Posts Tagged With: Grace

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

I’ve had a lot of good posts floating around in my head. They tend to stay up there, floating around, each the very pinnacle of greatness and bloggy perfection. Beautiful flowers they are, each of them, sweet smelling and delicate. It’s a pity they wilt the very instant I sit down to type them out.

I’d like to type one of them out for you, but instead, I’m going to write about a topic I very much did not ever plan to write about. Let’s talk about Confession.

Hey! Where are you going? Get back over here!

I must confess…

How did I even get on this topic? Certainly not of my own doing. When we converted to Catholicism back in 2007, we had to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at some point during Lent. I went the last day it was available. I walked in, rattled off my “major” sins, as I had been told to do, read the prayer from the sheet, and got out of there!

Let’s talk about “major” sins for a moment here. How do we define “major” sins? Um, how about if we just name the ones we’re okay with naming? That sounds good! I mean, there is a line in there where we say we are sorry for all the sins of our past life, so that works, right? I mean, there’s no point in rattling off every single one. Just a brief overview of the ones we’re comfortable with should be more than sufficient.

Let’s just say that based on what I determined to not be worth mentioning…dear Pope Benedict VI might make a public statement denying that the Catholic Church has any association with me. I left out some big stuff. Really big. Without going into detail, I had a few wild and crazy wilderness years before I met my darling husband. Years I wish more than anything I could take back. To top it off, I didn’t go back to Confession. About 3 years ago, I started listening to daily Mass on EWTN and I kept hearing over and over again about the importance of Confession. I bought a few guidebooks and started planning to go. I mean, it would be pretty easy, right? I just had to go over the sins since I went to confession before. But as I kept studying up for my perfect Confession, I realized I needed to confess those old sins, too. What’s more, I realized I wanted to.

It’s just really super hard to get to Confession.

I mean, I don’t remember what the schedule was like at our church in Tulsa, but here in Norman, Confession is heard Saturday from 3:30-4:30. I work until 7:30 most weekends. Sure, I could make it down to the church and back on my lunch break, but….what if there’s a long line? Am I going to have time to eat? I really need to rest on my break, you know. On the Saturdays that I’m off, I’m usually off because I have somewhere to go, someplace to be. This once a week thing is really inconvenient for me. Yeah, I can make an appointment, but Father Ed is so busy, I don’t want to make him go out of his way for me just so I can tell him what a lousy human being I am.

I can keep going if you like. I have a whole bag of excuses over here.

But I suppose none of them are really very good.

So, I’ve spent the last 3 years filling my bag with excuses and carrying on, ever so sad that I just can’t manage to get into Confession.

Well, recently, I’ve started reading encyclicals. I’ll pick one at random, read it, and revel in it. I love them so very much. To hear our beloved Popes, speaking frankly, bluntly and lovingly on Church teachings is such a wonderful gift. And thanks to the handy dandy internet, I can read any of them, whenever I want. Lovely, lovely, lovely. A few days ago, I randomly picked Pope John Paul II’s Misericordia Dei: The Mercy of God. Guess what it’s about?

The Mercy of God

The importance of making a good Confession cannot be overstated. Canon law 960 states:

“Individual and integral confession and absolution are the sole ordinary means by which the faithful, conscious of grave sin, are reconciled with God and the Church; only physical or moral impossibility excuses from such confession, in which case reconciliation can be obtained in other ways”

Blessed Pope John Paul II goes on to state that all sins must be confessed, not just the “major” ones, citing Canon 988:

 Since “the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession”, any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also.

This blessed Sacrament is so essential that Bl. Pope John Paul II goes into great detail about the administration of it. The proper facilities must be available, reasonable requests for appointments must never be turned down, the priest should be visible so that the faithful immediately know where to go, and a “fixed grille” must be present to accommodate those who desire it. He even goes on to suggest that, when possible, Confessions be heard before and during every Mass.

Ready or not!

Upon finishing the encyclical, I wanted more than ever to make Confession, and to receive Absolution. In fact, I felt like I should do it before receiving Communion again. I double checked the parish website early in the week, and sure enough, Confession is going down Saturday from 3:30-4:30, and I was scheduled to work until 5:30. Too bad. Once again, my schedule is just working against me. I kept thinking about it throughout the week, wondering if I could take an incredibly late lunch….no, no, it wouldn’t work out.

When I arrived at work on Saturday, my manager advised me that we were overstaffed and I could leave at 3:30.

I reached for my bag of excuses. It was still full, let me tell ya, but none of them fit!

