Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Sheltering in Place: Part I: Commitment

February 7th, 2017, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Sheltering in Place

ScreenShot445This posting begins a multi-part new series.  I pray to have the energy, time and guidance to bring it to fruition, and that others will participate, and especially that it will be for the good of souls. We are all treading on some unfamiliar ground.

There are already related posts, comments and links on Cleansing Fire regarding the evolving Vatican situation, and its reverberation through the ranks of the faithful. The division in the Church, the silent lack of direction, the apparent deviations among the  hierarchy from God’s own Teaching, the unanswered dubia of Four Cardinals, and the challenges to us, “the little ones” in the pew, all testify to the problems. There is no need to reiterate what has already been made obvious.  Whether or not we are entering “end times” is even a question some of us may have, especially as we deeply consider Christ’s own words:  


“… when the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?”  (Luke 18:8)


Sheltering in Place – Part I: Commitment

As a child, when the school siren sounded, I hid under my classroom desk and pulled my green-and-every-conceivable-color plaid woolen coat over my head in anticipation of a Russian nuclear attack.  A few years later, when we no longer fit under the desks, we’d gather in the hallway, face to the wall, waiting for the Russian bombs.  The memorable scenes include the mild disappointment that nothing – NOTHING — ever happened.  Eventually a bell rang, and we quietly filed back into Sister Mary Liguori’s math class.

What we did, in those days, is described today as “Sheltering in Place.” It’s the same advice for dealing with several modern threats, especially terrorism of various kinds, whether in schools, malls, churches or theaters.  Don’t try to make a run for it; stay together; go into lock-down mode until the threat has passed.

Recently, regarding issues of concern in the Church today, I suggested we share some thoughts about personally navigating such a difficult period, waiting and hoping for the Lord Himself to intervene. Musing about the history of the people of God, whether they were trying to make bricks without straw, hiding out in catacombs, or being subverted by heresies seemingly held by many who should know better, we can see that persecution is always just around the next corner. Today’s persecution in the U. S. may not be as dramatic as the bloody martyrdom being horrifically suffered elsewhere, especially in Syria, but the stakes are the same. The objective of evil is consistent; what is being stalked is the soul. Knowing that, many other decisions are somewhat easier to make, and of paramount importance.

Where would we go?

In the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, dozens of disciples are scandalized about Christ’s words, repeated several times, in essence: “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”  (John 6:55-56). Christ did not back off His Teaching; rather, He made it even more emphatic. In Chapter 6, verse 66 (note the 666 combination), are the heartbreaking, life-destroying words:  “After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him.”  Jesus does not try to stop them; He did not soften His words then, and He does not soften His Teaching now. Instead, He honors man’s free-will and asks the Apostles:  “Do you also wish to go away?”  Then we read: “Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6: 67-69).

About the current situation in the Catholic Church, we ask what Peter asked: “To whom shall we go?”  For we realize, with crystal clarity, there is NO ONE else to whom we can go, no other Church or faith group has what Christ gave to His Church; i.e. the words of eternal life. And not just the Words, for He, Himself, is the Word, and nowhere is that Word more fully present than in the Catholic Church.  Until we fully realize that Peter’s reality is our reality, anything else we do to “Shelter in Place” will be built on sandy soil, eventually reaching a point of erosion. Without the Sacrament of Reconciliation, without the Holy Eucharist, there is no foundation of support (whatever else may lurk under the shade of “ecumenism.”)

How do we prepare to “Shelter in Place?”

Before identifying in subsequent posts in this series such practical steps as stockpiling a few Catechisms and Bibles before they get revised, or protecting against “fake ‘church’ news” from suspect media, the most important thing we can do is to discern prayerfully where we are personally in our individual commitment to what Christ taught.  To do that effectively, the first step is realizing that there really is nowhere else to go.  It is an essential realization, to deepen our resolve.

