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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.)
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.
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!
As you probably gathered from my last post, I’ve been struggling with my faith quite a bit. I’ve really gotten off track, more than ever before. I can’t really explain it. There is no kind of excuse.
But there is a cure, a way out. Or rather, I think, a series of spiritual medicines.
The first and foremost of a spiritual medicines is the sacrament of Confession. I didn’t really want to go. I had to force myself, convince myself of its benefits. I doubted it as much as I’ve been doubting everything, even God.
And then, the exchange between Christ and St. Peter came to me. When all the disciples were leaving Christ after the shocking Bread of Life discourse, Christ turned to the Apostles and asked them, “Will you, also, go?” St. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
That was all the convincing I needed. I had come to the place where one must choose definitively: shall I stay or shall I go? Where do my loyalties lie? Whom shall I serve?
And so I went. And of course it helped me. How could I ever have doubted that? Perhaps doubt itself provides a valuable shot in the arm, a vaccine against indifference.
That was the first round of treatment, to make me well enough to persue further courses of action.
The main one: daily Mass. This has been the biggest missing puzzle piece in my life for way too long. I have allowed many things to get in my way and distract me. My priorities have been mixed up. I’ve decided that starting tomorrow, I am returning to the 6:30 AM Latin Mass. That shall come first in my day. It doesn’t matter if I have to rearrange my schedule or giveup some activities. It just doesn’t matter! God matters. I know where my loyalty lies and Whom I shall serve.
Other than that, I shall dedicate myself to living by my Lay Dominican rule of life: the Rosary, Divine Office, frequent confession, and wearing the white scapular which is my blessed privilege.
And loving others. I may not be the most socially adept person, but I can always strive to simply treat others as I would want them to treat me. It’s really not complicated. It is all very simple.
Nonetheless, I will need and appreciate prayers for the firmness of my will. I shall pray for you in return, as always.
If so, then run, don’t walk, to these posts by Father Z:
And of course:
And here’s one by Father Powell:
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.
This is a sequel to an earlier post. Basically, I was in the awful position of having a mortal sin on my soul, and despite my best efforts, couldn’t get to Confession for a couple of days. But God was merciful to me in wonderful and unexpected ways. I took comfort and strength in that, but also reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible.
Which raised the question: Why go to Confession anyway?
All that Sunday, I had these niggling little temptations to just say, “Oh well, God has forgiven me, He has accepted my contrition and my efforts at reconciliation, and after all it’s not my fault that the chaplain didn’t allow enough time for Confession. And now that I think of it, was it really so horrible what I did? Do I really have to give up Communion? There’s still time… the last Mass at my parish is still an hour away…”
I could have quickly and easily rationalized my sin away–the human mind is so very good at that!–and just ditched Confession. And many people would have applauded that. Many decent, sincere, and well-meaning people have tried to convince me that I don’t need Confession. In their minds, they have tried to liberate me. I love liberty as much as anybody, but as appealing as it may seem, there is something very wrong and discomforting about the notion of giving up Confession.
In my heart of hearts, I knew the fact of the matter: I am in no position to ditch Confession. I am in no position to absolve my own sins and declare officially that everything is once more hunky dory and peachy keen. I am in the position of convicting myself of sin, mourning the rift I’ve caused between God and me, and seeking reconciliation with Him. And you know, there is the greatest of freedoms in that! To grit your teeth and face reality, to take responsibility for your actions, to seek to make amends with another, to be reunited with One you love.
And the ordinary means–the only certain means–I know of doing that is the Sacrament of Confession.
Yes, God is merciful. Yes, He is good to me even when I mess up and turn my back to Him. Yes, He used my pitiful failing to bring about a greater good. Yes, He let me know He was still there for me. It may very well be that He, in His own ineffable way, unbound as He is by the Sacraments of the Church, had already made my sins disappear and restored me to a state of grace. He can absolve whomever and whenever He wills. I don’t doubt that.
