You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘humanity’ tag.
As it turns out, I have more to shake off than I realized. And what I expected to be a refreshing rest has been more like lying on an operating table. Once again, I should have known better–for it often happens: I reach a point where I myself cannot loosen the things that immobilize and bind and mar me.
So now, God has His chisel in hand and is slowly but surely chipping away at all the pieces that still need dislodging, chipping away at things that hold me captive and mar my form, chipping away at the barriers I’ve thrown up myself.
It’s a painful process, and difficult to remain still and be utterly trusting in God’s sure hand and eye. The baser parts of my nature resent it and cry out, “Why are You doing this to me? I’ve turned to You for help, and yet You cause me such pain!” But the higher parts of my nature understand perfectly. After all, what am I but a clump of earth that God has seen fit to fashion in His own image and–wonder of wonders–to love? And if He is willing to work, again and again, to bring forth the greatness He sees in me, to liberate and purify and beautify me, then why should I complain?
It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain:
One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.
(HarperCollins, p. 34)
Or, as St. Augustine said, “The doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because his patient is screaming for him to stop.”
There are many, maybe hundreds, of other sayings to express the idea that pain is sometimes necessary and beneficial for us. It is one of those timeless and universal human experiences. That gives me a little comfort. Just a little! So does looking forward to the final result. It is always worthwhile. But for now–just gotta be still and be trusting!
I have never been one to switch gears with lightning speed, but all in all, I think my personal retreat is off to a good start.
I got up at 6 AM, said my Divine Office and Rosary, ate some breakfast and did some light housework. Then I did my morning washing and grooming and dressing. Unfortunately, I was moving rather slowly and drowsily and was not able to fit in Mass before work. I need to work on that, but considering the great weary malaise I’ve been steeped in for so long, I am fairly pleased with my level of morning activity.
I did my usual work; actually, I worked a bit late. I was able to fit a little bit of spiritual reading in during lunch.
I came home, ate a bit of supper, did a little more housework, and said the Divine Office. And now I am doing a bit of writing!
One thing that my mind has been coming back to today was the Epistle from Sunday’s Mass:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
If there is one thing I know about myself, it’s that I hate weakness. And there is no weakness I hate more than that which is my own. And there is so much of it! When I think of my own weakness, the grace of God is not what tends to come to mind, much less the thought of boasting of my weaknesses. I tend to brood and loathe and get discouraged and just want to wipe all of it away. So, St. Paul’s message is one that I need to receive over and over and over… and over.
Weakness is part of what defines humanity. There is no human person who lacks weakness. And so, we have to humbly and honestly admit our weakness, simply and truthfully, and with a certain degree of acceptance. If we do this, then our minds and hearts will be lifted toward God, toward Him who is power, strength, glory, majesty, perfection and so many other things that we humans are not. To accept weakness is simply to acknowledge what we humans are and where we stand in relation to God.
To scorn human weakness is an act of arrogance, as if we ourselves are somehow entitled to and capable of divine perfection. Such arrogance turned Lucifer into a demon–and he, by nature, was closer to divine perfection than any of us. But what we lack in nature is more than made up for by divine love and providence. By nature, the angels are far greater, but we have the singular honor of adoption as God’s own children! And how can we fully appreciate and enjoy and live out this incredible state as God’s children, if we are consumed with hatred of our own nature? If it weren’t for the weakness of human nature, we would have no need or desire for God, no need for redemption, no need for salvation, and no need for Heaven.
And so, weakness, when rightly regarded by us, can open us up to God and His countless graces. Knowledge of our own weakness disposes us to be drawn ever closer to God out of humility and desire and need. And the closer we are drawn to Him, and the more open we are to Him, the stronger, healthier, and more alive we become.
Several times in the last few months, I have heard others say that Christians are living in a fairy tale, out of touch with reality. Incidentally, this has happened with the same few months that I have been struggling very hard with pretty much everything–including my faith and spiritual life. I’ve managed to bite my tongue lest I blurt out a less-than-charitable response to that ridiculous claim.