Having ‘nowhere else to go’ is a strategic resolve; it is the reason some fighting forces through history have burned bridges behind themselves, making escape or running away impossible.  God brings us to a Red Sea that we can’t cross, so that we know when we do cross it, the help came from Him and not from our own strength. That same resolve also echoed in Churchill’s words to his countrymen, mobilizing the commitment of the English people: Never give in.  Never give in.  Never, never, never, never …. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Even more to the point, we can remember Christ’s setting His Face to go to Jerusalem, and how, therefore, the Samaritans would not receive Him: Luke 9:51-53. Without such commitment, it is tempting to reject the fabric of belief, a piece at a time. But “setting our face” to faithfulness to the Lord is almost guaranteed to be met with hostility from others.  Such hostility can even be a sign of opposition to righteousness. But faithfulness requires that we set hand to the plow and not turn back. No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62.)

For a final inspiration regarding commitment we have the words of the second successor of St. Peter in Antioch, St. Ignatius, in his writings when he was on his way, in chains, via ship to Rome, to be thrown to the lions  The Office of Readings for Oct. 17th, the Memoria of the Bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch, contains the following resolve from his writings:

“… I am writing to all the churches and assuring them that I am truly in earnest about dying for God – if only you yourselves put no obstacles in the way. I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God.  I am His wheat, ground fine by the lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ. So intercede with Him for me, that by their instrumentality I may be made sacrifice to God.”

Most of us don’t have the strength to echo St. Ignatius’ words. That is probably a good thing; reasonable fear keeps us preserving life, and doing the work we’ve been called to do. The resolve of an Ignatius is a gift from God, as is His timing.  What we are called to do, especially if it requires the ability to endure and persevere, needs God to open the Way.  And, if it is His Will, then He gives the grace when needed. Our role is prayerful discernment and commitment. For us, we must be “all in” or we are not “in at all.” This is a crucial basis of all that comes next.

Discernment, Sharing, Wondering

The situation today, and likely what lies ahead, needs deep discernment. I don’t claim to have it, only to need it.  Christ’s words are clear that we need to discern and prepare, and to count the cost: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’”  Luke 14:28-30.  Commitment has a very big cost.

The thrust of the planned posts will be to share how we are preparing ourselves for what already is one of the worst threats to Faith since the Arian Heresy, not to take sides or to teach, but to share possible answers to the question of how we prepare ourselves for what might become even more difficult times, a threat to souls, and how we embrace our own personal responsibility.

We may wonder why this broad weakening in commitment to Church Teaching is happening in our time? On our ‘watch,’ so to speak. “Why” is always a difficult question about the Holy Spirit’s timing, but we might consider two possibilities.  The first is a gift – the opportunity to pick up our crosses and follow Christ as He commanded, and with all that entails.  The second is Uncle Mordecai’s explanation to Esther: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 14c). And perhaps those two possibilities are actually the same one?

Sheltering in Place: Part II: Truth and Resources

March 4th, 2017, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Sheltering in Place

Some have interpreted “Sheltering in Place” as referring to protection under a government trying to decimate religion in the public square. Others have interpreted this series as referring to the current papacy and divisive issues which have arisen. Actually it can be either or both, and even more. If we are deprived of a bible because the government confiscates all bibles, or because it were to be edited to remove certain sins such as adultery in case of marriage, divorce and remarriage without annulment, the result is the same. Perhaps distortion of dogma and doctrine is the worse, but some principles apply to both cases. 

Sheltering in Place: Part II: Truth and Resources

“What is truth?” asked Pilate, as he looked Truth in the Face. And then he sent Jesus to the Cross.

Whatever actions we may take by “sheltering in place,” it is important to base those plans on the secure foundation of truth, for Christ Himself is  “…the Way, and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6.) The word ‘truth’ is used 21x in the Gospel of John.  In John 17:17, we are given Christ’s High Priestly Prayer to the Father regarding the apostles and, by extension, regarding us and His Church: “Sanctify them in the truth. Thy Word is truth.” Continuing in John 17:19, Christ prays: “And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in Truth.”

