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Deacon-structing Lent: part 2


Now that in part 1 we’ve taken care of questions regarding fasting and abstinence, let’s focus on the meaning of Lent.

We all know that Lent is the 40 days leading us to Easter. But what really is Lent?  Why are penance and suffering associated with Lent? What is the value of suffering? Let me tell you the story of my friend Eileen.*

Eileen has a great husband and a beautiful daughter. They have a nice little house in a good part of town. Her husband Paul* has a good job. They have a car. Her daughter Melanie* goes to a good school.  They are a good Catholic family. They go to Church and they’re involved in their Parish. Eileen has Multiple Sclerosis, but she’s doing very well. It is not advanced. Life is good and full of many blessings.

One day, when Melanie is about 13, Eileen finds out that Paul has been cheating on her. In a second their life has changed. Eileen can’t live with this betrayal. She leaves Paul.  Instantly, Melanie’s life has changed completely: from living in a nice house, with a car, in a nice neighbourhood – to living in a two-bedroom apartment with her now, single Mom, in a not-so-nice area of town and having to take public transit. Eileen’s MS starts to advance. Now, Melanie has to spend more time at home, helping her Mom. She is now 15, a time when she would rather be spending more time with her friends. But she is coping. Life for Eileen is getting harder and harder: divorce and disease, but still, life continues; they make the most of it; they’re still involved in their parish. There is still contact with Paul, who spends time with Melanie and visits occasionally. Then one day, when Melanie is 17, just a few days after Christmas, she is driving home after going out to a friend’s birthday. No one has been drinking and there is no speeding. The weather is not bad. Melanie changed cars to be with a friend who was going to be driving alone. The car hits a patch of ice, spins out into the opposite lane into an incoming vehicle – that is not speeding, just going the legal 60km/h – but hits straight onto the passenger side where Melanie is sitting, effectively crushing her. She is unconscious and shortly after she reaches the hospital, dies. 17 years old.  Divorce, disease and now death. I heard the news of Melanie’s death shortly after I heard about the Tsunami in South Asia. Divorce, disease, death and disaster….

And so I spent my Christmas season trying to make sense of this; trying to see why suffering exists; why is it such a part of our lives?

We are told that suffering glorifies us. Suffering sanctifies us. That means that suffering makes us Saints. This seems completely ridiculous to me. However if you look at the Middle Ages – a time in history that is not well-known for technical or scientific advances and not well-known for great Church leadership – this time produced many Saints; Saints that took suffering seriously. There’s Saint Rose of Lima (1586 –1617) who wore a cilice, a belt with spikes on it, wore a hair shirt and rubbed pepper on her face so she wouldn’t be attractive. There are so many others. I guess I don’t need to tell you about all the people who willingly gave up everything to be poor; who made strange choices like choosing to walk barefoot, even in winter! Look at St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Did all these people become Saints because of their suffering? I don’t think so. Certain suffering may sanctify us, but that doesn’t mean we have to go looking for suffering!

If I were to ask you why there’s suffering in the world, maybe you’d tell me that it’s because suffering makes us better people; because we learn from our suffering; it makes us stronger; it helps us understand those who are less fortunate and it gives us an opportunity to be compassionate to others and to realise that we need God. I guess that’s why we have so many clichés about darkness preceding light.

A cliché is an expression or phrase that expresses a stereotype. Like: “It has to be dark for you to see the stars.” Or “in darkness is when the stars shine brightest.” Or, “It has to be raining for you to see the rainbow” or, “you have to climb through the thorns to get to the rose.” These are clichés. But they are clichés because they are true. Here’s another one: “Winter has to come before the Spring.” They all mean that we need to go through suffering in order to experience the good stuff. Suffering makes us better people. That’s the way it is. There is something about this created world (and fallen world) that simply is that way. But why?  Why does it have to be that way?  God is God; God could have had anything make us better people. Anything could sanctify us. Why would salvation depend on suffering? Why can’t it be something else? Why can’t salvation depend on partying? I would say that those clichés are true also in that they point to something about the essence of God.

God became a human being and lived on earth as a human, with all the human things: born in a stable, got lost in Jerusalem, had to go to school and make friends; had to work hard – life in those days wasn’t easy.  Then he was arrested, tortured in the most horrible way and killed in the most horrible way.  That’s the God we believe in: A God who is arrested, tortured and killed.  A God who reigns by hanging on a Cross. It makes no sense. That’s why St. Paul says it’s a folly (1 Cor 1:18-25). I don’t get it but I don’t think we have to understand it. That’s why St. Paul also calls it a stumbling block (1 Cor 1:23).  But God doesn’t ask me to understand. That’s the story of Job. Job goes through incredible suffering and God never tells him why. Jesus goes through incredible suffering and God is absent (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). [I wrote a reflection on the Cross a few years ago and explored many of these themes.]

But we know that suffering can be redemptive. There are people who suffer for no reason; that suffering has no meaning. But there are people who suffer out of love. There are people who offer their suffering because of love. That suffering becomes redemptive. That’s the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. That’s why His suffering is redemptive. That’s the suffering that saves.

I may not understand why we have to suffer**, but I know that God is a God who suffers with us. That acceptance is also redemptive. Lent is a great opportunity to remind us of this love. Our small acts of penance are a reminder of this love. Lent encourages us to offer up our suffering out of love.

Come back next week and let’s see what Scriptures have to say about all this.

*Not their real names.
**For a real good in-depth look at suffering, you may want to watch In Your Faith, Season 1; Episode 2, (If God is a God of Love) Why do Bad Things Happen?
You may also be interested in Fr. Rosica’s Lenten and Easter Reflections, available now on DVD.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 1


I wanted to start out not just “deaconstructing” Lent but more so with a reflection on Lent, in order to help us understand the meaning of Lent. But in the last week I’ve had so many questions about fasting and abstinence and about what we can do and can’t do in Lent that I would like to address some of these issues first.

Lent seems to be the one time of the year when Catholics get legalistic about our faith. “Can I eat meat today?” is a question I get all the time. A friend who just moved to Canada asked me if in Canada it was required to not eat meat on Fridays. Another person asked me if pork was considered red meat. Add to that the confusion between the difference between fasting and abstinence (“isn’t fasting a kind of abstinence?” is another question I get asked).

