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.

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Don’t Give Up

So the other day I got some bad news. It wasn’t new news, per se, but I’ve been having all kinds of minor health problems lately that have me being bounced around like a ping-pong ball between different specialists as they try to pinpoint which cause is responsible for which symptom.

It’s a frustrating process, not in the least because I sincerely worry that my boss will stop believing me the more I repeatedly ask to take off work to go to the next doctor who, of course, will also want a follow-up appointment.

I wouldn’t mind it so much if I didn’t have to ask permission to join something that I really want to join, something which I’m not sure will accept me as a candidate even though I feel truly called to do it. And that’s hard. Because obviously I won’t know their answer until after I apply, which won’t be in the immediate future. And in the gap that waiting always brings there is much room for doubt.

But it’s funny, even in the midst of some very reasonable objections I could see brought against me, I was surprised when my extremely practical family members looked me right in the eye and said “don’t give up.”

In the right context, those words can be quite powerful.

Because even though I was expecting my family to say “yeah it’s unlikely” or “yeah don’t set your heart on it, keep your options open” they instead believed in two people that I sometimes struggle to believe in, myself and God. They believed that in spite of resistance I might face that God is truly calling me to do it and that, if that is the case, neither hell nor high water will stand in my way. And I was touched because I know the reason they believe I can do it is because they have witnessed the strong interior conversion I described having, the one that inspired this blog in the first place, and the one that has carried me through many storms and placed me back on my feet on the other side to walk along brand new shores. And I’m sure I’m a better person for it.

And as I reach my one year anniversary of being a medical enigma, I also approach my one year anniversary of my littler way, a practice of living in the present moment with God. A process I will describe more in detail come the new year. A process that took the sting out of my bad news because, from the relationship that developed there, when push came to shove and I had to ask myself that tough question: “do I really trust God to take care of me, to get me through this and accomplish His Will for my life even in the face of potentially serious opposition?” My answer was a genuine “yes, I do.” Because God likes to accomplish the utterly impossible for me, it’s kind of our thing. I blame myself really because the truth is, as Miss Piggy pointed out in The Great Muppet Caper, “you wanted excitement!”

So I renew the promise I made when I began my consecration to the Blessed Mother, “No matter what happens, I won’t give up.”

Because in spite of everything I still have my new faith, and it really does make all the difference.