Under the Wings of the Holy Spirit

I think one of the key elements of sheltering in place is at least having a sense of being consecrated to Truth, i.e. under the protection of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s prayer to the Father says it clearly: “Thy Word is truth.’ Yes, Christ is Truth. So too is the sacred word of the bible, and of 2000 years of the Deposit of Faith and Sacred Tradition, which even a Pope cannot change; a pope’s work is to protect, not change.  Fortunately, we are not casting about to find that Truth; it is readily accessible. It is a valid question to consider if we were under persecution in this country, or in a situation of ‘rupture’ in the Church, as the laity experienced during the Arian period, what resources would we wish we’d had in place?

The basic take-away regarding using and relying on trustworthy information depends directly on the teaching authority of the Church.  Modern controversies have no power over us, if they contradict what Christ has always taught through His Church.  We are not orphans, casting around for crumbs of spiritual food or deeper understanding; rather we are descendants of 2000 years of well-documented Church Teaching.  It is best in times of confusion and discord to rely on what has always been reliable, truth through the ages, and not be dissuaded or troubled by rumors not confirmed, or by abuses of power, miscommunication, or subtleties of translated, modern speeches positioned through unreliable media.

Treasury of Resources

If we were putting together a trove of materials to sustain us during a drought of teaching, we’d certainly begin with Sacred Scripture, Old and New Testaments, a solid commentary on the books of Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (a gift through Pope St. John Paul II), even Canon Law and its commentary.  And we might want to have duplicate copies, or resources available for others, if or when such resources are no longer available. For bibles, there is value in having different but acceptable translations, like the Douay, the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSV-CE), and the New American Bible (NAB).  The RSV-CE is the foundation translation for the English Language Catechism, and the NAB for liturgy in the U. S.  In addition, Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), a missal to “read the Mass” and a Catholic hymnal could be valuable additions. We should not assume in difficult times that we can just “Google” the  resources we might wish we had available.

Personal Resources

While the wide range of resources which unite us in faith is important, so too are personal resources which are deeply in our own practice, memory or family tradition. Like a grandparent’s rosary, a pyx to carry the Holy Eucharist, a crucifix, holy water, holy cards, scapulars, relics and other sacramentals. What else would you put on the list?

I have an old Last Rites set used at bedside for the anointing of the dying. Were one to “Shelter in Place” for a prolonged period, would we not prefer to be in a house that has been blessed? Or even had an Enthronement of the Sacred Heart?    That might just be good planning ahead.

One of my treasures is a little book my father carried every day, entitled “Catholics Pocket Manual,” with an imprimatur Dec. 4, 1905. That little book (and it1905 Catholic Handbooks 224 thin pages) covers an incredible amount of information, from morning and evening prayers to confession, from litanies to instructions to a “Clerk” on how to serve Mass.  I am particularly surprised at the contrast between preparing for confession today, and the significantly more extensive practice recommended 112 years ago. It is shown in the picture as approximate size.


While there certainly is enough for reading and re-reading many times in the resources mentioned above, if our ability to get untainted materials were to be limited, there may be a selection of other resources we’d like to have available. Besides, why wouldn’t we want to have some of these resources anyway? Ideas might include Lives of the Saints for inspiration, and books by solidly faithful authors, like Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI (especially the Jesus of Nazareth books) and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, all in more modern times, but also classics like the following (in no particular order):

  • The Sadness of Christ by St. Thomas More,
  • Life of St. Catherine of Siena by Blessed Raymond of Capua,
  • Holy Man Fr. Damien of Molokai by Gavan Daws,
  • Sacred Then and Sacred Now by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.,
  • Story of a Soul by St.Therese of Lisieux,
  • The Sacrament of the Present Moment by de Caussade,
  • Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales,
  • Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis,
  • The Cure of Ars and the Holy Eucharist,
  • Interior Castles by Therese of Avila.