But we are bound. We are bound by love and justice, faith and trust, loyalty and obedience, to the Sacraments of the Church, Sacraments Christ established for our welfare. We don’t get to presume upon Him and His own superior ways and privileges. We don’t get to cleverly rationalize things away and fly the coop. We don’t know what is best for us. We don’t fully know the state of our own souls as God does. We are not authorized to make the binding and loosing declarations that God, in His mercy, enables His ordained priests to make.
We are bound for our own good, and assurance. Consider what the Psalmist says:
Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are mischief and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
(Ps. 36:1-3, RSV-CE2 translation)
Now, I realize that it’s easy to say, “Oh well, that’s talking about wicked people, not me!” But think about it. If you honestly can’t see yourself in that description of “the wicked,” if you have never “ceased to act wisely and do good”–even for a short time–then you should become the first living person to be canonized a Saint. I was actually struck first by the translation of this Psalm used in the Divine Office here in the U.S. (and other English-speaking lands):
Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.
He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.
“Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.” That definitely struck close to home for me. That was the voice I kept hearing in my head that morning. Sin trying to convince me that it was not sin at all. I’ve paid heed to that voice before. So do many people. So many people within the Church and in the world at large have completely lost all “sense of sin.” Guilt is seen as baggage to be shed. We are taught that certain sins (most often of the sexual nature), far from being sinful, are actually normal, healthy, even good for us–and that to repress them is dangerous and maddening. I believed that for many years. And looking back, I see that my life then was far more repressive, dangerous, and maddening than my life is now. That’s what happens when you pay heed to sin.
I was also recently struck by these words of Père Garrigou-Lagrange:
I certainly know the interior of my soul better than other men do; but it has secrets from me, for I cannot measure all the gravity of my directly or indirectly voluntary faults. God alone knows me thoroughly; the secrets of my heart are perfectly open only to His gaze.
(The Three Ages of the Interior Life, part 1, chapter 1 ¶9)
On the surface, this may seem to argue against the necessity of Confession: if only God knows what is in my soul, if even I myself can’t clearly see and know it, then why on earth should I tell my sins to another human being, a person who may know nothing about me? Why not just confess to God instead and let that be the end of it?
First, I would say that 1) confessing to God, and, 2) confessing to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession do not constitute an “either/or” dichotomy. Rather they constitute a “both/and” unity. We do both. In fact, I don’t know that it is possible to make a good confession to a priest without having first made a good confession to God. Confessing to a priest does not replace confessing to God… it adds to it.
I am highly uncomfortable with the notion of confessing to God and letting that be the end of it. It seems so… easy. So… convenient and comfortable. So… undemanding of personal accountability and responsibility, personal freedom and action, personal reaching out and striving. It’s one thing to pray to God in privacy. It’s another thing to speak your sins out loud to a human ear.
In the private confession to God, I think there’s the danger of complacency and pride, the danger of it becoming routine and mechanical–“All I have to do is get down mutter some words, and then I’ll be scott free. OK, yeah, sorry God, I won’t do it again. We’re good now, right? See ya!” On the other hand, I have yet to meet anybody who harbors complacency and pride while standing in line outside a confessional. Truly, I don’t think it’s possible. And it never becomes routine or mechanical either; it doesn’t matter how many times I go to Confession–each time seems like the first time. Easy, convenient, comfortable, undemanding–no way. It takes heart, it takes devotion, it takes courage, it takes will. And doesn’t God deserve that? If you want to be reconciled with God, must you not put everything into it? Heart, soul, mind, and body? Do that, and God will do all the rest.
So, confessing to a priest instills humility and conscientiousness and it calls us out of ourselves–it demands a selfless act, a giving of self. It demands making a connection with another. Ultimately, it’s about giving ourselves and making a connection with God. Believe me, I wouldn’t go through with Confession if it weren’t all about God–who would? And the Sacrament, by its nature, brings that connection to a concrete, human level. It brings us the experience that the sinners in the Gospels had–facing Christ on a concrete, human level, being before Him in all their weakness and brokenness and wickedness, and hearing Him say in a human voice, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” That’s a much different experience than praying in silence. It’s a more certain experience. Again, not a replacement for prayer, but a powerful addition to it. A powerful living out of it.