To my knowledge, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not say anything about fasting or abstinence as it pertains to the Lenten season except in the context of “the Precepts of the Church” (what the Baltimore Catechism called “the Commandments of the Church.”)

“The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbour.” (CCC#2041 emphasis my own)

The fourth precept has to do with fasting and abstinence. The Catechism says that this precept, “ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” (CCC#2043)

The “rule” regarding fasting and abstinence is in Canon Law (again, all emphasis is my own):

Canon 1249 – The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can.  1250 – The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can.  1251  – Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesdayand Good Friday.

Can.  1252 – The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can.  1253 – The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

Canon Law is very clear that each Episcopal Conference has the final word on the practice that is to be observed in a particular country. In Canada, the obligation is that we should fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and that every Friday in Lent is a day of fasting. On top of that, Fridays are days of abstinence from meat, but Catholics may substitute special acts of charity of piety on this day. (From the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

It’s clear to me, first, that from these paragraphs, there is no distinction or definition of what “abstinence” and “fasting are.” (I’ll get back to this later)

A few other things that I take from these paragraphs from the Catechism and the Code of Canon Law (and let me make clear that I am not a Canonist, I am a Deacon and so I tend to take the Pastoral bend on all these issues):

  1. The Catechism calls these Precepts “positive laws.” In my book we shouldn’t look at them as “laws”; that’s why they are “positive laws.” It may not be completely appropriate to call them suggestions or guidelines, but the bottom line is that we shouldn’t follow them because they are laws; we follow them because of love. You can’t legislate love. The point of these precepts is “to grow in love of God and neighbour.”
  2. Because of love, we are bound to do penance each in our own way. That is key. As with the Liturgy, the Church has us do certain things at the same time or in the same way “in order for all to be united (…) by some common observance…” This is why in every Church we have the same readings at Mass; why we all stand and sit and kneel at the same times during Mass; why there are Liturgical Seasons; and why the Church suggests that every Friday of the year is to be considered a day of penance.
  3. Abstaining from meat (not just red meat) is a suggestion. We can abstain from any other food, if appropriate. If you are a vegetarian or live somewhere where all you eat is fish; giving up meat doesn’t make sense.
  4. Children can learn the meaning of penance by participating in the discipline of fasting and abstinence; the tradition of giving up something for Lent comes out of the need to teach children the importance of penance.

And now to the difference between fasting and abstinence: Canon 1251 defines abstinence as “abstinence from meat or some other food.” Abstaining means not eating that particular food. I have not however, found a definition of “fasting”anywhere in the Catechism or in the Code of Canon Law (maybe someone can help me out).  The idea that the Church defines fasting as “one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity” is from the Third Baltimore Catechism.

Baltimore Catechism #3
Q. 1337 What do you mean by fast-days?
A. By fast-days I mean days on which we are allowed but one full meal.

Q. 1338. Is it permitted on fast days to take any food besides the one full meal?
A. It is permitted on fast days, besides the one full meal, to take two other meatless meals, to maintain strength, according to each one’s needs. But together these two meatless meals should not equal another full meal.)

[Maybe someone who knows more can clarify if this definition of fasting comes from anywhere else in Church teaching.]

Growing up I was taught that fasting is not eating at all. Some people eat only bread and water on the days they fast. If the least you can do is one full meal and two smaller meals, then that’s the best you can do – I would suggest that if you are truly going to fast, then don’t eat anything (water is OK). Based on who you are, what your circumstances are, I suppose you can choose the appropriate balance between these two. (For a really good reflection on fasting, read or watch Fr. Rosica’s Reflection for Ash Wednesday.)

But don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we don’t have to fast or abstain. What I am saying is that these are disciplines to help us in our spiritual journey. We don’t observe them because they are laws. Fasting and Abstinence are not ends in themselves.

If you tend to have a legalistic approach to giving up meat on Fridays of Lent (or to any aspect of our Faith), I think you’re missing the point. Lent is a time when we are supposed to get rid of the stuff that gets in the way between us and God. Fasting, prayer and alms-giving are disciplines that help us focus on what’s essential. Jesus went into the desert because in the desert is where we have the bare minimum; we get rid of the stuff we don’t need, the extras, so we can focus on the essentials (which may mean not just giving stuff up, but also doing things you don’t normally do); so we can focus on our relationship with God.

Isaiah tells us:

Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is 58:6-8)

It’s not about eating meat or not eating meat. You should give stuff up; and it should be a sacrifice; it should hurt a little – if you can’t come up with anything better or that is specific to where you are in your spiritual life, then the Church suggests giving up meat on Fridays (and so we can be united in our penance). But maybe you need to come up with something else that will help you specifically, get closer to God.

Besides, we should be focusing on our relationship with God all the time – this is why Canon 1250 says that every Friday of the year is a penitential day. I would add that prayer, fasting and alms-giving is a year-round discipline. Remember Psalm 51: “You do not delight in sacrifice; The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”

If you’d like to explore these ideas further, take a look at a Weekly Edition of Perspectives panel we had on Fasting and Abstinence and come back next week so we can begin looking at what Lent really is.

CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

Deacon-structing: Reconciliation part 3


So far, in part 1 and part 2  we’ve looked at sin and why we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are two Sacraments that can be received every day: The Eucharist and Reconciliation. The Church doesn’t say we have to go to Confession all the time but the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” (CCC#1456)

It also says that “anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession.” (CCC#1457) Children who are about to receive their First Communion must go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation beforehand.

Even if you are not in a state of mortal sin, the Catechism #1458 says that even though it’s not necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is strongly recommended:  “Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful. (CCC#1459)

When I was growing up, we used to say that we had to go to “confession.” It is called the Sacrament of Confession because we confess our sins to a priest and that is an essential element of this Sacrament.

“Confession” is probably the most common name for the Sacrament, but it also has other names. It is called the Sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”

It is also called the Sacrament of Conversion. This is because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to God. (CCC#1423)

Nowadays it is most commonly called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is “because it imparts to the sinner the life of God who reconciles. He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: Go; first be reconciled to your brother.”  (CCC#1424) It is through this Sacrament that we are reconciled back to God and with the Church; we are restored back into Communion.