I’m sure there are better lists, more famous or more frequently cited, but I am thinking of which 10 I might limit myself to if I only had these to read and re-read, and these were the first that came to mind.  So if you have other ideas, please comment! One might add to the list of resources a number of DVD’s and CD’s, including inspiring religious music.  That will be excellent, as long as the grid doesn’t go down.

Times of turmoil

In times of great turmoil, such as the Church seems to be experiencing right now, it is natural for those most affected to wonder what to do. What is right? What is wrong? What information is reliable, what is not? What is true? To shelter in place effectively we want to know that the resources we have are true, and well-aligned to the Church’s teaching over two millennia.  So, we have started with those that are most necessary and reliable.

But the next questions would be about trying to read and interpret what is really happening, who can be trusted or not, especially among various media, among priests and their preaching, and among bishops and the magisterial office. We are in a time when bishops are openly disagreeing with each other, positions which can’t all be right. Which news is reliable and which isn’t? What agenda is really being played out? And where does this all fit with the galloping horse-hooves of the end times and of eternity, drawing ever nearer on the road behind us?

Sheltering in Place: Part III: Indispensable Priest

April 11th, 2017, Promulgated by Diane Harris
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Sheltering in Place

The Indispensable Priest

Our mindset of commitment is crucial (Part I) and having Truth in Hand through the many textual resources the Church provides is important (Part II), but having access to the priestly resource is vital. Only the priest can confect the Eucharist; only the priest can forgive our sins. (John 20:21-23): “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

Choices which we make today prepare us for the decisions we may have to make tomorrow, whether tomorrow is a day of secular or spiritual blackout, or not.  Is the confessor we choose today the one whom we would want if we were under persecution or under schismatic torpor? Is he likely to be one who would take the risk of hearing confessions if not civilly legal? Is he likely to be the one who will speak the truth of Jesus Christ rather than protecting his clerical career path?  While these questions may relate to difficult times, they are not inappropriate questions for choosing a confessor today.  It is not as if we hadn’t already seen red hats choose to pervert the Word of God, even publicly at a Synod. (If you don’t know what this is about, then unfortunately you’ve encountered a serious disconnect between what is happening in the Church, and being aware of the forces unleashed against God’s forgiveness.)

Choosing a Confessor

In today’s post, I want to concentrate on the need for access to a confessor while ‘Sheltering in Place.’ More than 10 years ago, I had occasion to write (now slightly tweaked) some thoughts about choosing a confessor (not that we need to be limited to having only one, as the intensity of widespread sinfulness ramps up in the world, and the holy suffer persecution.)

I wrote the original reflection because I was surprised that so many Catholics seemed not to choose their confessor with even a fraction of the care with which they choose a doctor, a lawyer, or a school for their children, and maybe even their grocery store.  It seems that, over a period of time, just as we wouldn’t jump around from one doctor to another without their knowing about our medical history, it is good to rely on someone who can begin to know us and our spiritual needs.  That decidedly does NOT mean a mandatory spiritual advisor! More on that another time!

Most people seem to make a decision about a confessor (and even which parish they join) based on convenience – convenient geography and convenient times for the Sacrament of Penance, or by seeking out a stranger whom they might never see again for a quick hosing off.  But there is a difference between an emergency (just like going to the emergency room after an accident) or having a relationship with a GP (general practitioner) physician.

ScreenShot528With that in mind, I also don’t think that a confessor relationship must always be with a priest from one’s own parish, especially if it makes us inhibited in fully confessing or in accepting guidance.  One size definitely does not fit all!  Some members of a family might benefit from going to reconciliation with one priest, another family member with a different priest.  Even for ourselves, a different priest may be more helpful at various stages in our lives (like a specialist in the medical situation), and that relationship also need not stay the same over time, depending on the challenges we face in our lives. Like any relationship, we can usually allow it to evolve over time, if done prayerfully.  But with some of the heavier aspects of “end times” looming over life today, it seems not unreasonable to include “confessor planning” as part of the strategy for Sheltering in Place. When we don’t make a choice, we are making a choice.

