet is. We can think that a prophet is someone who predicts the future, a kind of fortune teller. Prophets in the Bible are not like. There we find that prophets are not like clairvoyants gazing into crystal balls, but are rather more like the voice in the GPS device for your car. Prophets help direct us to heaven, our ultimate destination. They keep us on the right track as we try growing closer to God. When we make a wrong turn and find ourselves on a path that leads us away from Him, they help us to get back on the right road.

Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour, is the greatest of all prophets. With His words and life, He shows us the definitive way to God our Father. Today in the Gospel we find Jesus preaching in the synagogue of His hometown. He is there speaking to people He has known since he was a child in order to challenge them to live better lives. Shockingly, Jesus Christ, the greatest of prophets, is rejected. Before we are tempted to look down on these people for casting Jesus and His message aside, let us consider two possible reasons why they might have acted in this way. When we think about it, we often do not behave much better. If we are not careful, we can easily ignore the message that Jesus wants us to hear for the same reasons as the people in His hometown.

Reason #1 for rejecting Jesus: Projection
One cartoon from my favorite comic strips Herman, gives a great example of what projection is. The single-panelled cartoon shows a middle-aged man standing in front of a desk speaking with his doctor. The man is perhaps slightly overweight but otherwise quite normal looking. At the bottom of the panel, we find the doctor’s question to his patient: “are you eating properly and getting plenty of exercise?” This question doesn’t seem out of place until we look across the table at the doctor. He is an enormous man sitting with a hand on his over-sized stomach! He is so fat he barely fits behind the desk! Psychologists tell us that we use projection as a defense mechanism against unpleasant feelings and impulses. Accepting a personal weakness hurts. In projection, we deny the existence of unsavoury characteristics in ourselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is constantly being rude may regularly accuse other people of being rude. In order to avoid the uncomfortable truth that his eating and exercise habits are horrendous, the doctor in the cartoon tells all his patients that they need to eat healthier and get more exercise.

When Jesus spoke in His hometown, His words must have made people uncomfortable. He revealed to them their shortcomings. Being made aware of the ways in which they are walking away from God must have made them feel very uneasy. Instead of accepting the pain that comes from recognizing their weaknesses and choosing to do something about it, the people defend themselves by employing some classic projection. They are not the ones who have a problem, Jesus is the problem! Who is this guy anyway? He’s just a carpenter! We know His mother and father! Who is He to tell us what to do?

We can all be pretty good at projection. Through readings at Mass, homilies, advice in confession and feedback from people we live with, God reveals to us ways in which we need to change. Instead of accepting our weak areas and trying to improve them, we can defend ourselves like the people in the Gospel. How can I be expected to be patient? Look at the people I have to live with! How can I pray more? My boss and family keep giving me more to do! Who do these people think they are, telling me I need to change? They are the ones with the problem! When we act like this, we reject Jesus as He continues His prophetic mission in our lives.

Reason #2 for rejecting Jesus: Blindness to the very ordinary ways God speaks to us
The people in the Gospel seem to reject Jesus because He is so ordinary in their eyes. This is someone they have known their whole life. They grew up with him. He doesn’t seem like anyone special. Like these people, we can think that if God really wanted us to change He would find some extraordinary way to communicate His message to us. A vision. A prophet from an important family in a more famous town. A telephone call from the Almighty Himself. God, however, rarely communicates through extraordinary means. The people miss God’s message for them because they do not want to listen to the ordinary seeming Jesus.

Jesus speaks His personal message to us in very ordinary ways. We read a passage from the Gospel and some phrase strikes us. We hear something in a talk that challenges us. The beauty of nature inspires us and makes us think about the creator. Someone we work with gives us some advice for how we can improve. Jesus the prophet speaks to us in very ordinary ways. We need to be sure not to miss Him.

This is my final Sunday at St. Paul Parish before I leave for further studies. For the past year I have been privileged to walk with this wonderful community as we all journey closer to God. In addition to expressing my gratitude, I want you to know that you have been a powerful way in which Jesus the prophet has spoken to me.  At this parish I have met many people who are generous in following Christ. Families who sacrifice for one another. Individuals who serve selflessly. People devoted to prayer, interceding for others. Through you I have heard the call of Jesus to better live my own vocation. At this parish, I have experienced a warm welcome and great kindness. You accepted me. You have kept me well fed - perhaps too well fed! I have created friendships I will cherish. Through you I have heard Jesus telling me how much He loves and cares for me.Thank you!

Let us continue to pray for one another that we may not reject Jesus’ prophetic message that He communicates to us in ordinary ways. Let us respond wholeheartedly to Him.