Getting to know St John XXIII (Hint: he also confessed to an ordinary priest!)

At 9:00am Roman time today, Pope Francis declared two former popes Saints of the Catholic Church.

Everyone, of course, knows St John Paul II — but St John XXIII…?

St  John XXIII was also known as "the Good Pope" -- and most probably with the same sense of humor as Pope Francis'. Image from mahhai on Flickr.

St John XXIII was also known as “the Good Pope” — and, some say, had the same sense of humor as Pope Francis’. Image from mahhai on Flickr.

Like most Catholics now, I’m also a recent “acquaintance” of John XXIII. I used to recognize him only as the fat, jolly pope who convened the Second Vatican Council in the ’60s. I also knew he had a published journal — modestly titled Journal of a Soul — which gives us glimpses of his interior life.

But that was all.

Now that his canonization has finally come, I did some research. Of course, you know my bias. 😉

It turns out he also went to Confession. Haha! Of course, all popes (not just Pope Francis) would go to Confession regularly! Didn’t I say even St John Paul II used to confess once a week?

St John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. Whooooaaaa, clergy galore. Photo from CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

St John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. Whooooaaaa, clergy galore. Photo from CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1881, St John XXIII reigned as Supreme Pontiff only for about five years. Brief, but what a church-changing period! He convened the Second Vatican Council, in a move that Pope Francis described today as a bold “openness to the Spirit”, as was the entire life of John XXIII. That Council, of course, had been misinterpreted by some but, in the mysterious ways of God, later on produced so much fruit and its true message came to light especially starting with the pontificate of St John Paul II. (Part of this message was the universal call to holiness — that everyone is called to become saints!)

And Confession — penance in general — was so much in the mind of the St John XXIII that he urged Catholics to do penitential acts in preparation for the Council. Months before the Council opened in October 1962, he issued the encyclical Paenitentia Agere (Doing Penance), in which he underlined the importance of penance in the spiritual life, both individual and ecclesial.

Doing penance for one’s sins is a first step towards obtaining forgiveness and winning eternal salvation,” he wrote. “No individual Christian can grow in perfection, nor can Christianity gain in vigor, except it be on the basis of penance.”

In a section where he discussed Baptism, he said:

…[W]ell may those sinners who have stained the white robe of their sacred baptism fear the just punishments of God. Their remedy is “to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb”(cf. Rev. 7.14 )—to restore themselves to their former splendor in the sacrament of Penance—and to school themselves in the practice of Christian virtue. 

Former splendor! Restored to grace, we can indeed become as angelic as newly baptized infants.

The body of St John XXIII in the crypts of St Peter's Basilica. The lady is taking a picture...and praying. Photo from Fox News

The body of St John XXIII in the crypts of St Peter’s Basilica. The lady is taking a picture…and praying. Photo from Fox News

And did you know that St John XXIII also did something like what St John Paul II did decades later? A story goes: when he was still Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Roncalli knelt and asked to go to Confession to one of his priests, whom he had caught doing something that a man of God wouldn’t. What he told the priest was simply edifying. Read the full article on page 2, par 1 »

After all this meager information I got, I’m now curious to know more about St John XXIII. His Journal should be a good start, right?

Soon-to-be Pope St John Paul II and why he used to confess once a week

I watched his funeral on TV, and I became interested to learn more about my faith. That was Blessed John Paul II’s first miracle for me. The next one was the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

One of the most charismatic persons in modern times, the future Pope St John Paul II also knew his shortcomings and went to Confession like all other sinners who want to become saints. Photo by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr

One of the most charismatic persons in modern times, the future Pope St John Paul II also knew his shortcomings and went to Confession like all other sinners who want to become saints. Photo by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr

And on Sunday Pope John Paul II will finally be declared a saint, along with Pope John XXIII.

Everyone, of course, thinks he should be. Even while he was still alive, he was labeled along with Mother (now Blessed) Teresa of Calcutta a “living saint.”

The miracles and his other virtues aside, one remarkable aspect of Pope John Paul II was his love for the Sacrament of Penance or Confession. He was known to go to Confession once a week.

