Posts Tagged With: reconciliation

A Return to the Mass and Confession

 

wreathAdvent is a wonderful time to renew our commitment to God. It’s a perfect time to get back into the sacraments, establish a new tradition, or a new routine! For Catholics or Non-Catholics who currently do not attend church, this is a wonderful time to start attending Mass on a weekly basis. There are certainly a lot of reasons you may have fallen out of the habit, but there are many more, much better reasons to return to the Sacraments! Recently, I went to Confession for basically the first time and I am just ever so happy that I did. As for Mass, well, where would I be without my weekly Eucharist? If you haven’t been to Confession or Mass recently, now is the time to return.

Still not convinced? Well, the wonderful, far more eloquent folks down at National Catholic Register have assembled a wonderful little one page sheet on the how’s and why’s of returning to Mass and Confession, which you can see and print and share here: http://www.ncregister.com/images/documents/Advent_Guides.pdf

Return to the Sacraments! Come experience the Mass for the first time. You’ll never be sorry you did! This is the Year of Faith; there’s never been a better time!

 

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Categories: Chasing After God, Year of Faith | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa! (Part 2)

Part 1 can be found here.

Denial is a powerful thing. When you think about it, it’s the beginning of so many evils. No one ever sets out to be wicked, to do evil things in the sight of God. When we lie, when we spread malicious gossip, when we pass judgement on those around us, we deny the dignity of our fellow children of God. When we drag the sins of others out into the light of day, we also reveal the leprous fruit of our own hearts. And yet we still consider ourselves spotless, or at worst “basically a good person” but then go about pocketing a handful of pens at work, telling a “white lie,” passing on malicious gossip, judging the ones we love the most, or a thousand other stains we spill on our souls without thinking twice. We get by because we tell ourselves a different story, and we believe it.

Some things do happen by merely by chance, without being predestined. Randomly selecting an encyclical and getting Misericordia Dei: The Mercy of God was not one of those things. It was, without a doubt, an example of God throwing something in my path. For the past 6 years, I never once denied my need to go to Confession. I denied my ability to go and denied what exactly I needed to confess. I didn’t want to go digging around in my past. I thought if I just ignored those sins and avoided committing them again, it was just as good as confessing.

It wasn’t.

Confess all the sins!

After realizing that I would have to go in and confess everything, including everything I had left out in my previous Confession, and everything I had done since, I seriously started to reconsider. I paused in my Confession preparation and started browsing Catholic websites for a loophole, some verbiage I could use to refer to the sin without revealing what it was. What I found was what should have been obvious: I was just going to have to do it.

Through my browsing, I also found encouragement. Unfortunately, in my anxiety, I did not keep track of the sites I visited, but I wish I could recommend them. Some of the advice I received was that priests have heard everything, and they know we’ve sinned. They know the nature of our humanity, the darkness that we live in, and give in to. When we come to Confession, full of sorrow, and admitting the fullness of our sins, they don’t think ill of us–they think we’ve been brave to confess! With this reassurance, I went back to preparing my list, and praying that once I was done, I would be given the grace to look Father Ed in the eye afterwards.

Despite the large size of our parish, I’m sure Father Ed recognizes me from Mass and knows that I haven’t been to Confession. This is good news, because it means that he’ll understand me bringing a printed guide. No matter what, I wasn’t going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. And I wasn’t going to forget any “major” sins and have to go through this again.

The Rite of Reconciliation

I left work a little earlier than originally expected and arrived at the church just before 3:30. It was very dark–I don’t think any of the overhead lights were on; the only light was coming from the sacristy and the choir loft. There was music coming from the choir loft, and I thought for a moment that perhaps Clint, our organist, was playing. I realized quickly that it was a radio playing classical music. I sure would have liked to hear Clint playing right then, though–it would have been deliciously soothing!

There was a young man sitting in the very back pew. The Confessional is at the back of the church, on the right side, and he was essentially sitting right by the door. I took the pew in front of him and knelt down. I have no idea what I prayed. When I had finished, another man walked in and sat on the left side of the church. I didn’t think anyone was in the Confessional yet, but it was very dark, so I wasn’t sure. After I was done praying, I started going over my list again, and of course, had to add a few things to it.