But allow me to set the record straight here: Christianity is no fairy tale. And it doesn’t take some deep philosophical/theological/spiritual treatise to explain why that is so. I’ll tell you why it is so, and that is because if it were a fairy tale, my life would be a heck of a lot easier.
It’s pretty telling that while I have heard more than a few people claim that I’m living a fairy tale, I have yet heard anybody explain to me exactly what part of my life resembles a fairy tale, and what part of my life is out of touch with reality. Face it, I do everything that everybody else does every day: I work, I pay bills and taxes, I sit in traffic, I eat and sleep, I buy groceries, I vote, I obey laws, I like being with friends and family, I like having fun, I long for happiness. I share in all the joys, drudgeries, and responsibilities of life. And sometimes I really struggle–I get tired, I get sick, I get injured, I get broke financially, I have times when absolutely nothing seems to go right, I get depressed, I get discouraged, I lose my temper, I lose hope. All the things that “normal” people do, I do too.
Only, I also do more–I also live a Christian life. I also try to fulfill responsibilities and offer service to God, my Church, and my fellow man that are above and beyond the civil, human, personal duties and services common to us all. And you know what? The Christian life isn’t some kind of fairy dust that makes all the other things go away or get easier. In fact, it sometimes makes them more challenging, more urgent, and more complicated. It adds a new layer to everything. It demands that I think more critically and deeply about everyday life and what actions I take.
Far from supplanting my life in the “real world,” my Christianity demands that I take it more seriously and enter more deeply into it. I have to follow Christ. Which means I have to be charitable to everybody, not just the people I like, and at the same time I have to be willing to take a stand and tell people things they don’t want to hear, things that might even make people hate my guts and the guts of my stupid, out-of-touch religion. And I have to struggle with all of that too.
So, say what you will about Christianity, but it’s not a fairy tale, it’s not removed from reality, and it’s not easy. In fact, life without it is often far easier. I’ve lived with it and without it, you know, so I am able to make the comparison. To be concerned only for the here and now and the people and creatures at hand is far easier than to be beholden to an eternal, transcendent God. To worry only about being nice or compassionate or tolerant is far easier than to be bound by the demands of true charity. To treat Sunday like an extension of Saturday is far easier than to treat it as the sacred Lord’s Day. To be able to hem and haw and adjust one’s beliefs and morals according to what is popular in society or what is easiest in a given situation is far easier than to stand firm with absolute truths no matter what.
Christianity is not an escape from, or replacement for, the “real world.” Rather, it’s a whole additional world that overlays the “real world”–and in fact is like a super-real world where everything takes on a new light and new significance. And my life–my little ol’ life–is supposed to encompass both of them! That’s not the kind of fairy tale I would write for myself, folks! I’d be some kind of crazy masochist if that were the case. But I’m neither crazy nor a masochist–nothing in my nature or conduct would give evidence of that.
So, with all of this said, why am I a Christian? The answer, again, is simple. I’m a Christian because Christianity is true, good, and beautiful. It is everything that is worth striving and fighting and suffering for. It is not a fairy tale, but rather is an epic reality that calls the most ordinary of persons–such as little ol’ me–to be heroic, saintly, and above all genuine–to be more, not less, of a real human being. It makes me better and more complete than the person I was when I did not live a Christian life. It makes me care more about what is important than what is easy. It’s really that simple.
A blessed Fourth of July to my country and fellow citizens! This day marks the birth of the United States as a free nation, determined not to suffer tyranny any longer. It is a nation founded on the belief that man is free by nature and by the dignity bestowed upon him by his Creator.
Of course, like all human endeavors, the reality has not fully lived up to the ideal. Many of the same men who declared that this was a free nation and that all men were created equal were also slave owners. The nation was less than a century old when a massive civil war broke out, bringing extreme misery to people on both sides. People who came here from many other nations in search of relief from poverty, famine, war, oppression, and other forms of distress and injustice often found themselves suffering from the very same things after they’d arrived here. From the beginning of this nation right up until this very day, some people have been less free and less equal than others. Of course, this is not only the reality of the United States; it is the reality of the entire fallen world.
