Tag Archives: premarital sex

Father Larry Richards – Confession

This past week, St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, in Hamilton Square, New Jersey, hosted a four-day parish mission led by  Father Larry Richards.  I was unable to attend the event on Monday and Tuesday due to prior obligations, but I made it to Wednesday and Thursday.  Wednesday focused on confession and Thursday focused on adoration and healing.

Wednesday, May 12 – Confession:

This is one of Father Larry’s most famous topics of discussion, so if you were unable to attend the event, you can see him speaking about confession at one of his other parish missions with a quick YouTube search. (Here is Part One on  YouTube.  It has four total parts). [see also: Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four]

Father Larry’s confession talk is extremely powerful in that he is able to make his audience examine their consciences in a way that probably goes deeper than ever before, but he is also able to cause them to feel absolute awe and wonder at God’s mercy.

At different times during the talk, I felt a combination of guilt, shame, gratitude, and overwhelming love.

He explained that mercy is when someone gives something good to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  That’s exactly what Jesus did for each of us in dying on the cross.  Jesus never sinned, yet He experienced excruciating pain in order to enable us to be forgiven for our sins and to one day reach the kingdom of Heaven.  As Catholics, we know this to be true, but often we take it for granted.

Father Larry holds many conferences for men, so he initially spoke to the men and husbands in the audience.  All of us, both men and women, should be praying daily, but it is the husband who is responsible for protecting and praying for his family.  If that is not the case, he is not doing his manly duty and it is problems like this, sins of omission, that are often the most grave sins.

He spoke about the many scrupulous Catholics who are constantly going to confession over every little mistake, but they fail to realize that venial sins are forgiven during Mass.  He says that Catholics should go to confession once a month, unless they have a mortal sin, in which case they must confess that as soon as possible.

He has a very blunt attitude about him, which is refreshing because he speaks the truth, not sugarcoating anything or trying to be politically correct.  There are probably a lot of people who were offended by his words not because they were wrong, but because they were challenging.  Any lukewarm Catholic was probably a bit frightened to understand that simply attending Mass on Sundays is not enough to inherit the kingdom of God.  Even those of us who consider ourselves to be passionately Catholic were pushed in our faith, feeling humbled at the inadequacies he exposed in each of us.  Priests were not exempt either, as he was very clear about the responsibility of priests to pray for their parishes.

He gave us a really good analogy of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  He once was working on a farm and had to carry a cow to a different area.  While he was walking with the calf on his shoulders, it started to urinate, getting all over him and even into his mouth.  This is the way that we treat Jesus.  All He wants to do is bring us home to Heaven, yet we urinate all over Him through our sins while he is simply carrying us on His shoulders.

I have heard priests discuss the Passion and I watch the film, The Passion of the Christ, every year during Lent to remember Jesus’ suffering, but never have I heard it described the way it was on Wednesday night.

People sometimes wonder whether Jesus can understand their pain when dealing with the loss of loved ones, heartbreak, or even physical pain.  Asking that sort of question is the equivalent of slapping Jesus Christ in the face.  Of course He can understand our pain.  The question is, can we understand His pain?

While Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was sweating blood.  Father Larry told us how our capillaries can burst when we are enduring significant stress and fear.  This is what was happening to Jesus because although He accepted His death for us, that did not mean that he was immune to fear.  He was terrified about the pain that he would soon experience.  

Then, Judas betrayed Him with a kiss on the cheek.  When we are experiencing heartbreak, we sometimes wonder if he can understand.  Jesus didn’t date or marry, so how could He understand the pain of a breakup or divorce?  But those questions show our lack of full understanding.

Jesus IS love.  He loves everyone with a deeper love than we can ever imagine.  He loved Judas, the man who betrayed Him with a kiss.  Did He experience heartbreak in that moment?  Absolutely.  We cannot fully grasp the extent of God’s love while we live in these earthly bodies, so it is we who cannot understand this heartbreak, not Jesus.

Father Larry continued to describe the pain of His Passion in a more detailed way than I have ever heard before.  He described the way Jesus was scourged and how the pieces of metal and sheep bone that were attached to the leather straps on the rod would not just slap Jesus’ skin, but tear it away.  This reminds me of the scourging scene in The Passion of the Christ when the metal on the strap gets stuck in Jesus’ side and is then ripped away with an extra tug.  I am unable to watch that moment in the film, yet this was the way the entire scourging process unfolded.

Father Larry described the crown of thorns as more of a cap of thorns.  The thorns were not like those on your average rose bush; they were one to three inches long and he said that they would have pierced his eyebrows, ears, and even his skull.  

