Apr 28, 2009


An Easter post or two is in the works, I promise. I'm waiting to get some of the pictures from it. But I took reflective notes of the experience so I shouldn't forget anything in it.

Until then, though, here's a funny sleight at Protestants. :)

Apr 10, 2009

I celebrate in the Forgiveness of Sin

On Wednesday night I went to my first Confession, or as the Church likes to say now - I received my first Reconciliation. Like with all of the Sacraments and/or Rites, it's one thing to read about it or know about it, and it's quite another thing altogether to experience it. So before I said I believe in the Forgiveness of Sins, and now I have celebrated it. I think I do better when I recount my experiences rather than trying to preach or teach, so here it goes.

For about thirty minutes before going to the church, I reflected on the Ten Commandments; AND the Beattitudes - this is how RCIA teaches us to contemplate our sins. Not simply, "Have I killed anyone?" but additionally things like, Have I valued human life? Have I hurt or injured anyone? Have I given care to my own life and the lives of others? Even more - have I helped those whose life is on the brink (whoa)? It's not just "What wrongs have I done?"; it's also "What good have I failed to do?"

As I usually do when I reflect on Christian ideas, I grew curious about the reasoning behind it, and I pulled out my notes from our RCIA class on Reconciliation. Here are some of the items I put a star next to:

  • Sins initially communal and Reconciliation only offered once - at Baptism; so early Christians were delaying Baptism until their death-bed - e.g., Constantine.

  • Experience Forgiveness: like parents and children - which is better? for child to passively expect forgiveness, or to say sorry and ask forgiveness?

  • Relationship with God - God is faithful to us even when we are not faithful to Him.

Anyway, I took notes of all the things I could remember. But as Fr. Joe told us, "neither the Church nor God will ever ask you to do anything that is impossible." So no need to worry about remembering everything we've ever done. (Technically, I only "have" to confess sins since my baptism about a year ago, but some people were baptized fifty years ago or more!)

There were three priests hearing Confessions - Fr. Joe and Fr. Emmanuel from St. Benedict (my parish), and Fr. Jim from St. Pius (Laura's parish, interestingly enough). Most of the RCIA candidates were there, along with other parishioners, and we reflected, contemplated, and prayed in the Chapel, one-by-one going into the Confessionals. Fr. Joe went into the Sacristy instead of a Confessional, which meant Confessions with him would be face-to-face. And I wanted Fr. Joe, so ... great. ;)

I reflected while I let the kids go first, then I was the first "adult" to go to Fr. Joe. I walked into the Sacristy, closed the door behind me, and he began: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." I responded, "Forgive me Father for I have sinned. This is my first Confession. ..."

Now of course, I'm not going to blog what I confessed or what we talked about. I'm preserving the comfort that everything discussed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is between God, the priest, and the penitent. I've always kinda liked that confidentiality.

After every Confession, we pray the Act of Contrition:
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and in failing to do good, I have sinned against You - whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with Your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.

I was assigned a prayer of penance, and I went back to the chapel to pray. I felt really bad because when I had gone to Fr. Joe there were about twenty or thirty people there. By the time I came back after my Confession, only about four were left! Yikes! It didn't feel like it was that long.

I prayed my penance, and prayed a little more because I have a few prayers I like to pray anytime I kneel to say any other prayer. I have to admit, I didn't feel an immediate flash of spiritual cleansing after Confession. Don't get me wrong - getting all of that stuff of my chest felt great, and I encountered the manifestation of God's mercy (rather than the judgement I expected). But it wasn't actually until the next day that I really felt some kind the spiritual effects ...

Maundy Thursday Mass is a Mass with quite a few purposes - receiving of the oils from the Chrism Mass into the local parish (the Bishop anoints the oils for the whole diocese during a single Mass in the Cathedral), washing of the feet of twelve parishioners (I was one of the twelve who had our feet washed by Fr. Joe [Bishop Slattery washes the feet of twelve prisoners every year]), recognition of the institution of the Eucharist at the Lord's Last Supper, and then finally we move the Blessed Sacrament from the main Altar to the Altar of Repose - a very somber act in which we remember that night as the time when Jesus was taken away from His disciples by the betrayal of Judas.

