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Recognizing Sins as Dead Ends
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Forgiving Ourselves
Jesus’ Use of Parables
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours
Disposing of Religious Articles


Q: I am unable to forgive myself fully for certain sins that I have confessed. I truly believe that God has forgiven me, but I get many flashbacks, especially now that I am older. Then I start feeling as if something is missing—either in my repentance or in believing that I have been forgiven. I have confessed some of the same sins many times! This gets very discouraging.

A: It is often more difficult to forgive ourselves than to accept God’s forgiveness. If we fail to forgive ourselves, however, we tend to be stuck somewhere that we need to leave behind. When we truly accept God’s forgiveness, we can move forward, following God’s lead to a place of greater truth, freedom and courage.

Please, confess what you need to confess, do your penance and then allow your life to be filled with God’s grace. The more you allow regret and shame to dominate your life, the less room you are making available for God’s grace to operate.

After his resurrection, did Jesus come down hard on the apostles for having deserted him in the Garden of Gethsemane? The Gospels do not record that he asked questions such as: “Where were all of you when I needed you most? Didn’t you learn anything when you were with me? Where was all your bravery and loyalty when it really counted, Peter?”

According to Luke, the Risen Jesus greeted the apostles by saying, “Peace be with you” (24:36). In the Gospel of John, Jesus adds, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21). Then he gives them the Holy Spirit and commissions them to forgive sins (20:22-23). Jesus cannot change past decisions by the apostles or anyone else, but he leads the way to a life-giving future—if they will accept it.

Even so, the apostles will later sin and need to be forgiven. The temptation to regard God’s ways as too difficult never completely disappears this side of heaven.

Confession does not change our past, but it prepares us to cooperate more fully with God’s grace—and thereby to have a very different future.

Satan knows this very well and thus tries to capitalize on our fears and the fact that we can be discouraged rather easily. Once we have been honest with the Lord through our repentance, received absolution, resolved not to repeat that sin and later carried out our penance, we need to turn this situation over to God. Otherwise, we can torment ourselves endlessly, serving neither God’s interests nor ours.

Our ability to sin can never overpower God’s desire and ability to forgive. Genuine repentance opens our eyes to that fact and prepares us to fight Satan’s endless attempts to convince us that we cannot change, that we must remain stuck in our sins.

Along these lines, you might enjoy The Screwtape Letters, a classic fictional work by C.S. Lewis. Uncle Screwtape, a veteran devil, advises his nephew, a very inexperienced devil, on how best to trip up the man he has been assigned to tempt. Screwtape’s comments about sin, grace and “the Enemy” (God) and how devils work most effectively are very enlightening.

My 33 years of hearing confessions have convinced me that no matter what specific name we give it, every sin is identical in one way: It is a dead end masquerading as a shortcut. That was sin’s attraction for Adam and Eve, who recognized too late that they had allowed themselves to be deceived. Seeking to gain greater freedom, they found themselves less free. That is sin’s relentless cycle for all of us.

Every confession is a way of recognizing sin’s subtlety and preparing ourselves for the next dead end that presents itself as a shortcut to something good.

Q: In the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed, his disciples ask him to explain its meaning. In 8:10 he answers them, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand’” [quoting Isaiah 6:9].

A: Before the Resurrection, even the apostles did not fully comprehend Jesus’ parables or allow them to influence their lives significantly. If they had, would they have deserted him in the Garden of Gethsemane? If we are open to Jesus’ parables, they usually lead us where we would not have gone otherwise—but where we need to go in order to allow God’s grace to influence our lives at progressively deeper levels.

Some people dismiss any or all of Jesus’ parables as strange or impractical. Doing that protects them from the radical message of the parables.

In a way, the parable you mention could represent all his parables—each one plants a seed, but we determine to what extent it grows.

Q: How does one pray them? What times are best for doing so? Are there any guidelines for praying them privately? Also, what is an antiphon?

A: The Liturgy of the Hours (sometimes called “the breviary”) is a cycle of prayer spread over the entire day, a way of affirming that ultimately all time belongs to God. This form of prayer began in monasteries and was later adopted by diocesan priests, deacons and members of other religious communities. After Vatican II, more laypeople took up the practice, praying the Hours privately or with a nearby religious community.

The Bible’s 150 psalms, together with Old Testament and New Testament canticles, are spread out over a four-week cycle (Week 1, Week 2, etc.). These are complemented by other Scripture readings and short periods of silence.

Morning Prayer (also known as Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) are the “hinge” hours. The first is usually prayed soon after a person gets up in the morning; the other is usually prayed between four and six p.m. Morning Prayer always includes intercessions for the Church and society, an Old Testament canticle and the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79). Evening Prayer has a New Testament canticle, its own intercessions and the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).

Each day’s cycle begins with the Office of Readings (Matins), a series of three psalms, then continues with a longer biblical reading and a passage from someone like St. Jerome, St. Augustine or some other preacher, and closes with a prayer.

Shorter “hours” are prayed at mid-morning, midday and mid-afternoon. The day concludes with Night Prayer, which is usually prayed after 6 p.m.

The Liturgy of the Hours varies because it reflects the Church’s liturgical season and the feasts of Jesus, Mary and selected saints.

Various editions of the Liturgy of the Hours are available at Catholic bookstores, such as St. Francis Bookshop. Catholic Book Publishing Company offers four-volume editions (regular print or large print), Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours (complete Morning, Evening and Night Prayer with selections from other Hours) and Daytime Prayer.

Liturgical Training Publications publishes An Everyday Book of Hours (Morning and Evening Prayer). Liturgy of the Hours: An Inclusive Language Setting (Benet Press) and Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary (Liturgical Press) are available. Separate Guides to the Liturgy of the Hours indicate the page numbers for each day’s prayers.

An antiphon is a short verse, usually from the Bible or drawing on the Bible. In the Liturgy of the Hours, it introduces and concludes each psalm or canticle. In the Mass, antiphons are used at the start of Mass and the beginning of the Communion rite.

Q: Various charities send me unsolicited rosaries, medals, holy cards, small statues and prayer books. I was taught to burn religious articles no longer needed. That isn’t possible with some of these things. Can I throw them in the trash can? How can I get these organizations to stop sending these things?

A: No, you shouldn’t throw these away. You can bury the metal items or, even better, find a catechist or chaplain who would be happy to give them to someone who might want them. If your parish bulletin contains a notice for a rosary-making group, its members might be willing to accept some of these items.

If you stop donating to the charities that send unsolicited religious articles, you will eventually receive such items less often. The dilemma you describe is a very common one these days.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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