In a forum in 2004, he said: It would be illusory to desire to reach holiness — according to the vocation that each one has received from God — without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and sanctification.” He added that together with the Holy Eucharist, “[Confession] accompanies the path of the Christian towards perfection.”

His Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance is another testament to his desire for Catholics to find God’s mercy in Confession and acts of penance. (I still haven’t yet read it in full, but so far so good!)

Also, if we were so edified by Pope Francis’ unexpected Confession last March, imagine how such a saint as JP2 must have also walked his talk.

I remember an anecdote about how Pope John Paul II invited a group of priests to dinner. One of the priests brought along a man he had met only a few days ago; the man was actually a priest who had gone astray many years ago and was now in the streets of Rome begging for alms. Long story short, the priest-turn-beggar-turned-lucky-man-to-have-dinner-with-the-pope was pulled aside by the Supreme Pontiff. Pope John Paul II confessed to him! The priest was at first hesitant since he had long ago been deprived of the “faculty” to hear confession, but the Pope said he was the Bishop of Rome and he could restore that faculty! Later on — though I’m not 100% sure — the priest himself was restored to his diocese.

I still get goosebumps when I hear this story.

Confession and plenary indulgence

Plenary indul–what?

Plenary indulgence, ladies and gents.

I was reminded of this beautiful reality when the Holy Father was about to give his Urbi et Orbi message and blessing last Easter Sunday. The commentator said that a plenary indulgence could be gained, given that the usual conditions are met.

Pope Francis gives his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday. Photo from

Pope Francis gives his Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) message on Easter Sunday. Photo from

But what is a plenary indulgence?

Simply put, it’s the removal or “remission of all temporal punishment due to sin.” Sounds scary, I know. But focus your attention on “removal” or “remission”.

You see, when we sin, it’s like we’ve hammered a nail into a piece of wood that’s perfect for a sculpture. So what do we do? We pull out the nail; this is like Confession. But then, of course, the nail has already left an ugly hole. It has to be filled in. That filling in the hole is like plenary indulgence.

Ugly nails and holes... Photo by havent the slightest on Flickr

Ugly nails and holes… Photo by havent the slightest on Flickr

Remember that sin, though forgiven in Confession, leaves in us scars or imperfections which are, of course, unacceptable in Heaven, where all is holy and pure. That’s why, by God’s mercy, there is Purgatory. This is where we are purified by suffering — terrible, but full of joy and hope, since anyone who is in Purgatory is already assured of Heaven (it’s only a matter of how much the soul has to be purified). Theologians would say that the ‘sensorial’ sufferings of Purgatory are the same as those in hell; the only difference is that in Purgatory there is salvation in the end; hell is everlasting.

That period spent in Purgatory, my friends, is basically the temporal punishment due to sin.

Thus we can skip this stopover in Purgatory through a plenary, or full, indulgence (which, by the way, can be applied to oneself or to souls in Purgatory). We can also skip it through the mortifications or sacrifices we do or receive here on earth. No wonder the saints find so much consolation in suffering!

So what are the conditions so that one can gain plenary indulgence?

  1. Detachment from (or hatred for) sin, including venial sins
  2. Confession within several days before or after the indulgenced act
  3. Holy Communion within several days before or after the indulgenced act
  4. Prayer for the Pope and his intentions

Easy peasy! But then, of course, whether we have adequately fulfilled these conditions (especially #1) is known to God alone, so we can never be proud of ourselves and tell people that we have “fulfilled” all the conditions for the plenary indulgence. (Pride is a sin, right?)

If you want to know more about indulgences (the other type is called “partial indulgence”), visit this Catholic Encyclopedia article or this EWTN page. Indulge!

Easter Sunday, the Awesomest

Today we celebrate the awesomest event ever — the Resurrection of Jesus!

It is the ultimate victory. Frodo and the Fellowship may have won against Sauron and his orcs, Harry Potter against Voldemort, the Allied forces against the Axis powers, but no one has defeated death and sin as Christ did. His triumph is the template and benchmark of all redemption-resurrection stories. Note, of course, how victory was sweetest when the enemy thought it had won, when it actually lost (cf. the Crucifixion).

