Surge of penitents at Baclaran Church

So two weeks ago my friend and I went to Baclaran Church to do a Marian pilgrimage.

Obviously not a Wednesday or a Sunday. Photo from wikimedia.org

Obviously not a Wednesday, when even the church grounds become crowded. Photo from wikimedia.org

The church is known for the miraculous icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the millions-strong followers that she has there. Every Wednesday devotees throng by the thousands to attend Holy Mass at the church (there’s one almost the whole day).

I could hardly contain my joy during the pilgrimage when I saw people lining up for Confession — at least 14 of them! — because that’s all the queuing space could accommodate. I remembered that about this time last year, I also went to Confession here. It was also late in the afternoon, and there was no queue; I immediately got in to the confessional.

So what happened? What’s with the sudden surge of penitents?

I did not investigate, but It was surely the work of the Holy Spirit. AND Pope Francis’ instrumentality in the work of the Holy Spirit. Remember how he unexpectedly went to Confession in public last March? That was the strongest image of repentance we’ve seen on pontifical levels.

Anyway. So I was happy seeing the mixed bunch of penitents: old and young, dainty and gruff. And every time one enters the confessional, someone else joins the tail-end of the queue. And the other churchgoers couldn’t help ogling at the queue that barred the entire side aisle (for some reason, we didn’t go parallel to the walls). Confession is going mainstream!

My friend and I went to Confession as well. Thus our Marian pilgrimage ended with Mary’s signature surprise: the joy of finding ourselves in her Son’s embrace.

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Confession and the early Christians (or, Dudes who went to Confession before Pope Francis made it cool)

The saddest thing about ignorance is that it often leads to hate.

That’s why it irks me big time when people say that Confession was “invented” in the Middle Ages, so that people would share their dirty little secrets and “useful” information to their equally corrupt clergy.

I've always admired the early Christians. Close enough to Jesus's time and far enough to see the billion-strong membership that is fruit of their faithfulness to God. And they're the original Catholic hipsters. :P Photo by Roger Jolly on Flickr under CC BY 2.0

I’ve always admired the early Christians. They were close enough to Jesus’ time yet far enough from seeing the billion-strong membership that is the fruit of their faithfulness to God. And they’re the original Catholic hipsters. 😛 Photo by Live Action Hero on Flickr under CC BY 2.0

Truth is, Confession has been here — at least in its rudiments — since biblical times! And even before Jesus instituted it formally, St John the Baptist already heard people’s confessions before he baptized them in the Jordan River. (Of course, his version of confession rite was merely symbolic of the people’s repentance, with no effects equal to those of the Sacrament which Jesus would institute years later.)

Immediately after Jesus ascended to heaven, the first Christians were already encouraging each other to go to Confession. They looked at the Sacrament as necessary for salvation. Their faith was sincere and simple, as can be gleaned in these quotes from some early Christians:

“If the serpent, the devil, bites someone secretly, he infects that person with the venom of sin. And if the one who has been bitten keeps silence and does not do penance, and does not want to confess his wound . . . then his brother and his master, who have the word [of absolution] that will cure him, cannot very well assist him.
– St Jerome, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:11 [AD 388]

It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles.”
– St Basil the Great, Rules Briefly Treated 288 [AD 374]

Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . . I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord.”
– St Cyprian of Carthage, The Lapsed 28 [AD 251]

“[A final method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner… does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, ‘I said, “To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity.”
– Origen, Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [AD 248]

“[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness.”
– Tertullian, Repentance 10:1 [AD 203]

Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . . On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
– The Didache 4:14, 14:1 [A.D. 70]

These quotes were culled from Catholic.com

St John Mary Vianney and Confession

I read a little more about St John Mary Vianney recently. And among the words that appeared to my mind was: mad.

The guy was was madly in love with God.

Now venerated as the Patron Saint of Priests, he is quoted in the Catechism to summarize what the priesthood is: “the love of the Heart of Jesus.” He’s so identified with the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, that on the 150th anniversary of his departure to Heaven, then Pope Benedict XVI declared the year 2009 as the “Year for Priests.”

Whoaaa. The incorrupt body of the Cure of Ars. Photo by Herwig Reidlinger on Wikimedia under CC license

Whoaaa. The incorrupt body of the Cure of Ars. Photo by Herwig Reidlinger on Wikimedia under CC license

Among his most outstanding traits is his commitment to hear Confessions. He clearly saw the Sacrament crucial to fulfill mission, the salvation of souls. The Curé of Ars (as he is also known — the Parish Priest of Ars, a farming town in eastern France) would spend 13-17 hours in the confessional! (And here I am, I can’t even stand sitting in the office for an hour!)

