How to make a good confession, part III

There is such a thing as Sacramental Abuse.

The blessing and curse of having confessions so often at St. Dominic’s is the fact that many people can come into the box on a regular basis.


The road to the confessional box.

However, almost every priest I know has encountered that one penitent that is not very penitent.  There comes a time in every priest’s life where they meet a person who comes into the box on a regular basis, asks for forgiveness—but at the end of the story, is not really sorry that they did wrong.

Why?  Because they can do that repetitive sin once again and go to confession before Mass and believe that they are good to go.

You know it’s happened.  And you know it happens.

So here’s the thing.  The matter of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is contrition—that is, the state of being in which you willingly say that you will sin no more. What makes the Sacrament of Reconciliation what it is is the contrition of the penitent.  This ain’t Catholic guilt!  Rather, it is a willingness and conviction of knowing that having a good relationship with God takes a lot more work that I am currently putting in.

imagesSo when a person comes into the box, you have to ask yourself if you are really sorry?  Or are we the type of person that says, “I’m going to commit this sin now, and go to the box tomorrow, receive communion, and then sin on Monday.”

One type of person sees their religious life as a series of check boxes.  The other wants a relationship with Jesus.

Which are you?

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner – 3rd Sunday of Lent

iamhe2A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.” (John 4:13-15, 26)


St. Dominic’s is privileged to welcome almost 50 catechumens and candidates into the Church this year. Through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process, they have journeyed for eight months towards receiving Christ’s loving embrace in the arms of our Faith. Our Easter Vigil will be quite a celebration!



The Gospel we hear this weekend is the story of the woman at the well. For the next three weekends, we will hear powerful stories of Jesus’ ministry that are saturated with the dynamics of what it means to believe, e.g., woman at the well, healing of the blind man, and the raising of Lazarus. Each of these Gospels is connected to the Rite of Scrutiny, which is part of the RCIA process. You might ask, “What exactly are the scrutinies?” The Church says, “The scrutinies are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. They are meant to uncover, and then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all. In order to inspire in the elect a desire for purification and redemption by Christ, three scrutinies are celebrated. By this means, first of all, the elect are instructed gradually about the mystery of sin, from which the whole world and every person longs to be delivered and thus saved from its present and future consequences. Second, their spirit is filled with Christ the Redeemer, who is the living water (Gospel of the Samaritan woman in the first scrutiny), the light of the world (Gospel of the man born blind in the second scrutiny), the resurrection and the life (Gospel of Lazarus in the third scrutiny). From the first to the final scrutiny, the elect should progress in their perception of sin and their desire for salvation.”

Lent is a time when we join with those journeying through RCIA. Just as they are learning and discovering the power of Christ in their lives, we too ask the Lord for a renewed sense of our need for Him. In fact, at the heart of the story of the Samaritan woman is the recognition of this deep need we have for God. The fabric of the human heart is woven with and by God’s love and only this love can truly make us happy. In their conversation at the well, Jesus awakens this desire and invites her to “drink from the living water” of His words. The desire for God is written in the human heart, because we are created by God and for God. Since He never ceases to draw us to Himself, only in God will we find the truth and happiness for which we never stop searching. As we continue our 40-day journey, we join with those preparing to enter the Church in recognizing our thirst for God. Driven by this thirst, we eagerly approach the fount of His mercy by listening for His words and receiving His love in Eucharist.

~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

Third Week of Lent – Humility

Humility is a fleeing virtue.  The moment you think that you have obtained it, it flies away.  It’s for a simple reason, really.  The moment you think that you have obtained humility, you would like to boast that you are humble, and well—it just doesn’t work.

Humility is not downplaying your gifts and talents.  It is not saying that you a worser person than you actually are.  Humility is admitting your faults and vices as well as your gifts and virtues.  Humility is knowing what you have accomplished in life—with God’s help—and knowing how much work needs to be done.  Because afterall, God gave you your gifts in the first place—of course you ought to glory in the things that the Lord has accomplished in your life.

Let us be thankful for all the good that the Lord has done.  Let us persevere in virtue and humility and obtain our life’s ambition: seeing our God face-to-face.