But there is another reality both in this country and in this world. A reality made up of saints and heroes and leaders and peacemakers and ordinary people winning everyday victories over afflictions great and small, public and private. Mercy, justice, charity, steadfastness, resourcefulness, cooperation, humility, gratitude, grace, steadfastness, reason, ingenuity–these are some of the countless threads that make up the fabric of this reality. And while this reality may seem more feeble than the other, though it may at times seem non-existent, this reality has in fact underlain all of human history. While it may be difficult to discern among immediate circumstances, we will always find when we look back that it stretches away in a great swathe. Oh, it may be battered and torn in some places, but in others it shines forth radiantly and completely intact.
What condition it will be in moving forward is for us to decide. We always have a choice–always–which fabric we will lay down. In times when other people are intent to impose the more dismal reality over us, even if they are able to do so in a very powerful way, even then, we still have a choice! We have the choice to strive to overcome it! The Founding Fathers were not wrong about man’s freedom and dignity. They are ours by nature, and we exercise them every time we make a choice which path we will follow and every time we choose to stand against adversity!
It doesn’t matter if we be in chains or in prison, if we be poor or hungry, young or old, rich or poor, male or female–we still have our freedom and dignity. Race doesn’t determine it, nor ethnicity. No circumstance in this world determines it. Our own choices and deeds determine it, and the eyes of our God, who alone can see clearly what is occurring inside a person. A man may appear to others to be utterly worthless, defeated, and a failure–Christ appeared that way as He hanged dead upon the cross. But it wasn’t true of Him, and it needn’t be true of us. Because of Him, even death itself is nothing but a final obstacle to overcome!
Let us declare our independence from the harsh ways and harsh circumstances of the world–we may not be able to change them, at least not on the surface, but we can nevertheless declare independence from them and refuse to serve them. Let us declare our independence from the Tyrant who seeks the deception, degradation, and eternal ruin of our souls, and from all who have chosen to serve him. Let us declare our independence from all that troubles, tempts, misleads, and holds us captive. Let us strive to become saints, heroes, leaders, peacemakers, and victors no matter what happens or who tries to exert power over us.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are free to us all. Nobody can give them to us or take them away from us. We have only to choose them and strive for them.
I’ve mentioned before what an inexhaustible treasure trove the Divine Office is–because, of course, it is a prayer of holy scripture. No matter how many times you pray it, no matter how many times you read a particular passage, there will always be something that speaks to you in a different way or at a louder volume than before. It is always new and fresh.
This morning, while praying the Canticle of Zechariah, which is part of every day’s Morning Prayer, I was especially struck by this stanza:
This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship Him without fear,
holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life.
It reminded me of the true meaning and nature of freedom. These days we confuse freedom for many things: license, self-rule, individualism. A right to do whatever we want and to decide for ourselves whether we are doing right or wrong, good or evil. Today, it sometimes seems that we hear more about freedom from religion than freedom of religion. Freedom from God–freedom to be our own masters.
What folly! We our own masters? That was the trap into which Satan seduced our first ancestors, and has that been some sort of smashing success? For Satan, sure. But we are still burdened and fragile creatures, and declaring independence from God and religion have never improved matters. Quite the opposite, in fact–you have only to glance back at the 20th century to realize that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till I’m dead: we don’t get to be our own masters. If we declare ourselves free of God, then we become Satan’s slaves. That is the default. There is no void in power that we can fill ourselves. There are too many more powerful things–either good or evil.
But, we can choose whom we will serve. That is the basis of all freedom. It is inalienable to human beings, an intrinsic part of who and what we are. That is how God made us. Satan can never give us freedom, much less can he weave it into our very persons. So, to reject God is ultimately to reject true freedom.