Jesus always preached a message of mercy and forgiveness. Consistently he forgave peoples sins. “Go and sin no more” he told the woman caught in adultery. He said to Peter that we had to forgive seven-times-seventy. But perhaps the most memorable lesson on forgiveness comes through the story of the prodigal son. (Luke 15: 18-19)

Prodigal is a word that means “wasteful” or “extravagantly wasteful”. Most of you are familiar with this story of a boy who betrayed his father and his people. He wasted all his inheritance and ended up sleeping and eating with pigs – not the most clean of animals as far as Jews were concerned. Still he “came to his senses” and went back to his father and said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father, instead of being angry, welcomed him and had a party for him. He explains it to the older son: “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15: 32) This is what happens at Reconciliation: we come back to life in Communion with God, the Father.

Remember that in every Sacrament we receive God’s Grace. In Reconciliation…

  • Our sins are forgiven
  • We are reconciled with God
  • We are restored to God’s Grace
  • We are joined with god in intimate friendship
  • We are reconciled with the Church

In Reconciliation we are truly changed – that’s the “metaphysical occurrence” that takes place: our sins are wiped clean; clean slate.

This past week we’ve been hearing daily readings at Mass from the Book of Genesis. I have always been intrigued by God’s statement that “if you eat from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil, you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) When I first paid attention to that passage I thought it meant that they would die immediately, but it’s clear that Adam and Even did not die immediately after eating from the Tree.

What God meant was that they would be subject to death. If they didn’t eat from the Tree they would live forever. If they did, they would die. That did happen. Sin means that we are subject to death. When sin entered the world, so did death – that is why “death is the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). When God says, “don’t” it doesn’t mean “don’t have fun”. Rather it means, “don’t hurt yourself”. It means “I don’t want you to die.” Sin means that we will die; and i’m not talking about physical death. This death is eternal. The Sacrament of Reconciliation restores us to the capacity for Life; a Life with God.

This weekend we hear a beautiful and moving story of Jesus healing a man afflicted with leprosy (Marc 1:40-45). “If you want, I know you can make me clean,” says the man. “I do want.” Jesus responds and with pity, He touches the man and heals him. In touching him, not only is the man healed but restored into the community. He is brought back into Communion. That is what happens with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

To summarise: Sin separates us from God and the Church and reconciliation brings us back into Communion with God and the Church. And to be truly reconciled, one has to be truly repentant. A sign of that repentance is that we do a penance to help repair the hurt we may have caused, which is why if someone is not repentant, the priest cannot absolve them of the sin. What’s important here is not just that we confess, but that we are truly sorry for our sin, that we repair the damage done and that we promise to try to be better.

That’s what that little prayer, The Act of Contrition is all about. There are different versions. Here’s one I learned when I was preparing for my First Communion:

Oh my Jesus. I am sorry that I have sinned. Please forgive me. I know you love me; I want to love you and be good to everyone. Help me to make up for my sins. I will try to be better from now on.

As an adult, working at a Vacation Bible School, I learned a very similar one:

I’m sorry for doing wrong. Please forgive me all my sins. I know you love me very much. Help me love you in return and care for others as you do.

Which one do you know? Remember to pray it often and make a point of going to Confession and celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lenten Season.

What should we “deacon-struct” next time? Write to

Deacon-structing: Reconciliation part 2


Last week, we began looking at sin and the difference between venial and mortal sin. Even though we`ve all been cleansed from Original Sin at Baptism, we are all still wounded by Original Sin. Because of this, we still suffer the effects of Original Sin, which is why we have a tendency to sin. This tendency is called Concupiscence.

If you remember your grade 8 Catechism (and what I’ve written here before about Sacraments, a “Sacrament is a visible sign instituted by Christ, of an invisible Grace.” A Sacrament is an action of God and, at the same time, it is our response to that action – in a way, our response, also brings about God’s action. And so a Sacrament symbolises or points to (like a road sign points to a destination) a Grace, but at the same time, it is the very Grace it points to. Every Sacrament gives us God’s Grace, that is, the very Life of God. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we receive the Graces that slowly bring the disorder of concupiscence into proper order.

Let’s look at what happens at Reconciliation, but first, let’s be clear that all Sacraments are instituted by Christ: After Jesus rose from the dead, the Gospel of John tells us that he appeared to the apostles. “Jesus stood among them…  and he said, ‘peace be with you. As the father sent me, so I send you.’ Then he breathed on them the Holy Spirit and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:19-23) This is when Jesus gave the Apostles, the power to forgive sins. The Apostles in turn passed it on to their disciples and so on until this day.

Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation is very simple. There are 4 elements that have to be present for the Sacrament to be valid:

  1. Contrition
  2. Confession
  3. Satisfaction
  4. God’s action through the intervention of the Church

Contrition means that you have to be truly sorry for the sins you’ve committed. You have to have a genuine desire to be better and to not commit the same sin again (even though, for most of us, it’s always the same sins that we commit over and over again – more on that later). This means that if you’ve committed a crime, like murder, you have to be willing to turn yourself in to the police.

Confession: We have to confess the sin specifically. It’s not enough to say that you are sorry for ‘stuff’ you did. You actually have to name the sins. This also helps us name the behaviour with the hopes of putting an end to it. More on this later as well, but we have to confess out loud, in person, to a priest.

Satisfaction means that you are willing to do something (although not perfect satisfaction) to repair the damage or harm done. If you stole something, you have to return it. If you hurt someone, you should apologize. If you committed a crime, like murder (as stated above), you have to turn yourself in to the police. For most of us, satisfaction is done symbolically in the form of penance. We know that praying Psalm 51 or doing a Decade of the Rosary is not going to repair the damage done, but in God’s perfection, our actions (if we are truly repentant) will suffice. Of course, if you need to apologize to someone, or return what you stole, just reciting a Decade of the Rosary won’t be enough.

Lastly, the action of God needs to take place. We must remember that it is not the priest that is forgiving the sins, but God. It is the priest, “in the person of Christ” who forgives sins. This is why the priest doesn’t say, “Jesus absolves you of your sin,” but rather, “I absolve you…” These are the words of Christ.

Remember that every Sacrament has a “matter” and “form”. Matter is the physical matter that is necessary for the Sacrament to take place. In the case of Reconciliation the matter are the sins confessed. The form are the words that are used. In Reconciliation, it’s the words of absolution.

