February 18, 2010

Rambling on Sacraments and Voices

This morning I was thinking about a homily I heard once. The priest was preaching on the need for people to return to confession. One of his points went something like this: 'When you pray, no voice comes back. If you do hear a voice speak back, that's called mental illness. But on the other hand, when you receive sacramental absolution, you actually hear the voice of Jesus Christ speaking to you.'

On the one hand I liked it. I appreciated that the priest was preaching on our need for a return to the sacrament of Penance. It wasn't until I became a parish priest and got to know older Catholics that I realized the extent of the decline in this practice. Priests don't preach it a lot either, which perhaps is partly because some of them don't go themselves and many find hearing confessions tedious or boring. I do too sometimes, but then I think that it's probably nothing compared to the tedium and boredom I must have caused confessors over the years (and still do, no doubt!). Most of the time priests have treated me gently, so should I not do the same?

I also appreciated the good sacramental theology of this priest. It is our catholic belief that the divine presence of the incarnate Word of God in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth has been passed into the eschatological presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacraments. The name of this passing over is Resurrection. When we are baptized, we are in the same position as Jesus being baptized by John; the Spirit descends upon us and the Father proclaims his pleasure. When we receive Holy Communion, we are in the same condition as our Blessed Mother who consented to the Word of God being conceived in her body. When we receive sacramental absolution we are just like those whom Jesus heals, forgives, and sends in the gospels. The only difference is one of something like dimension; it is between the historical and the eschatological. Our faith tells us, however, that in the end these will be rolled into one in the New Jerusalem that is, in herself, the marriage between heaven and earth.

On the other hand, I had some trouble with what the priest said. Even though we live in a sacramental community in which the primary presence and communication of God comes to us as an assembly that extends through space and time, we cannot push this too far. God does communicate with individual souls through their prayer. Yes, if we hear a voice in the same way we hear another physical person speak to us, we should probably see the doctor. But there are suggestions that come to us in prayer, or after we have prayed for guidance. There are phenomena that occur that we might call 'interior locutions.' Of course such experiences always have to be tested and should be reviewed with a spiritual mother or father. It is very easy to be tricked in this regard.

In the end, it's true that Jesus is not my 'personal Lord and savior.' He is the savior of the world, and I wish to tag along. But we do have an individual relationship, and there's no denying it.


Warren said...

I found that any amount of a "jesus and me" mentality that is used as a reason to keep one's self at lengths from the Church is so destructive as to render one's Christianity all in one's head, or all in one's reading of the bible, more like.

"Jesus and Me", means "Me ... and my false notion of Jesus" to those who do not read their bibles, and to those who do, It's "me and my way of reading the bible".

Because the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church around us is the faith of the Apostles, made present here, and now. Jesus left behind apostles, not the canon of the New Testament.

It is interesting, is it not, however much Jesus rails against the pharisees, that he still sent those he healed to be inspected by the religious leaders. Innit?



Brother Charles said...

Jesus left behind apostles, not the canon of the New Testament.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, not to detract from the main premise of this post, which was spot on, but I do find what the priest said in your opening paragraph a bit flippant and insensitive. To say or even insinuate that anyone who hears the voice of God/Jesus suffers from mental illness directly challenges the divine and the power of God. Did not St Francis himself hear the voice of Our Lord in the church of San Damiano? Granted, it may be that 99.9% of people who say God is talking directly to them suffer from mental illness. Who knows? But that priest sure doesn't, and I think he could have been a bit more appropriate, theologically speaking.

I have experienced 4 events in my life which I attribute directly to communication from God, but never His direct voice or words. However, I don't discount the possibility that this may happen. And if it ever does, I pray God grant me the wisdom and courage to hear Him.

Julia said...

"He is not only our God, but our own God. He is really ours in a way in which He is no one else's, through His special love of us separately. He is not distant. He is not common property between all His creatures, though He is most truly so. His arms are not round all men, and round us amongst them, though verily His arms are so round us. But His arms are round our own selves. We have Him all to ourselves, in secret caresses, in private embraces, in a privileged exclusiveness. He is the God of our own souls, simply, sweetly, truly, our own private God."

--Fr. Faber in the Spiritual Conferences (which I highly recommend)

ben in denver said...

There have been 2 instances when I believe the Holy Ghost was speaking to me directly. In the first instance, He had somebody else say something to me the prevented me from committing a grievous sin. The second time was more of an strong interior feeling when I met the woman I would marry.

Both of these events happend before I became Catholic. Now the Lord meets me in the Sacraments.

Interestingly, I once witnessed the Lord speaking directly to sombody else, but he didn't listen. I was in an elavator in a tall building and some atheist was complaining about the futility and foolishness of petitionary prayer, but before we reached the bottom floor he made another remark about how he had forgotten to bring money for lunch, and another person gave it to him. It made me wonder how many times I haven't listend myself.

Jeanne said...

I am really glad that you clarified the comments and left the door open for direct communication from God. Whether it's through the Holy Spirit, intuition or some other method, you have clearly articulated a good method of testing any messages heard.

Our pastor, by the way, converted from being a Baptist after hearing God speak to him directly. He has told this story many times. He went to a Catholic Mass and during the consecration, he literally heard a voice speak to him telling him 1) to become Catholic and 2) that he would be a priest. He has done that and more.

I myself had what I call a "direct connect" - direct experience - with information relayed to me that I could not have known, about something happening to a family member 40 miles away. I was able to call police and ambulance in time thanks to some sort of divine intervention. I talked to both a priest about it and a psychiatrist, and both agreed that 1) I'm not crazy and 2) they couldn't explain it either.

In short: miracles still happen! And sometimes you get intuition during prayer, sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks through others to you, and rarely - you get something directly.

Benedicta said...

I used to teached religious instructions to children going to their first Reconciliation and one time one kid asked me "What is a conscience?" I was caught surprised but the Holy Spirit helped me and I answered, it is the voice of Jesus. Am I crazy?

Brother Charles said...

On the contrary! The same thing happens to me when I preach! (Although there are those who call me crazy.) :)

Anonymous said...

First, how about a "both/and" approach?
Jesus is the Savior of the world but also my personal Lord and Savior. Community is crucial, but we have to be careful not downplay interiority. Perhaps few go to confession because they forget that Christ would have died if they alone were the only sinners in the world.
Second, I think I get your point because you explain it, but I am worried about misunderstanding because Jesus was not baptized for the removal of sin and He as God already possessed the Holy SPirit from the first moment of His conception. His baptism was for our sake. Our baptism is for our own sake.
Similarly, at Mary's fiat, God became incarnate at that very moment. When we go to Communion, we receive the already incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ whether we do so worthily or unworthily.
I like your fleshing out the priest's point with regard to persona Christi. But, I also agree his words were injudicious and they may make people wonder why they should pray on their own.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for the refinements, which are helpful and well-taken!