When I first published these thoughts on line, on a parish blogsite, I was particularly surprised at positive reactions from several priests who commented that they’d had some new insight. The main point, as I remember, was that they were struck by the view that when a priest dismisses any sin as ‘not that serious’ or as ‘many people do that’ or –worse—‘why I’ve done that myself’ as if it then couldn’t possibly be a sin, what they are really doing is demeaning God’s prerogative of forgiveness, and diminishing the penitent’s ‘sense of sin’.

Criteria for Choosing

So, how do we choose a priest to whom to begin to confess on a regular basis? I think by first doing a sincere daily examination of conscience to increase our awareness of our needs, in conjunction with prayer to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Many examen lists emphasize commission of sin which must be confessed, and even develop applications which might not be recognized as implicit in the commandment transgressed, but what is sometimes missing from such lists are omissions, especially failure to respond to the initiative of the Lord in our lives, to follow God’s promptings of our hearts. When we ask God to provide the confessor, He really does respond. And, when He steers us away from a confessor, even a seemingly, wonderful priest, we must be sensitive enough to listen and obey. Still, we do need to consider the characteristics of a confessor in making our choices.

There are also at least a dozen characteristics which need careful scrutiny regarding the prospective confessor in order for us to choose wisely:

  1. Listen to his homilies, his tone, attitude and content.  Do they bring us closer to God and His Will, or do they simply entertain me or make me look at my watch?  Is he a one-theme homilist or far-ranging over the needs of the parishioners? If I am being touched by his homilies I should remember the key message even a day or two later.  His demeanor in confession and his impact on me will probably be similar to the effect his homilies have on me.
  2. How obedient does he seem to Church Teaching? How respectful of the Eucharistic celebration in gestures, cleansing the vessels, bowing at the name of Jesus? How careful is he to “do the red and read the black” from the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, rather than improvising his own words? Does he genuflect before the Tabernacle when passing through the Church or does he have an “exempt” mindset? What about if he goes through multiple times?
  3. In his homilies and sermons, does he confront head-on, with clarity and care, those difficult issues that can send souls to hell? Or does he tip-toe around the matters of intrinsic evil, preferring to preach on what no one can disagree with, or on matters of prudential judgment without acknowledging the other side for consideration? Is money a pervasive theme from the pulpit, but not morals?
  4. Outside the confessional, ask him a small question, like about a scripture just read (sincere, not contrived) and see if he takes the question seriously, responsively, with care and compassion.  See if he takes you seriously. See if he gives the time needed, or answers while walking away.  Notice if he is willing to correct something for the sake of truth and accuracy, or lets misunderstanding remain rather than apologize.
  5. Does he stretch the rules and even seem somewhat tolerant of sin?  Make a joke about it? Correction of our faults is one of our needs in confession and it seems a waste to confess to a priest who minimizes our sins, because then he also, in a sense, minimizes God’s forgiveness. Does he give necessary correction with love and caring? Does he encourage the penitent, or discourage?
  6. Listen to how he speaks about others to get a sense of his ability to keep things confidential and respectful.  Confidentiality is important, whether or not we think so at the time; it is a sloppy habit to try to engage in discussion further on confessed sins outside the confessional, for both the priest and the penitent.  I was in a parish once where a priest gave a homily about confession and the difficulty of forgiving and, having been in a prior parish, how a woman’s sister had “run away” with her husband. Although no names were given, it made me very uncomfortable and I knew instantly that I would never go to him to confession, ever.  I would rather have a confessor who even seems ‘secretive,’ rather than wandering too close to discussing “thinly veiled” situations that might involve what is personal to other people in the parish.  While I should expect him to obey the church’s teachings on the seal of confession, the way he respects confidentiality outside the confessional gives me an idea of whether or not he will narrow his obligation down to the sin content only or also to the general discussion I might have in seeking direction or advice.  (Ergo– if we need to call a parish problem to a priest’s attention, don’t do it in confession (unless it involves your sin!) He won’t be able to act on what you said under the seal! And he shouldn’t be entertaining casual discussion in the confessional either.)
  7. Look for a real willingness to respond to the need to confess on a timely basis  — not for just being fit into the calendar, say, like “next Tuesday at 1:15 PM”
  8. It is one thing to know the basic rules, but it is another thing to understand an individual confessor’s attitude toward those rules.  But outside the confessional. we can ASK him about his attitude toward the seal of confession, and how broad or narrow he accepts that obligation, including how to have a follow-up discussion if needed. At least we will have let him know what is important to us, and have gained a better sense of what to expect from him. There are priests who are very uncomfortable with face-to-face confession; it isn’t inappropriate to ask his preference, if he has one.
  9. Pay attention to how we feel after going to reconciliation with a particular priest.  Refreshed? Clean? Energized?  Or depressed and anxious?  Is it a “feeling” that will help me to go back to reconciliation sooner rather than postponing in dread in the future?
  10. Always PRAY about the choice of a confessor, because he has the potential to have more effect on us than any other advisor.  See to whom God wants us to confess.  It doesn’t have to be the world’s best confessor; he only has to be someone who can help us to move closer to God.
  11. If we are not carefully choosing AND using a confessor, we are only receiving part of  the richness the Catholic Church offers, especially the graces of the Sacrament. It makes sense to avoid confessors who challenge whether one really had ‘enough’ to confess.
  12. Revisit from time to time if the choice of confessor is still the right one, if we are moving closer to God, committing fewer sins, having clarity about sin and the occasions of sin, vs. personality quirks, or falling short of our own (sometimes prideful) expectations of ourselves. There are confessors, of somewhat lax consciences themselves, who may mix-up “scrupulosity” with a tenderness of soul.  Scrupulosity is easily recognized by a compulsive re-confessing due to not believing or “feeling” that God really has forgiven us. A tenderness of soul may result in re-confessing not because we disbelieve God’s forgiveness but because, as we grow more mature spiritually, more grateful for having been forgiven,  we come to realize damages from our sins beyond what we understood when we first confessed.  This distinction is not insignificant.