The Catechism says: “The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament: the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. He effects the reconciliation of sinners through the Passover of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, through the prayer and ministry of the Church:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC#1449)

Those are the words that a priest must say in order for the Sacrament to be valid. He can’t say, “Jesus loves you and he forgives your sins” or anything like that. He has to say, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” otherwise the Sacrament is not valid. If you do not hear the priest say those words, you should respectfully ask him to please say them.

We must also remember that because it is the action of God, everything about the Sacrament is made perfect. So, if you forgot a particular sin (not “forgetting” it on purpose), if doesn’t matter, all your sins are forgiven. If you forget to do your penance (again, not “forgetting” on purpose), it doesn’t matter, satisfaction or reparation is still achieved. God perfects in the Sacrament what is lacking because of our imperfection.

The Catechism also says that: “Those who approach the Sacrament of penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.” CCC#1422

One of the main objections people have to “confession” is the part that requires us to confess to a priest. You have to wonder why 1 John 5:16-17 says that there “is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.” Does he mean that there is some sin (mortal) that cannot be forgiven with just prayer? Can he be implying what Christians at the time already knew (and practiced), that some sin needs to be confessed to a priest out loud?

We must remember that just because we are confessing to a priest doesn’t mean that we are not confessing to God. And think of this: If you confess to God in the privacy of your room, do you think that God will forgive you? Do you think it’s different if you go to Confession? I would like to think that God will forgive us if we are truly repentant and want to be better; especially if we’ve made reparation for our sin. But do you know for sure? That’s what a Sacrament does: It gives us the guarantee that something is actually taking place. We actually hear the words, “I absolve you from your sins.” It’s nice to hear it. That’s why it’s a “visible sign”.

Plus, it’s true that when we sin, we are not only sinning against another human being (or against ourselves); we are sinning against God and against the Body of Christ, which is the Church. If we believe that, we must believe that we must confess to the Church. It used to be that people would have to stand in front of the whole community and confess their sins (some monasteries still have this practice). At least we now do it in privacy, just to the priest (who promptly forgets what you’ve told him). (Not to mention the therapeutic value of confession. Some people pay thousands of dollars to speak to a therapist, and they have no problem confessing to that person. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is free!)

Plus, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we get the benefit of the Grace of God that comes with the Sacrament, and our sins are forgiven. No therapist can do that!

Deacon-structing: Reconciliation part 1


The whole week between the Feast of the Epiphany and the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord we heard readings from the First Letter of St. John and on the Saturday I heard something that I had never heard before: “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” (1 John 5:16-17) For those of us who learned the difference between venial and mortal sins, does this reading ring any bells?

Also, in my parish this year we’ve been doing short “catechetical moments” once a month after Mass. This is because it’s not always easy to fit in a good catechesis in a 10-minute homily. We decided to begin by reviewing the Sacraments and in January, we reviewed the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

All this made me look back at what I know about Confession and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As we approach the Season of Lent, what better Sacrament to deacon-struct?

Let’s begin with that indelible mark or seal that we receive at Baptism (Read more about this here.) This seal is permanent and we are cleansed from Original Sin.

But, if we are sealed permanently and cleansed from Original Sin, why then, do we continue sinning?

I think the most basic way to understand sin is as anything that gets in the way between me and God. But I like to think of sin as “falling short”. In fact, one of the Greek words used to mean sin, “hamartia” literally means “to miss the mark,” as in archery: to miss the target. When it comes to sin, this means that I am missing the mark, or falling short of who I am supposed to be. And because of that, I can’t be in full communion with God.

I love this analogy that we used in our Catechetical series for youth, In Your Faith: Imagine that you just bought a new robot that will clean your house. Imagine that you spent a lot of money on it and you’re really excited about it. You spend the time putting it together and it’s perfect, except it won’t go backwards. Are you disappointed? Are you a bit upset? Does it “fall short” of your expectations for it? Do you want to send it back to the store?

It’s the same thing with sin. Except that with us, God won’t send us back to the store simply because we fall short of his design for us. He wants us to keep trying and keep striving for holiness.

But not all sin is the same; thus the passage from the first letter of St. John. The Catholic Church calls some sin “venial sin” (that is not deadly, or doesn’t lead to death, to use St. John’s language) and other sin “mortal sin” (that is deadly).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that venial sin offends and wounds charity, whereas mortal sin destroys it (CCC#1855). It goes on to say:

“Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” (CCC#1856)

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions have to be met:

  1. The object of the sin has to grave matter
  2. It has to be committed with full knowledge
  3. It has to be committed with deliberate consent. (CCC#1857)

Venial sin, on the other hand, occurs when the matter is not grave, and/or when the above is committed without full knowledge or understanding and not deliberately or without complete consent (CCC#1862).

The Catechism continues:

“Deliberate and un-repented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.” (CCC#1863)

I guess that’s why St. John tells his readers that some sin (venial) can be repaired through prayer. But he is clear to state that not all sin can be repaired with just prayer. He means “mortal sin”, sin that is deadly or leads to death.

Let’s now get back to where we began: If we are cleansed from sin at baptism, why do we continue sinning?

The answer is simple: Because our human nature remains wounded after baptism. Even though Original Sin is removed, the effects of sin are not. This is why we have a tendency to sin. The Church calls this “tendency to sin,” concupiscence.

Let’s use another analogy: Imagine tasting chocolate for the first time and you like it, so you want more. It’s the same with sin: Because we already tasted sin, we want more.

In order to fix these disordered appetites, we need Grace and that’s why we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Come back next week so we can see exactly how the Sacrament of Reconciliation works.

CNS photo/Kacper Pempel , Reuters

Deacon-structing the Call: Conclusion part 2


Last week I said that everyone gets called. But sometimes we don’t recognize it, because we’re distracted or ‘cause we’re not expecting it. But the call comes and looking at Scripture helps us recognize the Call when it comes.

First you have an encounter with Christ; an encounter with the Divine; then comes a calling. And it’s not we who encounter Christ; Christ comes out to encounter us. In every case, it’s God or Jesus who does the encountering (for more details on this first step, look at last week’s post).

