True Confessions

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Have you ever gotten a summer cold?

Man have I had one lately and it has just taken me off the board in many ways. Lesson learned – be mindful of underwater swimming competitions with your son in this kind of weather. The sinus cavities just are not up to the task against the chlorine.

It’s weird though the way a cold works. You go through a bowt with something in which you are really messed up, and then you go through this extended period of recovery. I am in that recovery period now with the cold. I’ll start to cough for what seems like no reason and I’ll feel extremely congested. So I then I blow my nose which evacuates a tremendous amount of gook on an unsuspecting Kleenex and then it’s a miracle – all of the sudden I can breathe again. I am back to full health – until the next time I cough. It’s a repetitive cycle.

So I am leaving church the other day and it strikes me how similar my cold is to the Sacrament of Penance. My life is moving forward and then all of the sudden I get congested and start coughing again. If I blow my nose, or go to confession, I feel so much better. If I manage through with cough drops and avoidance, things just keep getting worse.

“What? Really? That is just great; this blog is just another person reminding me I have to go to confession. That’s all I need. I wish people would just get off my back about going to confession. I mean – are you kidding me? You know, it’s hard enough being a Catholic anyway. Truly, I just don’t have time. They never schedule it at convenient times for me. Oh and that priest, so he tells me to do a Hail Mary; so what. His homilies tell me he would never understand my problems anyway. My wife doesn’t even like that priest. Not to mention, I really don’t like talking about some of these problems with people who wouldn’t understand them. Besides, I am a good Christian, I am; so what’s the big deal? Furthermore, I need my sleep. Oh, and my parents never went to confession – never killed them. My kids have all these events…. My work…. My wife…. My family…. We travel a lot… My, My, My, I, I, I, I, I…. ”

Hey, stop. No…no….it’s fine. Don‘t go to confession. It’s all ok.  Your fine. You don’t need to go to confession. Stop worrying about it; really. It’s all good.

What? Why would I say that? Because at times “yours truly” can be very sarcastic and a snot (not to pun) that’s why, and when people are being ridiculous, I am tempted to enjoy the moment by just getting out of the way and letting people be themselves even if they are being rediculous.  Yes, that is very selfish of me.   Of course you should to go to confession. Are you kidding me?

Now that’s just great…Now I have to go to confession…again.

You know, however, it really is ironic; the Sacrament of Penance is one of the greatest sacraments we have and it’s also one of the most underutilized. Think about it. You have the opportunity to have your soul washed clean. C-l-e-a-n! Heaven ready my friend – that’s what you become. You get reconciled back to Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior. Body of Christ – Clean. Especially in the modern world with all of its challenges – what a tremendous gift of grace made available to us all.

Want to dumbfound the average Catholic or make them blush? Ask them when was the last time they went to confession?

And you know what’s even more ironic; it’s always been that way. Tertullian of Carthage in his treatise entitled Repentance written in AD 203, mentions the following relating to going to confession: “Most men, however, either flee from this work, as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness.

But they always have it at inconvenient times? Really; do they? Well, what if they only offered it just once a year on a special day? Would you always come then if the Church made it special in that way?  Well, Easter Vigil is only once a year and nobody comes to that.

Would you take the day off of work to make sure you get in? Sorry boss, need a PTO day – I’m Catholic – need to go to confession; Church only offers it once a year and I can’t miss it. Okay, but that’s your last unused PTO day – are you sure you want to use it for that?  Would you stand in line for three hours waiting to get in? Imagine the stories about the parking – would you carpool? Would you schedule dinner afterward to celebrate with family – Wahoo, we are all cleansed of sin!

Would you worry about spiritual death on the days in between? Would you deny yourself the Eucharist waiting out the months? Would you sit there hoping people don’t look at you wondering why you aren’t in line for the host week after week? In the same treatise Tertullian also states, “How grand is the reward of modesty, which the concealing of our sin promises! If in fact we conceal something from the notice of men, shall we at the same time hide it from God? Are, then, the good opinion of men and the knowledge of God to be equated? Is it better to be damned in secret than to be absolved in public? ‘But it is a miserable thing thus to come to confession!’ Yes, evil leads to misery. But where there is repentance misery ceases, because it is thereby turned to salvation.”

Well surprise….The Church only asks you to go once a year! Really – check the Catechism. But it is offered all of the time, and even by appointment. So end the drama and go. Oh, and your buddy Tertullian here, was an advocate of only offering it to you once in a lifetime after you joined the church. What would life be like if that were true?

Furthermore, The Didache, the first of all Catechisms written in the first century A.D., called for public confessions.  There was no booth or one-on-one with a priest in the corner.  It was the old public mea culpa my friend.  Imagine in the world of the internet and cell phone cameras how much fun that would be?

In Persona Christi

In persona Christi – in the person of Christ. No really, it’s not the priest. So, why does who the priest is matter?

