Confessions about Confession

So speaking as a Catholic I have to confess that there are many, many aspects of my faith that are mysterious and rich in Biblical ritualistic significance. What this translates to meaning for the everyday is that there are several misconceptions surrounding the Catholic Church and people talk about it like they understand it when they don’t (some Catholics are probably included in that). Tackling them all right here would be impossible. But I did want to talk about the sacrament of Confession.

I understand the confusion and how that might come off to a non-Catholic. It would be insulting because it suggests that the victim has to go and ask forgiveness for being victimized, handwhich would be moronic if it were true because the essence of being victimized is that whatever happened was beyond your control, that it was not chosen. And it’s easy for people to believe that the Catholic Church is moronic. It certainly suits the world’s secular agenda, and I think there are many who enjoy believing that without actually worrying about whether their opinion is actually based in truth.

But, back to addressing the matter at hand, this particular victim, in this case a woman, committed no crime. So how am I going to make the argument that I believe confession is a good idea for the woman in this circumstance and that the person highlighted in the article was (based on my limited knowledge supplied from the article) not trying to be a dismissive jerk?

So glad you asked.

If a friend confided in me that they had been the victim of a sexual assault and they shared my Catholic faith I would hope that the sacrament of confession would be the first thing I would recommend. Because all of my friends, as different as they are, have one thing in common: the fact that I love them. And I hope we can all agree that sexual assault is a crime that needs healing. So if I love my friend like I say I do, I would have to admit to them that I can’t heal internal wounds like that.  I would do all I could for my friend. I would be there for him or her, make them tea, offer my condolences, talk or not talk, go on long walks or whatever they needed to do, but I still can’t heal them. I might be able to walk the mile with them at their side, but I can’t walk it in their place. Only God can do that.

And when I need internal healing, the sacrament of confession is my first stop. Because, contrary to popular belief, confession is not a place to go and list your sins in front of God so you can feel bad about yourself for the rest of the day. No, confession is, to borrow the words from one of my favorite Dominican priests of all time, “a place to come and experience the mercy of God.”

I know the mercy of God sounds a lot like forgiveness. It is a lot like forgiveness, but why limit yourself? The mercy of God is also the complete and total love of God, his descent into our misery. His caring about us in every way no matter our sinfulness or present circumstances. And when we go to confession we choose to receive this love into our lives. No limit on how many times you can go. But the priest actually stands in persona Christi which is the Latin for “in the person of Christ.” That is a big deal. It essentially turns an ordinary church room into a grace factory. (The love is as unique as the needs of each us, but factory still works as a comparison because the love of Christ can be supplied infinitely in Him and through Him.) To get back to the point, you are confessing your sins and your struggles to Christ Himself and receiving the graces to heal, to overcome, and to be made whole again. And I will confess that in confession I don’t limit myself to confessing my sins commandment by commandment (or commandment broken by commandment broken I guess would be more accurate) I confess attitudes, places I want to improve, and life circumstances that are hard for me and cause me to question my faith. And boy has the process (learning how to confess for real) ever been fruitful. It wasn’t immediate, but I’m glad I stuck with it because I have gotten a lot of good advice, pertinent scripture passages, support, understanding, and forgiveness in the confessional. A good confessor is for sure something to thank God for and if you’ve never had that I’m sorry but pray about it and continue to seek it out. (Then try a Dominican parish if there’s one near you.)

But suggesting confession is not just a cop out. It’s where healing happens. That’s why God put it there in the first place. It’s not like a sexual assault victim could walk in there once and never struggle with the memories again (although here’s hoping- that would be great!) but it’s a place, to me I always imagine entering in the heart of God or like some cozy parlor where you meet with Jesus and you just chat, openly and honestly about your actual soul. God already knows what we’ve done or what has happened, and even more He knows exactly what we need. And I believe that it’s an important meeting place to have on the journey of life.

Maybe the most important of all. And it makes me sad that so many Christians reject it. In the spirit of open honesty, to me burning your sins on a paper or hanging them on a cross as I’ve seen done in some Protestant churches is nice symbolism but can never compare with actually entering a space and handing them to Jesus through the intermediary of a priest and experiencing the full freedom of merciful love. Knowing that God has looked on your unworthiness, and still decided on the most loving response available in this universe, to freely give you Himself.


What is the Purpose of Life?

I came across this quote today from professed atheist Dan Baker which states, “Asking ‘if there is no God, what is the purpose of life?’ is like asking ‘if there is no master, whose slave will I be?’ If your purpose of life is to submit as a slave, then your meaning of life comes from flattering the ego of a person whom you should detest.”

