Well over twenty years ago, I was seeing a counselor regularly for a few years. Young adult issues surfaced in my life with a roar: sex and relationships, family-of-origin issues, compulsions and self-destructive behavior, an unpleasant boss. Nothing life-threatening, but serious enough that I felt my quality of life spiraling away from me.
But I found a curious thing happened just by talking about my worries. Much of the attractive lure of my indulgences melted away as I gave voice to them. There was one particular issue that was a source of shame, but when I finally worked up the nerve to bring it to counseling, it seemed to lose much of its power over me. I had brought it to confession before, of course. But there was a different quality about it there. I felt forgiven sacramentally, naturally. But the glow never lasted. I didn’t feel as if I had really moved. It was like being covered in mud, then rinsing off when the rain came. When I looked around, I was spanking clean, but the mud was still all around me. It was easier to sit down and roll with it than to trek out of my surroundings and seek out higher ground.
The first two verses of Psalm 40 come to mind. It’s not enough to realize one is in a tight spot. One has to move. If need be, one can ask for assistance to move:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
I’ve been enjoying my recent sojourn into Ignatian spirituality. It has been a fruitful combination of challenge and confirmation. I was struck recently by James Martin’s sharing of the value of having a spiritual director or spiritual friend. This is the person with whom one can speak of secret temptations and lures. Getting something out into the open, out into the light, makes it less powerful in one’s life. According to Saint Ignatius, this counters the enemy’s lure to the person as a false lover, one who urges that temptations remain secret. And in secrecy, they gain power over the believer.
This must be what happened to my friend Shawn Ratigan in his descent into child pornography. Pornography is no question a false lover. I can understand the need to keep it a deep secret. Even adults viewing adults in a context of vowed celibacy or marriage, and when brought into the light, one wants to ask simply, “Why?”
Under the guise of a good, the avoidance of scandal, Bishop Finn also got caught in the trap of the false lover. Much was concealed from people: the reason for the attempted suicide, the contents of the computer, the priest from his friends, parents from the suspicions, the full extent of the crime from police authorities, and even decisions which could have been easily, gladly, and wisely assisted by a close circle of circumspect advisors.
What’s the antidote here? Bring everything out into the open–all those negative feelings and temptations and urges to do wrong or to despair or to move away from God.
How often this happens in spiritual direction! Someone seems to be dancing around some uncomfortable topic, something he is afraid of revealing, precisely because he knows that once it’s out in the open he will be challenged to recognize how unhealthy it is.
Once it’s revealed, the unhealthy urge, decision, or tendency can be examined, healed, or rejected. When a young Jesuit is tempted to break his vows in any way, for example, he often suppresses the desire to talk about his struggles with his superior or his spiritual director, and the frustrations and fears and secrecy and problems only deepen.
This has certainly been true in my life. Looking back on my late twenties and early thirties, I see I was a muddy mess in a lot of ways. I had the opportunity for invaluable spiritual direction. Of course, I was afraid of mentioning how often I didn’t pray. A lot of wasted time, it would seem.
But today, I’m tempted to focus more on the present, and not so much, “If only I knew what I was doing!” (Likely that when I reach age seventy, I’ll look back on today with a similar lament.)
I think there is a place for a person’s good sense to guide the revelation of secrets. For me, I talk with my wife often, and I try mightily to discuss my small mud puddles before they become desolate pits and miry bogs. I value the setting of the sacrament of marriage. For my wife and I, we often speak in our shared trials as being each other’s ticket to sainthood. It used to be something of a jest between us. As we grow older, I think it has developed a much more serious tone. A good thing, to be sure.
