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On our podcast, Br. Tito and I talk all of the time about the importance of story-telling, how entertainment can be a doorway into a deeper experience of our own reality. Movies and television give us opportunities to see and hear what we may never experience in our own world, and yet, through it all, help us learn more about ourselves.

None of this is possible, quite obviously, without the actors that portray the stories. They are the vehicles to this new world. Without them, and without a good performance from them, we fail to suspend our disbelief and fail to leave our own contexts.

This week, we wanted to discuss those actors, men and women, who can tell a story. Who inspires us? Who gives us chills? Who can play any role under the sun?

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One of the most common complaints waged against Catholics (and Orthodox) by Protestants is the sacrament of confession: “Why do you need to go to a priest for confession? Why can’t you go straight to Jesus?” While seemingly an easy question to dismiss (just Protestants ignoring tradition, right?) there is actually an interesting theological question at work here, not unlike the question of baptism: Is it really required? When we use that word, we’re not simply saying required for the standards of the Church, but signifying that it is the only way that it is possible for something to happen.

Surely this is not what we mean when we say that one must confess their sins to a priest.

For starters, we accept that the Eucharist is a sacrament of reconciliation, meaning that all who receive it are freed of their venial sins. So, right there, we see an exception. You don’t HAVE to confess to a priest to have your sins forgiven.

But even beyond that, as I outline in this video, the idea that confession is the only way that God can forgive a sinner is ridiculous. OF COURSE God can forgive whomever God wants whenever and however God wants. The sacraments do not bind God or limit what God can do!

Instead, it is much better to say that the sacraments are the clearest forms of God’s grace, and, the crux of the matter, the only form that offers assurance of that grace. While God can show mercy and forgiveness in an infinite number of ways, it is only through the sacraments that we can be sure that we have received it, for they are visible signs of invisible graces. You can’t miss them!

So, does someone have to go to confession to have their sins forgiven? Obviously not. And the Church doesn’t teach that. What it does teach is that, if someone wants the surety of absolution and wants to be a part of the community once more (because the community wants that assurance as well!) then there is only one ordinary means: the sacrament that Christ instituted.

The following is my homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

Growing up, I never doubted the existence of God; there was something inside of me that accepted that God was real, that Jesus performed miracles and whatnot, and so I always said my prayers, went to Church, tried to be a good person. No, I never doubted God, but I also wasn’t particularly moved by God either; I said my prayers because that’s what you’re supposed to do, went to Church because my mom made me, and tried to be a good person, well, because. I considered myself a “believer,” but really, that’s all I was. Someone who believed… but didn’t really act any differently from anyone else.

That was, until I was 16. When I was 16, I went on a retreat with my church. On one of the evenings of this retreat, I was handed a block of wood and a marker, and was told to write on that block of wood everything that was burdening me—my sins, jealousies, pains, regrets, everything that was weighing me down—and then to throw that block of wood in the bonfire.

Needless to say, this was a cathartic experience. Sitting there, I watched everything wrong with my life—all of my mistakes, my regrets, my pains, weaknesses, unrealized dream and desires—slowly burn to a crisp. In a matter of minutes, they were gone. Absolutely obliterated. While I knew that none of these problems had actually changed, that this was just a symbolic act, the symbolism struck a cord with me: in that moment, I felt, probably for the first time ever, the healing touch of Christ. That wood may just be a symbol, but that is what he actually does. He does take away our sins. He does give us strength in weakness. He does heal our wounds and give us new life. And all of those things that weigh us down, those things that burden us, those things that we feel like are so important and they’re ruining our lives… well, they really aren’t much more important than ash in the face of God.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced something like this, but it was one of the most freeing moments of my life, and the moment, I really believe, that I became a follower of Christ. I came back from that retreat a different person, a person that wanted to serve, to devote my life to God and the Church. I had felt the amazing healing power of Jesus, and I wanted to share it with everyone I met.

In many ways, my story is the most common story in the Bible. All throughout the Bible, people come to faith because they have been healed. In our readings today, we hear of two such stories.

