Confirmation and First Eucharist Joy

Confirmation and First Eucharist Joy

Confirmation and First Eucharist Joy

Nineteen children received the Sacrament of Confirmation and First Eucharist on Saturday afternoon, May 25th at the 4:30 Mass. In this Diocese, these sacraments are celebrated in the Restored Order (you can read more about that in this blog post by Fr. Brian) so that Confirmation happens after the Homily at Mass, followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

What a joyous celebration of Love – God’s Love!

We are so grateful to Bishop James Ruggieri for celebrating this Mass and for his beautiful words of encouragement, invitation, and challenge. He encouraged children and adults alike to live lives of goodness and saintly aspiration. He invited all to continue to develop and deepen our faith, counting on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be with us. And, he challenged us all to remember that we can do done of this alone. We need community. We need each other – the Church needs us. Jesus shows us the way.

Many thanks to the children and their families for their commitment to building a strong foundation of their Catholic faith. In turn the families express their appreciation to Father Paul Sullivan, SJ and Fr. Brian Conley, SJ for leading their weekly adult sessions and reflections grounded in Ignatian spirituality. Special appreciation to the adults who served each week throughout the academic year, teaching and guiding the children as they prepared for this special occasion.

Following Mass, the Women’s Fellowship Ministry provided a reception with a special cake and fresh fruit. This time offered a chance for joyful conversations – and more photo opportunities! Many thanks to all who made this day special for the children.

Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, Oh My

Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, Oh My

Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, Oh My

Confession/Reconciliation/Penance.

These terms are often used to describe what “should happen” in the season of Lent. But what are they? Do they all mean the same thing?

In what ways can these realities be helpful to us?

Mark your calendars for Sunday, March 10th from 2-3 PM. Fr Brian will lead a discussion in which we can explore the meaning of these terms.  And, Fr Paul will invite us into a brief prayer experience.

This Lent is a good time to accept the invitation to go deeper into your spiritual life and relationship with God who loves you.

During the week of March 11-15 the parish will offer several special times to celebrate God’s forgiveness and healing/the sacrament of reconciliation.

  • Priests will be available 6:30-7:30 at St. Pius Church on Monday and Thursday.
  • On Tuesday evening, there will be a short service of reconciliation at 6:30 and time for the sacrament.
  • Priests will also be available after the 9 AM Mass on Wednesday.

If you missed Fr. Brian’s piece on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you can find it here.

 

 

An Experience of Pardon and Peace

An Experience of Pardon and Peace

An Experience of Pardon and Peace

An Experience of Pardon and Peace: The Grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the actions that Catholics are encouraged to take during the season of Lent (with fasting, almsgiving, and prayer as the other encouraged practices).

In this blog, I’d like to reflect with you on the sacrament of reconciliation and consider ways that we might deepen that experience or have a more satisfying experience of this sacrament. I was an adult before I experienced for myself the power of this sacrament and a different understanding of the sacrament earlier in my life might have been beneficial to my spiritual life.

When I was growing up, every Lent and Advent, my mother insisted that we go to confession. We went to the church, each of us would go into the confessional – a dark, closet-like place where I knelt and spoke to the priest through a screen. I would list all the things I had done wrong since the last time I had gone to confession. The list was repetitive: “I fought with my brothers and sisters; I got mad at my parents; I didn’t do my homework.” The priest would tell me to say some prayers; I would say an Act of Contrition; the priest would say some words that I did not understand and I would say the assigned prayers as quickly as I could before leaving the church. On the way home, my mom would often say how good she felt or that she felt lighter. As a child I never felt lighter or better after confession – in fact it was often the opposite – I often felt dark and heavy.

What was missing from those experiences of the sacrament? In one sense, nothing was missing. All the elements were there – contrition, penance, and absolution. I am certain that I received some spiritual benefit from those twice annual trips to the confessional – if only to be taught to admit that I was wrong every once in a while. While I had done the minimum necessary, a few small steps might have allowed for a deeper experience – the sort of positive experience my mom described.