How do we assess the development of faith? By the knowledgeable and accurate presentation of the evangelizer, the catechist, or the pastoral minister? Nope. When the seeker has “adhered” to a new way of life:
23. In fact the proclamation only reaches full development when it is listened to, accepted and assimilated, and when it arouses a genuine adherence in the one who has thus received it. An adherence to the truths which the Lord in His mercy has revealed; still more, an adherence to a program of life – a life henceforth transformed – which He proposes. In a word, adherence to the kingdom, that is to say, to the “new world,” to the new state of things, to the new manner of being, of living, of living in community, which the Gospel inaugurates. Such an adherence, which cannot remain abstract and unincarnated, reveals itself concretely by a visible entry into a community of believers. Thus those whose life has been transformed enter a community which is itself a sign of transformation, a sign of newness of life: it is the Church, the visible sacrament of salvation.[Cf. Lumen Gentium 1, 9, 48; Gaudium et Spes 42, 45; Ad Gentes, 1] Our entry into the ecclesial community will in its turn be expressed through many other signs which prolong and unfold the sign of the Church. In the dynamism of evangelization, a person who accepts the Church as the Word which saves[Cf. Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18] normally translates it into the following sacramental acts: adherence to the Church, and acceptance of the sacraments, which manifest and support this adherence through the grace which they confer.
Baptism and full initiation is the most public, the most visible sign of the completion of evangelization. As is true with the proclamation of the Gospel that follows life’s witness, the preparation for initiation and its celebration requires the distinguishing and discernment of a community’s gifts. As always, I caution that these stages are less distinct periods, but add-ons in the Christian experience. In other words, everyone always and everywhere gives good witness whether seekers and inquirers are watching or not. We commit ourselves to listen to the proclamation of teaching for ever. We renew our experience of baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation every time we celebrate Mass. It is important, vital even, to communicate that sacraments are not “graduation events” from a period of catechesis.
I was having a discussion with a priest friend of mine about the order of receiving the Body and Blood at Mass. I said there was no legislation in place for the laity, only custom.
He said that priests are obligated by the rubrics to receive the Body, then the Blood.
There are no such rubrics for the people, I said. We may receive under one or either form. A priest is blocked from receiving under only one form. Lay people have greater freedom.
I recounted one experience where I left the piano during the refrain of a communion song. The minister assigned to give the Body to the choir was momentarily distracted, so I went to the cup first, then the other minister before scooting back to the keyboard.
My friend said, “Accidents are permitted.”
“It wasn’t an accident,” I said.
I certainly wouldn’t encourage a reverse order as a custom, but I’m not aware of any limitations on it for the laity, are any of you?
Let’s look at what BLS has to say about the priest’s chair:
§ 63 § The chair of the priest celebrant stands “as a symbol of his office of presiding over the assembly and of directing prayer.”(GIRM 310) An appropriate placement of the chair allows the priest celebrant to be visible to all in the congregation. The chair reflects the dignity of the one who leads the community in the person of Christ, but is never intended to be remote or grandiose. The priest celebrant’s chair is distinguished from the seating for other ministers by its design and placement. “The seat for the deacon should be placed near that of the celebrant.”(GIRM 310) In the cathedral, in addition to the bishop’s chair or cathedra, which is permanent, an additional chair will be needed for use by the rector or priest celebrant.(Ceremonial of Bishops 47)
“Presidency” is a suspect term in some circles, but the Latin roots are appropriate for the role of the priest: prae = “in front of” and sidere = “to sit.” From his seat, a priest directs and prayer of the assembly. Visibility without remoteness is prime. Design and location distinguishes this chair from other seating.
Most deacon chairs are placed next to the priest’s, but the GIRM only calls for proximity.
And you all knew that the bishop’s chair is not to be used by clergy, and as we read in BLS 64, a lay person does not use the priest’s chair:
§ 64 § “The [most appropriate] place for the chair is at the head of the sanctuary and turned toward the people unless the design of the building or other circumstances [such as distance or the placement of the tabernacle] are an obstacle.”(GIRM 310) This chair is not used by a lay person who presides at a service of the word with Communion or a Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest. (Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest , no. 40.)
§ 65 § Other chairs may be placed in the sanctuary for the priest concelebrants and other priests present for the celebration in choir dress.
Sanctuary placement for concelebrants is optional.
Thoughts or questions?
All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.