Posted tagged ‘Confession’

Friends Help Friends Get to Confession

November 26, 2012

I’m one of those who leaves skid marks
all the way up to the confessional door…
every time.

It’s just a tough sacrament.

But we need it today like never before.

We’re in the midst of spiritual warfare.
This is our most potent weapon.

When you have made a good confession,
you have chained up the devil.
-St. John Marie Vianney, Cure of Ars

Confession fulfills the first words of Jesus’ public ministry:

Repent and believe in the Gospel!
-Mark 1:15

And makes the angels rejoice.

I tell you, there will be more joy in Heaven
over one repentant sinner
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need to repent
-Luke 15:7

I wondered–
where does God expect to find 99 righteous people
who have no need to repent
when He says, “There is none righteous” -Romans 3:10.
Then it dawned on me that the people who are already in Heaven
are righteous & can’t sin anymore!
“Nothing unclean shall enter it” -Revelation 21:2

Growing up, it never occurred to me to go to Confession.
I didn’t know anyone who did.
Oh, I made my First Confession–about 2 years after First Communion
(so I never associated the two),
and the general message was that it’s practically impossible to sin.
We’re good people!
There were penance services the two years I was in a Catholic grade school, but all I remember about those was darkness, guilt and fear.
Somehow I missed the forgiveness part.

It was only in college that I went again–
when they had Advent & Lent penance services.
I was at the church every time they had an event,
so I went, shaking all the way.

I still didn’t get the forgiveness part…
but it finally occurred to me (thank you, guardian angel!)
to confess something that had a stranglehold on me.
That broke the neck of the compulsion.
Oh, it still managed to flail a few times.
Further Confessions put another bullet in its head.
I daren’t toy with it–it is still a weak spot–
but I’m not in bondage to it anymore.

There’s power in Confession.

From then on, I tended to go twice a year–
at the Advent & Lent penance services
(although there were still years when I didn’t go at all).
And every time it was like pulling teeth.

I didn’t know what to say…
(or if I did–well, if you’ve gone, you know!)

In every other sacrament, the words are given to you.
In Confession, you have to come up with your own.

Take with you words and return to the Lord
-Hosea 14:3

I read through every examination of conscience I could get my hands on.
I read books on Confession.
I asked priests for help.

One finally said, “try coming more often.”
I gaped like a goldfish.
If I don’t know what to say twice a year
how on earth am I going to know what to say more often!

But it was something I hadn’t tried yet…(!)

And when I learned about indulgences
& that the Confession requirement for a plenary (souls out of purgatory!)
is covered if you go to Confession every two weeks,
I set that as a goal.
If I can’t get up the nerve for my own sake,
at least I can help somebody else!
(‘course, going to Confession helps everybody who has to deal with you! ;))

I don’t always make it.
Some weeks there are too many other people waiting to go
(wouldn’t want to compete, or anything!)
but usually it’s just a lack of words.
And I still leave skid marks every time.
Nor do I feel the euphoria most people report afterward.

I just go anyway.

This is definitely a work in progress,
and I expect it will be for the rest of my life.

But my life is changing, one wrestled-through Confession at a time.
Every time I go, I’m exposing my soul to the very graces I need
to overcome the sins I just confessed.
Asking every two weeks,
“so, where did I go wrong this time?”
motivates me to steer clear of “slippery slopes”
that put me at risk.
And just knowing Confession is coming up
gives me another weapon against temptation–
“oh no you don’t! I don’t want to have to confess that again!”

It’s a good thing.
It’s something I want for my friends, as hard as it is.
Let’s help each other.

Up a Tree

October 31, 2010

Zaccheus climbed a tree.

As one who spends her life in long skirts, I can tell you that’s no mean feat in a long, flowing garment such as men commonly wore in those days. Something unusual was going on here.

First of all, climbing trees isn’t all that common in Scripture. I was only able to find one other reference, in the Song of Songs (7:7-8), and that was metaphorical (more on that at the end). This was quite literal.