A third man walked in and sat a few pews in front of me, for a total of 4 people waiting for Confession. Not a very long line, and there was only one person in front of me. It was a few minutes after 3:30 when a short, Indian man walked out from the sacristy, wearing a cassock. I suddenly remembered: Father Ed went to Rome! This must be the Priest who’s taking his place for the week!

I immediately said a prayer of thanksgiving. Knowing I would likely never see this man again made it so much easier. The Priest went into the Confessional, and the first young man followed. I pulled my rosary out of my pocket and kissed the crucifix. I was already starting to get weepy. Almost time.

When my time came, I sat down in the Confessional, face to face, and immediately started to cry. You see, I didn’t want to confess some of these sins because it was embarrassing  but there were others, so many others that I kept in my heart and refused to confess. I lived in denial for so long, always telling myself that what I did couldn’t be helped based. I listened to what society says is right and wrong because I couldn’t bear to admit my sins. Other sins I made other excuses for, but it was all denial.

I’ve spent my whole life building a wall of sin to shut God out and at the same time, desperately trying to see Him through the cracks. But every moment of misery, every bit of pain and suffering I endured, it wasn’t a trial God put me through, a test I had to pass, a challenge to try my faith, it was all my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault!

I could barely see my list, my eyes were so full of tears. Father acknowledged each sin with a brief “uh-huh” and before I knew it, I was at the end. As he began to speak to me of God’s constant forgiveness, I bowed my head in shame. But when I received Absolution, it was all gone, and it was over.

I had to own up to what I did. I could make any excuse I want, but I always had a choice. I suffered, and others suffered because of what I’ve done. Once I received Absolution, it was official. Those horrible, unmentionable things I did in my past are gone. I’ve brought my sins out into the light where they no longer have any claim on me. I’m free.

At Mass on Sunday, I approached the alter with renewed confidence. I received the Eucharist with renewed blessings. Like a child afraid of the doctor, I denied my sickness until the infection was allowed to spread unabated. No more, no more. Now I’ve had the infection cut out, with pain and tears. I’m stronger now, and coming back to good health.

Categories: Chasing After God, What the Catholic Church Teaches | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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

Why Bother With Confession?

Why is it important to make a good Confession, formally, to a Priest? Why should we have to tell anyone how we’ve sinned? Well, there’s accountability, for one thing:

When you make your confession to a priest, you acknowledge that you have sinned not only against God, but against every single other Christian because by your sin, you have lessened the universal witness of every single Christian. You have given the non-believer the excuse that “All Christians are hypocrites.” When you go to Confession you acknowledge that you have caused every Christian to suffer by your sins.  —Dr. Taylor Marshall, Canterbury Tales

The book of James speaks of Confession in general terms:

“Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much.”  –James 5:16

As for Absolution, when Jesus ordained His apostles, He instructed them to forgive sins on His behalf:

” He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” –John 20:21-23

“As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.” Right there. Jesus sends the Apostles out as His representatives on earth. Not to skip to another topic entirely, but it also comes down to who a Priest is, an ambassador. When I confess my sins to the Priest, he is standing in on behalf of Jesus Christ, and when he gives me Absolution, he is doing so on behalf of Jesus Christ.

The early church confessed openly to each other in the congregation, according to the Didache. This was the first means of confession.

In the congregation thou shalt confess thy transgressions, and thou shalt not betake thyself to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. –Didache 4:14

They did this every week, on the Lord’s day.

“On the Lord’s Day of the Lord come together, break bread and hold Eucharist, after confessing your transgressions that your offering may be pure;” –Didache 14:1

Over time, it evolved into the practice we know today, where Confession is heard only by a Priest, which, really makes far more sense than telling the whole of the congregation. Especially since Jesus gave authority to forgive sins to His Apostles, not all mankind, so only the Apostles could give Absolution.

There are, of course, far deeper and more personal reasons to make a good Confession. More on that very soon.

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…as we forgive those who trespass against us.

My dear husband, Scott, has been working the late shift recently, and the upshot to that is that he can stay up all hours of the night without judgement. A few days ago, he came crawling into bed at 7am, going on and on about a documentary series he watched about Auschwitz. The next day, it was Forgiving Dr. Mengele. Last night, the two of us sat down to watch it together and I must say, I was floored.

Forgiving Dr. Mengele is the story of Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor, who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of 10. Children at the camp generally were sent directly to the gas chamber as they could not work. In fact, most of the prisoners at Auschwitz were killed immediately upon arrival. Eva and her sister were spared, however, because they were twins and ideal candidates for medical experiments.