In our world, where religion has become so despised, and where being holy and being righteous are usually the unpopular, counter-cultural things to do, we must remember that we are still free. We are still free to worship, and still free to do what is holy and righteous. No slaves are we who serve the Lord! When we bow before Him, we are raised up. When we submit ourselves to Him, we are infused with full human dignity. When we obey His decrees, we are liberated.
It doesn’t matter whether we are despised or mocked. It doesn’t matter whether we are silenced or imprisoned. It doesn’t matter if we are tortured or killed. We are still free as long as we seek and worship God, and we cannot be enslaved by anyone. This is the truth to which all the martyrs have testified. This is the truth that causes Christianity to flourish the more when Christians are persecuted. This is the truth that sustains us through every kind of hardship.
In fact, this truth is much better realized and understood in places where human freedom is seemingly lacking most. I think of China, India, the Middle East. Here in the West, and particularly in the United States, where freedom is more or less taken for granted, we have lost sight of freedom’s significance and of its very meaning. And while there may be much less blood-martyrdom here, we are every bit as imperiled as those who are in prison and in danger of torture and death.
So the message is a universal one which must be proclaimed ever and everywhere: Dare to worship! Dare to strive for holiness! You are free!
I set out some time ago to write a post in response to a rather widespread conception that Catholics are “anti-gay.” Because I know, and love, more than a few people who identify themselves as gay, this issue strikes close to home for me. But as I thought about it, I realized that my attitudes toward gay people and the gay lifestyle are really no different from my attitudes to other people and lifestyles. So I am going to speak more generally.
As a person with a very clear position and principles, I am naturally going to be “anti” other positions and principles that are incompatible with my own. This is not me being close-minded or prejudiced. The same thing is true of anybody who has a clear position and principles–and I should think and hope that that would include all of us. So, I am against the gay lifestyle, as well as the lifestyle that many heterosexuals live in our society–lifestyles that involve extra-marital sex, artificial contraception, infidelity, divorce, an overall cavalier attitude toward marriage, an unwillingness to have children, and, far too often, abortion.
I am against these things because I am for different things: chastity–which for the unmarried includes total abstinence from sex–purity, modesty, fidelity, life-long marriage, openness to children. I believe that sex is not just a pleasurable activity, nor is it a right, but rather it is a privilege and responsibility that is integral to marriage and family, and hence, to the preservation of society. I believe that the natural complementarity of man and woman should be respected. I believe in the equal dignity of man and woman, although they differ in ways not only external but internal. I believe it is a grave evil to divorce sex from its natural result–the procreation of children, and an especially grave evil to violate a child’s right to life once they have been conceived. There are acceptable means for a couple to exercise some control over when they have children, and there are acceptable means for a parent who cannot or desires not to be a parent to have the child taken care of by adoptive parents.
All of these beliefs are based in the teachings of my Catholic Church. I believe these teachings to be correct. In many cases, I have come to these beliefs through great personal thought, examination, and yes, struggle. For a number of years, I lived an unchaste life. I had the same attitudes toward sex and marriage that so many of my age-mates have. I didn’t see anything wrong with artificial contraception or even abortion. I didn’t see anything wrong with the gay lifestyle or any other. And these attitudes didn’t change over-night. But they did change the more I studied, examined myself honestly, and seriously, open-mindedly considered the alternatives taught by the Church. Gradually, I came to see the goodness and soundness of those teachings and decided that I wanted to embrace them and live by them for the rest of my life. Note that this process came about largely by use of my reason–not by supernatural revelation or some numinous “faith.” At that point, I couldn’t easily be persuaded by such things. And I didn’t have to be.
So yes, I am against certain things. But it’s because I am for certain things. Catholicism isn’t all about saying “no, no, no.” That’s a popular caricature. But for every “no,” there is a “yes” to something else.