And all I could think was if that if you’re going to be an atheist then you should at least be a good atheist. When I wrote an article in defense of traditional marriage in light of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage I had a guy question some of my premises. (In fact here’s the shameless plug of the piece with comments included if you’re curious)

I don’t mind being challenged on my beliefs. Because before I believe in something I have to accept it as truth, and I believe that truth is eternal and will stand regardless of whether anyone agrees with it or not (myself included). So defending the truth doesn’t stress me out because unlike most modern “debates” I’m not constructing some relative narrative I’ve heard from my friends that changes with every capricious whim. Instead, I’m simply stating the pieces of truth that have been revealed to me through various ways as I’ve gone about living life.

But this guy’s argument is not a good defense of atheism or a good argument against Christianity. “If there is no God, what is the purpose of life?” is not comparable to “if there is no master, whose slave will I be?” This is a faulty premise. He draws his conclusion from it and it’s a faulty premise. This never seems to bother people, but it bothers me.

I don’t like the assumption he makes about God and the people who choose to worship Him. It’s full of pride, which is the true religion and driving force behind the new atheism. He’s looking at Christian morality from a distance and claiming that a defiance of God is freedom.  Freedom from the rules. A freedom he believes Christians would pursue if they were as “enlightened” as he is.

And yet I have to wonder, in his vast intellect  do you think he ever stopped to consider for a moment that he is acting precisely as most children act towards their parents? When I was little I would have preferred an all candy diet and staying up past eight-thirty. But my parents would have none of it. Does it make me the slave to their master? If you want to view it that way you certainly could, but could you truly present that picture as the truest interpretation of the events in question?

Because  if you view it through the eyes of humility then you might realize that my parents were wiser than I was. That they had read all the child development books (I was the oldest so they really did their homework) and knew I needed sleep, playtime, and good nutrition in order to experience childhood in full. Candy would have made me sick. Sleep deprivation would have made me cranky. They had my best interests at heart because they love me. They said no to me not because they are evil dictators who deserve to be defied, but because they knew I was just a kid who couldn’t see beyond my immediate needs and desires. I was living so thoroughly in the moment that I wanted what I wanted right when I wanted it and thought my will should be law. I felt that wanting something automatically justified me in getting that something. Mom and Dad saw the bigger picture, they wanted me to become a healthy, happy and well-adjusted adult. And I like to think I did, for the most part!

And parent-child is not a bad lens to view the relationship between God and man, that’s why He calls Himself our Father. We’re short-sighted and can’t see past our immediate gratifications and the pulls of the world. We want our will to reign supreme and sometimes we think we know so much better than our parents.  But the truth is God loves us, has our best interest at heart, and cares for us daily whether we thank Him or not. And to me the purpose of my life is not to mindlessly serve some vague, dictator of a deity. I serve the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Yahweh, the great I Am, the God who is love Himself. And the notion that my God has any sort of ego is offensive and contrary to everything the Bible reveals about His nature. (His love is so selfless and complete He doesn’t have room for one)

No my purpose in life, and where I find my meaning, is learning to love my Father, myself, and others in the same selfless way that He loves me every moment of every day.

So I’m thinking that asking, “if there is no God, what is the purpose of life?” is instead rather like asking “if learning to love is not the purpose of life, then what is?”

And you can quote me on that.

The Religion Crisis

So this post is about the religion crisis.

And it’s not quite the same religion crisis the media or even the religious press gets all jazzed about, especially in light of recent events. No, the crisis I’m talking about is much more personal.

The crisis I’m talking about I actually first noticed in the comment section of some article I was reading, and the commentator was a sixteen-year-old girl who was raised Catholic and had a serious fear of going to hell. Now don’t you dare make fun of her, I think a lot of us have that insecurity and I think that also explains why most of us try to place death as far from our minds as possible.

The idea of eternal judgment can be a bit terrifying, and I think many a weak intellectual rejects it simply because they don’t like the idea at all (I say weak intellectuals not to imply that they are stupid, merely that they lack strong philosophical debating skills). Because it’s a very proud person who will assert a premise that boldly states something is not true merely because he doesn’t like it, as if I could will away Abercrombie and Fitch’s existence because it doesn’t fit my idea of what a clothing store should be (if only).

Anyway, this poor girl had herself in knots. And it made me really sad. Because even though she’s gone to Catholic schools and has some idea of God and hears the word God thrown around all over the internet and mainstream media outlets, she does not know God.

