Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Hands of an Apostle

I tipped the cruet over his hands. "Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." he said, as the water splashed into the bowl held below. Finishing this he took the towel from its place hanging over my left arm, dried his hands and returned it. As I turned away to leave he turned toward the altar and the congregation and began the familiar phrase. “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

Though it was only a moment, I was then struck by the image of his hands, resting there on the edge of the altar, contrasted against the white linen on the altar cloth. In that glimpse they were at the same time the hands of many old men and also the hands of very special men. This particular man at the altar was Archbishop Buechlein of Indianapolis but the specific location of his ministry is not what is important. What makes this man special is his office of Bishop, his role as a successor to the apostles, and as a successor to the Apostles those hands can do wonderful things.

Those hands, at that moment resting on the altar, will be in a few moments extended out over the presented gifts of simple bread and wine. That humble food will become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, given him by his office, the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation.

Those hands, creased and tired from hard work, when laid upon the head of a young man or woman this Easter will seal them with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Those hands, weary, but still with great power, will ordain men to the sacred priesthood, giving them also the power to channel the Holy Spirit just as their predecessors before them, back through the centuries.

Those hands may not have hauled in the nets of a fishing boat, drawn a sword to defend their master or healed paralytics in the Temple in Jerusalem but they are the hands of a servant of God. They hold the staff of a humble shepherd. They are hands in the employ of Christ.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

There's not an App for that.

A friend shared with me this ( article from the BBC about an iPhone app for the Sacrament of Confession. The app guides the user through an examination of conscience and helps them with how to make a good confession.

The current title of the article is"Catholic church gives blessing to iPhone app" but when it was first linked to me the title was "Church blesses iPhone confessions". This might seem like a trifle difference but I suspect that the title was changed after someone pointed out the difference. The original title implies that the app does what someone used to have to step into a confessional to do. Not true.

The Sacrament of Confession is one where the penitent, i.e. the one confessing, confesses their sins to the priest. The priest, who through his priestly office, granted him upon ordination, is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ to forgive the sins of the penitent.

Before one can tell their sins they must first know what they are. The act of thinking of and remaining conscious of one's sins is called an examination of conscience. This has always been a necessary part of confession. Since the written word has existed for the entire history of Christianity, either by hand or printed, there has no doubt always been prepared papers that guided penitents through an examination of conscious. This iPhone app is no more than a fancy version of that.

This app has no more to do with the actual forgiveness of sins than the previous papers did. The app may be more effective and user-friendly than past methods but even with the app one must still find a priest and say their sins out loud.

The iPhone has no metaphysical connection with God and can do nothing for your soul in and of itself. Only the priest has that.

This app should be very useful in helping prepare for the Sacrament and I certainly encourage people to use it but they must remember that it is no substitution for actually meeting Jesus in the Sacrament. There's not an app for that.

note: This post is not meant to discuss or even touch the surface of the theology of the sacrament of confession. For a thorough explanation see the "Sacrament of Penance" article in the Catholic Encyclopedia here (