Yet, perhaps God, aware of the immensity of His name; chose this as one of his reasons for sending His son to us – someone who would never be ashamed to been seen in our company.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been…” Words known even before my First Communion rush back in this quiet fearful sanctuary and stop dead in my throat. How do I even begin to explain the twenty-five years since my last confession coupled with my sins of absence from Mass?
The attempts to rationalize become feeble. My soul’s eyes search them, stripping my banal and petty excuses. I am left with the cloak I hide in, fraying all its threads. And in that darkness, I am confronted by my fears that, if I speak, will my penance be my eviction?
I could easily bolt to the foolish refuge of the outside world. Yet, the very act of confession means facing what is in our secret hearts as well as admitting the cringing embarrassment of exposing and voicing aloud our sins.
I suppose that is the real difficulty; our attempts to be humble when our whole being screams self-sufficient independence and our pride shouts dependency on no one. Ah, but humility requests from our pride and his willing accomplice, the ego, a high price – our stilled and penitent heart.
In my search to find that silent peace, I am left in the darkness with my parish priest and God to speak to on the folly of my sins. Yet how could He forgive my teetering trust and struggle to find my faith? Mary is a bit easier to approach on my prayers of intercession.
The compression of too many years lengthens the list of sins. I have harbored anger, envy, impure thoughts; the venial at their worst, but have I really fallen into the mortal? Marrying out of the faith and divorced, yet I left a marriage that had become abusive; where does that lie? Requesting forgiveness for what I have done is always accompanied by the caveat, what I have failed to do. The easy anonymity of sliding into the confessional does not absolve the razor sharp pangs of judgment in stealing oneself from God.
The why’s of my leaving endeavor to explain away the best of my excuses, but carry little weight toward the necessity of my returning. It had become a very real ache of loneliness and missing the very orderliness and regularity of her liturgical year. There is the gift of knowing that each foothold and handhold is the reason for the strength to stay on.
Would He, God, the recipient of so much supplication, welcome back the prodigal? Not necessarily caring about the fatted calf, would there at least be the solace for a wandering soul’s need to be allowed to come home again?
In faith neglected, I grab ancient prayers, still remembered, to plead for forgiveness, much like the old story of the charwoman kneeling in the back of the Church because she felt unworthy to go and pray at the altar rail. Her countenance was quite unlike the fellow she saw and heard, who loudly proclaimed all his good works to God by self announcement, knowing he could laud his own virtues by standing before God.
I am with the charwoman, worn and weary and like her, I pray in exhaustion, asking for help, unable to carry the burden alone. She has the greater grace than I in her silent requests for absolution. Yet my pride is still winning the skirmish and sabotaging my deeds, dismissing them as only silly guilt; the shame hardly worth the necessity for confession.
Ah, but as the priest and God wait in patient hope, I turn my heart to Mary, beseeching some part of her courage that accepted in silence the agonizing death of her only child. There, in unworthiness, begins my soul’s deep acknowledgment of my rupture and my need of reparation to be received back into the Church.
Confession is not a slick magic trick conjured by a few quick “Hail Mary’s” and Acts of Contrition- we cannot meet halfway to the middle – we need to go the distance, meet faith, and trust to the end. No need of my added noise – only my whispers – they will speak within my trepidation, gentle in their clarity.
Yet, perhaps God, aware of the immensity of His name; chose this as one of his reasons for sending His son to us – someone who would never be ashamed to been seen in our company. It was not written on a gilt-edged invitation sent by a footman waiting for a reply; only His quiet request – in person – to the worst of us to be guests at His table.
My conundrum continued. I was still fighting against the horrible slap of realization that yes, not only do the consequences exist, they find their mark. The victory was not won through violence, but by the power of my own still small voice within, finding the courage to say:
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been twenty-five years since my last confession and the same since I have attended Mass. In that time I have married out of the Church and divorced three years later. For this, I am heartily sorry and all of my other sins of harboring anger envy and pride…”
The words, unstuck at last, left with joy in their release to a merciful Father, who is kind in His gifts of empathy for the small courageous acts taken in faith.
God gives us stepping-stones to ease our seeking amidst our tumbles down and gives always what we need, not what we want.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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