I can still remember the first time I took confession in the Catholic Church. It was part of the RCIA process and I was scared out of my mind. As a protestant I knew that my sins were forgiven, but I honestly wasn’t a hundred percent comfortable that it was true. I hadn’t yet forgiven myself and it all seemed too easy to me. Through my sin I had caused a lot of pain in the world, and a “hey its Tuesday so your all good” kind of approach really didn’t work for me. But as an aspiring Catholic it became different. I was actually going to have to go tell someone about it. I was going to have to say it out loud, and another person was going to have to hear it. You have got to be kidding me was my honest hidden thoughts.  I really wasn’t sure I could do it.

The night of reconciliation I had all the outward signs of the new guy on the best Alcapolco cliff diving team. I was jittery and couldn’t stop moving or stand still. As we moved into the Sanctuary I made the decision to fall in line with the priest that brought me into the church. If I was going to vomit all over somebody, figuratively or literally, he deserved it more than any of the other guys.

As I gradually moved through the line, the MercyMe song I Can Only Imagine started playing in my mind over and over and wouldn’t quit. It was all I could think about.

My time came and I was invited to sit in the chair opposite the priest. We were just off the altar at the back of the sanctuary face to face. I lifted my eyes to his, began to speak, and that is when it happened. The world around his face went black. Soon all I could see was his eyes. Then he had one eye. Then the eye was a single ball of light in the darkness. That is when my heart and my lips broke open in shame and it all came flowing out.

The next thing I new I felt the priest’s hand on my shoulder. His face suddenly came back into view, and he looked at me with great deference letting me know I had given a really good first confession. He gave me my penance and walked me through the act of contrition. Then he gave me absolution.

I walked to the back pew sat down and performed my penance. Soon I was joined by an RCIA-mate who asked how I was doing. I confessed that I felt light headed and a little lighter in general. They smiled back at me sharing that they felt the same.

Today I just smile when Protestants tell me they could never be Catholic because they could never confess their sins to a priest. Its only between them and God they firmly declare. To their confusion I only agree.

My confessions today sadly are not always as dramatic. I still see the light sometimes. However, sometimes I just get the pleasure of being charmed by a wise and experienced confessor who becomes a teacher and mentor in a broken part of my life. Regardless, I always here the voice I need to hear. I have never felt disappointed in the confessional, nor have I ever left without a clear sense of reconciliation with Christ. Also, like some of my friends, I sometimes wish the beatings would be worse. With all of the anxiety I seem to put into going to confession, I wish the process would be more taxing. But you know – maybe that’s the point – the pain has already been incurred when I committed the sin.  It’s that I am there asking for Christ’s forgiveness that matters.

The Designated Victim

Through service commitments at the parish I have had the pleasure of hearing Fr. Craig Maxim’s explanation of the sacrament of confession some two dozen times or more. In fact, I think I might just be able to give it for him. One area Fr. Craig always covers is the fear people have of confessing things in which the priest will remember about them and how ridiculous that is (which is true).

As a professional myself who works with the public, I schedule time after my client meetings so that I can enter notes in a relationship management software system about our conversations. My meetings typically last an hour and I have two to four client meetings a day. I thank the Lord for my notes because otherwise I would go crazy trying to remember everything.   A priest giving confession spends about 3-5 minutes with each person and sees dozens and perhaps several dozens of people one right after another. Oh, and thankfully I have never seen a priest taking notes (I could just be lucky that way – who knows).

Now have you ever noticed that most priests have their heads down when hearing confession? Yeah, its not because they think their shoes are cool. It’s because they are concentrating on the moment for your behalf. They have a short amount of time to digest your sin as an issue, formulate quality feedback and assign a penance that is relevant to your healing process. Then they have to clear their head so they can turn around and do it for the next person. So your special and all, but…. Next!

I have had priests personally share with me that they hear it all, over and over, and they say that as a priest you get initiated right away with the worst of humanity. So much so that in a way you almost become numb to the process. Fr. Don Calloway calls confession a spiritual diaper change and Fr. John Ricardo equates it to changing bedpans in hospital beds for the sick. This doesn’t sound like the lounge chair of an idle gossip to me. They literally hear the worst of people over and over again. Truly, it sounds depressing.

Furthermore, priests are in the forgiveness business, not in the gotcha business. St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage in his piece entitled Demonstrations written in 340 AD, charged priests to honor their calling: “And to you (priests) also, disciples of our illustrious physician, it is fitting that you should not withhold from him who needs healing. Whoever shows his wound to you, give him the medicine of penitence; and whoever is ashamed to show his disease, you shall exhort him not to conceal from you, and when he has revealed to you do not publish it, lest it by means of it the innocent should be considered as debtors by enemies and those who hate them.