  • The first step might have been a deeper examination of my conscience. The rote nature of my confession is one piece of evidence that I had not truly examined my conscience. If I had paused longer, I might have considered what the fights with my siblings were about. Why was I mad at my parents? Who was I hurting by not doing my homework? A deeper examination of conscience would have shifted my attention from me – to the relationships in my life. My relationships with my family and my relationship with God. A more reflective examination of conscience might have led me to acknowledge the many gifts that I had received and the generosity of those around me – I might have discovered some gratitude rather than the guilt or shame for having fallen short.
  • Second, I rushed through the penance – which I saw as a punishment. (“I got 10 Hail Mary’s this time and 3 Hail Mary’s last time – what did I do that was so much worse?). Just as a more thoughtful examination of conscience might have led to gratitude, a more reflective practice of penance might also have shifted the focus from me (the one punished) to the relationship – five Hail Mary’s and consider each of my siblings and my Mom as I prayed each one. As a priest, I try to link the penances I suggest in the sacrament to what I have heard. Is someone fighting with their brothers and sisters – then ask Mary’s intercession for them as part of the penance. (Or do something nice for your family – like do the dishes on a night when it is not your turn).
  • Finally, had I listened to the words of absolution, I might have reflected more on the sacrament. The priest’s words of absolution begin: “Almighty God, through the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus, you have reconciled the world to yourself and poured out the Spirit for the forgiveness of sin…” Reconciled – the relationships have been restored – the relationship with God, with family members, with the whole world. The words of absolution continue: “Through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace…” Once again, an invitation to pause and consider the gifts that are offered – pardon and peace (two ways of describing the experience my mom described on the way home). Am I accepting these gifts and putting them into practice by trying to make some small changes that might preserve these gifts and the relationships in my life? The words conclude: “I absolve you from your sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. The priest then invites the penitent to “Go in Peace.”

The sacrament of reconciliation has changed over the years. Here at Our Lady of Hope Parish, we use a reconciliation room that allows the choice between confessing face-to-face with the priest or remaining behind a screen (either way the room is well lit!). In the last year or two, the wording for the words of absolution changed slightly (I used the new words above). I hope that these changes allow people to approach the sacrament without embarrassment or shame and allow them to experience the grace of the sacrament.

I know that one of my favorite parts of being a priest is when I sense that someone is leaving the sacrament feeling a bit lighter with the experience of pardon and peace conveyed in the words of absolution.

Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.

A New Understanding of Confirmation in the Restored Order

A New Understanding of Confirmation in the Restored Order

A New Understanding of Confirmation in the Restored Order

In just two weeks, we will celebrate Confirmation and First Eucharist with 19 young people in our parish. The Diocese of Maine is one of fourteen dioceses in the U.S. that practice the “restored order” which joins preparation for Confirmation with First Eucharist for those baptized as infants. This restored order is the biggest change I’ve experienced in my move to Maine. I wondered, “How can we expect 2nd and 3rd graders to make the commitment that is expected in the sacrament of Confirmation?”

Theological and Practical Reasons for the Restored Order

As with many of us, I was taught at the time of my own confirmation that I was making an adult decision confirming the promises that had been made for me by my parents and godparents at my baptism. In the year before I entered the Jesuits (1991-92), I was involved with a retreat group that provided day-long or weekend retreats to high school students who were about to make their Confirmation. The retreats helped them to reflect on their lives and their experience of the Paschal Mystery so that they could make an informed choice in their own Confirmation. I’ve been very proud of my nieces and nephews who took the adult decision they were asked to make at their Confirmation seriously by asking serious questions about their faith or becoming involved in their faith community as lector. For these young people, Confirmation was the end of their formal religious training – “I don’t have to go to CCD anymore!”

So, I was very skeptical that there was a practical reason for shifting the experience of Confirmation, though I understood the theological reason.

The order of the Sacraments of Initiation in the ancient church – and for those baptized as adults today – is Baptism, Confirmation, First Eucharist. We saw this at the Easter Vigil this year when we welcomed six people into the church with these sacraments. Restoring the close connection between Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist is the theological reason for the restored order. The practical aspects of the change required a change in my thinking about the sacrament of the Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit is at Work through the Sacrament

When we focus on the person being confirmed and the decision being made at that time, we place the emphasis on the person and not on the work of God in the sacrament. The change in thinking I made in coming to understand the restored order was to focus on God at work in the sacrament. The focus of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the reception of the Holy Spirit – signified through two ancient practices – the imposition of hands and the anointing with Chrism oil. Thus, the sacrament of Confirmation confirms – not the decision that was made for us – but the presence and work of the Holy Spirit at work through the sacrament. This change in focus also prompts us to switch focus from Confirmation as the end of religious training to Confirmation as the beginning of something – the conscious relationship of our children to God through the Spirit.