Is it not apparent that sacramental Confession has benefits and sound reason to it? Is it not clear that we are bound to the Sacrament for our own welfare, as well as for love of God? I cannot imagine my life without it. I can’t imagine my soul being sustained without it. I feel that I would be lost in very dangerous waters without it. I would forever be second-guessing myself, wondering if I couldn’t perhaps do more to be reconciled with God and pledge to Him my good faith. That would be agonizing! There would be no liberty or re-assurance in that.
Walking out of the confessional with the glorious declaration of absolution still sounding in your ears–that’s true liberation. That is just as irreplaceable as prayer. And I, for one, am grateful for it! Being deprived of it for a couple of days was enough to make me appreciate it.
Many thanks to Anthony OPL of Chiral Capers for sharing this delightful little video:
As Anthony notes, this is one of many delightful videos created by Father Johannes Schwarz. I love the way he uses vivid pop culture images to deliver Catholic messages.
I also liked this one a lot:
I find the idea of trying to keep the Holy Spirit in a bottle extremely comical.
Easter’s almost here… wouldn’t you like to greet the Risen Lord with a fresh, clean, sparkling soul?
Check out this video that Susie Melkus of Reconnecting to the Truth sent me:
I’m so excited that I will get to meet Susie this weekend when she’s in Dallas! Her son Justin lives here and is entering the Church on the Easter Vigil! Please keep him and all our candidates in your prayers as they approach that great, holy night and their first Sacraments!
I attend the Easter Vigil Mass every year. Of all the beauty, ceremony, and excitement of that night, there’s nothing quite like witnessing all the new people joining our family and Our Lord’s Mystical Body. They are like a fresh, rejuvenating breath for the entire Church!
I went to the early-morning TLM today. I wore my veil for the first time. I was a little self-conscious, but not nearly as self-conscious as I felt being one of the only ladies without a head-cover! It made me feel beautiful… but not in a showy, prideful way. A hidden, private way, between God and me.
I love the early-morning Mass so much that I’ve changed my work schedule! I’ve rediscovered how peaceful the morning is. And I find I have lots more energy during the day when I get up early and go to sleep early. Or maybe that’s just what happens when you start your day with Mass and Communion.
This evening I returned to church for Confession. While I waited, I was enchanted by the visual and auditory beauty withing the church. It was near sunset, and the stained glass windows had a beautiful, rosy-gold glow. One of the choirs was rehearsing a beautiful arrangement of O filii et filiae. I felt like I was in another world… or rather beyond any world.
Next week is Holy Week! Time for the final push to make the most of this season! Time for greater vigilance than ever, vigilance against sin and vigilance for our Lord! Now is the time to get your precious immortal soul into a state of grace. If you’ve already done that, then do your utmost to keep it there. Let’s show the devil that we are the light of the world, as our Lord said. Let our souls be lights shining in the night, purer and more radiant than sunlight.
Let us prepare ourselves. Let us prepare the way of the Lord.
Oh, I’m so excited! But I must get to sleep now!
Today, we celebrate one of the most important days in the history of the universe: an angel visited a young woman, personally delivering a message from God; the young woman listened and said “Yes” to God’s will; and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Lord of Life and Love, assumed a human nature.
Is it not amazing to take all of that in?
It would be amazing enough if an angel were to appear to us to personally deliver God’s will! So, in celebrating the Annunciation, let us remember our guardian angels who work and help us in mysterious, invisible ways. These spiritual creatures, more powerful than we can imagine, are bound by God’s will and God’s love to their human charges with exclusive dedication. They too said “Yes” to God, and agreed to use their great power in order to protect us, help us, guide us. And most of us probably do not pay them a single thought on most days.