How to make a good confession, part II

finger-pointingI was talking to a very close friend about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I’ve never heard her confession.  Nor will we ever be in that kind of situation.  (I know, I know, never say never.  But trust me.  This will never happen.)  But as we were talking about going to confession, she asked, “Do you really, really, really don’t remember a single confession?”

Now, here’s the thing.  At St. Dominic’s, any one priest can hear between one to five hours of confessions on any given weekend dependent on the time of year.  For one thing, you can tire of listening for such a long time. Also, the penitent really is completely anonymous unless the penitent actually names himself.  Have I had confessions in which I recognize the voice?  Perhaps…?  Maybe?  But really, if you are on my side of the box, would you take the risk and name the penitent?  Really?

Moreover, a wise priest said to me once that you hear every sin that is imaginable and possible within your first six months.  And you do.  Within six months, nothing surprises you.  You have literally heard it all.  So the myth of fear of the priest yelling “You did what?” is really a farce.

penanceOkay, what about a person comes to a priest for a face-to-face confession.  A common question would be if your opinion of the penitent would change.  I cannot speak for the other priests of the parish, but I can say this: if a long-standing member of my parish community made an appointment with me and intended that I listen in on his most intimate moment with God (second only to receiving the Eucharist), I would feel honored that I had been asked into this person’s life.  A person is having an intimate moment with their Jesus, and allowing me to listen in on the conversation.  For me, it is a most powerful honor.  It’s an honor that I cherish.  What else would I be compelled to do other than to absolve them of their sins?  It’s the only thing, the least thing, I can do!

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner – 2nd Sunday of Lent

hurleyJesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,  conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt.17:1-9)


In the days following my ordination, I had the good fortune to travel to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. It was a memorable experience. To walk where Christ walked, to see what He saw, to celebrate Mass on Mount Calvary: these moments helped to shape and encourage the initial days of my priesthood. One of the most significant moments in the Holy Land was celebrating Mass on Mount Tabor, the place of Christ’s Transfiguration. But in order to ascend the Mount, one has to traverse a number of elevated switchbacks. The large tour buses that can clog the Holy Land Highways can only go so far up. Unable to navigate the steep turns, the luxury liners sit idly side by side at a base parking lot. If you want to reach the peak, you have to be nimble, traveling a bit lighter than the normal tourist. The summit is scaled only by those willing to relinquish unnecessary and burdensome baggage.


Anchorage summer 2009 002As we continue our Lenten journey, we are encouraged to put aside whatever baggage and extraneous creature comforts might keep us from ascending to our own place of transfiguration. This is the whole reason for the Lenten discipline of fasting. By giving up certain good things we enjoy, we prepare ourselves to receive the best: a renewed sense of God’s presence in our lives.

But the journey up the mount is challenging. We need encouragement to keep going. This week’s Gospel story of Christ’s transfiguration gives us that encouragement. Aware that He will soon travel to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed, Jesus reveals his divine nature to Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor, so that they will not lose heart when they witness His Passion. Jesus manifests His divinity in order to infuse His friends with the lifeblood of hope. It is as if he says to them: “No matter what happens in the coming days, no matter how bleak and dark life becomes, know that I am God, I will be victorious, and I can transform all things, making them new.” (cf. Rev. 21:5) This is Good News for us! After the initial spiritual surge of Ash Wednesday, the routine of reality returns. Often, the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we undertake can wane and even fall by the wayside. So for us, Christ’s moment of transformation is a reminder of the dynamic power of celebrating Lent.


Transfiguration_by_fra_Angelico_(San_Marco_Cell_6)Last week, the Gospel reminded us that we can expect temptations to assail us at the beginning of our Lenten journey. This week, we are given encouragement that if we persevere on our journey, we will be transformed. The good things we do, the superfluous thing we give up, the ways in which we lift up our minds and hearts in quiet prayer to God; these are the moments when change happens. For whenever we turn to the Lord with our hearts, He fills them with his life and grace. And so as we face the labors of Lent, whether it is endeavoring to give up chocolate or struggling to break an addiction or bad habit, we climb the mount with Jesus, we encounter the power of his glory and we pray: Transform me, Lord.

~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

Second Sunday of Lent – Perseverance

So how are you doing with all of those penances?