Our Relationship with God Will Grow and Change Over Time

As we grow up, our relationship with our parents (and all human beings) grows and develops. The parents of our Confirmation and First Eucharist candidates have likely already begun to allow their children to make more decisions for themselves as the children approach the age of reason. We know that a healthy relationship between parent and child involves differentiation and re-integration. For example, the dependency of an infant followed by the terrible twos, rebellious teenager followed by the mutuality of an adult-adult relationship, perhaps followed by a dependent elderly parent and adult child. The relationship grows and changes over time. Likewise, our relationship with God grows and changes over time. As we grow and change in our relationship with our parents – getting to know one another in new and different ways – we grow and change in our relationship to God. In the restored order, the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist recognize the independent relationship of our children to God and invite us to a life-long relationship that will grow and change as we grow and change over time.

Fr. Brian Conley, SJ

Eucharist as a Sacrifice

Eucharist as a Sacrifice

Eucharist as a Sacrifice

Eucharist as Sacrifice

In this Easter Season, we have begun to offer Communion under both species – both the bread and the cup. As we have prepared for this return to offering the cup, I have shared a series of thoughts with you in this space. Now, I invite you to reflect with me on the Eucharist as a sacrifice.

The Risen One is also the Crucified One

In the Gospels for the Second Week of Easter, we hear John’s account of Jesus appearing to the disciples – first on Easter Sunday evening and then again a week later. Jesus stands in their midst says “Peace be with you.’ When he had said this he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20), By showing the wounds on his hands, feet and side, Jesus demonstrates that the risen One is also the crucified One. He connects the events of Easter Sunday to the events of Good Friday. Jesus sends the disciples into the world to carry on the reconciling work accomplished in the sacrifice of Good Friday.

The Eucharist Makes Present the Sacrifice of the Cross

The events of the Last Supper occurred within the celebration of Passover. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it this way, “As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out” (1364) (Pasch is the Greek word for Passover). The connection between Passover and the Eucharist emphasizes salvation – the movement from slavery to freedom.

The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel emphasizes these connections. The chapter contains “the Bread of Life” discourse.“ In this discourse, Jesus connects the Eucharist to the events of Exodus, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world…Jesus said to them ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood; you do not have life within you.’ Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise that one on the last day’” (John 6:48-54).

Receiving Both the Bread and the Cup

In an earlier post, I reflected with you on the importance of receiving Eucharist regularly and under both species.as doing so allows us a more complete participation in Jesus’ actions at the Lord’s Supper. Likewise, eating and drinking allow a more complete participation in Jesus’ command given in the Bread of Life Discourse – eat and drink. By doing so, we participate more fully in the reconciling work of Jesus accomplished through the Paschal Mystery – Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.

Eucharist as a Sacrifice

Eucharistic Practices at Our Lady of Hope

Eucharistic Practices at Our Lady of Hope

Eucharist as a Symbol of Unity

Since we have begun to offer the cup at Communion time again, I have shared a few thoughts with you on the Eucharist in our community. Perhaps most importantly as we consider the specific practices at Our Lady of Hope is the invitation to consider the Eucharist as a symbol of unity in our church. Eucharist has been received in various ways over the centuries, standing or kneeling; in the hand or on the tongue. The church does not require anyone to stand or kneel or to receive the Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand.

The common practice at Our Lady of Hope is to receive the host in the hand while standing. Communicants are invited to place their left hand on top of their right hand; the minister of Communion places the host in the offered hand; the communicant then uses the right hand to place the host in their mouths.

For the cup, the minister of Communion will offer the cup to the communicant who then takes a small sip of the wine and returns the cup to the minister of the Eucharist. The minister of the Eucharist then wipes the inside and outside lip of the cup with a purificator and rotates the cup slightly before offering it to the next communicant. Following these common practices at Our Lady of Hope emphasizes the unity of the sacrament where kneeling or receiving on the tongue can emphasize differences and promote disunity.

The Eucharist is Spiritual Food for our Journey

Finally, we invite parishioners to frequent reception of the Eucharist and hope that you will join us in person as often as possible. The Eucharist is spiritual food for our journey from slavery/sin to freedom/salvation. We stand with the Roman Centurion who said, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and I shall be healed.” We stand with Jesus who caused scandal in his time by eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. We seek to make our Eucharistic table as open and welcoming as possible.

Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.

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