Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I Love About Catholicism: The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Part II)

It has occurred to me that I may visit some of these topics again because of a new realization or insight that hadn't been evident to me before. The Sacraments are becoming very special to me and I'm amazed by the inherent beauty and grace of each one. I wish I could say they were becoming special to me "again," but that wouldn't be entirely true.

As a young girl being raised Catholic, it felt proper. Everything I was taught was received by me as what any good Catholic would do. I didn't relish each morsel of it the way I am now because back then, it was just what was expected. Unfortunately, we didn't have too many classes that focused on our Catholic identity and why we believed what we did. We had Mass and in school, religion classes. I barely remember studying the Catechism and sadly, don't remember much about the saints.

I knew "going to confession" was important but again, I didn't fully appreciate it for what it gave me; which was an opportunity to admit to God my sin and receive His forgiveness.

This past Monday night, a nearby parish had a special Sacrament of Reconciliation service. Six extra priests were brought in to join the parish's two priests in order to hear everyone's confession. I was touched by the entire night. As I parked my car at 6:57 PM and hurried through the frigid cold, I was slightly surprised to see so many also making their way inside the church. I pondered the choice we all had made to be there. I looked around and saw younger people as well as the older ones and thought, they could be doing anything else tonight. A myriad of tasks could have been attended to during this time, plenty to give an excuse for not being here. But here they are, coming out after supper, in the dark and cold, making the effort to connect with God and His incredible grace.

The worship director and a small worship team directed the parishioners in singing a response to the Scripture readings. We heard from the Gospel of St. John. We knelt and prayed in preparation for the sacrament. It was all done with the greatest of reverence and thought. There were around 70 people in attendance. After the final prayer, we were directed to the various stations around the building where the priests would be assigned. I chose one and waited in line.

I had printed out the Act of Contrition. I'm embarrassed to admit I used to know this by heart when I was a little girl. But I told the priest how I had recently returned and he was pleased by my effort. I tried to stay on topic by saying what my sins were, not explaining away anything, and he guided me to the point when I was to pray the Act of Contrition. I felt so enormously blessed afterward.

There are some who question this Sacrament. Our brothers and sisters in Christ who are separated from the Catholic church wonder why we need to make such a formal big deal out of it. In their eyes, we should be able to confess our sins to one another. I mentioned in this entry (my first on the subject of the Sacrament of Reconciliation) that in all of my years of involvement with non-Catholic churches, I rarely saw this practice followed. And it is to be a normal practice for us as believers in Christ.

We all fail in so many ways. To me, one of the hardest things to do is admit out loud to another human being our shortcomings. It is so much easier to simply pray to God alone and say, "You know I messed up again, Lord. Please forgive me. I am deeply sorry." But where is the witness to that? There is none.

There is something (and I'm going to admit right here that I love it) that tears at our flesh when we confess aloud to another person our sin. When I say "flesh," what I mean is our will, our own desires, our pride, our stubborn thought that we're really a pretty okay type of person. Now granted, there are some people who get mired in the thought that they are nothing more than a miserable worm crawling on the earth; but I don't believe God wants us to think that way about ourselves. Yes, we are sinners, but we are also the blessed recipients of His grace. In realizing how precious we are to Him - for our Heavenly Father to give up His only begotten Son in order to bring us in fellowship with Him - well, this is just the most amazing thing we will ever know! And when you really start to meditate on how much love that means, it would be hard to feel like a worm. Deep and profound awe is more like it.

To insist upon feeling like a worm would almost be like a loving spouse telling his beloved how much he adored her and she pushing him away saying, "No, I cannot receive this love because I am such a mess..." How would that make the loving spouse feel? He'd feel rejected and sad because it is a very sad thing when someone is unable or unwilling to receive the love you have for them.

Confession gives us the opportunity to experience that love all over again. It keeps us humble as we realize how fragile we are, how damaged we've been from sin, and how we desperately need the forgiveness of our Father so that we can go out into the Babylon world and try again. Living the holy life and becoming a saint doesn't happen overnight. Every saint that we revere had their own temptations and failings. The difference between them and the nominal Catholic is that they kept hammering away at it, going to Mass faithfully, receiving the sacraments, and understanding the need for grace.

At a certain level, I relished my discomfort as I stood in line. I enjoyed knowing I was being humbled because you see, I have a strong spirit, a pretty healthy-sized ego, and I need to admit more often when I am wrong. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives me this opportunity and I am more thankful each time I receive it that I have the opportunity to receive it.

The priest made me smile at the end when he told me "welcome home." He said that other churches may be fine and have good things, but they don't have the faith in fullness. If only my other brothers and sisters in Christ could experience this sacrament, they may understand a little more what that fullness entails.

As it is, I thanked God once again for His love for me and for all the priests who so faithfully listen to our prayers. God bless our priests!


Rachel said...

I love that analogy of how a husband would feel if his wife was unable to receive his love. That really brings home that God *wants* us to run to Him and not punish ourselves by waiting outside.

Kelly said...

As a convert I have come to embrace this sacrament and the grace it offers. In the same way God prodded me to the Catholic Church He prodded me to go to Reconciliation and it has become a cherished part of the practice of my faith. Nice blog. Blessings....

Adrienne said...

Our church had a Service scheduled Monday night and not one person showed up. NOT ONE!

As our parish slides more into the 1970's, signs of decline are obvious. Very sad!

Amber said...

*sigh* I love all your posts, but I especially love your "What I Love About Catholicism" posts.

I'm in the middle of converting, still attending RCIA, and Reconciliation is something I'm both looking forward to and dreading. On the one hand, I do believe it's necessary, and I want to be able to confess (and boy is there a lot to confess), but on the other hand, I have to sit there and tell our priest, who is a wonderful man, all the wrong, wrong things I can ever remember doing. And then, do I want to face him? Can I bring myself to look him in the eye and list all of this stuff? Or do I sit behind the screen and feel ridiculous because I can't face him, even though, at least for the first confession, he's certainly going to know its me.

Anyway, sorry for the long ramble. I just wanted to say that hearing about how you've come to appreciate this sacrament more makes me feel a little better about it.


Anonymous said...

I was Baptist until I was 33 & next April will be Catholic 10yrs. This is the most awkward sacrament for me because I was accustomed to praying privately over my sins. I went to our Advent penance service this week. I go to reconciliation but agonize over making a "good" confession. I ended up getting asked to be a reader also. I lector and no one had been assigned to read.