If we don’t pay them any mind–or worse, if we brush them off as fairy tails or as harmless, fluffy, pet-like creatures–then we not only endanger ourselves, but we cut off a great source of wisdom and knowledge about what God’s will is. On the other hand, if we cultivate a relationship with our personal angelic guardians, if we listen for their voices and feel for their movements, we will naturally cling closely to them and gain a better understanding of God’s will and what it means to serve God humbly, without any of the pride of Lucifer, who said, “Non serviam”–“I shall not serve.”
In celebrating the Annunciation, let us pray to be in closer relationship with our guardian angels. Let us pray with all the faith, love, and devotion of children:
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom His love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side,
to light, to guard, to rule and guide.
Our guardian angels won’t deliver such astonishing messages as St. Gabriel delivered to Mary. But we might be surprised, nonetheless, if we open ourselves to receiving our own personal “annunciations.” And on the chance that we receive a request from God that seems impossibly difficult and maybe even a little crazy… what will we respond?
In celebrating the Annunciation, let us pray to say “Yes” to God just like Mary. And let us thank and praise God for always giving us the freedom to say “yes” or “no.” He did not force His will upon Mary, and He does not force His will upon us. This is another thing we tend to forget or to take for granted. For many, freedom means the choice to say “no” to God. No, no, no, like a child in his “terrible twos.” Always no to God. That’s the liberty Lucifer took. But the greater freedom is to say “yes” to God, as the loyal angels did, as the Virgin Mary did, and as many great people throughout history have. Saying “yes” to God often means saying “no” to ourselves, our desires, our comforts, our appetites, and things that may truly seem best for us. It often demands radical trust and courage. It is by far the noblest form of freedom.
For all the goodness and love Mary displayed on the day the angel appeared to her, the world’s supreme goodness and love–He who is Goodness and Love themselves!–came into the world that day. He came from eternity into time and space. He took to His perfect spirit human flesh with all of its frailties, appetites, and complaints. He who is Life Itself took on the curses of pain and death. And He did it because He loves us.
In celebrating the Annunciation, let us thank and praise Christ the Lord, true God and true man, for His ultimate gift of Self. Let us thank Him for His love and goodness to us. Let us ask His forgiveness for all the times we have turned away from Him or taken Him for granted. Let us celebrate His constant mercy and patience–the way He is always there for us when we turn back to Him. If you are Catholic, perhaps this would be a perfect day to turn to the Sacrament of Confession, if it is available to you. Nothing brings home the love of Christ the way Confession does. Holy Communion may be the source and summit, but Confession enables us to be fully receptive to Holy Communion, and to all the other Sacraments as well. To be close to God, we have to be in a state of grace, free of mortal sin–Confession brings us into that state. No matter how many times we fall from it, Confession always restores us. The Lord cleanses us in the Blood He shed on the Cross. The Cross that was His destiny from the moment he was conceived as a child.
It is rather appropriate, isn’t it, that the Annunciation falls in Lent.
At Confession this morning, my priest told me to read and pray about the epistle selection for this coming Sunday:
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
I found it so comforting and reassuring. I thought it was the perfect scripture passage for my personal life and for our lives as Catholics in the world. It really bolstered my confidence and my trust… my love too. Our Lord is so very great, and never outdone in generosity!
I looked up at the Crucifix… what more could God have given us than His own Son? What more could the Son of God have given us than His own life? His blood pouring from His many wounds?
And He never ceases to give us His life–His divine life!–through the Sacraments of the Church! The sanctifying grace we receive from the Sacraments is nothing other than God’s own divine life. It’s amazing when you think about it. How He not only holds us and the entire universe in existence, but also constantly sheds His very own life over us–provided, of course, that we are disposed to receive it.
The key to maintaining that disposition is the Sacrament of Confession. Sanctifying grace and mortal sin cannot co-exist in our souls. That is why Confession is of such vital importance–it is where we exercise our freedom to choose good and avoid evil, to choose divine life and reject sin. The choice is ours. The Lord is waiting for us, waiting to acquit us and grant us His peace, His mercy, His love, His very life.
Not only at Lent, but all year long.