Second: Just after the encounter, but just before the call, each person in Scripture had a profound sense of their inadequacy. They had a real sense of their uselessness and an awareness of their sinfulness. Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-2; 3-8) actually thinks that he’s going to die – that’s what happens when we’re in the presence of the divine- he says, “I am a man of unclean lips!” And Paul describes himself in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 as “one untimely born” or “abnormally born.” He is the “least of the apostles.” And he was; he used to persecute Christians. He was responsible for the arrest and even killing of some Christians. And Peter, when Jesus calls him in Luke 5:1-11, says “Go away from me, for I am a sinful man.” Each becomes aware of their sinfulness. This happens when we’re in the presence of God, but it happens before the call so that we know that whatever God is asking us to do, we will not do because we are so amazing; it is God who is going to do it through us. It’s also a good reminder of who gets called: Sinners. Sinners get called.

Last, just before the call, God asks us to do something strange or unusual. I think this is also so that we know it’s not us but God acting. Isaiah mouth is touched with a burning coal (not something I would recommend that you do at home). It makes no sense, but God says “trust me.” Paul is left blind and told to go to Damascus where Ananias will help him. Ananias is one of the guys that Paul was persecuting. “I know it doesn’t make sense; trust me.” And Peter, Peter is asked to take the boat back out. But it’s not the best time to fish and besides, there is no fish. Jesus says, “It doesn’t make any sense, but trust me.” And so, just before the call we have to trust and say, “Yes Lord, I will do what you are asking me to do.” Maybe it’s a bit of a test.

Then comes the call.

So, first you have a personal encounter with God; that encounter makes us aware of our inadequacy and last, that encounter involves trusting God. Then comes THE CALL. And this happens to everyone. God calls everyone. Everyone, at some point or another, especially if they are in a relationship with God, will be called. It’s not just for priests and people in religious life. This is one of the gifts of the Second Vatican Council: Everyone gets called. We’ve been sitting in the bleachers for way too long, it’s time for us to get on the ice!

And the call for everyone is holiness. We are all called to holiness. And we can best live our call to holiness in one of four main ways, called vocations: The single life, religious life; ordained life and married life. But it’s not our choice. They have been chosen for us. God has created us so that one of these vocations is our own personal and special way in which we can achieve holiness.

Some of you will be called to be holy through the Single Life. That’s good because not everyone is called to be married nor should everyone be married. And single people have a great gift of time – they don’t have the same family commitments and so they can serve.

And some people are called to the Ordained Life as deacons, priests or Bishops; or some are called to the Religious Life as sisters, brothers, monks, nuns, who live consecrated lives.

But most of us are called to the Married Life because that’s the way where we come closest to loving another person the way God loves us: freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally. (St. John Paul II says in his Theology of the Body that “…the consciousness of the ‘spousal’ meaning of the body—constitutes the fundamental component of human existence in the world.” That means that living “spousally” is considered the purpose of our existence – it doesn’t mean that everyone should be married in this life – but we are all called to Marriage in the next life, for we will all be Married to the Lamb. Marriage on earth only pre-figures, points to – and sacramentally also truly is that to which it points – the Marriage in Heaven. It does mean that we are all created for this type of giving as exemplified in Married Love.) It is no coincidence nor surprise that most human beings are married for that has been written into our bodies – that’s the spousal meaning of our bodies.

But don’t forget that Marriage (as is every Vocation) is our way to holiness, to sainthood. God has given you your husband, your wife to help you be holy! You job is to help your husband or your wife to get to heaven! That’s beautiful! That’s definitely one reason why the Church takes Marriage very seriously.

Is that how you see your Marriage? This is your call to holiness. Do you live your marriage as a response to a call? Do you live your marriage as a response to a personal encounter with Christ? Do you live your marriage daily, as a personal encounter with Christ? Do you live your marriage with a keen awareness that you can’t do it alone and that you have to trust God all the way? Do you live your life, whether you’re married, single, ordained or in religious life, as a response to a call to holiness?

Mother Teresa used to say that God does not call us to do great things, but to do small things with great love. Maybe you will be called to do great things, I don’t know, but if not, do you live your life, no matter which vocation you live, doing small things with great love? Can we say yes to God?

Can we get on the holiness boat and set out into the deep?

Deacon-structing the Call: Conclusion part 1


For the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about Vocations. We’ve looked at what it means to be called and how to discern that call. We also looked at the Church’s four Vocations: Ordained Life, Religious Life, Single Life and Married Life. Vocation, ultimately is about saying yes to what you’ve been created for.

This week I met Sr. Monique Bourget of the Institute of St. Marcellina ( She is the first of many Perspectives interviews that I hope to do for the Year for Consecrated Life (which Pope Francis has declared 2015 to be). During the interview Sr. Monique said that as she was feeling the “call” as a young 18-year old while doing missionary work in Guatemala, she had to come to a place of surrender. She had to trust God. If God wants you to do something, then you have to trust. But in order to have that kind of trust, you have to have a relationship with God. Prayer is key.**

Last week we heard the Mark’s description of the Baptism of Christ (Mark 1:7-11). We can say that Jesus’ baptism was his “call” moment. He literally heard the voice of God saying, “You are my beloved.” His baptism was the beginning of his ministry. In the same way, everyone gets called by God. Isaiah got the call. So did Paul. This weekend (Second Sunday in Ordinary Time) we will hear John’s version of the Call of James, John, Peter and Andrew. The first reading is the Call of Samuel.

Are you thinking there’s something wrong with you because you have not heard the Call? I think the problem is that, either we don’t think we’re going to get called- we think that it’s only for prophets and apostles and saints – and so we’re not expecting the call. Or, even if we think that we may get the call, we don’t know how to recognize it, ‘cause we’re looking for something else; expecting something else. But the “call” stories from Scripture give us a few clues that will help us recognize the call when it comes.

First, the call doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t happen out of context. We have to first have an encounter with God. Isaiah has a vision of God (Isaiah 6:1–8). He sees God in the temple, sitting on a throne in his majesty. There are angels flying around – seraphs, singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (that’s what we try to re-create every Sunday). Then an angel touches Isaiah’s mouth with a burning coal. That’s an experience of the divine. Isaiah has an experience of the divine, before he is called.