All of this pain, and yet the actual crucifixion had not even begun.  It was then that Jesus had to carry the wooden crossbeam.  It was tied to his arms, but he was so exhausted from the scourging that Jesus could barely walk.  If I was to fall down, I would catch myself with my hands, but every time Jesus fell, He landed flat on his face, with the wood of the cross smashing into the back of His head.  

On most crucifixes, Jesus looks to be in pretty good shape.  We don’t want to terrify the people who enter our churches by portraying Him in a more realistic way, with chunks of flesh removed from his body and other strips of flesh torn and hanging, but that was the reality of the crucifixion.

I have heard so many people who refuse to watch movies about the Passion because it’s too much for them to handle.  I, too, prefer movies that lack that type of gore, but it is necessary to understand.  Father Larry did not mince his words in talking about the crucifixion.  It was absolutely gruesome, but we must realize that in order to be truly aware of the awesome gift Jesus gave to us in His death.

Once He was nailed to the cross, His body would sag down and forward.  He would be gasping for breath, only able to breathe once he pulled himself up by the nails in his wrists.  He only spoke seven times while on the cross, probably because every word was a struggle.

He was hanging there, experiencing more pain than we can ever imagine, yet He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  He was forgiving the people who were killing Him at the very moment of His crucifixion.  Yet we sometimes find ourselves unable to forgive those who hurt us years ago.
During the crucifixion, Jesus also established His mother, Mary, as our mother, when he said to John, “Behold your mother.”  He gave us the gift of Mary, yet some Catholics refuse to honor her as they should because they want to focus on Jesus.  We take Jesus’ gift of Mary and say, “No thanks, I’m good.”  She is a gift from God and we must give her the love and gratitude that she deserves as mother of our Savior.  Father Larry told us how he completed St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary and now wears a chain on his wrist to represent how he is a slave to Jesus through Mary.

Because God cannot be near sin, Father Larry explained that Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” when He had accepted all of our sins.  God could not be with Jesus in that moment because Jesus was sin, which could only be overcome through His death.

With that, many of us were already feeling quite guilty, knowing that we had a hand in Jesus’ death.  I’ve met people who don’t like to say “crucify him” aloud when we read the Passion during Lent.  But although we didn’t say that word for word, we say it every time we sin.  We are the ones hammering those nails into Jesus’ hands and shoving the crown of thorns into His head with every sin we commit.

At that point, Father Larry started to review the examination of conscience with us.  

When people hear the term mortal sin, they often think about murder, adultery, and devil worship.  But mortal sin has three facets:

-full knowledge

-full consent

-serious matter

As a practicing Catholic who understands the Church’s teachings, that means that any time I commit a serious sin, it is probably a mortal sin since I know the teachings and I have chosen to commit that sin.  That is absolutely terrifying since it only takes one mortal sin to end up in hell.

Missing Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation is a mortal sin unless we were really sick or otherwise unable to attend, yet there are tons of Catholics all over the world who are not at Mass each week.  Sure, some of them fail to realize that is sinful, but many of them do and are therefore culpable.  

When Father Larry spoke about the first commandment about not having false gods, he explained that most people never confess that sin, but all of us are guilty of it.  Unless God is always first in our lives, then we are culpable of that sin.  We often value money, success, and relationships more than God, which is shown in our priorities.  If we don’t pray daily, we definitely are guilty of this sin.

Father Larry did not shy away from sins of a sexual nature.  This can be an awkward subject for many, so some Catholics shy away from this topic, but it is a sin that so many people struggle with.  He admitted to dealing with his own lustful temptations on a daily basis.  I think it’s extremely honorable for a priest to stand up in front of over a thousand people and admit to that.  It also helps us to realize that we are not alone, that we all face temptation, but that we also all have the strength to avoid that temptation.

He also said how too many people focus too much on feeling bad about their sins of lust while forgetting about the sins of omission, arguably the worst sins.

He said how he often asks people in confession what they have done to help the poor and whether or not they pray every day.  Failing to do either of those things is much worse than many of the sexual sins that we focus on.  We should all be helping those in need as much as we can, giving 10% of our income away.

We must confess the sin if we ever had an abortion or helped anyone to get an abortion.  He suggests making a good confession and then asking God to reveal the child’s gender.  Then they would name the child, pray to him or her in Heaven, and ask that child for forgiveness.  They will then be united one day in Heaven.

It’s also a sin if we use artificial contraception.  This is a topic that many priests avoid.  Many people don’t want to make too many waves, but we must not forget about pivotal Catholic teachings as a result.  They want to pick and choose which teachings they believe in, but that is not how it works.  When we think back to Jesus’ suffering and death, we know that it was a result of each of our sins.  It is not up to us to decide.

Many frequently people say “oh my God!”  That is a sin that used to be punishable by death.  Just because we hear other Catholics and sometimes even priests or nuns say it does not mean that it is not a sin.  We have no right to take the Lord’s name in vain.