Ultimate Victory! "Resurrection of Christ" by Hendrick van den Broeck

Ultimate Victory! “Resurrection of Christ” by Hendrick van den Broeck

If there is a day when joy is most proper, this is it! And I’m not talking about the feely-feely type of happiness; I’m talking about real joy, the contentment and confidence that only our adoption as children of God — done by Jesus especially in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection — can produce.

This is the Feast, the Day, the Night, the Hour, the Moment!

And more than any other day of the year, this is when conversion to a new life is most appropriate. Not only because this is when Christ rose again from the dead, but this is when he established everything to be new and fresh again — a new Creation, raised to the order of grace — the day when Confession and all the other Sacraments acquired their full effectiveness! The day when going to heaven became possible!


Happy Easter, everyone! And together with Jesus, let’s live again!

Missing the Mass

Today and tomorrow — Good Friday and Holy Saturday — there will be no Mass. No bread and wine will be turned into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. 

On Good Friday, the Crucifix is placed on or in front of the altar. We venerate it by genuflecting. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

On Good Friday, the Crucifix is placed on or in front of the altar. We venerate it by genuflecting. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

(The Easter Vigil Mass — which will be held on Saturday night — is of course a Mass, but it’s already considered a Mass for the next day.)

No Mass for two days! 

It may sound unremarkable and so-what-ish, but it is a big deal.

The Mass the “source and summit of the Christian life,” says the Catechism. It is towards the Mass that all Sacraments — including Confession, of course — are oriented. All the Sacraments are there so that we can all participate well in the Holy Eucharist as one People of God.

The thing is, the Holy Mass is sooooo immensely rich and profound that creating a separate blog about it (All About the Holy Mass!) seems like an inevitable future for me. In fact, I thought about making this blog so that more and more people can fully participate in the Mass! (I guess you know that if we think we have committed a mortal sin, we are not allowed to receive Communion.)

I said the Holy Mass is sooooo immensely rich and profound, but for the sake of this post and in light of today’s commemoration (the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ), here are three of hundreds of reasons why the Mass seems so underrated now:

  • Knowing that he was about to die, how lovingly must Jesus have done all he did in this meal! (If you know who painted this, please tell me! I like it. Thanks.)

    Knowing that he was about to die, how lovingly must Jesus have done all he did in this meal! (If you know who painted this, please tell me! I like it. Thanks.)

    It is the best physical Gift of our Lord! He leaves not photos of himself, or a lock of hair, or teddy bears with love notes, but himself, his very self. He left, yet he remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament (better than Skype).

  • It is the closest thing to heaven itself! If in heaven we become one with but God, so do we in Holy Communion, if we have the right disposition. The only difference seems to be just that here we are still mortal — subject to death and sin and time — and the Sacred Host is dissolved into our poor bodies. Our senses cannot grasp the mind-blowing supernatural reality that happens to us when we receive Communion, that’s why we can still comment that the Host is bland.
  • It is the best reality happening on earth! Imagine all the glories of Michael Jackson and Beyonce’s concerts (okay, don’t imagine too much), and the majesty of all the royalties in the world now and in the past, and all the World Youth Days and papal visits — all those are nothing compared to one simple Mass. I think it was St John Mary Vianney who said that Creation itself (that is, Genesis and all its ‘effects’ — the universe!) pales in comparison to a single Mass. Because in Creation, no-thing was turned into being; while in the Mass, poor things — bread and wine — are turned/transubstantiated into God, the Creator and Master of the Universe himself!


So there.

I invite you to read more about the Holy Mass. Writings by saints like St John Mary Vianney, St Josemaria Escriva, St Therese of Liseux, and St Thomas Aquinas are sure to inspire you to be more attentive at such an ordinary- and simple-looking rite.

Sometimes I get a kick out of imagining the above saints and their peers and all the angels in heaven in an eternal gasp as we, sinners on earth, receive Communion.

Happy Priests’ Day! (or, Why a world without priests is a sad, sad place)

I was late for the Chrism Mass today at the Manila Cathedral.