The same happens to Paul (Acts 9:1-17). Paul has an encounter with Jesus that literally knocks him off his feet: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Paul asks, “Who are you?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Paul has quite the encounter with Jesus Christ. But his call comes much later. He doesn’t get called right away. He has to go to Damascus and was there, blind for three days – and still, the call happened years later.

Next Sunday (Third Sunday in Ordinary Time) we will hear Mark’s version of the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John. From reading Mark you may conclude that the disciples did not know Jesus when he called them, but according to St. Luke (Luke 5:1-11), Peter and the disciples had already met Jesus. Jesus had already healed Peter’s mother in law (Luke 4:38-39). I’d like to think that since these were such small towns everyone must have known each other. Jesus had been around for 30 years. Of course they knew him, if not personally, then at least they knew of him. And everyone was talking about his teachings and his miracles so when Jesus asks to get into Peter’s boat in Luke’s version (which I find most compelling), they are not strangers.

But even though Peter knew Jesus he still had not had an encounter with Christ. That’s the same with us sometimes: We may know Jesus and still not have had an encounter with Jesus. And in Luke 5, Jesus takes Peter out into the deep and there’s the miraculous catch of fish. That’s an encounter with the divine.

Come back next week to find out what Scripture says are the two other stages of the Call.

**We are dedicating some of our Weekly Edition of Perspectives [] space to Consecrated Life. For the next months we will be speaking to many people from different backgrounds, who are living the Consecrated Life. The first episode, with Sr. Monique Bourget, IM will air on Friday, February 13th at 7 and 11pm ET / 8pm PT. Perspectives: The Weekly Edition airs every Friday and Sunday at 7 and 11pm ET / 8pm PT.


Deacon-structing Vocations: Married Life part 2


Recently I heard a talk by Julie and Greg Alexander of The Alexander House which helps parishes strengthen their marriage ministry or to help build a foundation to create one. Greg says that the turning point for their marriage when it was in crisis was a priest who asked them to consider God’s plan for marriage. They had never thought about that.

In my experience, this is true. So many couples come to the Church for marriage without ever learning what God’s plan for Marriage and sexuality is.

Last time, we looked at God’s design for Marriage. The Catholic view of Marriage is a beautiful and unique one. For Catholics, Marriage is both a Vocation and a Sacrament. The celebration of Marriage between two Catholics normally takes place during Mass because of the connection of all the Sacraments with the Paschal Mystery of Christ. This does not mean that a marriage between a Catholic and a non-catholic is not valid, but for Catholics, it makes sense that Marriage should take place in connection with the Eucharist.

I tried to make this clear last time. In Marriage we come closest to loving another person the way God loves us. God gives himself totally to us on the Cross; that is the moment that is made present in the Eucharist.

In the Eucharist the memorial of the New Covenant is realized; the New Covenant in which Christ has united himself for ever to the Church, his beloved bride for whom he gave himself up. It is therefore fitting that spouses should seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the offering of their own lives by uniting it to the offering of Christ for his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and by receiving the Eucharist so that, communicating in the same body and the same blood of Christ, they may form but “one body” in Christ.

In Catholic teaching, Marriage is a serious thing. That’s why it is a Covenant and not just an arrangement or “contract.”

On the Sermon of the Mount, speaking about adultery, Jesus said: “I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

On another occasion, his disciples asked him why Moses allowed for divorce. Jesus said, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? (Matthew 19:4-5). Remember that from Genesis 2:24? Jesus continues, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:6)

On these two occasions Jesus is speaking about the permanence of marriage: A marriage is forever, as long as both spouses are alive (on another occasion Jesus speaks about how there is no marriage in Heaven – see Matthew 22:30. As a point of clarification, let me add that this is why widows or widowers are able to re-marry in the Catholic Church).

But our society has “re-defined” marriage into a union that is not permanent. It can be dissolved. Divorce is so common that many people don’t even expect marriages to last.

My parents recently celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. A few months before the anniversary they were leaving the bank and a young woman helped them out to the street to get a cab. In conversation she asked my mom if the gentleman with her was her brother. My Mother said that he was her husband. The young woman looked confused and said that she had never met a couple that had been married for so long.

To add to the confusion, many people have heard that the Church offers Marriage annulments. They think that an “annulment” is Catholic “divorce”. But if it’s true that ‘what God has joined together, let no one separate’, then why are there annulments?

I heard a super homily once about that. A lot of people think that the Church says that once you’re married, that’s it, door closed, there’s no way out and people who are divorced or separated sometimes feel they are not welcome to the Eucharist. But that’s not true.

People who are divorced or separated are welcome to the Eucharist. This is one of the issues that was addressed at the recent Synod on the Family in Rome. Being separated from your spouse is not what breaks communion with God; committing adultery is. That is why the issue was always addressed as “Communion for divorced and re-married Catholics.” Divorced Catholics can receive Communion. The problem is when they are re-married, because getting married again, after a divorce is considered adultery in the same way that being in a sexual relationship with someone while you’re married to someone else is adultery. The Church doesn’t recognise a civil divorce. If you’re married and the Marriage is valid, then you’re married as long as you are both alive.

But that doesn’t mean that people who find themselves in abusive marriages or marriages that are destructive are trapped. The Church will be the first to say that if you’re in a dangerous relationship, you should get out. You don’t have to stay in that relationship. In some cases, if the marriage is deemed to never have existed in the first place (and therefore not valid), you can get an annulment. In other cases, even though the Marriage is not a healthy marriage, it may still be valid. It depends on whether the consent was valid at the time it was exchanged.

For example, if a husband has a history of abuse before the Marriage, or if you married someone not really knowing who they really are, or if you were too immature or were pressured into the marriage, those are all grounds for an annulment because the consent would not have been valid; it was not done in a free, faithful, fruitful and total way.

Annulments can be complicated, but they don’t have to be. My advice to married couples who are no longer together is to call the local Catholic Marriage Tribunal and find out what they can do to find out whether there is just cause for an annulment.

The better advice, however, is for young people before they get married. Why are you getting married? Do you really understand God’s plan for Marriage and sexuality? Do you understand fully what the Catholic Church teaches about Marriage and Family?

