Q: I am unable to forgive myself fully
for certain sins that I have confessed.
I truly believe that God has forgiven
me, but I get many flashbacks,
especially now that I am older. Then I start
feeling as if something is missing—either in
my repentance or in believing that I have
been forgiven. I have confessed some of
the same sins many times! This gets very
A: It is often more difficult to forgive
ourselves than to accept
God’s forgiveness. If we fail to forgive
ourselves, however, we tend to be stuck
somewhere that we need to leave
behind. When we truly accept God’s
forgiveness, we can move forward, following
God’s lead to a place of greater
truth, freedom and courage.
Please, confess what you need to
confess, do your penance and then
allow your life to be filled with God’s
grace. The more you allow regret and
shame to dominate your life, the less
room you are making available for
God’s grace to operate.
After his resurrection, did Jesus come
down hard on the apostles for having
deserted him in the Garden of Gethsemane?
The Gospels do not record
that he asked questions such as:
“Where were all of you when I needed
you most? Didn’t you learn anything
when you were with me? Where was all
your bravery and loyalty when it really
According to Luke, the Risen Jesus
greeted the apostles by saying, “Peace
be with you” (24:36). In the Gospel of
John, Jesus adds, “As the Father has
sent me, so I send you” (20:21). Then
he gives them the Holy Spirit and commissions
them to forgive sins (20:22-23). Jesus cannot change past decisions
by the apostles or anyone else, but he
leads the way to a life-giving future—if they will accept it.
Even so, the apostles will later sin
and need to be forgiven. The temptation
to regard God’s ways as too difficult
never completely disappears this
side of heaven.
Confession does not change our past,
but it prepares us to cooperate more
fully with God’s grace—and thereby to
have a very different future.
Satan knows this very well and thus
tries to capitalize on our fears and the
fact that we can be discouraged rather
easily. Once we have been honest with
the Lord through our repentance,
received absolution, resolved not to
repeat that sin and later carried out
our penance, we need to turn this situation
over to God. Otherwise, we can
torment ourselves endlessly, serving
neither God’s interests nor ours.
Our ability to sin can never overpower
God’s desire and ability to forgive.
Genuine repentance opens our
eyes to that fact and prepares us to
fight Satan’s endless attempts to convince
us that we cannot change, that
we must remain stuck in our sins.
Along these lines, you might enjoy
The Screwtape Letters, a classic fictional
work by C.S. Lewis. Uncle Screwtape, a
veteran devil, advises his nephew, a
very inexperienced devil, on how best
to trip up the man he has been assigned
to tempt. Screwtape’s comments about
sin, grace and “the Enemy” (God) and
how devils work most effectively are
My 33 years of hearing confessions
have convinced me that no matter
what specific name we give it, every
sin is identical in one way: It is a dead
end masquerading as a shortcut. That
was sin’s attraction for Adam and Eve,
who recognized too late that they had
allowed themselves to be deceived.
Seeking to gain greater freedom, they
found themselves less free. That is sin’s
relentless cycle for all of us.
Every confession is a way of recognizing
sin’s subtlety and preparing ourselves
for the next dead end that
presents itself as a shortcut to something
Q: In the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus
tells the parable of the sower and
the seed, his disciples ask him to explain
its meaning. In 8:10 he answers them,
“Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom
of God has been granted to you; but
to the rest, they are made known through
parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand’” [quoting
A: Before the Resurrection, even
the apostles did not fully comprehend
Jesus’ parables or allow them
to influence their lives significantly. If
they had, would they have deserted
him in the Garden of Gethsemane? If
we are open to Jesus’ parables, they
usually lead us where we would not
have gone otherwise—but where we
need to go in order to allow God’s grace
to influence our lives at progressively
Some people dismiss any or all of
Jesus’ parables as strange or impractical.
Doing that protects them from the radical
message of the parables.
In a way, the parable you mention
could represent all his parables—each
one plants a seed, but we determine to
what extent it grows.
Q: How does one pray them? What
times are best for doing so? Are
there any guidelines for praying them privately?
Also, what is an antiphon?
A: The Liturgy of the Hours (sometimes
called “the breviary”) is a
cycle of prayer spread over the entire
day, a way of affirming that ultimately
all time belongs to God. This form of
prayer began in monasteries and was
later adopted by diocesan priests, deacons
and members of other religious
communities. After Vatican II, more
laypeople took up the practice, praying
the Hours privately or with a nearby
The Bible’s 150 psalms, together with
Old Testament and New Testament canticles,
are spread out over a four-week
cycle (Week 1, Week 2, etc.). These are
complemented by other Scripture readings
and short periods of silence.
Morning Prayer (also known as
Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers)
are the “hinge” hours. The first is usually
prayed soon after a person gets up
in the morning; the other is usually
prayed between four and six p.m.
Morning Prayer always includes intercessions
for the Church and society,
an Old Testament canticle and the Canticle
of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79).
Evening Prayer has a New Testament
canticle, its own intercessions and the
Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).
Each day’s cycle begins with the
Office of Readings (Matins), a series of
three psalms, then continues with a
longer biblical reading and a passage
from someone like St. Jerome, St.
Augustine or some other preacher, and
closes with a prayer.
Shorter “hours” are prayed at mid-morning,
midday and mid-afternoon.
The day concludes with Night Prayer,
which is usually prayed after 6 p.m.
The Liturgy of the Hours varies
because it reflects the Church’s liturgical
season and the feasts of Jesus, Mary
and selected saints.
Various editions of the Liturgy of the
Hours are available at Catholic bookstores,
such as St. Francis Bookshop. Catholic
Book Publishing Company offers four-volume
editions (regular print or large
print), Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of
the Hours (complete Morning, Evening
and Night Prayer with selections from
other Hours) and Daytime Prayer.
Liturgical Training Publications publishes
An Everyday Book of Hours (Morning
and Evening Prayer). Liturgy of the
Hours: An Inclusive Language Setting (Benet Press) and Benedictine Daily
Prayer: A Short Breviary (Liturgical Press)
are available. Separate Guides to the
Liturgy of the Hours indicate the page
numbers for each day’s prayers.
An antiphon is a short verse, usually
from the Bible or drawing on the
Bible. In the Liturgy of the Hours, it
introduces and concludes each psalm
or canticle. In the Mass, antiphons are
used at the start of Mass and the beginning
of the Communion rite.
Q: Various charities send me unsolicited rosaries, medals, holy cards,
small statues and prayer books. I was taught to burn religious articles
no longer needed. That isn’t possible with some of these
things. Can I throw them in the trash can? How can I get these organizations
to stop sending these things?
A: No, you shouldn’t throw these away. You can bury the metal
items or, even better, find a catechist or chaplain who would
be happy to give them to someone who might want them.
If your parish bulletin contains a notice for a rosary-making group, its
members might be willing to accept some of these items.
If you stop donating to the charities that send unsolicited religious articles,
you will eventually receive such items less often. The dilemma you
describe is a very common one these days.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be
mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.