Now I am twenty-four years old. I still have much to learn about God, as He is infinite and I honestly believe you could spend all eternity getting to know God and that each second would be better than the last. But more to the point, it breaks my heart when people don’t think God loves them. In fact I’ve come across the following attitudes while blogging (and I’m still pretty new at it):

“God doesn’t love me because I’ve made so many mistakes and always break His rules”

“God doesn’t love me because I’m not religious”

“God doesn’t love me because God is not love He is wrath and what kind of moron believes that?” (This moron!)

You get the idea…

And the reason these attitudes are so particularly heartbreaking is because you must believe God loves you if you ever hope to have any sort of a relationship with Him. In the United States, I can’t speak for other countries, there is the prevailing notion of the self-made man. That success goes to the worthy, that we figure things out on our own, that we’re independent and don’t need anyone else. Not to insult the purple mountain majesties or amber waves of grain, but in our workaholic modern world this idea has evolved from owning your own land and having a roof over your head to include what I will call the Hollywood lifestyle. A succession of the ultimate luxuries where you are the center of the universe and have every worldly thing a human could possibly want. And they wave this dream over our heads as something so tantalizingly out of our reach, but could be ours if we dedicate enough to whatever dream will get us there. (I would encourage you to dream on, but that’s a separate article.)

But this worldview comes into a direct clash with Christian morality, the epitome of selfless love (as opposed to the world’s selfish indulgence). And every person really gets a choice on where they will seek their satisfaction, in love or in themselves. And to finally bring this back around before you think I’ve totally lost my topic, most people do not understand Christian morality in that way. They see Christian morality as a set of rules, a set of angrily shouted Bible verses of condemnation and woe, with God as their merciless final judge, and they proceed to reject it in some way.

Some people get anxious like the girl who wrote the comment. Some people get angry at God, for being that way when they can find it in them to forgive. Some people place barriers, thinking who is God to judge them anyway? Some people give up because they know they can’t follow these rules perfectly. Again you get the idea, they mistrust the nature of God (if He even exists) and place distance between themselves and God, which I know must break his Fatherly heart.

And yet though these responses to God are very different (and I’m sure it’s possible to feel any number of combinations) the overall result of these responses is strikingly similar. The moderns create a strange alternative. A formless, rule barren religion-ish movement based on a vague universal love where anything goes and everyone is free as a bird. It’s a religion-ish movement that believes in only general human decency and the accumulation of knowledge but is devoid of the most important thing actual religion has to offer: a relationship. And not just any relationship, a relationship with God Himself. And because of how misrepresented God is in today’s day and age people write that relationship off as if it were nothing when in fact, it is everything. Because whether you’ve realized it yet or not, God is everything you’ve been after, everything you’ve always wanted in your soul (and He even cares about your externals too, everything that matters to you matters to God because He loves you).

And I say this not just because I both love God and enjoy His company, but because this hazy universalism is a cheap substitute. It will not satisfy the girl who made the comment, nor will it calm her fears or make her feel whole, and it will not fully explain the mysterious connection she feels to her fellow human beings. Only God can do those things. And she’s too afraid to begin that conversation because of the lies that surround God and the people who choose to worship Him. That is the real religion crisis, and we are not blameless in it.

It’s not just the media’s fault that religion of any kind has a bad reputation, it also has to do with us and the compromises we make with the world: likening heaven to some happy suburbia and marriage to a big party where the bride acts like a princess for a very expensive day. Insisting that the primary purpose of religion should be the feelings you get from the sermon… In a word, blending when we were meant to stand out so that anyone feeling lost and afraid like the girl who made this comment would be able to look at us and see the light of the truth from the way that we live. The truth that we are joyful not because we are perfect, not because we have all the answers, but because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves us and that He will always love us (even though we don’t deserve it) because that is who He truly is and that is what He died to prove to us. The God of the cosmos who became a baby so that His children would no longer be afraid of the dark, but bask in the light of redemption. That those looking from the outside might recognize this divine reality that makes us true brothers and sisters, our universally shared belief that God will be true to His every promise and bring us safely home to heaven, where we were always meant to be.

Because true evangelization, sharing of this good news, is not about merely winning over people’s minds, culture, or media (although I’m sure it helps). If we really want to solve the religion crisis we must first allow God to enter our own hearts and minds that we might be ready to extend His invitation to all to come and join our family. Because before anyone could accept such an invitation from us they would have to genuinely believe us when we tell them the only truth that can overcome the hardness of the human heart, the same thing that I attempted to tell this girl so that she would not be afraid anymore:

“God loves you, and so do I.”