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.