And let me also say that just because I am necessarily against certain things, I am not against people. Even if I think people believe in very erroneous, harmful, sinful things, that doesn’t mean I hate them for believing as they do, or that their freedom to believe as they do should be violated. After all, I am a sinner too, and chances are that at some time or another, I have held the same erroneous, harmful, sinful beliefs as anybody else. I feel complete solidarity with my fellow man. And I learned that too from the Church. I learned that every one of us is a child of God. Every one of us is a sinner. Every one of us was redeemed by Jesus Christ. Every one of us has the possibility of sainthood. Every one of us has the possibility of spending eternity in Heaven, with God and with each other. Fundamentally, we are all very much alike. We all have will and freedom. We all have bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. We all have a natural inclination to seek out and do good. We also have a fallen nature susceptible to evil.
So understand that if, in my weakness, I lash out against a person or group of persons, if I treat anybody unlovingly or unjustly, if I act angry or disgusted or hateful toward anybody… it’s because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic. I’m a sinner, not a saint (yet). My God and Church must not be blamed for my faults. To the contrary, my God and Church urge me to acknowledge, repent of, make reparation for, and ultimately overcome my faults.
So let us return to the “anti-gay” example. Are Catholics anti-gay? If by anti-gay you mean I am against the gay lifestyle, then I would answer “Yes, insofar as it is incompatible with my beliefs as a Catholic.” But if by anti-gay you mean I am against gay people, then the answer is “No. No matter how much I may disagree with or disapprove of somebody’s beliefs or lifestyle, I do not hate that person.” If by anti-gay you mean that I am against homosexual people, the answer is a double no–”No, I am not against any person,” and “No, because homosexuality in itself is morally neutral.” People are not defined by sexual orientation, but by how they live. I have known homosexuals who are practicing Catholics just like I am, and they strive to live their lives by the same principles I do. They strive for sainthood and Heaven and struggle against sin. I know that the gay lifestyle gets a lot of attention, but it is not by any means the only lifestyle lived by homosexual persons.
With all of this said, however, I will say that there is one sense in which the Church may understandably be thought to be especially prejudiced against gay persons and the gay lifestyle. I have heard the question asked, “If the Church doesn’t care about how heterosexuals have degraded marriage and family, then why do they spend so much time preaching against gays?” I’ve heard this question asked by homosexuals and heterosexuals, Catholics and non-Catholics. I ask this question myself. It does seem to me that many of my fellow Catholics, both clergy and laity, spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy worrying about how the gay movement is threatening marriage and family, while not seemingly worried about cohabitation, fornication, divorce, artificial contraception, and abortion–among other things–that run rampant in society, and within the Catholic Church. The fact is that the gay lifestyle, and particularly gay marriage, are only the very latest errors to seek normalization from society and the Church. A whole succession of others have effectively been ignored, and in the eyes of some, divested of their wrongness and sinfulness.
I think the Church must get back to preaching against all the many other errors and sins that have brought about ruin to marriage and family, not to mention the disheartening situation of single Catholics who are seeking suitable spouses. I do have hope that this will happen, especially with the “JPII generation” growing up and exerting more influence, proclaiming the Theology of the Body, and giving assent, rather than dissent, to Humanae Vitae.
This last weekend was certainly a momentous one! A British royal wedding, the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the death of the United States’ top public enemy. I had quite a bit going on personally, so I wasn’t able to tune in to as much of the news and events as I would have liked. And by now, so much has been written in the blogosphere that I almost feel like this little post of mine will be totally redundant and insignificant. But it’s my blog, and I’m trying to start posting much more frequently, so here are just some quick little reactions.
The royal wedding: From what I saw it was a very beautiful ceremony and very rooted in Christian tradition. I came across the prayer that Prince William and his bride composed and offered up:
God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Beautiful. It sounds like this young couple will not only have invited God to the wedding, but will also keep Him a part of their marriage–something all too rare these days. I pray for them that it may be so and that many young people around the world will follow their example. I was also very impressed with Catherine’s dress–very classic, and very modest as wedding dresses go these days. It reminded me of Princess Grace’s wedding dress.