Zaccheus was up a tree…and not just any tree. He climbed a sycamore tree. According to Strong’s Concordance, in Hebrew, the word for “sycamore” (yacar) is the word for “to chastise.”  Zaccheus climbed the tree of chastisement.  That fits hand-in-glove with the Fathers of the Church who, whenever they see “tree” in Scripture immediately think “cross.” The cross was the tree of chastisement.

“…he is accursed by God that hangs on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23).

So…Zaccheus was up a tree. He’d been up a tree spiritually for quite some time. In calling him the “chief tax collector”, Luke might as well have called him the “chief traitor” (milking his own people to pay off the occupying Romans), the “chief sinner” (making his wealth by cheating his own countrymen), in short, the “chief scumbag.”

Now he’s up a tree physically as well…and God’s about to call him down.

“though they climb up to Heaven,
from there I will bring them down”
-Amos 9:2

This is his day of reckoning…and he’s ready for it,
just as God wants him to be.

The other readings from today’s Mass point to this same idea. In Wisdom 11:22-12:1 (and surrounding verses) we read that God gave the cannibalistic, child-sacrificing Canaanites (see Wisdom 5:3-6, Deuteronomy 18:9-12) plenty of time for repentance.

“For You love all things that are
and loathe nothing that You have made;
for what You hated, You would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless You willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by You?

Therefore You rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in You, O Lord!”
-Wisdom 11:24-12:2

God wants us to be prepared for our day of reckoning. He wants that day to go well for us, to be a day of joy and salvation, not a day of penalties and regrets. He goes to great lengths to get our attention, to warn us and to give us time to make things right before it’s too late.

The wicked Canaanites had 40 years of reports about the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7-12), the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), the miraculous victories on the journey (Exodus 17:8-15, Numbers 21:1-3, etc.); 40 years to ponder the error of their ways and to repent before the Israelites arrived.

Even when Israelites arrived, there were the incredible tales of their defeat of Sihon, king of the Amorites and Og, the king of Bashan…

“Og, king of Bashan, was the last remaining survivor of the Rephaim [giants]. He had a bed of iron, nine regular cubits long and four wide [13.5′ x 6′]” -Deuteronomy 3:11

…the miraculous crossing of the Jordan at flood stage (Joshua 3-4), and the flattening of the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6). Rahab (who did repent, with her family) reports on just how effective these reports were:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land,
that a dread of you has come upon us,
and that all the inhabitants of the land
are overcome with fear of you.
For we have heard how the Lord
dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you
when you came out of Egypt,
and how you dealt with Sihon and Og,
the two kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan,
whom you doomed to destruction.
At these reports, we are disheartened;
everyone is discouraged because of you,
since the Lord, your God,
is God in Heaven above and on earth below”
(Joshua 2:9-11, emphasis mine).

They knew what they had coming!
The difference was in how they responded to that knowledge.

The thing is, nobody knows just when his or her day of reckoning is coming. We all start out “up a tree” as far as sin is concerned, and God is always calling us down. St. Paul tells us not to be upset by rumors and reports of “the day of the Lord,” but rather to live so that the Name of our Lord Jesus is glorified in us, and we in Him. Then we’ll always be ready for our day of reckoning (see II Thessalonians 1:11-2:2).
The timing won’t matter.

When the day of reckoning came for the Canaanites, one family (Rahab’s) was ready. They’d been “up a tree” in sin, but when God called, they responded–and were saved. They united themselves to God’s chosen people (a foreshadowing of the Church), and God Himself took them under His wing. Rahab, in fact, became an ancestress of the Messiah!
(see Matthew 1:1-5)

Getting back to Zaccheus, this Messiah, Who would mount His own tree (the cross), is standing under his tree, calling him by name and inviting Himself to Zaccheus’ house as a guest.

Here the story turns Eucharistic.

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”

Although these aren’t his words, if anyone knew his own unworthiness,
it was Zaccheus!

The quote gives the words we will use in the new translation of the Mass (as of Advent of 2011), words taken almost directly from Matthew 8:8, in which the Roman centurion expresses his faith in Jesus’ ability to cure from a distance. In the Mass, these words express our awareness of our unworthiness to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, and our confidence that He Himself can make us worthy.

