by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Spring training is in full swing for major league baseball. This is the time of year when every baseball fan is hopeful for a great season for their favorite team. For the players, this is a time for them to get back in playing condition and even for the seasoned veterans to return to practicing the basic skills of the game.
The final half of Lent can be compared to a spiritual spring training. In a sense, Lent helps us get back to the basics of the spiritual life — an increase in the time we spend with God (prayer), freeing ourselves from being dependent on material things and comforts (fasting), and greater awareness of the needs of others and a greater generosity for assisting others (almsgiving).
The ultimate fundamental for the spiritual life is being aware of our need for God, especially our need for his mercy. The most important step we can take in renewing and deepening our faith life as Catholics is to receive the sacrament of reconciliation/penance.
Even though our priests have made extraordinary efforts during the pandemic to make this sacrament safely available, many Catholics have not been to confession for quite some time.
Jesus in his earthly ministry was constantly forgiving sins. In fact, this was one of the aspects of his ministry that got Our Lord into trouble with Jewish authorities.
In John’s Gospel, on Easter night, when the apostles were most keenly aware of their own sinfulness by having abandoned Our Lord during his passion and crucifixion, Jesus empowered them to continue his ministry of mercy through all time. We know Our Lord desires to heal our hearts by his merciful love available to us through the sacrament of reconciliation.
For our part, we need to bring to this sacrament the virtues of faith, humility and honesty. We know Jesus will respond lovingly when we approach him in this way.
Our preparation for the sacrament is to make a good examination of conscience in order that we have a clear understanding of our sin and our need for God’s mercy. This is again a crucial fundamental of the Christian life, knowing we are sinners in need of a Redeemer.
There are many excellent tools (examinations of conscience) that are readily available via the internet. However, perhaps the most frequently used one we heard last Sunday in the first reading for Mass, the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments were the heart of the Law given by God to the Israelites. The devout Jew sees God’s law as a great blessing. They do not experience the law of God as something that is prohibitive but rather, protective from attitudes and behaviors that are harmful and destructive.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church actually provides an amazing reflection and explanation of the implications of the Ten Commandments beginning with paragraph 2084 through paragraph 2557. It comprises more than 100 pages in the catechism.
I encourage you to read this beautiful meditation on the breadth and depth of the commandments. I will give you the “Reader’s Digest” version on the first three commandments that pertain to our relationship with God.
The First Commandment: I am the Lord your God. . . . You shall have no other gods before me. In many ways, this is the most important of all the commandments. For a happy life, we need to have our priorities properly ordered. Thus, we must place our relationship with God first in our lives and build everything else upon that most fundamental relationship.
Important questions to ask ourselves are: What are the idols in my life? What is more important to me than my relationship with God? Are material things, or being respected or well thought of by others, or certain pleasures or activities, or certain human relationships more important to me than God?
These are not bad things in themselves. However, if any of them assume greater importance than our friendship with God, then they are disordered and will impede the happiness God desires for us.
The Second Commandment — You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain — requires reverence for God.
For Jews, to pronounce God’s name revealed to Moses is an act of irreverence. To use God’s name in a trivial manner is to disrespect God. The flip side of taking the Lord’s name in vain is the realization that we owe God honor, praise, thanksgiving and adoration.
The Third Commandment — Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy — reminds us that we need to devote significant time to our relationship with God. It is not that God needs us to adore and worship him, but rather we need to spend time with God.
For the Christian, the Sabbath day is Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. For the Catholics, Sunday should be the center of our week, and participating in the Eucharist should be the center of our Sunday.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I suspended the precept of the church regarding the obligation for every Catholic to participate each week in Sunday Mass. I did this to protect the health of parishioners and to prevent the spread of the virus in the community.
I plan to reinstate the Sunday obligation sometime after Easter. Of course, those with serious health concerns are never bound to this obligation
However, before the pandemic many Catholics — not for health concerns — were not faithfully observing this precept. We owe giving God time. Participating in the Eucharist, properly understood, should never be considered an obligation, but the greatest possible privilege.
The Third Commandment also reminds us that, for our own emotional and psychological health, we need to rest and not to be working constantly. We need time to pray, to reflect on the word of God, to do other spiritual reading and to participate in the Eucharist.
However, another part of keeping the Lord’s day is rest from our usual work. This rest includes making a priority to spend time with family and friends, cultivating healthy and holy relationships through which we encourage each other in the pursuit of virtue.
In a subsequent column, I will reflect on commandments four through 10. Once we have given God the proper place in our lives, the remaining commandments guide us in our love and respect for others. Feel free to read ahead in the catechism as you prepare to go to confession.
Jennifer Fulwiler, a convert from atheism to Catholicism, observed after making her first confession: “I cannot believe this is free!”
When we receive the sacrament of reconciliation with humility and honesty, we will experience a peace that, in the words of the old Mastercard commercial, is priceless!