Beatification of Bl. Pope John Paul II: What an experience to see somebody who lived in your own lifetime be beatified! And how blessed the world was to have this incredible man at its service during such turbulent times. He was truly a universal man, who had so much personal experience with human suffering and yet vigorously, tirelessly preached “Be not afraid!” and the worth and dignity of every human life, no matter how poor, how small, or how difficult it might be. In the Church and on the world stage, he was a lion-hearted man, and also an extremely gentle man. In his old age and illness, when many were shaming him for not retiring and letting somebody younger, healthier, and supposedly more capable take over as pope, he persevered quietly, and taught us all that people don’t lose their dignity and worth when they become old and sick. That perseverance is one of the things that inspired me to come back to the Church, and has uplifted me many times since.
Death of Osama Bin Laden: When I saw the news, I had two thoughts almost simultaneously. One was, “Thank God, he’s finally gone!” The other was, “Dear Lord, he must be in desperate need of Your mercy!” I rejoiced in the success of our soldiers and the defeat of such a dreadful enemy who had killed so many innocent people. I also feared for the state of his soul and how terrible his judgment before God must have been. I hate and despise his sins. I pity the man. I wish he had repented. Maybe he did in his final moment.
I was also glad to see some joy and celebration in the streets of New York and Washington. I know some people have found it tasteless, even going so far as comparing those people to the people in the Middle East who celebrated in the streets on 9/11. I didn’t see that at all. For one thing, I didn’t see any burning effigies or burning flags or guns. I saw people celebrating not a man’s death in itself, but rather celebrating the ending of at least one chapter of a dark and haunting story, a nightmare of agony. I think that the New Yorkers and Washingtonians deserved to celebrate. I don’t think that we in other parts of the nation fully understand what they have gone through. 9/11 may have occurred almost 10 years ago, but the shadow of grief is very long and dark, as I know from personal experience.
This question, among other things, is raised in the comments at this post.
It is a good question in that it has forced me to articulate ideas that I normally don’t feel a need to articulate because I tend to take them for granted.
As always, you are welcome and encouraged to join in the conversation. :)
I have of late encountered a great deal of cynicism and argument about an idea I have always considered simple common sense and quite a fundamental principle for life: the idea that we should love people even though we may consider their actions or thoughts or beliefs wrong. Love sinners but hate sin, to paraphrase St. Augustine.
I lived by this principle when I was not a Christian. I live by it more fully now that I am a Christian. And I am rather at a loss to understand what is so difficult about it.
Sins can always be repented of.
Thoughts and behaviors can always change.
But people are always people.
There is no person alive who is never sinful and never wrong.
There is also no person alive who is never good and never right.
If we remember these things, then we can very easily know how to hate sins but love sinners. We can know how to hate certain thoughts and behaviors but still love the thinkers and the doers.
This all seems pretty evident to me.
But perhaps it’s not really a matter of genuine cynicism or difficulty. Perhaps it is simply a quick and easy defense mechanism to say, “You can’t love me if you think I am so wrong or so bad” or “If you hate what I do/think/believe, then you must hate me.” Perhaps it is easier than dealing with the apparent paradox of being loved by somebody who also thinks you are wrong. Perhaps it is easier to resent that love instead of accepting it.
I see it was only a little over a year ago when I last wrote on this topic. Well, I’m in a similar situation once again. At a point last week, weakness led me to a state of mortal sin.
At this point in my life, it is always a shocking and painful experience when I realize my bond with God has been severed over some foolish, selfish indulgence of a temptation. It is utterly humiliating to wake up in the Enemy’s bedchamber and know that I went there of my own free will, abandoning the secure castle of my Lord and Father for some promise of luxury and pleasure–a false promise my mind should have easily seen through, and my love and faithfulness should have easily demolished. It is an almost unbearable pain to find the dagger of betrayal in my own bloody hand.
But before long, the aftermath of mortal sin brings one to a stark moment of decision: continue to wallow in your own filth, compounded with self-pity and self-hatred, and thus surrender in despair to the Enemy… or rise to your feet to return to your Lord and Father and beg His forgiveness. At this point, we all become the Prodigal Son in Christ’s parable, and if there is any shred of conscience, intellect, and love left, we know there’s only one correct choice.