Despite our unworthiness, Jesus comes “under our roof”, into our very bodies, just as He proposed to go to Zaccheus house as a guest. Like us, Zaccheus was unworthy…and like us, he didn’t have to stay that way. He “went to Confession” (the equivalent) in front of everybody and promised to make amends (and I imagine that such a public declaration carried with it plenty of accountability!).

That day, Zacheus’ day of reckoning, salvation came to his house.
Jesus, Who had come to seek out and to save what was lost, found him.

When Zaccheus climbed the tree of chastisement, the tree of the cross, to see Jesus, God made of it a tree of life (see Genesis 3:22, Revelation 22:14–another name for the Eucharist), calling him down to a whole new life (the Fathers of the Church suggest that he gave everything away)
–to resurrection.

Here we come back the the Songs of Songs, with the lover “climbing the tree”, “taking hold of its branches” in rapturous union with the beloved (Song of Songs 7:7-8). God is our Lover. We are His beloved. By turning the tree of chastisement (the cross) into the tree of life (the Eucharist) through reconciliation, He made this union with Him possible.

This is God’s way with us. He knows we’re “up a tree.” He loves us too much to leave us there. He gets our attention, calls us by name, warns us and gives us plenty of time to get the message. When we come to Him in repentance (Confession) and turn our lives around, He comes to “stay at our house,” to enter our very being, in holy Communion…a dim foreshadowing of the incomprehensible, eternal union of Heaven. If we refuse Him, then the day of reckoning will catch us off guard, still “up a tree,” self-condemned.

God’s already made clear which outcome He desires.
He is indeed,

“gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness…
good to all and compassionate toward all His works”
-Psalm 145:8-9,

…but He will not force our free will.

Our day of reckoning is coming.
We can be ready for it at any time, if we’ll only choose to be.

It’s up to us.

Will we stay “up a tree,” self-condemned forever?

Or will we change our lives and welcome Jesus into our house
as our soul’s most welcome Guest?


May 13, 2010

One of my weaknesses was getting the better of me and I was embarrassed as I talked with God about it. I could feel the usual downward spiral starting to turn: weakness>feeling bad about being weak>feeling bad about feeling bad..and down we go. I brought myself up short. Not going there this time!

Just then a little memory came to mind. Whenever we visit my husband’s parents (on their farm), I beg for their garbage. I want ashes from their woodstove and manure from the barn to fertilize my garden. I pick edible weeds from their yard (my husband’s allergic to most salad greens, but he can have the weeds!). I pick stinging nettle (natural antihistamine–it loses its sting when you cook it or put it through the blender). I ask for old soda bottle to make watering reservoirs in the garden (etc.). They laugh at me (good-naturedly, of course! :). But these things are all useful to me…and not to them. It’s a win-win situation.

Then I heard the still small Voice: “I want your garbage.
I can use it. You can’t. Give it to Me.”…and I laughed at Him!

Then I wept…because He is SO GOOD!…so sweet to turn my fears, my disgrace, my mourning, my failure…into laughter! (I was reminded that the name “Isaac” means laughter–the son of the promise, but also a son born out of repeated failures). He doesn’t just want tidy packages, either. Just as I go out shoveling manure & picking weeds, He wants to get right down in the yucky stuff with me to shovel the manure of my soul and and pick and uproot the nettles for fertilizer and medicine.

“You have a use for everything, don’t You, Lord”

“Of course I do”

“For You love all things that are
and loathe nothing that You have made;
for what You hated, You would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless You willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by You?
But You spare all things, because they are Yours,
O Lord and lover of souls,
for Your imperishable spirit is in all things!” -Wisdom 11:24-12:1

Our job is not so much getting rid of things or destroying them as releasing them so You can order them to the best good. All is gift…and You only give good gifts (James 1:17). The darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).

“Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life”
(Psalm 23:6)…no matter how awful things seem to me…(Romans 8:28)

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