Every Ash Wednesday, we dream about how powerful our Lent will be.  Running three miles a day.  Reading the Bible.  Writing the next Great American Short Story.  Yet here we are, on the Second Week of Lent.  We forgot to run yesterday (and the three days prior), we’ve stopped reading the Bible because Leviticus is so amazingly boring, and writing that short story?  Uh, sure.

Yet when we are reminded of the Jesus’ Transfiguration, we are reminded of something we have forgotten so long ago: the Resurrection.  That we are going to go through trials, annoyances, frustrations.  We will go through those dry spells and those times where we want to give up and those periods of doubt.  But it is not for naught—we are reminded of the Resurrection.  The Transfiguration reminds us that the penances we partake and the sacrifices we endure are for a greater purpose.  They remind us—concretely and painfully—that there is a greater purpose.  There is a reason for our penance.  There is room for joy despite our loss.

The Resurrection.

So stand up.  Try again.  Persevere.

Only through the gristle of the Cross can we come to the glory of the Resurrection.

How do make a good confession, part I

Saint Dominic’s holds confessions before each Sunday Mass.  Potentially, we can have six to seven hours of confession a weekend.


…and you thought YOU had a ugly point of view….

But here are some pictures of what the other side of the confessional boxes look like.  This is my confessional, of course.  Sparse and small.  These pictures are a reason why smell-o-vision hasn’t been invented yet.  You don’t wanna be surrounded by asbestos.

Being in the box, you cannot help but think about what makes a good confession.  This isn’t going to be a comprehensive list, nor is it meant to be.  But just a few thoughts:

  1. A good examination of conscience.  I remember once a person came into the box and after I had led the Sign of the Cross, there was an uncomfortable pause.  A long one.  Eventually, the penitent said, “Um, I don’t know why I’m here.  My wife said that I should come inside.”  Okay, that’s just bad for about 1,001 different reasons.  So this is what you ought to do: Clear your mind, look up the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes and reflect on your life.  To paraphrase Socrates, the unreflected life is not a life worth living.  Look into your past and reflect how good you have been a child of God.  What have you done that brings you closer or further from God?
  2. Focus on your relationships.  The Greatest Commandment is all about your relationship.  How well are you loving God?  Your family?  Your friendsphp5kpNsWAM?  Your roommate?  Your cat?  Our relationships form us, grate at us, and teach us virtue.
  3. So why did you do that?  Again, the unreflected life is not worth living.  It’s one thing to admit that you stole from Safeway; it’s another thing to understand why you stole in the first place.  Do you have a repetitive sin?  What leads you to perform that particular act?  Are you improving in your life with God?  Are you deepening your relationship with Jesus?
  4. Are you really sorry?  Sometimes, we know that something is sinful, but we are still assenting that it is a sin for me.  I’m not promoting “Catholic guilt”—I’m daring you to develop your moral reasoning.
  5. Dream BIG.  What kind of person do you want to be?  Do you want to be a saint?  What kind of saint do you want to be?  Allow Christ’s mission and vision for your influence what you say in
  6. Pray.  Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your words as you come into the box.


A good friend of mine told me that the box is intimidating.  Certainly it can be.  But it is also a safe place in which we can encounter Jesus in an intimate and personal way.  I go to confession about once every three weeks.  For me, it is that place where I can gauge—honestly—how well my first relationship is going, bad, good, and everything else.

There’s nothing to be scared of when you come into the box.  Coming to this Sacrament is an exciting and important time.  It is a time where Jesus yearns to be with you, to love you—a time where He wants to call you His own.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner – 1st Sunday of Lent

Hurley_Cassidy_lent1_final_webLent has launched. Beginning with Wednesday’s ashes, this 40-day season is a journey into the heart of our faith. The word “Lent” comes from the word meaning “spring” and, we can expect that if we actively undertake this Lenten journey, we will experience spiritual growth and renewal. This first Sunday of Lent, we follow Christ into the desert where he faces three temptations. Each temptation is powerful precisely because it sparkles with illusions of happiness. The devil beguiles Jesus by appealing to the three P’s: power (jump from temple parapet), pleasure (stones transformed to bread) and possessions (the wealth and magnificence of the nations). Because they are basic human goods, each entices as the source and summit of human happiness.