This is what I wanted, wasn’t it? I sat down with my Laudate app and started preparing my confession. I was feeling pretty good about it until, out of nowhere, the truth came calling.

There’s no scheduling conflict, there’s no time crunch, no nothing. I haven’t made it to Confession because I don’t want to go to Confession and I’m not going to! There is no way on this earth I am walking in there and telling another human being I did all of these things!!!!! I can’t bear to think of these sins, how can I speak of them? Can’t I just leave them in the past?

So, I have a few choices. I can go in there and confess a good portion of my sins, get it over with and just keep to the straight and narrow so I don’t have to humiliate myself in such a way ever again. Or, I can go in, make another “general” Confession and make a mockery of the Holy Sacrament, which would only further blemish my soul and put a greater distance between myself and the God I’ve pledged to chase after.

Or I can just never go to Confession again and reassure myself with the old, “Lots of Catholics don’t go to Confession.”

It sounds like such a no brainer, but that’s how shame works.

You can read the conclusion to my Confession saga here.

Categories: Chasing After God, What the Catholic Church Teaches | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Trust Falls with God

Last week, after 8 months of planning, my husband and I arrived in Hawaii for our first big vacation since our honeymoon. I was delighted at the prospect of sitting on the beach reading a book on my Kindle. Getting in the ocean? Absolutely not.

Waikiki Beach

You see, the ocean is on my list of the most horrifying things on the planet. I don’t have a particular order, but it’s quite possibly number 1. Of course, underground tunnels….are pretty horrifying. I’m sorry, I can’t breathe right now because I’m thinking about….tunnels. Okay, no more of that.

Let’s just talk about the ocean. The ocean is terrifying because:

  • It’s huge. The human brain can’t really fathom the hugeness of such an immense body of water. All land is just a series of islands floating on this enormous expanse of ocean.
  • It’s full of creatures. Creatures we don’t even know exist. Do you think you know what’s down there? So did all the scientists who said for over 100 years that giant squids don’t exist. NOBODY knows what’s down there.
  • I can’t actually swim. I can paddle around enough to survive a pool, but even lakes are tricky. If I can’t touch the bottom, I tend to freak out and hyperventilate, then go into full-blown panic attack mode. This makes it difficult to paddle about.
  • I’m blind. Technically, this isn’t the ocean’s fault, but in order to get in and swim, I have to take my glasses off. When that happens, I can’t see.

I made a few cracks before we left about Scott tying a rope around my waist as a means of dipping me into the ocean and pulling me back out when needed, but it actually seemed like a pretty sound idea. What if the waves pulled me out and I freaked out and couldn’t swim back?

To sum up, “horror,” “terror,” “trepidation….” such words can never describe the feeling I have when I think of the ocean.

But I can’t go to Hawaii and not swim in the ocean! I have to!

Well, O-Day (Ocean Day, a day to live on in infamy) didn’t come until Thursday. Believe it or not, there’s so much to do in Hawaii that we almost didn’t have time to go to the beach. At all. But Thursday morning, we packed a beach bag and walked on down to the beach.

Now, we had walked down to Waikiki Beach Monday afternoon when we arrived. I have never seen any one place so crowded in my life. It was insane. Thursday, morning, however, it was still pretty calm. We laid down our beach towels and prepared. I did some deep breathing exercises. Scott did a mental review of his CPR training. I marched down to the water.

Ordinary citizens stop to gape at the whitest person on earth attempting to enter the ocean.

I splashed around a little. The water tugged at me. I ran back to my towel.

Scott went down and did a little better than me.

A little better. Not much.

Scott actually suggested we leave once he came back, but I didn’t want to. I dug my heels into the sand (literally) and demanded we stay a while longer. For all my mental envisioning, I failed to bring my Kindle with me, but I wanted to stay. I felt like there was something more I needed to do.

I thought about everything that had happened on that beach. All the celebrities that had stayed just a few hundred yards away at the Pink Palace. The soldiers that came here on their time off while they were stationed at Pearl Harbor. Millions of people had sat on this beach, watching history come and go and a hundred years from now, people will still come to this beach. Rich, poor, homeless, aristocrats, and every level in between.

There it was. My determination was back. I marched down to the water again. This is my leap of faith, I told myself. I’m going to put myself into the hands of my maker! I piddled around with the water lapping around my waist. I decided to paddle out and….a swell slammed me into the sand below. Saltwater burned down my nose and throat. At that moment, I wanted to go back to my warm towel so bad. But I was on a mission. So, I paddled out again. When I saw a swell coming, I backed up to dodge it. Once again, I was slammed into the sand, and now lava rocks.