Staying free from sin

The very consideration of the end-times context, or loss of religious liberties, or of trauma within the Body of Christ will help to bring focus to the question of choosing a confessor for such times. That in itself is preparing to Shelter in Place, if indeed we have provided for such care of our souls. But two other thoughts are perhaps worth mentioning:

  • The best way to prepare to confess sins is to have no sins. Easier said than done! In difficult times, with the potential of months or even years between confessions, avoiding sin will be easier if we are not already carrying the burden of unconfessed sin. In such difficult times it means taking every opportunity possible to be reconciled. If we are “Sheltering in Place” we don’t know how long it will be; but, we may have a clue in the words of Jesus in Mark 13:20:  “And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.”
  • It is important to cultivate deeply the “sense of sin.” A confessor ought to be able to help. It seems to me that there is a reason for what David wrote in Psalm 51:4: “Against Thee and Thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.”  We hurt other people, abuse them, cheat them, and injure them. But we do not ‘sin’ against them even though we must confess what we’ve done and make atonement. The SIN is against God. The chasm which SIN creates between God and myself is infinitely deep, which only Christ’s Sacrifice can bridge. Using the idea of “sin” too casually can seem to diminish the reality of SIN, and even obscure our sense of conscience, and of our own responsibility for Christ’s suffering. One meditation to deepen contrition is to reflect on Peter’s thoughts and emotions on Saturday morning, the day after the Crucifixion, when he heard the cock crow. And he knew he would hear that sound every morning for the rest of his life.  Sculpted statues of St. Peter may show grooves beneath his eyes, deepened by his tears.

As you think about and plan for “Sheltering in Place,” what would you add or change on the above list?