Jesus responds to each enticement by quoting Scripture, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that come from the mouth of God;” “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test;” and finally, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” As a man, Jesus overcomes the devil’s wiles, not because of miraculous motivation or super strength of will, but because He was empowered by the truth of Scripture.

temptationofjesusJesus went into the desert to pray, fast and open himself to the Father’s will. These three spiritual exercises strengthened Him, so that when temptation came, He responded, not simply with His own desires, but with God’s words. In the face of the temptations of power, pleasure and possessions, Lent gives us the spiritual tools of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as potent resources with which to overcome temptation. Let’s consider how each of these spiritual exercises promotes spiritual health.


Prayer is the foundation of our spiritual life. Without prayer, no spiritual growth is possible. In the Gospel we see that prayer is what shatters the illusion that happiness comes from power. Instead, happiness comes from knowing and doing God’s will, which is discovered through prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God and then quieting ourselves to listen for His response. Though it may seem easy to do in theory, there are few things more difficult than to take time each day for quiet communion with our creator. From the time we wake up until the moment of evening retirement, our days are bursting with the noise of activity and bustle. Yet through it all, God is trying to speak to us. But we cannot hear his voice without taking regular time each day to sit down, quiet our minds and embrace the silence. Lent calls us in a practical way to carve out moments for prayer, to join the community in worship and to enter into the silence where God speaks to our hearts.

Fasting is the act of giving up something in order to develop spiritual discipline. In fact, fasting is so ingrained in the Catholic psyche that Lent has almost become synonymous with it. One main meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Meatless Fridays, no sweets or chocolates: such are traditional fasting practices. By fasting, we overcome the illusion that pleasure can truly bring us lasting happiness. Pleasure is fleeting and, by denying ourselves those comforts that we often mistake for necessities, our heart expands to receive the graces that go beyond our shallow desires. Fasting goes beyond just food and drink. Consider the time and energy we commit each day to TV, the Internet, social media. For example, instead of playing “Words with Friends,” we might take time to pray words from the Scripture.

Almsgiving is the culmination of the Lenten disciplines, for through it we open ourselves up to God’s grace. Just as fasting is about “giving up,” almsgiving is about “giving to.” Whereas fasting is about saying no to ourselves, almsgiving is about saying yes to others. Through almsgiving, we conquer the temptation to seek real happiness in our possessions. Almsgiving most directly applies to giving financial and other material support to those in need, but it can also apply to spiritual needs. For instance, when I asked our elementary children to give an example of almsgiving, one child offered, “I could be kind and share with someone at school who never shares with me.” What if for each of the next six weeks, you chose a family member, coworker or even a stranger and went out of your way to show some act of kindness. It can be as simple as giving a hug, helping with chores, or being mindful to saying thank you!


These 40 days of Lent will be filled with struggles and temptation, yet through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we anticipate the rich fruit of God’s blessing blossoming in our lives. May this Lent truly be a springtime of grace!

~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.


A Preacher’s Life – Study

Study is essential to the Dominican way of life.  To study is a rising of the mind to God.  It is a way to raise your intellect and reason and battle with the Truth, seeing the Truth in everything–science, history, literature, in the lab, on the streets, in books and spreadsheets.


Study is essential to the Dominican way of life. Photo Credit: G Tarchinsky

Brother Brad, our mass media maven, produced an amazing video about how our student brothers see the habit of study.  You are invited to engage in this video here.

Brother Brad, thank you for your work!  God bless your vocation!

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Lent – a season of giving

Lent is a season of giving.

One may argue that the season of giving is Christmas.  But why not Lent?

It is during Lent that we give up chocolate and movies and Facebook.  It is during Lent that we give up meat and gossiping and whining.

But what if we look at Lent—not as a season of drudgery—but as a season of offering a gift to God?  Can we not give our sacrifices of chocolate and our time on Facebook and our delight in eating sugar and protein as a gift to someone who has given us Divine Life?

Why not give our sacrifices in this Great Season as a gift to the Father?

Because afterall, His Son gave his sweat, flesh and blood to give us the gift of immortality.  The least we can do is offer a minor annoyance in order to give God the gift of ourselves.