January 14, 2009
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been....too long since my last confession!"
As Catholics, children generally receive their First Reconciliation at the tender age of eight. They are prepared for months by their teachers and priests until they are finally ready to make that first spoken admission of those ugly things that they have discerned would not be pleasing to God. Although their gravest of sins is usually "I disobeyed my parents" or "I punched my brother and told Mom HE hit ME", they still get butterflies upon waiting in line for that first face to face encounter with their priest. I have witnessed it with both of the older children, and I think it is a beautiful thing to behold. The weight that leaves their shoulders when they receive absolution is something you can almost touch.
My first confession was a little different than that of my children. It came at the end of a day-long retreat that Khris and I had attended with other individuals who were being accepted into the Catholic Church. The retreat was awesome on its own and I would have gone even if I hadn't known that we were going to get a chance to see a priest for confession at the end of the day. But, in truth, that was the real kicker for me.
When they announced that the priests were ready to begin hearing our first confessions, a few individuals started scooting their chairs out slowly, but most people just sat there. They were all kind of looking at each other, and it seemed to me that they shared the anticipation of some unspoken horror. It was clear that these people would be taking their time getting to the chapel. Not me, man! I could not get out of my seat fast enough. I had been looking forward to this for months. I was finally going to have the opportunity to let go of the stuff that was beating me down, stuff I had carried around for years. Get out of my way, everybody! I need to see a man about forgiveness.
I guessed from that experience that not everyone shares the same enthusiasm about the gift of reconciliation that I do. I have come to know this sad truth more and more as the years have passed. We have a couple of friends who were raised Catholic and had not received the sacrament of reconciliation since their confirmation in the 8th grade. How sad to me! How frightening for them when they realized their parish required that they attend confession before their own eight year old sons could do so....YIKES! Where do I start, right?! These are two guys who walk around like they own the world. But put them in a confessional after more than 15 years and they were sweating bullets! (I have to confess, it was sort of funny to watch!)
To me, the Act of Contrition, recited at the end of confession before absolution, is one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever said. When you say these words and really mean them, I believe God smiles.
"My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy."
These are powerful, powerful words. They say, "I'm sorry, but I screwed up. I did some things I shouldn't have and missed out on a few opportunities to serve you because something else seemed more important to me at the time. I let you down and that is unacceptable. I really, REALLY want to do better, but I need your help because I can't do it alone. I know I need to do good works to make up for this and I will do so gladly. I will try my best to not do these awful things again. I am aware of those things that tend to get me into trouble and with your grace I will stay away from them. Jesus gave his life so that I could be forgiven. You said that anything asked in His name would be done. Please God, in His name, forgive me."
I guess for me, confession is just as God intended it. It is a sacrament, a "visible sign of an inward grace". God already knows my sin. I am not fooling Him into thinking I am better than I am just because I won't tell it to a priest. He already knows it all, the good the bad and the ugly. When we acknowledge our sins He is not surprised or hurt, for the hurt came when the sin was committed. What He does feel is joy at our desire to no longer let our sin come between us. He wants to give us absolution. And the knowledge that God has forgiven me is one of the greatest joys I have ever known.
Posted by KC at 11:36am