Now, in our previous Sunday Mass celebrations at St. Benedict, the RCIA group is dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word, before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When I've gone to some other Mass (e.g., the aforementioned Chrism Mass), I've always felt a little uncomfortable or awkward during Liturgy of the Eucharist. Some of it is unfamiliarity, but it was also a feeling of "I'm not ready for this."

But Thursday night was completely different. Instead of feeling unready for the Eucharist, I felt a strong desire for Christ in the Eucharist. I felt ready. I felt like it was were I belonged, like I was close to the closest I will ever come, in this world, to Christ's full presence.

I know there are reams and reams of more eloquent Catholic musings about the power, presence, and sanctity of the Eucharist. But I just know what I felt and I'm sure it was related to my Confession.

Apr 6, 2009

Clear Creek Monks

Yesterday's post reminded me I need to post about my trip to the Clear Creek Monastery before I forget (more of) it ...

I heard about the "Work Day" from the Catholic Young Adult mailing list. I had heard of the Clear Creek Monastery before, and this seemed like a good chance to visit and help. After I RSVP'd, the CYA president, Eric Grayless, sent a follow-up invitation for any men who wanted to go out the day before to help set some work up, say vespers and eat with the monks, and to spend the night in the old monastery (picture to the left). Hmm ... lemmethinkaboutitYES!

I had never met Eric or Alex - the guys who went with me that night - but I could tell we were all about equally excited about the trip when we met up downtown at the cathedral at mid-day Mass. I learned that they are both converts as well. I already had all my stuff in order, so I grabbed some lunch after Mass while they got themselves packed. We set out in Eric's car for Hulbert, OK - out near Tahlequah.

I remember asking Eric how many people would be out there. He said the CYA group was about 40-50. I asked how many people total? 400. 400 people! That's when I learned we were just one part of an annual Work Day for the Monastery. Apparently lots of school-aged Catholics attend to earn service hours - required for graduation from Catholic schools. And then there are a bunch of conservative traditional Catholic families who actually live out around the monastery who help the monks all year-round. (The picture is of Joey Lawless - a local guy - and I leading the CYA group to our work site. I later learned he's the nephew of one of the guys from my Tulsa PHP User Group! The world seems to get smaller when you join its largest single organization - over a billion people!)

Anyway, back to the night before ...

One of the first things I noticed when we arrived is there's no mobile phone coverage. Hah! Perfect.

We pulled up to the old monastery area to unload our overnight things into our cell (we all shared a single cell) and meet with the main organizer of the work. Eric had been to the site the previous two weekends so we followed his lead and he took us out to the next day's work site and gave us a real general overview of what we'd be doing. We met another local guy (can't remember his name) who was out burning brush to clear some work sites with his kids. (More on burning later) We put up a few signs for the work sites, and while we working we heard the honest-to-God prayer bells calling everyone to evening vespers. So we hopped on the ATV and headed to the new monastery, and that's when I saw it for the first time ...

It looked a little odd because it looked like it had been transposed directly from some European countryside into the middle of Oklahoma. In a way, that's what happened - it was started by a Benedictine order from France, if I remember correctly. Again, pictures don't really do justice to the peace that seems to engulf that place. We actually attended vespers in the Crypt of what will be the church on the site.

The prayers were exactly what you'd expect from monks - an other-worldly atmosphere of chanting and incense that made you not so much hear the prayers as *feel* them swirling around you. I hate to admit that about halfway thru my knees were killing me because we sat in seats with no kneelers, and I have bad knees already.

After vespers, we went to put up a couple more signs, and then we went to eat dinner with the monks. It was amazing...

First, for all of us n00bs to the monastery, the Prior and Guest-master monks washed our hands before we went into the refectory. There's no speaking in the refectory - only prayers and eating, and hand gestures. About six of the monks are there only to serve everyone else while they eat. They serve the entire meal - three courses of home-grown home-made fare. Because it was a Friday during Lent, there were no meat dishes. First course was vegetable soup, then an omelet dish, then a dish of figs and some kind of porridge. I noticed some monks abstaining from all the food, and some were abstaining from two dishes but eating the third. It occurred to me that fasting (i.e., two snacks and one meal per day) is made easy by the format of the meals.

Additionally, the monks "read" while they eat. And by read, I mean that one monk chants a book during the meal. Father/Brother Bethel told us they were "reading" a World War II history book during lunch, and "reading" a book about the life of a Saint during dinner. So cool to hear phrases like, "... his cavalier attitude during the Pacific campaign did not make a good reputation for post-war command ..." *sung* in Gregorian chanting!