I was stalled there for a bit. Every time I advanced, the swells knocked me back. I wanted to give up, but I knew I was almost where I needed to be. A thought occurred to me. What is it people always say? Go with the flow? Ride the wave? Metaphorically, of course, but it must be true literally as well.

When the next swell came, I didn’t back up or try to dodge it. I paddled into it. “Jesus, I trust in You!” I said aloud as I threw myself up into the wave, trying not to think of what would happen if it carried me off. And then…

Safe and sound.

I realized that all those things we say about Jesus keeping us safe on a restless sea…it works literally, too! I said prayers as the swells lifted me up and set me down, and it was the most beautiful prayer time I’ve ever had. Floating in the midst of the enormous ocean, I felt like a tiny speck, and yet I felt safe and sound in God’s hand. I went pretty far out, too, about 100 yards or so. Scott got anxious for a while there.

Waiting for the waves to come and surrendering to them, it was like doing trust falls with God. It was my time alone with Him. Granted, I don’t have to go to the ocean and throw myself in to spend time with God. But it was a little time the two of us had together where I could know that no matter how big the ocean is, or how  restless, I was taken care of. The woman who was terrified of the ocean? Once I got in and remembered who is in charge of the waves, I was just fine.

Categories: Chasing After God, Everything Else | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Can’t Do This Alone

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of reducing my cigarette intake. Within about a week and a half, I reduced from up to 30 cigarettes a day, down to 10 a day. I got to that point by reducing down to 20 a day, doing that for a few days, then going down to 15 a day, and doing that for a few days until I got to 10. But something has happened at 10. I seem to be stuck.

Throughout this journey to quit, I’ve come to the realization that smoking isn’t just a crutch, it’s what I turn to when I’m stressed, bored, or tired to give me a little pick-me-up. I say I don’t have time to pray the rosary every day, but how much time do I spend smoking? And in those times of anxiety, shouldn’t I be turning to God in prayer?

I keep thinking to myself that I need to just cast off cigarettes cold turkey and throw myself wholly into the grace of God. I’ve been pretty good at talking myself out of it and telling myself that continuing to pare down gradually is better for me. It’s seamless. There’s no suffering. But every time I lit a cigarette, a thought sparked in my head: You trust your cigarettes more than you trust God.

Talk about the mother of all disturbing thoughts. However, I have a pretty strong sense of denial. I’ve been doing so well at reducing, there’s no reason to do anything crazy. Let’s be sensible, right?

I’ve been stuck at 10 a day for almost a week. To be honest, I actually had 11 yesterday, with the excuse of “an extraordinarily stressful situation.” Then, this morning, I had 2 instead of just 1. I shrugged off the rising worry that I’m moving in the wrong direction. On the way to work, I realized something. No, I didn’t have an epiphany or sudden divine revelation. I realized I didn’t grab my smokes!

There was a moment there where I nearly turned right back around to go and get them. I would never turn back to go get my rosary or my prayer book, but I couldn’t imagine getting through the day without my cigarettes. No matter what lies I told myself, I knew I needed to go on to work without them. It was no accident that I’d left them behind, this was God sending me a clear message.

I didn’t turn around. I turned up the rosary meditation CD I had playing in the car and just kept going. My mind kept working on all the reasons why I absolutely had to smoke, constantly coming back to the “no one would expect me to just go without completely!” Then, I remembered how small my cross was compared to those who are suffering from addiction to meth, heroin, cocaine, crack, and whatever other demons rear their ugly heads. How much easier it is for me. I decided to offer up this tiny suffering, asking that those suffering from more difficult addictions would be given strength.

As I drove on, stripped of my excuses, the rosary meditation song filled the car with the perfect words at the perfect time, “I can’t do this alone, but I can do it with You…”

Categories: Chasing After God, Everything Else | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Screwing Myself into the Ground

A few weeks ago, I had a mild temper tantrum down at The CellPhone Store where I work. We’ve been working short-handed, and that day, we had someone from another store coming to help out, but I didn’t know who it would be. I was talking about it with a co-worker, and somehow came to the conclusion that it was going to be someone in particular that I did not like. As our conversation went on, I did what I always end up doing. Without any foreknowledge of what was going to happen, I decided to skip the formalities of finding out and go ahead and get angry about it. My day was going to be ruined, after all, working with this intolerable person all day. Why do we even have someone so incompetent on the payroll? Why must I, of all people, be forced to deal with this?