We cry to God and place ourselves at His mercy. We acknowledge how wrong we were and how much we depend on Him for health, sanity, happiness, security, and wholeness. If nothing else, we do it because we realize how much better we are in His castle than in the Enemy’s infernal palace. If nothing else, we do it out of base fear of the Enemy. That is not the best and noblest of motivations, but it suffices for our merciful and compassionate Lord to gather us back into His arms and the safe confines of His castle.
We rightly rejoice in His goodness and love and praise Him. One of the Psalms in this morning’s Divine Office captures the entire experience–both the pleading and the praising–very well:
The prayer of the poor man in distress
Blessed be God who comforts us in all our trials (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4).
Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am faithful;
save the servant who trusts in you.
You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord,
for I cry to you all the day long.
Give joy to your servant, O Lord,
for to you I lift up my soul.
O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
full of love to all who call.
Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my voice.
In the day of distress I will call
and surely you will reply.
Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
nor work to compare with yours.
All the nations shall come to adore you
and glorify your name, O Lord:
for you are great and do marvelous deeds,
you who alone are God.
Show me, Lord, your way
so that I may walk in your truth.
Guide my heart to fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart
and glorify your name for ever;
for your love to me has been great:
you have saved me from the depths of the grave.
The proud have risen against me;
ruthless men seek my life;
to you they pay no heed.
But you, God of mercy and compassion,
slow to anger, O Lord,
abounding in love and truth,
turn and take pity on me.
O give your strength to your servant
and save your handmaid’s son.
Show me the sign of your favor
that my foes may see to their shame
that you console me and give me your help.
I have confessed my sin to God and implored His forgiveness, and I believe I have received His forgiveness and had our broken bond mended. That is where I am now. But as Catholic, I find that my heart still yearns for something. It longs to make a more formal, mature, and responsible pledge of fealty to its Lord. It longs to actively re-dedicate itself to Him and His service. And because it is still human flesh, it also desires a more concrete and more certain expression of God’s healing and restoration.
To quench these yearnings, only one thing will do: namely, the Sacrament of Confession. To confess my sins in my own human voice to one of God’s ordained priests, and to hear in the priest’s human voice that my sins are absolved–these are necessary for my well-being, as I have found time and time again. I cannot over-emphasize how salutary this holy Sacrament is!
Moreover, it is a duty and a privilege to which I am bound as a member of the Church. It must be understood that for Catholics, there is no division, no dichotomy, between God and His Church. He is the Church’s Head, and the Church is His Body. Only a gruesome decapitation could cause such a division. In being bound to the Church, I am bound to God, and vice versa. In doing my duty to the Church, I do my duty to God, and vice versa. If the Church requires me to confess to a priest, I do not doubt for a moment that it is because God desires it.
To me, it is absolutely clear why He would desire it–as I said, I have experienced over and over how very good and necessary it is for me. But God is more than a physician who hands me a prescription. He is a loving Father who wishes me to possess some of His own freedom and dignity. Presenting myself to Him in the Sacrament of Confession provides me with that freedom and dignity. That is why it is not only a duty but also a privilege. It is a privilege to actively co-operate in re-forging the bond between Him and myself. It is a privilege to know that God loves me so much and regards me so much as His own child, that He calls me to take action, as well as to be a passive recipient of His grace.
As I always say, it is not an either-or situation, but a both-and situation. Love can never be one-way or one-sided. My going to the Sacrament of Confession is a free act of love and obedience to God, just as His granting of mercy is a free act of love and providence to me and to everybody who prays to Him.
I am still in need of going to the Sacrament… like last time, various circumstances have conspired against it. Hopefully tomorrow evening! I really, really, really need to receive Holy Communion! I never realize how much it means to me until I’m in a situation where I cannot receive it. Please pray for me as I ride out this little interval.