I was at the threshold of the centuries-old church (rebuilt several times after wars and destructive earthquakes), where I could only see the Mass presided by Cardinal Tagle, but not hear it.

The Last Supper, the First Mass. Today priests continue to make Christ present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By Juan de Juanes (c. 1560). Image from

The Last Supper, the First Mass. Today priests continue to make Christ present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Juan de Juanes (c. 1560). Image from

Marshals already closed the glass doors when people inside already occupied most of the back area. Unlucky, tardy me. It was too warm in my spot and some of the crowd were already beginning to complain, like the Hebrews at Massah. It was impossible to participate in the Mass properly.

I left.

Lo and behold, a large crowd had already gathered at the plaza outside the minor basilica. Many were holding streamers congratulating their respective parish priests. “Happy Priests’ Day!” one banner seemed to shout.

And I have to agree: it is Priests’ Day, although technically there is no such Day. But what we commemorate today — the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, and therefore the priesthood — kinda justifies it. It’s a day for our priests, our confessors!

The world would be such a sad place if Jesus — the One Eternal Priest — didn’t institute the priesthood. Imagine a world without priests:

  • No sanctifying grace — channeled through Baptism and Confession — which allows us to share in God’s very life and nature
  • No Blessed Sacrament — the physical and real presence of Jesus Christ in the world!
  • No Pope, who is the visible head of the Church, leading us by concrete words and actions to God
  • No grace given to married couples, who need supernatural strength to overcome the difficulties of married life
  • No spiritual strength and peace given to the ill through the Anointing of the Sick
  • No blessing for homes and other buildings, which may be hosting demons
  • No exorcism (because, as Pope Francis says, the devil is real and denying its existence is being naive)
  • No spiritual guidance given by men who are specially blessed by God and completely dedicated to Him and His Church
  • No Holy Mass — the most amazing thing that can ever happen on earth (an infinite number of beautiful universes is nothing compared to a simple Mass), where God gives Himself and become truly, really, and substantially present!

St John Mary Vianney, Patron of Priests, said it perfectly when he remarked that “the Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” (quoted in CCC 1589).

Happy Priests’ Day!

PS. Pray — especially today — that all our priests be truly faithful, holy, and happy. (Didn’t I say it’s Happy Priests’ Day?) 😛

Kumpisalang Bayan: The annual blockbuster hit

I’m not sure if Kumpisalang Bayan (Mass Confessions) is a uniquely Filipino lenten tradition, or if it’s just a name to an activity that’s logical to have every Holy Week.

People lining up for Confession -- oh, wait -- lining up for the MRT. A daily reality that can help thousands of Filipinos avoid hell and skip Purgatory. Photo from Manila Bulletin

People lining up for Confession — oh, wait — lining up for the MRT. A daily reality that can help thousands of Filipinos avoid hell and skip Purgatory. Photo from Manila Bulletin

Well, whatever, I like it. I like that there’s such a time when parishes give more time for people to go to Confession. Normally this means having more priests available to hear confessions on a specified day, until late at night, on or towards Holy Week. This is when people make such a queue as to reach extraecclesial areas — ahem, the church grounds.

Of course, this custom is very practical as well. Catholics are expected to receive Holy Communion once a year, during the Easter season. So the person with the greatest mortals sins, if he repents and goes to the Kumpisalang Bayan, will be able to fulfill that annual requirement. Life is easy.

It’s also a wonderful gesture of the Church to highlight the core of the lenten season, which is conversion. Turning away from evil and becoming true children of God. Thus, with the Kumpisalang Bayan, we leave behind what is frivolous and harmful to our lives — sin — and emerge new again and prepared to celebrate the heart of our faith, the Resurrection of Christ.

Havens of Confession in Metro Manila — and then the world!

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Makati City is a small chapel with a steady stream of penitents lining up for Confession.

The Sto Nino de Paz Community Chapel — nicknamed Greenbelt Chapel (after the mall in which it is located) — is probably the most convenient place to go to Confession. (At least, for us, Makati-based professionals.)

Greenbelt Chapel! Photo from the chapel's Facebook page (please let me use this...)