At a designated time, all the monks stood up from their plates - some of them mid-bite, said a prayer of thanks, and returned to their horarium. We guests simply sat back down to finish our meals. Oh, and the serving monks served themselves after the other monks left. When we finished, we headed to the outer cloister where we met and spoke to Father Bethel for a short time before we headed back to the guest house and old monastery.

Alex, Eric and I decided to pray a Rosary down by the creek. I had never prayed a Rosary before, but they were able to guide me through it. It's a beautiful series of prayers and contemplations. Then we kicked around the guest house a bit, helping with some small odd chores that the dozen or so cooks (remember, 400 people!) needed done. Finally, we said our own compline prayers and went to sleep around midnight.

The next day we woke up about 6am so we could hike the mile and a half over to the monastery in time for Low Mass at 6:50am. I was a bit confused at first because the monks were celebrating Mass silently. Then I realized they were celebrating 4 separate Masses at once, and couldn't speak so as not to interrupt each other. We were able to follow along with the gestures mentioned in the missal.

In addition to work day guests, I was surprised to see some nuns there! Apparently there is a sister Convent just outside the territory of the Monastery. It seemed pretty cool that all of the local families and these sisters could come to the Monastery (at least to the Church portion) to receive the Holy Eucharist - even if I still couldn't yet. :)

After Mass and breakfast, the full work day began, which I think I'll make into a separate blog post sometime as it was more Labora than Ora.

I'm glad I went a day early to have this extra time for some prayer, reflection, contemplation, and experience in addition to the work helping at the monastery. While writing this post, I found a documentary video about the Monastery that lets some of the monks speak for themselves about what and why the do what they do. It also gives a sense of the atmosphere better than pictures. But it's a little dated - it was shot when they only had the old monastery.

Anyway, way too long of a post, but I have some making up to do for the month-long hiatus.

Apr 5, 2009


I know it's been a long time since I posted. I'd really like to say that I've been too profoundly reflective and attentive to my Lenten disciplines to post ... but honestly I just haven't written about my recent studies and/or experiences.

But I have to write about this one.

Stations of the Cross is a prayer service usually held on Fridays during Lent - especially Good Friday. I had never done Stations before last Friday, and the wikipedia article didn't quite explain how it works, so here's a personal account:

I arrived a little early to the Cathedral downtown, and I think a benediction was still in progress. I waited in the entry area for Laura and then we went inside together. As we were sitting down, I spotted Jeff and Natalie and waved them over to our pew. I also spotted a couple other Catholic Young Adults whom I met back when I went to the monastery (can't believe I didn't even write a blog post about that?!). Being there with BOTH my Catholic AND Protestant friends really made me feel good. As many differences as there are between my old Protestant tradition and my Catholic Tradition, there are still far more similarities.

There are booklets to read that walk you thru each and every station - when to stand, kneel, speak aloud, sing, etc - so it's very easy to participate. (This is common for events at the Cathedral I think) And really, that's what this ceremony is all about - participating in the Way of the Cross. I enjoyed all of the stations, and the repetition and procession of it all allowed me to mentally concentrate more and more on the content of the ceremony AND remain physically engrossed in it all.

And that's what did me in, emotionally. We had been reflecting on God's work thru the law, kingdoms, and prophecies of the Old Testament, and at the twelfth station - wherein Christ dies upon the Cross - the reflection is from God's point of view. I can't remember it all, because I was just trying to keep it all in; but the theme of the reflection of the twelfth station was God asking why. Why does his creation - whom he loved, blessed, and for whom he provided - crucify Him?

(Terry has posted his own experience with this particular station too.)

I'm not a very emotional person. But like I said - I lost it. I couldn't say the prayer, I couldn't sing; it took everything I had to keep myself from sobbing and spitting all over the place. It's another one of those things that I like about the Catholic Church though - I have a really hard time connecting with the emotional aspects of the faith, but the Church surrounds me with tactile sensations I need, from candles to cathedrals, to have that experience. In Protestant traditions I always felt like there was a devaluation of the physical - like if we're really spiritual, we don't need all that.

This was my first Stations, but it convinced me that I will be going to as many Stations as I can in the future - especially during Lent. And I'll be going this Good Friday for sure, so anyone and everyone is invited to come with me. Just don't make fun of me if/when I cry like a baby.