Friday, December 23, 2016

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

When God forgives us, our sin in gone. He does not "remember" it. This was a theme of discussion on Catholic radio yesterday. And I took it as a sign and went to Confession. This is a Catholic sacrament that is also called Penance or Reconciliation. The faithful must receive this sacrament at least once a year, and Advent is a season in which it is common to go to Confession, as is Lent. Each time I go I wonder that I don't do it more often, as it benefits me spiritually in such a profound way! I want to commit to a monthly practice. I think I will make that a New Year's resolution!

Confession absolves one of sin and cleanses the soul. It is a supreme vehicle for spiritual healing. Sure, we can, should and do ask God for forgiveness of our sins privately, and of course we do this together at every Mass and every time we pray the Our Father. But the sacrament of Reconciliation provides a superabundance of grace, and it is the normative way for the forgiveness of sins, established by Jesus himself (John 20: 21-23).

When we go to Confession, we emerge with a clean soul, like a renewal of our Baptism. And having been absolved of our sins, we are no longer to call them to remembrance. I am realizing with increasing awareness that carrying guilt around for not being perfect puts an obstacle between myself and the Lord. The Holy Spirit can't work in me if I am replaying the same old, painful stories in my mind as if on a loop. They pile up, one upon another, until my shoulders sag. Depression looms, maybe even physical illness comes as a result. The Our Father tells us that we are forgiven by God in the same measure that we forgive those who trespass against us. Whether I fail to forgive myself or hold onto a grudge against another, I cannot be free. I cannot be the person that God has created me to be.

Do not hesitate to go to Confession. I know that sometimes we procrastinate because we are embarrassed about what we must confess. That is where humility comes in. This sacrament is such a treasure of the Church. And remember, not everyone you encounter has access to this superabundance of grace, so be kind and gentle, especially while setting necessary boundaries. Let's go to meet the baby Jesus with clean souls. Allow him to heal you. And let's stop living in the past. It is gone. The birth of Jesus is a great gift that reminds us to live in the present. It is only Satan who wants us to keep looking back over our shoulders, cringing with guilt and remorse.

Brethern, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it already. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what is before, I press on towards the goal, to the prize of God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3: 13-14

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Return of the Light

In two days, on December 21, the Winter Solstice will be upon us. This is both the first day of winter and the return of the light. It marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. In Catholic terms, we might think of the dark night of the soul which opens into grace. The return of the sun becomes the return of the Son.

The sun shines today, as it did yesterday. And yesterday I greeted the morning with a reflection of that light in my soul. Then quickly a darkness fell upon me from without that seeped its way into my bones. The day grew cloudy, literally and metaphorically. I took a long walk in the cold and snow as the sun was setting, almost defying Nature to try and take me. But I was praying a rosary on my way, though my fingers felt that they might freeze stiff. I stopped and sat on a bench in the Rosary Garden, facing statues of an angel and the Blessed Virgin Mary being slowly covered in falling snow. My tears fell. I finally stood again before I became permanently glued to the marble I was sitting on.

A brief return of light eventually came, only to be swallowed in more darkness. I felt the failure of being only human. The limitations of understanding and forgiveness. The hands desiring to pull me into the pit of despair.

Today is a do-over. One day still alive, one day wiser. There are things on earth that Heaven alone can fix. There is very little of life in our control. But how we respond is entirely our own responsibility. Do we choose to blame another? To blame ourselves? To blame God? Or do we choose to do the next right thing? To turn our hearts more completely toward the United Hearts of Jesus and Mary. To lean not unto our own understanding nor to rely upon our own strength. No power in the world or in the abyss of hell can rob us of the joy of the Lord.

Our failures? They are a reminder that our dignity comes from being sons and daughters of Almighty God. Humility lies in surrendering our lives and wills to the Divine plan. Even if it doesn't make sense. Even if it doesn't seem fair.

Perfectionism is the most soul-sucking of modern diseases. Expecting perfection from ourselves or others is a sure path to death of the soul and the destruction of loving relationships. I failed again to speak and act perfectly in my response. But I have grown. I have done my best in my frailty and weakness. Perfectionism is the enemy, and I am a Warrior. A Priestess. A woman made in the image and likeness of God, complete in his eyes even if carrying the wounds of Eve.

Find that inner stillness and silence today. Just breathe. Anticipate the return of the Light.