Greenbelt Chapel! Photo from the chapel’s Facebook page (please let me use this…)

I mean, it’s just there…ALWAYS with a priest waiting at the confessional from 7am to 8pm on most days of the week.

That’s. Just. Awesome! Especially for a place that’s supposed to be the central business district of the Philippines!

But Greenbelt Chapel isn’t the only one with a remarkable record for having an almost round-your-waking-hours availability of the Sacrament of Confession. UA&P’s Stella Orientis Chapel is another noteworthy place, with a priest at the confessional from 830am to 730pm. The famous Baclaran and Quiapo Churches also have among Metro Manila’s most-frequented confessionals, with about 12 Confession hours each day (almost)!

Click the image below to view a map of Metro Manila’s churches/chapels with a regular schedule for Confessions (sorry, seems like Google has disabled embedding custom maps!). I only indicated four for now, since it’s already late at night (*yaaawn*) and those are the only ones I can cite that have more than four hours of Confession time for most days of the week, the minimum number of awesomeness.


Click me! Click me! I can also be reached through 😉

Please help me build this map! Drop me a request at so I can add you as a collaborator in making the map. (Oh, and you gotta have a Google account to do that.)

And if you’re not from Metro Manila or any part of the Philippines, all the better! You can help me build the most comprehensive map of Confession hubs around the wooooorrrllddd!

Blessed Holy Monday!

FessTime Project: A campaign to set a regular time for Confession in all churches and chapels

Nothing can more frustrating than a time when we are so ready to return to God, and find no schedule for Confession at the local church.

Or, if there is such a schedule, find no priest at the confessional at the scheduled time!

"Egad! But it's 5:30!"

“Egad! But it’s 5:30!”

And no, setting an appointment with the priest wouldn’t work — especially for the shy-type long-lost penitent.

God’s mercy poured forth in Confession has to be regularly available to all the faithful, just like the Holy Mass.

So join FessTime Project, our campaign in requesting parishes and chaplaincies to set a regular schedule for Confession every week — or even daily!

This campaign can work in three easy steps:

  1. Download this super-light template letter.
  2. Edit to your parish’s or chapel’s circumstances.
  3. Print and hand it to your parish office or chaplaincy.

It’s. That. Easy!

Everybody happy!

Everybody happy!

But, of course, this campaign is no longer applicable to churches and chapels that have — thank God — regular schedules for Confession.

It’s time we get to appreciate Confession better. It’s time to have regular Confession schedules in all churches and chapels.

FessTime Project. It’s time.

[FessTime Project banner image adapted from Steve Ranson on Flickr under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

How to do an examination of conscience before Confession

There are as many ways to examine your conscience before Confession as there are ways to skin a cat.

Okay, wrong comparison. (I assure you I don’t skin cats.)

Cuuute. Photo by Martin Poole on Getty Images

Cuuute. And unskinnable. Photo by Martin Poole on Getty Images

But yes, there are different ways to see how we have offended God since our last Confession. Some take a long time and involve a lengthy list of questions; some are very short, about three minutes. (Normally the length of time spent on the examination depends on the length of time since one’s last Confession.)

But whether long or short, an examination of conscience essentially involves a few unforgettable steps. Here’s a simple process:

  1. Put yourself in the presence of God. Ask the Holy Spirit for light and humility.
  2. Try to remember when you did your last Confession. You’ll need to tell the priest about this later on (e.g. one week, one month, two years, 10 years).
  3. Go through each of the Ten Commandments, and see how you might have violated it. Can’t remember all ten? You can download this guide if you’re a teen, or this if you’re an adult. For each sin committed or good thing omitted, try to remember how many times you did it. No need to be Sheldon Cooper-ishly exact about numbers, just tell the priest about your lack of sureness (e.g. “I did it four, maybe five, times.”)
  4. Memorize the sins you’ll confess. You can make a list if you want, but make sure you dispose of it properly afterwards (nobody wants their sins publicized, right?).
  5. Thank God for showing you light.
  6. Make a sincere act of contrition, from the bottom of your heart.
  7. Go confess!