We spend four or more years preparing for a career; the Church prepares men for at least six years for the priesthood, but we offer young couples one weekend or two for marriage preparation. This should not be acceptable. All Catholic high schools should have on-going teaching of the truth about God’s design for sex, Marriage and relationships. All parishes should have on-going Marriage preparation and Marriage support for couples. Let’s not settle for the lowest common denominator; let’s strive for the ideal, which is that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” for the sake of holiness, so that we can fulfill God’s plan that we love another as He has loved us, freely, faithfully, fruitfully and totally.

CNS photo/Daniel Karmann, EPA

What if Jesus hadn’t been born? Part 3


In the past week, I’ve been trying to imagine what our world would be like had Jesus never been born. (Check out part 1 and part 2) It’s easy to say that The Church would not exist or that we would have no Pope. There would be no priests, deacons, religious sisters or brothers, nor there would be church buildings. But Christianity has permeated our culture to such degree that it’s really impossible to envision a world that is not influenced by Jesus and his life.

Imagine a singer, Madonna Louise Ciccone. Had Jesus never been born, her parents would not have named her Madonna. In fact, had Jesus not been born, there would be no references to Mary in our culture. There wouldn’t be a song by the Beatles called Let It Be, nor there be other songs such as Virgin Mary by Joan Baez, or Lady Writer by Dire Straits to mention a few.

In fact, the name Mary wouldn’t be a popular name. Nor would be Joseph, or Peter, John, or James. Had Jesus never been born, you wouldn’t have any friends named Elizabeth, Madelaine or Veronica. You wouldn’t have any friends named Gloria, Christian or Christina. Imagine a Latin America without the thousands of men born on December 25th named Jesús, or anyone named José María, or Marie-Josée. I guess they would still exist but their names would be Quetzalcoatl, Yupanqui or Summer.

Had Jesus never been born, we would still have the Sacred Jewish Scriptures, but would they have any references to a Messiah, a Saviour or a “virgin birth”? I guess it would depend on whether the Jesus-event was still possible in this made-up world. I suppose had Jesus not been born, we could still be waiting for the Messiah.

I can’t proceed without stating that had Jesus not been born some historical events would have been avoided: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts and even anti-Semitism (at least the post-Christian kind). However these guys would still have been around: Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Castro, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, Suharto, Ho Chi Minh, Chiang Kai-shek, Francisco Franco, Reza Pahlawi, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Pol Pot. Would they still have committed all the atrocities they did? Likely,  except that none of them could have persecuted, tortured, murdered or disappeared Christians.

What year would it be had Jesus not been born? 2014 CE? Would it be the Hebrew year 5775? Maybe it would be the year 6 billion.

Could you argue that, had Jesus not told his disciples to “go and spread the good news to all creation,” no religion would have spread throughout the world? Would Judaism still be the small monotheistic religion of a few hundred thousands? Would Judaism have survived the destruction of the second temple? Would Islam even exist? What would the Qur’an look like without its Christian references?

Had Jesus not been born there would be 120,000,000 less websites on the Internet. You could argue that since without Christianity the printing press would not have been invented, perhaps our reading habits would be quite different. Would there be libraries full of books? Even our language would be quite different. We wouldn’t say things such as “someone was a good Samaritan”, or “he’s the prodigal son” or the “lost sheep”. We would not have teachings that have entered our every-day speech such as “turn the other cheek”, “go the second mile,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “carry your cross,” “washing your hands of something” or “love your enemies.”

It’s really not that easy to imagine a world without Jesus – whether people acknowledge Him as the Christ. Sure John Lennon would’ve never said, “we’re more famous than Jesus Christ” and Mel Gibson wouldn’t have made $300 million after only two weeks in the theatres, but also, there would be no great books like The Lord of Rings trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia and Dan Brown would not have sold 40 million copies of “The DaVinci Code.”

More than that, our world would be very lacking. You could argue that there would be no charitable organizations, no public education, no universities* or even the concept of a liberal arts education. You could argue that there would be no hospitals (definitely no publicly-funded ones) and perhaps not even (ironically) no civil rights league. In fact, without Christianity, human beings would probably have no concept of civil rights. Without Christianity we would have no concept of social justice and we wouldn’t have women’s rights. We would also not have a Just War Theory and our concept of Law would be very different. In fact, our idea of equality and human dignity would be quite different. (I’ve even heard it argued that without Christianity there would be no United States of America.)

Without Christianity, cannibalism, slavery and infanticide would still exist (I guess infanticide still exists). Had Christianity not spread around the world people would still be offering human sacrifice to the gods.

Without Christianity the lives of many people would have been quite different. Consider Francis Bacon; Charles Darwin; Cecil B. DeMille; T.S. Elliot; Judy Garland; Thomas Jefferson; C.S. Lewis; John Locke; Van Morrison; Georgia O’Keefe; F.D. Roosevelt; Eleonor Roosevelt; Teddy Roosevelt; Alfred Lord Tennyson; George Washington; Oscar Wilde; Tennessee Williams; W.B. Yeats; Charles Dickens; Duke Ellington; Florence Nightingale; John Milton; John Newton; Laurence Olivier; Lewis Carroll; Madeleine L’Engle; Madeline Albright; Natalie Cole; W.H. Auden William Shakespeare; Abraham Lincoln; Jimmy Carter; Alexander I; Nelson Rockefeller; Roy Orbison; Kris Kristofferson; Louis Armstrong; Chuck Berry; Gladys Knight; John Grisham; Gene Roddenberry; Ava Gardner; Kevin Costner; Anne Bancroft; Stephen Baldwin; G.K. Chesterton; Bernardo Bertolucci; Bono; Jim Caviezel; Frank Capra; Nicolas Copernicus; Galileo; Bing Crosby; Marie Curie; Salvador Dali; Leonardo DaVinci; Edgar Degas; Francisco De Goya; Rene Descartes; Albrecht Duher; Federico Fellini; Mel Gibson; Galileo Galilei; Graham Greene; Alec Guiness; Bob Hope; Gene Kelly; Grace Kelly; John F. Kennedy; Guglielmo Marconi; Henri Matisse; Michelangelo; Napoleon; Pablo Picasso; Arnold Schwartzenegger; Martin Sheen; Oscar Wilde; Andy Warhol; Voltaire; Johannes Keppler; Blaise Pascal; Louis Pasteur; Isaac Newton; George Frideric Handel; Antonio Vivaldi; J.S. Bach; Lech Walesa and Georges Lemaitre, all Christian. Even if none of them practiced their faith (and we know many did), it’s impossible to assume that Christianity did not influence their thoughts, their writings, their work and their actions.