In 2 Kings we remember Namaan, a general from a foreign nation with leprosy. There is obviously something in him that believes in the God of Israel, believes that Elisha is a prophet, otherwise he would not have traveled so far, but he is by no means a follower of this God. That is, until he is healed. Washed in the Jordan 7 times, he has done to him what no other prophet or god could do: his disease is gone, his burden is lifted. He feels the powerful, personal touch of God in his life, something that is not simply known but felt, and he is a new person. More than just a “believer,” he becomes an evangelizer! He shouts with joy, he proclaims his allegiance, and returns to tell the others of his nation. 

So it is with the Samaritan leper in the Gospel. He, too, clearly believes in Jesus to some extent, otherwise he would never have asked Jesus to heal him, but something radically changes when he realizes that he’s been healed. There is a joy that arises in him that cannot be contained, thankfulness that must be shared, and so he runs back to Jesus and falls at his feet in thanksgiving. Faith had moved from his head to his heart, taken root inside of him, and he was moved to share it. How could it stay contained?

So often, we look at conversion as a particularly intellectual exercise. We look at faith as a matter of belief in doctrines and principles, of understanding God, and so when we see the state of faith in our country, the rise of atheism, we blame it on poor catechesis. “If only they knew what I knew! If only they could be convinced of the error of their thinking. If only we could teach them all Thomas Aquinas!” Some want to respond with apologetics, with stronger arguments, that this will create more Christians.

I’m not convinced.

No, that’s not how I found faith. It’s not how Namaan or the Samaritan leper turned from their old lives. In fact, Namaan knew the Truth from the start; all ten of the Lepers believed enough to come to Jesus in the first place. I’ve heard it said that no one has ever converted to the faith because they lost an argument, and I think this is true. Facts do not move people. Mere concepts do not change lives. Love does. Feeling the personal, healing touch of God does, the touch of a God who is more than some cosmic being out “there” but an intimate, loving person who knows what we experience, who’s walked the way we’ve walked.

I don’t know why you’re here today. Maybe, you know what it’s like to be healed by God and like me, like Namaan and the Samaritan leper, you can’t help but shout with joy for what god has done for you; you’re so filled with thankfulness that it bubbles out from within. If so, that’s awesome. But maybe not. Maybe, like me as a kid, like the nine lepers who did not return, who call to Jesus from afar, you believe in God, you accept in your mind that God is real, but do not have your lives changed.

Wherever you are right now, I want to read a passage from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!

Jesus loves you. He is calling you in the night, reaching out to you, seeking to take all that burdens you and holds you back. He offers himself completely to you. This week, today, right now in the Mass, i want to encourage you to let yourself have a personal encounter with him, to let him touch you, and to never be the same.

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 In our world, there is hardly a more “visible escape from reality” than sitting down and staring at a television screen for hours on end, so engrossed in a game that the player becomes oblivious to his/her surroundings. And we’ve all heard what people say about video games. They’ll rot your brain! They cause violence! Grow up and do something productive with your life!

And maybe… there’s some truth to that. Sitting in the same spot, shutting out the world is not a great thing.

But that doesn’t mean that video games are inherently damaging. In fact, as Br. Tito and I discuss this week, we think that they can actually be quite productive… in moderation.

“Vatican II is the reason for all our problems!”

Welcome to 20% of the comments I receive on YouTube. I have to say… I find it a bit tiring. Besides just the nonsense of scapegoating in any situation, it’s just ludicrous if you’ve ever actually read the documents of the Second Vatican Council. People are upset with the world as it is and must find something to project onto. Because change is often unwelcome, the thing that caused the change must be the reason for their dissatisfaction, a la Vatican II is the reason for all our problems.

While I am often not able to muster up the amount of patience and respect needed to engage such comments, when I am, my response is always to quite the council itself: don’t go by hearsay or conjecture, read for yourself. As we have seen of late, there are more than a few news sources that have a vested interest in something other than the truth; even in the Catholic world, sites like LifeSite News and Church Militant churn out garbage every day that does more to misinform and create division that it does to edify God. For those faithful who do not know any better, it can be easy to believe what some sites say about the Catholic Church, when in fact it is a serious distortion of the truth.

Read the documents yourself.

In this week’s episode of Catholicism in Focus, I offer a primer for the first document of the Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. I hope that it will inspire others to read the document (which is very short) for themselves, and see that Vatican II did nothing of what people blame it for, but was a profound and holy document of the council that called for much needed changes.