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A number of fellow Catholics over the years have asked me for advice and encouragement about going to Confession.  Few things make me more glad than to share my love and appreciation for this very special Sacrament, and I pray very hard that all Catholics may be drawn to it.  At the same time, I also understand that it’s not an easy thing to do.  So, especially now that we are in Lent, I would like to offer some encouragement for my brothers and sister who might be having difficulty approaching the Sacrament.  (The following is from a letter I wrote to one dear person this evening; but I think it might be applicable and helpful to many people.)

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I understand how much trepidation we can experience about going to Confession.  It never completely goes away; I still struggle with it occasionally, and I’m sure everybody does.  The reason is that the devil wants to prevent us all from going and receiving the tremendous grace, nourishment, and healing of the Sacrament.  He will throw every lie and every negative feeling at us in order to stop us, to make us afraid, to make us distrustful and doubtful.

To withstand these difficult things takes God’s grace.  Nobody can do it alone.  And so, what you should do now and very often is simply ask the Lord for His peace and for the grace to go to Confession.  It may be helpful to pray this Act of Contrition–and note especially the part I’ve emphasized:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest my sins because of Thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen. 

Pray that at least once a day, and it won’t be long until you start to feel much more at ease and even eager to go to Confession.

Trust that there are good reasons that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation and made human priests ministers of His mercy.  The Sacrament itself provides not only sanctifying grace, but a very special, particular sacramental grace–that of stronger resistance to sin.  The priest, as a fellow sinner and fellow penitent, can provide valuable help and guidance.  As a fellow human, he can speak those wonderful words of absolution in a voice we can hear.

You certainly have nothing to fear from a confessor.  You may think that he will be judgmental or perhaps even outraged at your sins.  But he won’t.  I’ve heard many priests say that sin is just sin–it’s boring, it’s dull, it’s unimaginative, it’s completely unremarkable.  What they find truly remarkable is the courage and humility and faith of the penitents who come to them.  And they feel privileged to be able to help and heal and minister to them.

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I will just add here what I have told myself and others many times:  In the whole universe, there is only one person who benefits from our not going to Confession–and that’s Satan.  Don’t give him that benefit!

Also, I welcome anybody to contact me to ask further questions about Confession.  I don’t ever get tired of talking about it!

It was just about a year ago that I moved to my new home, a house I share with my mother.  It’s a lovely house, in a suburb.  There’s really nothing to dislike about it.  But it’s been a pretty big adjustment for me, having lived in the city center for a number of years.  I have a much longer commute to work and to the Dominican priory.  I had to find, and join, a different parish.  I feel out of place as an unmarried women living among young families.  Even when I’ve found activities and events that interest me and that are close to home, I haven’t been able to get out and do things because I get home late in the evening.  Or, in many cases, the activities of interest occur during the work week, during work hours.

For many months, I’ve been sort of drifting along, going through motions, without ever having the slightest sense that I belong where I am, that it is really my home.  I’ve given in sometimes to discouragement, discontent, loneliness, frustration, anxiety–most of which I’ve tried to cure by just closing myself up in my room with a video game or television show.  Naturally, this only increased my isolation, so that I fell into a downward spiral of depression.  In trying to numb or distract myself, I also stopped putting God at the center of my life.  I became lax in my prayer and religious obligations.

Fortunately, I did have the sense to go to Confession and dust myself off to try again.  And fortunately, I also had Lent approaching quickly, and a new focus and purpose to put myself to.  Of course, God and His grace are what have seen me through most of all.

So I started praying every day, several times a day:

Lord, please just help me settle down and be more at home here.  Help me find ways to become part of this new community and my new parish.  Help me find ways to contribute and form new relationships.  I trust that you have planted me here for a reason.  Whether or not that reason becomes clear to me, please help me to accept my new place and to flourish.

I can’t say that I’ve had any remarkable epiphanies.  I can’t say anything has progressed.  I definitely can’t say that I’ve discovered the reason for my being where I am.  But at least I have my faith and am clinging closer to God’s side once more–and that always makes life so much richer.  As part of my Lenten discipline, I am going to keep praying that prayer, along with all my other prayers and observances, and I’m not going to let myself give in to impatience or distrust.  I know that the feelings will come, and the temptation to entertain them will be strong.  But I’m not going to give in.

So, yesterday morning, as I was going about my business of getting ready for work, I turned one of the music channels on to help get my blood pumping.  And this song came on: “Home” by Phillip Phillips.  A song I’d heard before but never paid too much attention to.  But this time, for whatever reason, I found myself really listening to the lyrics:

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

It was one of those amazing, unexpected moments when words strike you and move you and seem to have been meant just for you.  And you wonder: how did I not hear this before?  I know that many people would just shrug it off as a coincidence, nothing important.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no such thing as a coincidence–not in the sense of something unimportant and accidental.  So, my spirit has been very uplifted!  And I feel sure that my prayer to be more at home has been heard and will be answered.

But, you know, feel free to add your own prayers for me!  :)

A blessed Ash Wednesday to everybody!  I find the prayer for today to be a really stirring send-off into the great season of Lent:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting

this campaign of Christian service,

so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,

we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

With its images of campaign, battle, and weapons, this prayer is an explicit and vivid call to spiritual warfare.  And it tells us exactly what we need in order to wage–and win–the battle: fasting, service, and self-restraint.  This echoes and expands upon the traditional trio of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, each of which is so important, not only for spiritual warfare but for life in general.

Is it not a tremendous blessing that each year brings this season of Lent in which we can focus on deepening and growing and maturing in our spiritual lives?  Is it not an exciting time?  A kind of adventure?  The word Lent means “Springtime,” and that is a perfect name for this season of new opportunities for flourishing.

For a long time, I always thought of Lent as a dreary season of drudgery, with nothing uplifting or exciting or adventurous at all.  I didn’t see it as the wonderful opportunity that it is.  I didn’t realize or appreciate any of the rewards it can bring.  I looked at Lent through the lens of the secular world and culture: just another way the Church crushed happiness and imposed pain upon its benighted and masochistic adherents.  I much preferred the popular modern worldview that equates happiness with pleasure and goodness with feeling good.  But that worldview leads nowhere.  Follow it long enough and you may easily find yourself in the nothingness, the hopelessness, the extreme and all-consuming poverty of Hell.  Those fortunate enough (as I was), will experience a taste of Hell before it is too late and becomes an eternal dwelling.

I don’t deny that the season of Lent and the entirety of Christian life can sometimes be difficult, uncomfortable, and uncertain.  But the rewards–especially the ultimate, eternal reward of Heaven–far outshine any of the difficult spots.  And they really are just little spots when you pause to look back over where you’ve come.  Little spots amidst oceans of joy, of love, of peace, and above all, of grace.  Lent is a powerful means of unleashing those oceans!

So, let us all dare to leave behind some of our comfort and security and complacence–which make it all too easy to be self-centered–and have a successful Lent!

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St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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