Fr. John Riley, friend to Sacred Heart and literal poster child for confession to the Archdiocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, used to jovially chide those afraid to seek confession from their own parish priest. Some people are just like that. But Father Riley is right: it really doesn’t matter. However, some people respond well to having a consistent confessor and some don’t. In the end, as mentioned above, it’s time with Jesus and what ever brings you closer to Christ is what you should do. The point is simple – just go.

Personally, I have taken penance all over town and prefer that. The confession is to Christ, the penance is from the confessor, and I am a student of the faith. Confession is just another learning experience to me on my path to holiness.

Authority Song

Growing up in the Eighties made me a Mellencamp fan.  When I fight authority; Authority always wins is the chorus of The Authority Song.  The blessing of the Sacrament of Penance is that we have authority on our side.  That priest you presuppose and make assumptions about before actually taking the time to understand is your friend.  He has been granted the authority to forgive your sins.

Mathew 18:18-19 quotes Christ directly, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again, amen I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly father.”

This is not a modern interpretation of the Bible.  This isn’t a convenient interpretation of the Catholic Church to capture authority versus other Christian denominations.  St. Hilary of Poitiers (Bishop of Poitiers and learned scholar of the Gospels at that time) wrote a Commentary of the Gospel of Mathew in AD 353: (On Mathew 18:18) The power of binding and loosing given to the Apostles – In our present condition we are all subdued by the terror of the greatest dread.  And now, out in front of that terror, He sets the irrevocable apostolic judgement, however severe, so that those whom they shall bind on earth, that is, whomsoever they leave bound in the knots of their sins; and those whom they loose, which is to say, those who by their confession receive grace unto salvation: – these, in accord with apostolic sentence, are bound or loosed up in heaven.

Why would anyone fight that? Why would anyone not love having regular access to that?  Why do we fight going to confession?  Its our freedom from spiritual death.  It is the access to Grace we all need as we struggle daily to live out our spiritual walk along the pathway to holiness. 

Suffering under the strain of Sin

Confession can feel exhausting for those struggling with repetitive sin. I’m sorry – again. Stupid me. Can’t stop. Trying, but I can’t stop.  I am a failure.  I am just not ready to change.

Ever feel that way? Personally, I call this my humanness. The Church calls it concupiscence. It’s our propensity as humans to sin. Christ is perfect. We are not. The priest doesn’t think you’re stupid. The priest knows you’re human. Have you ever heard the personal slight, “It’s not his fault he was born that way.” Well….in my case anyway; it’s true.

Regardless of that understanding, a strong sense of personal accountability can be a brain strain regarding sinful habits. We have all – all – experienced this to some extent. It’s the self-doubt and guilt Satan feeds on to keep us from redemption; to keep us from Christ.

Nobody said the path to holiness is easy. What did Christ promise the Apostles – Poverty, prison, rejection, suffering, and eventual death? Nice eh? Yet they are Saints in Heaven the lot of them. What did Christ promise you – forgiveness? All you have to do is keep trying.

Besides, if we can find the endurance to follow Royals baseball for 29 years waiting for some relief we can certainly keep up hope about our own salvation. Christ believes in us. He suffered and died on the cross never loosing faith in what he was doing for you.  How much of a struggle is your journey really compared to his?  No nightmare of yours can easily compare.  Read more on the saints and the martyrs if you want to hear about real struggles with evil and enduring misery for the faith.

Keep up hope.  We are praying for you.  Keep the faith.

It’s about a Relationship

The best personal human relationship I have is with my wife. I can totally be honest with her about who I am and what my failings are. Living in that truth is just one of the ways we respect each other as husband and wife. Shielding things from my spouse, I learned early on, was a fruitless endeavor. Furthermore, there is no greater feeling of comfort than when I finally ask her for help on a challenge I cannot overcome on my own and she carries the burden right off my shoulders and solves the problem. It’s love my friend.

My wife, after 20 years together, knows me pretty well. Jesus Christ, though, knows me completely. He made me. He knows when even I hide things from myself. He knows when I need him and when I hold out on my own. Psalm 23 tells us: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack, In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod an your staff comfort me.

A regular theme of mine in the confessional is my re-acknowledgement that I need Christ. That I tried life outside the relationship again, on my own, and failed. I made it about me, and not about my relationship with him.

Confession is also not just about our one on one relationship with Christ. The lyrics of the song say, “We are one body, one body in Christ; and we do not stand alone…” Your sin is not your own. My sin is not my own. As members of the body of Christ we participate in one another’s sin. A sick part of the body is a still a sick body. As members of the body of Christ we serve each other through the Sacrament of Penance. Through confession we strengthen Christ’s presence in the world. Through confession we weaken the hold sin has on the faithful. Through confession we make ourselves more present in Christ and thereby more of a doorway for others to find Christ. Pope Benedict in his address to the Annual Course on the Internal Forum said simply that The New Evangelization starts in the confessional!

Brothers, when was the last time you went to confession?

YBIC