Dr. Mengele preferred twins because they were virtually identical biologically which created a “control” group for experiments. One twin was injected with a disease or germ and if they died, the other twin was immediately killed via a shot of chloroform to the heart and a comparative autopsy was done. Hans Münch, another doctor who worked side by side with Mengele, says in the documentary that these experiments seemed to be carried out with no real goal or purpose.

The only word I can think of to describe this is horror. The chief defense of the Nazis on trial was that they were merely following orders. However, this man, this “Doctor,” was not given orders so much as he was given carte blanche. He could do whatever he wanted. He chose to use these children as his own personal playground of terror.

Eva’s twin, Miriam, suffered miserably from the experiments. Her kidneys never developed past the age of 10. Eventually, Eva gave Miriam one of her kidneys, but it was not enough. Miriam’s doctors said they may be able to do more if they knew what she had been injected with. This led Eva on a search for Dr. Mengele’s files, a search she continued after Miriam’s death. In 1993, Eva met with Hans Münch, which changed the course of her life in ways she could never imagine.

Hans Münch was a member of the Nazi party and an SS physician, but was clearly not a true believer in the same respect as Dr. Mengele. He participated in the experiments, but he often did so as a means of keeping prisoners from being killed. As long as they were considered useful for experiments, they wouldn’t be sent to the gas chambers. At his meeting with Eva, he was candid with her about the effects his time in Auschwitz had on his life, and about the nightmares he still had. Like the victims, he was haunted and tortured by the evils he participated in. Eva was blown away. Nazis were unrepentant monsters, weren’t they? But this was just a man who got caught up in mass hysteria and was a part of something he would regret for the rest of his life. Something he could never take back or make reparation for.

Eva decided to do something extreme.

She forgave him.

I just cannot wrap my head around that sentence. A Jew, who was tortured and experimented on, forgave one of the Nazis who participated in the experiments. They were both present at the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and they walked arm in arm around the camp together. They were both healed by her forgiveness. Eva decided that even that extreme act of humanity wasn’t enough. She decided to forgive all of them. 

Eva Mozes Kor is not the most popular person amongst her fellow holocaust survivors. They feel that forgiving means forgetting. They also discussed that a prerequisite of forgiveness is for the offender to express remorse and reparation. In this situation, it’s not appropriate to forget what happened. Truly, we must never forget the suffering, the death, the inhuman torture and disregard for humanity. But Eva has forgiven. She recognizes that there is nothing any former Nazi can do to make reparation for what happened there. She also feels that by forgiving the people who killed her family, she allows her own soul to be healed, to be set free.

Forgiveness is not my strong suit. It’s not my suit at all. I bear many grudges and I bear them close to my heart. Lately, I’ve felt God tugging on my heart, telling me it’s time to let these things go. After all, what can those who throughout my life do to make reparation? If they feel no remorse, that leaves only myself to bear the burden, to suffer under the hardness of hatred. It is only my heart that is made rotten by my grudge. Jesus himself is clear on the topic:

“And when you shall stand to pray, forgive, if you have aught against any man; that your Father also, who is in heaven, may forgive you your sins. But if you will not forgive, neither will your Father that is in heaven, forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25-26

Notice how He doesn’t say anything about “once reparations are made” or “as long as you’re sure they’re really and truly sorry.” No, there are no prerequisites made. At His death, Jesus practices what he preached:

“And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But they, dividing his garments, cast lots.” Luke 23:34

Jesus teaches forgiveness again and again:

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

“So that on the contrary, you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” 2 Corinthians 2:7

There is healing in forgiveness. There is peace in forgiveness.

But it’s hard. It’s hard when someone has caused you indescribable pain and shows no sign of remorse. When someone hurt you and doesn’t seem to think it’s even important. I am beginning to realize that forgiveness is essential. Bearing a grudge puts a wall between me and God. It serves no purpose but to fester in my soul until I distrust not only the person who wronged me, but everyone else who might.

It’s time to put the past away. Time to walk away from events that have scarred me. It’s time to move on.

Eva forgave the Nazis. Jesus forgave the soldiers that beat and hung Him up to die, even as they cast lots for his clothes. With God’s grace, certainly I can forgive anyone.

All verses courtesy Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

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