The Sacrament of Confession actually works!

ImageI must admit, I am not a regular confession goer. I honestly forget most of the time, or I make excuses. “I’m too busy” “I don’t really need to go” “I’ll go next week” are often my go to phrases. When I teach about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I talk about how beautiful God’s grace is, how sinful we are, and how much we need to receive forgiveness from our Lord in the sacrament of penance. I always talk about how confession frees us from the bondage of sin, and restores us to communion with God.

I say all these things, but I don’t know if they really sunk in.

I make sure I go to confession at least one every few months, and sometimes if I feel guilt about a particular sin I will feel like I need confession. However, I always tell people ‘if you don’t go to confession often you will start to feel far from God’. I preached this, but I did not heed my own advice. So Senior year Fall semester is going by quickly, jam-packed with school, thesis writing, social events, and job applications. I never felt I did anything bad enough to accumulate enough guilt to make me feel like I had to go to confession. As time went on, I was feeling swallowed up by my life. I was overwhelmed by all the things I needed to keep up with, homework, exams, papers, household, work, relationships, rent, car insurance, life…. My prayer life was not at it’s peak, and I very suddenly realized what the problem was. I hadn’t been to confession in over 6 months.

This is how the Devil works. The devil is sneaky, he may not always come right out and smack you in the face with temptation. Sometimes he is slow and subtle. Without even alerting us to what is happening, he turns us away from God and toward much less important things. This effected the rest of my life. Everything was great, yes, nothing awful was happening, but I was feeling a little lost and very overwhelmed. It was like I was a magnet and everything in life was attaching itself to me, making me feel heavy and weighted down. This was causing me to be tense, and stressed.

Then I went to confession. It was like a switch turned off the magnetic field and allowed me to turn back toward the face of God and receive his amazing grace. All the little sins, the ones I tend to shove under the rug and forget about or justify, had built up and swallowed me down. The grace that God constantly pours out on me, without end, was being stopped by my preoccupation with my self and my life. It was the first time in my life that I realized just how strong the Sacrament of Reconciliation is. I truly felt reconciled with God.

I hadn’t even realized I was being separated from him. I didn’t hate him, or feel angry at him, but I was slowly getting far and far away. It was like he was my best friend, and as each day went by I forgot to call him back. With every missed call my relationship with him was getting weaker, but in my head I could still remember him as my best friend so I didn’t think it was that important.

Confession is so important. Being united with the God of the universe matters. This experience really solidified my love for the sacrament, and gave me a very real taste of the efficacy of grace. The sacraments really work, God truly pours out his grace through them to us!

If you want to learn more about my take on confession read this:

Confused about Confession

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The Stalagmite of the Heart

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“Stalagmites are columns of limestone the form in some very old es when drops of limestone water fall from the ceiling. The drops are chiefly composed of water, which drains off, but a small percent of limestone in each drop is deposited and beings to form a mass with the preceding one. Over the course of centuries, a limestone column is formed.”

“My sins, from  the first to the last, had fallen into the bottom of my heart like so many drops of limestone water. The majority had been drained off, thanks to confession, Eucharist and prayer. But because the repentance had not been perfect, there remained a particle of ‘limestone’ each time – a bit of compromise, of resistance to God, of sin in short. This particle amassed with the preceding ones and, day by day, ended up creating a stalagmite. In an instant i understood then what the well-known heart of stone is that the Bible speaks about: It is the heart that we ourselves make, through small infractions of compromise and hardening of the heart.”

“How could i get free? I was immediately aware that I could not destroy the stalagmite by my will because it was precisely there – in my will. A new love was born in me for the blood of Christ then, because I understood that it is the only solvent that can remove the incrustation.”

Verses to Meditate On:

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Matthew 16:28

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9:14

This excerpt is from Sober Intoxication of the Spirit by Raniero Catalamessa, O.F.M. Cap.

Confused about Confession

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 The Problem 

    This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my family concerning sin. They asked me “If someone went to confession and immediately died, would they go straight to heaven?” I told them no, you would still have to go to purgatory. They didn’t like that answer and followed up with “but doesn’t confession and baptism take away all sin?” Yes, I answered, but then I was stumped. As often happens when I’m questioned about my faith, I know WHAT I believe, but I sometimes forget WHY. Or at least I forget how to eloquently state why. So hence this post.

Sin   

 I think the problem with understanding that question is rooted in the consequences of sin. Many people see life as a monopoly game, and if you go to confession you pull the ‘Go directly to Heaven. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200’ card. All the stops are pulled out for you and you skip purgatory do not collect the purification there and dance right through the golden gates. Unfortunately sin is a little more serious than monopoly.

    If we take a few steps back, past the Reading Railroad and even Mediterranean Avenue and we start at the first roll of the game, we might be able to understand more clearly the consequence of sin and the effects of confession. Adam and Eve go first and they royally mess up the game.  “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397).

  Before this Adam and Eve were full of original holiness, however now they have lost that grace. Along with them the whole human race has been marked by this first sin. The Human soul “is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405).

The Sacraments 

     That is why human beings need the Sacrament of Baptism for salvation. “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God.” This concept is also difficult to comprehend. If Baptism erases original sin, why do we need confession? Even though original sin is erased, “the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle” (CCC 405). Have you sinned after your baptism? Then you know why you must continue to go to confession.