It is also said that St John Mary Vianney sometimes wept while hearing Confession. When asked by the penitent why he was crying, the saint replied: “My friend, I weep because you do not weep.” He was totally convinced of the malice of sin, which cost all the blood of Christ on the Cross.

So, it would be good to ask the prayers of St John Mary Vianney when we are about to go to Confession — so that we would do our best to be simple, emptying ourselves of sins, so that Christ can fill us with himself.

At last — a free app about Confession!

Some days back, I was exploring the App Store aimlessly when I stumbled upon the most awesome Confession-related app I’ve ever seen: ConfessionGuide.

ConfessionGuide for your iPad and iPhone! Image from St Josemaria Institute website

ConfessionGuide for your iPad and iPhone! Image from St Josemaria Institute website

It’s free(!!!), it’s compact, and it has all the steps to making a good Confession, from examination of conscience to ways on dealing with post-Confession euphoria. Okay, I made up that last part. It actually has a short note on what to do right after Confession, namely, giving thanks to God, etc. Aaand it also has a built-in reminder for your next Confession. You just set it up according to your taste: weekly, monthly, whatever.

The app was developed by St Josemaria Institute of Opus Dei. All the better. A fan of St Josemaria Escriva myself, I’ve always looked up to Opus Dei as a solid and loyal guide when it comes to pursuing saintly awesomeness.

Download the app now!

(Sorry, Android friends, the app doesn’t seem to be on Google Play yet. But I’m contacting the developers about the need to release your version.)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Confession

I’ve always considered myself part of Generation BXVI — those of us who discovered the beauty of the Faith during the pontificate and through the teachings of the now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Wait -- what? Pope Benedict XVI reads his resignation notice during a consistory on February 11, 2013. Photo from dailymail.co.uk

Wait — what? Pope Benedict XVI reads his resignation notice during a consistory on February 11, 2013. Photo from dailymail.co.uk

(Bee-Ex-Vee-Ai! Sounds so snazzy!)

That’s why I really couldn’t help tearing up a bit as he left the Vatican last year.

He is an amazingly humble man — and a hipster pope in many ways, starting with his choice of footwear (red) and including, of course, the rare way he ended his pontificate (with a resignation notice written in Latin!). And all that, certainly, being a manifestation of his humility.

But all those wonderful qualities aside, it’s his diamond-like brilliance — clear and incisive — coupled with an evident piety, which impresses me the most. He can discuss the same stuff with his fellow theologians and then with children with such oomph and depth that it hits you softly the first time, then as seconds pass by you feel the impact more and more, and then you feel certain that you can think and pray about what he said for the next few days. His words — very much like Jesus’ — are inebriating! (In a good way.)

This brilliance and piety he displayed, for example, when he talked about Confession precisely in separate get-togethers with theologians and children during his papacy.

To the children, who had just received their First Communion, he explained why regular Confession is good, even if we end up confessing the same sins.

It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen but it builds up.

Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul which Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons.

Confession being like regular house cleaning! How vivid and simple can you get to explain frequent Confession?

Then Pope Benedict XVI exits a temporary confessional where he administered the Sacrament to four pilgrims of the World Youth Day in Madrid. Photo from CNS / L'Osservatore Romano

Ho-hum. Pope Benedict XVI exits from a temporary confessional where he administered the Sacrament to four pilgrims of the World Youth Day in Madrid. Photo from CNS / L’Osservatore Romano

And then to priests and bishops, he remarked that Confession is something wherein it is not only the penitent who receives some benefit, but the priest as well. He said, “The celebration of the sacrament of Penance has a pedagogical value for the priest, as regards his faith, as well as the truth and poverty of his person, and nourishes within him an awareness of the sacramental identity.”

His other words from that meeting with confessors:

The faithful and generous availability of priests to hear confessions — after the example of the great saints of the past from St John Mary Vianney to St John Bosco, from St Josemaría Escrivá to St Pius of Pietrelcina, from St Joseph Cafasso to St Leopold Mandić — shows all of us that the confessional may be a real “place” of sanctification.

[…]

Basically, hearing confession means witnessing as many professiones fidei as there are penitents, and contemplating the merciful God’s action in history, feeling tangibly the saving effects of the Cross and of the Resurrection of Christ, in every epoch and for every person.

[…]

Then, how much the priest can learn from exemplary penitents: through their spiritual life, the seriousness with which they carry out their examination of conscience, the transparency with which they admit their sins and their docility to the Church’s teaching and to the confessor’s instructions.

I’m sure he has more profound stuff about the Sacrament of Confession, but obviously I have not yet read his library of theological books — all written by himself!

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 www.saltandlighttv.org

Pope Francis gives his Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) message on Easter Sunday. Photo from http://www.saltandlighttv.org

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!

AWESOME.

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!

*Panting*

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.