What do you think? Can you think of another way that our world would be different had Jesus never been born?

I think that had Jesus never been born, we’d be missing a lot more than trees decorated with lights at this time of the year. Truly, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “without Christ, this world would be always winter, but never Christmas!”

Go now and proclaim the Good News to all creation.

*All but one of the first 123 colleges in colonial USA were Christian institutions. While these universities have lost their Christian identities, it is interesting to read the founding statements of these schools. Harvard, for example, was founded with the intention of training Christian ministers. Their motto was “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae” which means “Truth for Christ and the Church.” Harvard’s first point from their “Rules and Precepts”, stated: “Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him (Prov. 2:3).

What if Jesus Hadn’t Been Born? Part 2


Last time, I was imagining a world without Christmas. That would mean no Christmas music and no Christmas movies.  But a world without Jesus would mean much more to our popular culture. After watching the screen adaptation of Les Miserables two years ago,  I couldn’t help but thinking that this novel would be very different had Jesus not been born. Perhaps Victor Hugo never would have written it. If so, there wouldn’t be a musical called Les Mis, and this movie would not have been made. And all those wonderful songs would not exist.  But had Jesus not been born, there would be many other songs missing from your playlist:

  • Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode;
  • Hey Jesus by the Indigo Girls;
  • God is Love by Lenny Kravitz;
  • Forgiven  by Alanis Morisette;
  • Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones;
  • One of Us by Joan Osbourne;
  • God or Imagine by John Lennon;
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2;
  • Jesus by Queen.

That’s just off the top of my head.

Had Jesus never been born, we would also be missing a lot of great (and not so great) films from our video libraries. There would be no:

  • Jesus Christ Super Star,
  • Godspell,
  • Jesus of Nazareth,
  • The Passion of the Christ,
  • The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ,
  • The Nativity Story,
  • Mary of Nazareth,
  • The Life of Brian,
  • Ben Hur,
  • The King of Kings,
  • Salome,
  • The Robe,
  • Barabbas,
  • The Greatest Story Ever Told,
  • The Gospel According to St. Matthew,
  • Jesus of Montreal,
  • Mary, the Mother of Jesus,
  • Jesus (the mini-series)
  • The Bible Mini-series (would be missing the whole second part which was turned into the film Son of God) or
  • The Miracle Maker

 We’d also be missing: The Sound of Music, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, The Hiding Place (the Corrie Ten-Boom Story), Lilies of the Field, The Miracle of the Bells, The Mission, Dead Man Walking, The Singing Nun, Sister Act, Bless the Child, Bonhoeffer – Agent of Grace, The Nun’s Story, The Shoes of the Fisherman, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, Romero, Chocolat and Agnes of God.  It’s also doubtful that all the angel movies would exist. Think of Angels in the Outfield (1994), Michael (1996), The Preacher’s Wife (1996) and City of Angels (1998), to mention a few.

How about: The Age of Innocence (1993) by Martin Scorsese; Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) by Michael Curtiz; The Assisi Underground (1984) by Alexander Ramati; Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987) by Louis Malle; Babette’s Feast (1987) by Gabriel Axel; Bachelor Mother (1939) by Garson Kanin; The Bicycle Thief (1947) by Vittorio De Sica; Blue (1992) by Don McKellar; Casablanca (1942) by Michael Curtiz; The Champ (1931)by King Vidor; Chariots of Fire (1981) by Hugh Hudson; El Cid (1961) by Anthony Mann; City Lights (1931) by Charlie Chaplin; A Man Escaped (1956) by Robert Bresson; Diary of a Country Priest (1950) by Robert Bresson; Going My Way (1944) by Leo McCarey; La Grande illusion (1937) by Jean Renoir; The Grapes of Wrath (1940) by John Ford; Groundhog Day (1993) by Harold Ramis; It Happened One Night (1934) by Frank Capra; A Man for All Seasons (1966) by Fred Zinnemann; North by Northwest (1959) by Alfred Hitchcock; On the Waterfront (1954) by Elia Kazan; The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) by Carl Theodor Dreyer; Pickpocket (1959) by Robert Bresson; The Quiet Man (1952) by John Ford; Quiz Show (1994) by Robert Redford; Rome, Open City (1945) by Roberto Rossellini; The Sign of the Cross (1932) by Cecil B. DeMille; The Song of Bernadette (1943) by Henry King; Therese (1986) by Alain Cavalier; 3 Godfathers (1948) by John Ford; You Can’t Take It With You (1938) by Frank Capra; Vertigo (1958) by Alfred Hitchcock. All these have either references to Christ, Christianity or exist in a Christian world view.

You could even argue that films (and novels) such as Star Wars and Harry Potter would also not exist (or be very different) since, had Jesus not been born, the concepts of salvation-through-love and self-sacrifice are very specific to the Christian world-view.

How about TV shows like Stairway to Heaven, Touched By An Angel, 7th Heaven and Joan of Arcadia? How about any TV shows that deal with concepts of redemption, salvation, forgiveness or self-sacrifice? They may still exist, but I would argue they’d be considerably different.

Had Jesus never been born, we’d also be missing a lot of books. Other than the fact that the number-one top selling book of all times, The Bible would be missing some books, we’d also be short on many great works of spiritual nourishment and fiction. I’ll let you figure out which books would not exist. Personally, I have a whole bookshelf by my bed, which would be empty.

Had Jesus not been born there would be no sacred music; there would be no Handel’s Messiah or Bach Chorales. There would also not be any sacred art; there would be no Sistine Chapel, no Pieta and DaVinci would not have painted the Last Supper. I could probably fill a whole book by just listing all the works of art, music and literature that would be missing had Jesus never been born.

It’s clear that, had Jesus never been born, our world would be much poorer. Can you think of what other songs, films, novels or TV shows would not exist?

Next time, I will conclude my imaginary picture of what our cultural world would be like had Jesus not been born.