People often think they’re safe in terms of the fifth commandment since they haven’t killed, but we commit that sin every time we feel anger.  Anger is not of God.  Father Larry admitted to struggling with this on a daily basis.  Again, it was refreshing to understand that we are not alone in our struggles.  Priests aren’t immune from temptation and sin either.

After he reviewed the examination of conscience, we said the Act of Contrition aloud.  There were eleven priests who would be hearing confessions and he told us to be quick, not using it as a time for counseling since there were so many people there.  He also said that if we were one of those scrupulous people who had just been to confession three days ago, we needed to go to the back of the line to allow other people to confess their sins.  

The next night, he said how he ended up hearing confessions until 12:10 am and how there were some people there who had not been to confession in over fifty years.  He wanted to make sure that people in situations like that would not have to stand in the back of a line, possibly changing their mind and leaving with all of that sin hanging onto them.

Although I go to confession regularly, I felt even more renewed after confession on Wednesday.  I had never delved that deeply into an examination of conscience.   I had never felt so guilty about the sins that I have committed but simultaneously, I had never felt so loved and grateful for God’s mercy.

When my CCD students went to confession this year, I explained how fortunate they would be if they ever died on a day they went to confession.  They were obviously taken aback, but Father Larry explained the same thing, how if we died following a good confession, we would go straight to Heaven.  He even mentioned his movie idea of a priest who performs confessions and then slits the throats of the person who just confessed his or her sins since that would get them straight into Heaven.

Father Larry promised that during this mission, nobody would ever be bored and that their lives would be changed forever.  Through his animated, enthusiastic speech, jokes, and storytelling, we were definitely never bored.  And our lives were definitely changed forever.  I will never consider my examination of conscience the same way I had before hearing this talk.
I am so grateful that I was able to attend Wednesday night’s talk and I hope to be able to share Father Larry’s messages with the people who were not able to attend the mission.

Confession lines on Wednesday night

Do We All Have the Capacity to Commit Evil?

I’m currently reading Jodi Picoult’s novel, The Storyteller. I love her books so much because they always lead me to question my own morals and convictions.  Although her books are works of fiction, she really brings the characters to life because she does so much research about the professions and backgrounds of each person.  In this novel, the main character is a Jewish baker and she meets a man who was an SS officer during the Holocaust.  The detail with which she describes what he experienced while working in a concentration camp gives the novel a nonfiction feel to it.  It sounds like his dialogue is quoted from a real Nazi soldier.

The following quote really caught my eye:

“Inside each of us is a monster; inside each of us is a saint.  The real question is which one we nurture the most, which one will smite the other.”

It made me consider my own convictions.  I try my hardest to be a good person, but do I have the capacity for evil?  I would like to think that no, I cannot be evil, but I don’t think that is true.  I do believe that we all have the capacity for evil.

Although this is another fictional example, I think Shakespeare shows it the best:

Consider Macbeth. Macbeth starts out as a strong soldier who succeeded in Scotland’s battle against Norway.  But then he hears the witches’ prophecies about becoming king.  He starts to thirst for that position of power.  Upon hearing that King Duncan had appointed his son as prince, Macbeth decides that the only answer is to kill King Duncan.  And after that, he continues to kill anyone standing in his way of remaining king.  Most people would argue that Macbeth is absolutely evil by the end of the play.  But in the beginning, he was a normal soldier.  His desire for power led to his downfall.

Could that happen to any of us?  It’s interesting to consider.

Another section of the book stood out to me.  Josef, the character who was the SS soldier, talks about being forced to beat up his brother when in training with Hitler Youth.  He says:

“Did I know this brutality was wrong?  Even that first time, when my brother was the victim?  I have asked myself a thousand times and the answer is always the same: of course.  That day was the hardest, because I could have said no.  Every time after that, it became easier, because if I didn’t do it again, I would be reminded of that first time I did not say no.  Repeat the same action over and over again, and eventually it will feel right.  Eventually, there isn’t even any guilt.

“What I mean to tell you, now is that the same truth holds.  This could be you, too.  You think never. You think, not I.  But at any given moment, we are capable of doing what we least expect.  I always knew what I was doing, and to whom I was doing it.  I knew, very well.  Because in those terrible, wonderful moments, I was the person everyone wanted to be.”

I am the type of person who often feels badly for many criminals.  I always wonder what led them up to committing their crimes.  What was their upbringing like?  How were their parents?  Were they bullied?  Did they have untreated mental disorders?  Were they framed?  I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Really, that is what our country supposedly does as well – considering people innocent until proven guilty (though most people are condemned by the public long before their actual trial).