Suddenly I stopped myself. I had no idea who I would be working with, but here I was, getting angrier by the moment. My co-worker said she tends to wallow in undue anger also, and that her son refers to it as “screwing yourself into the ground.” I’d never heard that expression before, but I found it horribly appropriate. When I sit and allow myself to get angrier and angrier, I have indeed screwed myself into the ground until I’m stuck and can’t be moved.

Anger seems to be a hump I just can’t get over in my spiritual walk, and it stands between me and God.

Remove anger from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh. For youth and pleasure are vain. Ecclesiastes 11:10 

What is anger, after all? A friend of mine went to a training class at work where they discussed anger. The class was asked to describe anger as if they were describing it to an alien who came from a planet without emotions. The definition they came up with: I didn’t get my way. That’s what anger is. I didn’t get my way and I’m going to throw a hissy fit over it. I would argue that when I’m angry, there’s always a logical, rational reason for it. I am never angry without cause and if I get upset it’s because I am passionately committed to seeing justice prevail.

My husband would say I’m having a hissy fit because I didn’t get my way.

And there is no anger above the anger of a woman. It will be more agreeable to abide with a lion and a dragon, than to dwell with a wicked woman. Ecclesiasticus* 25:23

Anger in and of itself is a wretched evil, but it gets worse. The longer I stew over some wrong, and the more I screw myself into the ground, I am planting seeds that grow into grudges and resentment. These are spiritual weeds that choke out love and mercy and every good fruit of the spirit.

Anger hath no mercy, nor fury when it breaketh forth: and who can bear the violence of one provoked? Proverbs 27:4

Something I’ve recognized as I try to put away anger and let go of grudges is that I don’t want to. There are reasons why I’ve held a grudge. My anger has always been provoked by the unacceptable behavior of others. I have a right to feel the way I do!

But it separates me from God. It separates me from my brothers and sisters. It stops joy and patience and love and mercy from blooming in my heart. I’ve been praying to let all these little things go that have hurt me, and I’ve been praying to want to let them go, but it’s hard. I never think to pray for grace when my blood starts boiling; I’m so consumed by my emotions, I think of nothing else. There have been times I felt that my soul would never be free from these grudges, because I simply do not know how to forgive.

Remember the footsteps in the sand poem? This is the part where God has started to carry me. Over the last month or so, I’ve felt a strong tug on my heart to let go of old grudges, let old wounds heal, and stop collecting grievances. Through much trembling and crying, I’ve handed over old baggage. God, I said, I don’t want this anymore, please take it from me. Amazingly enough, the old wounds started healing over. However, I ran into a bit more trouble with the newer wounds. Especially the ones that still get poked at regularly. The person who looks down his nose at me, the co-worker who blames me for his mistakes, and all those little wrongs throughout the day.

I started to slip a little in my mission to learn forgiveness, so I looked for a prayer to help me get back on track. I posted Daily Prayer: To Forgive Others on Wednesday night, along with Thursday’s Mass Readings, but I didn’t really sit down and read the Mass Readings until Thursday. When I heard Jesus tell the story of the servant whose debt was forgiven, but didn’t forgive his brother’s debt, I was floored. Clearly, forgiving others is of the utmost importance. But how? I work in service, how can I avoid collecting little grievances against customers? Have you dealt with upset customers lately? They’re unpleasant and rarely ever right! And my co-workers! And the family! I can’t get away from it!

I know it sounds cliche, but I started thinking about how attitude is a choice. The way we react to outside stresses is a choice.

As I went about my day today, I kept reminding myself I was choosing joy over anger and frustration. When a customer started threatening me, I took a deep breath and said sternly to myself, “I’m not going to get upset about that.” When a co-worker said something I found to be appalling, I said, “I’m not going to pass judgement on that.” All day, sometimes out loud, I declared that I would not allow these seeds into my heart. “I’m not going to worry about that….I’m not going to let that bother me….I’m not going to spread that gossip..” I was amazed at how easily the temptation to screw myself into the ground passed. It was only one day, granted, but I can only do one day at a time, and today was blessed with grace.

But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness,…mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

I’m not going to tell you I’ve got it licked. I’ve done nothing but make a choice, and I have faith that God will give me whatever graces I need to draw nearer to Him. I’ve got a long way to go, there’s no denying it. This is just going to be one of those times when there’s only one set of footprints.

*  One of the seven Deutero-Canonical books, missing from most non-Catholic Bibles

Categories: Chasing After God, Everything Else, Negative Nancy | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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