  Sin has three effects on the human soul: guilt, stain, and punishment. All of these are washed away through Baptism and each time you go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God, in all his mercy forgives you for any sin you may commit. No sin is bigger than the love of God. However, through the Sacrament of Confession only the eternal punishment is taken away, not the temporal punishment.

 The Breakdown

  Think of it this way, a boy is playing baseball and hits the ball into the neighbor’s window and shatters the glass.  The boy goes to apologize to the neighbor who forgives him for breaking the window (eternal punishment). Hopefully, if the neighbor is Christ like, she will forgive the boy and not hold it against him for the rest of his life. Just as when we sin and go to confession, God forgives our sins and does not hold it against us. However, the boy still has to deal with the temporal punishment of his mistake. Even though the neighbor forgives him, the boy still must pay for the broken window. We too must pay for our sins through temporal punishment and if we do not do so in this life time, we finish the purification process in purgatory.

America: Home of the Free?

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With July 4th just two days away the theme of freedom waves over our nation. America is the “Home of the Free” but what I write about today begs to differ. What is true freedom? Where does it come from and how does it free us? In our culture today freedom is longed for, desired, encouraged.  I am delighted by the ironic timing of this article because it coincides with the new song by Miley Cyrus called “We Can’t Stop”. Although I find it to be repulsive, the song is huge and young people all over turn it up and sing along. Why is this you ask? The song boasts of a freedom of “Doing whatever we want” and forgetting about “the haters” because be “like to party” and “we can’t stop.”

What an attractive message Miley Cyrus promises. So many songs mirror the epidemic of a true loss of freedom our culture is undergoing. Artists sing of being “young and wild and free” and doing whatever they want. Isn’t that what true freedom is, you ask? Many people criticize the Church because they believe her to be constraining and overbearing. Many see her rules and laws to be overprotective and unrealistic.

I say to all of these questioning minds, that I am a Catholic who obeys the law of God and the Church and I am truly free. People may laugh at this. They think I am a fool who has been brainwashed to believe that following orders and feeling free is a paradox that cannot exist. We have been raised in a culture which encourages youth to rebel against rules and glamorizes being scandalous and immoral. Following the Ten Commandments? Psh, that infringes on my freedom. Listening to the truth of the Church? Nah, I am my own person, The Church can’t tell me what to do. Unfortunately this mindset is so common, and so terribly wrong.

To begin, we must start at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start. Where does freedom come from? Who is the author of our freedom? Well the creator of Man was a fellow by the name of God. And God did not place Man in the world as a robot, required to obey everything that God said or asked for. “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions.” God, a very intelligent being,  created Man with FREEDOM. True freedom.

Why did God create man with freedom? Well that is a very very long explanation that goes in depth into the theology of free will. However for my purpose in this post we will keep things simple. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel” and here is the key part “so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”

Woah. So God created Man to be free so that man could freely choose to be free in God. God created Man with a deep longing and desire to seek his creator. Each and every one of us desires to know where we come from and where we belong.  Man desires to attain God’s full and blessed perfection. When Man sees God he is enamored by Him and wishes to be like him. This is the desire of the human heart, to attain God’s perfection. What a lofty goal, a lofty pursuit. But it is a holy and blessed journey.

In order to do this, to quench the thirst for true self satisfaction, Man must submit himself to God. So I haven’t mentioned freedom for a while. You may now be wondering, how did I get from freedom to submission. It is quite the paradox. Freedom means being free from shackles and chains that tell me what to do! Oh nay, nay. This is where you realize that true freedom lies in Christ.

The Catechism defines freedom as “The power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility.” Now this is a definition I believe most people, even secular, can agree on. I think most can also agree that a person who is doing something, not out of a free choice, but because they feel obligated or feel trapped or feel dependent on the action is NOT free.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galations 5:1) So freedom lies in Christ, and slavery lies in sin. This ‘yoke of slavery’ the bible speaks of is the chains that drag us down and trap us in ourselves.

Sure you can ‘use’ your freedom to choose to sin, and use your ‘free choice’ do do whatever you please. However, this will not lead to freedom. This will lead to chains and shackles that weaken your own will and in turn your true freedom. Your will is weakened by choosing to commit sins. The more sins you commit, the more you let go of your reason and become a slave to the sin. There is no freedom when your material being drives you to consume more than you can handle.  There is just no judgment of conscious.  There is just a response of the will. You believe that you are ‘doing whatever you want’ but in reality you are a slave to your flesh. Your beautiful mind and all its capabilities for selflessness and love has been shut off and your fleshly desires and passions rule you. This is not true freedom.

On the other hand. “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin.”

“John Paul teaches that there is no true conflict between human freedom and God’s law. The true end of human freedom is growth as a mature person into how each is created by God. Furthermore, God’s divine law governing human behavior is not opposed to human freedom, but rather “it protects and promotes that freedom.”

Who knows better how to protect our freedom than the very creator of it? God knows that we are not individuals who are “fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods” Although we proclaim this as truth and lie to ourselves by calling this true freedom. God created us for a higher purpose, and until we realize that call and move toward a mature growth in personal self-mastery, we will never be truly free.