We learn about the Holocaust in history class.  We learn to hate the Nazis and Hitler.  But most, if not all, of the perpetrators of the hideous crimes that occurred during the Holocaust probably started out as normal people.  What is it that led them to commit such heinous acts?

In this case, Josef talks about how his decision that first time to say yes and agree to beat up his brother was the turning point.  After beating your own brother, how could you then say no to beating a stranger?

To me, this seems to be the same situation that many of us find ourselves in with regard to habitual sins.  Upon committing any given sin the first time, it makes it easier to do it again.  Well, I already made that mistake once, we often think.  And then it can easily become a difficult habit to break.  Eventually, the guilt will be gone.

The same is true when we are desensitized to violence.  We see so many graphic video games, television shows, and movies, that the violence no longer creates any feeling of disgust or negative emotion within us.  Watch too much violence and we become desensitized.  Commit any given sin too many times and it becomes habitual.

Let’s start with the example of a simple lie.  We tell one lie, but that often leads to another lie because we need to make sure that the first lie isn’t exposed.  Then it becomes a sort of routine.  We’re not lying because we’re trying to be evil or evasive, but because it’s usually the easier option.

The same thing happens with sexual sin.  Anyone who struggles with a pornography addiction had to start somewhere.  They had to click on that first video.  And I bet for most of these people, they felt guilt in the beginning, but it was an exciting, intriguing sort of guilt.  When the opportunity arose again to watch another video, it would be harder to say no because of that first instance of saying yes.  Well, I already did it once.  I’ve already dirtied myself.  What more could it hurt to watch another video or look at another picture?

The same goes for premarital sex.  Many girls (and boys) who regret losing their virginity most likely felt some amount of guilt in the beginning.  But it probably became easier to continue having sex because their virginity was already gone.  It was something that couldn’t be taken back.  Thus, a habitual sin is created, one that is difficult to overcome.  And if intercourse becomes a regular facet of their life, the guilty feelings are probably gone.

In terms of Josef, he did feel guilt upon beating his brother.  But then when he had to ruin the storefront of a Jewish shopkeeper, it was more difficult to say no.  If he hadn’t said no to hurting his own brother, how could he now say no to hurting a Jew?  And after shooting his first Jew in a concentration camp, blood was already on his hands, so how could he stop there?  The violence was just perpetuated.

I’m not saying that we all have the ability to commit genocide, but I do believe that somewhere inside each of us we absolutely have the ability to commit evil.  That is why we were given free will.  I can choose the ethical route, but nobody is forcing me to.  I could have cheated on tests that I performed poorly on rather than taking them honestly.  I could have lied in situations where honesty was not the easiest option.  Could I have ever killed?  I hope not, but I don’t think I could ever say with complete certainty that it would be impossible.

We make one mistake and it can snowball into further wrongdoings.

But that is why I love Christianity and Catholicism so much.  Because God will forgive us no matter how many times we continue to make a mistake and commit a certain sin.  His forgiveness has no limits.  If we are truly sorry for our wrongdoings and confess those sins to Him, with a true desire to stop committing that sin, then we are washed clean and we can begin again.

I think that if it wasn’t for my faith, I would be a very different person, and not in a good way.  Because then I wouldn’t have those fresh starts.  I wouldn’t be able to wipe my slate clean.  Sin builds up so much and it starts to weigh us down.  It dirties us and causes us to feel less worth.  If I had to live with all of the sins that I have committed, many of them probably would become habitual sins because I would have the feeling that it was too late to change or go back.

But I am blessed to live with a different outlook.  I can be washed clean and try my best to right my wrongs, to start again.

I hope that because of that, I will never be a person who commits pure evil, but I do believe that within each of us does lie the capacity for evil; it’s just up to us to choose our path.

Before reading this book, I viewed all Nazi soldiers as evil.  And yes, they did commit evil acts, but they didn’t start out evil.  They didn’t grow up as children whose goal was to kill the highest number of Jewish people.  They started out like you and me.  Children who had positive dreams about their futures.

Somewhere along the line, though, they said yes to something that was inherently wrong.  And after making that first yes, the events that followed became easier to justify.  We wonder how terrorists can exist, but we must remember that a terrorist was a child once.  A terrorist was not born with the goal of mass murder.

What is it that leads some of us to commit such gruesome, heinous crimes?  And how many of us, if put in the same situation and with the same background, could have taken the place of a person we view as evil?  How would I act if I wasn’t Catholic?  If I had been raised in another country, in another family, around different people?

If I was alive during the Holocaust and was faced with the same circumstances as Josef, could I have become a Nazi soldier?

These are questions that we don’t like to consider, but maybe that is because deep inside, we realize that we are human and that, as humans, we make mistakes.  It is just up to us how far we actually get with those mistakes, whether we stop after the first few lies, or only after the first few bullets have been fired.