Friday fish fries and confession are likely the most advertised Lenten activity in Catholic parishes. I’ll give you one guess at which is the least attended.
It’s understandable; does anyone like going to confession? Who looks forward to admitting their shortcomings, faults, and bad choices?
I can’t say I like going to confession; but I do look forward to receiving God’s grace through the sacrament. Confession gives me the grace of God’s forgiveness, the grace to forgive myself and the grace to renew my resolve for holiness.
I know that God’s forgiveness is not found only in the sacrament of reconciliation. But what is only found in the sacrament, besides hearing the words of God’s forgiveness through the voice of the priest, is his grace absolving me of the penalty for my sins.
I leave the sacrament with pardon and peace – almost physically sensing a weight being lifted – as I receive absolution.
We try to practice a similar “pardon and peace” dynamic at home.
For example, when the kids hurt each other, we require a confession of sorts. They can’t just nonchalantly say “I’m sorry” – usually head down and trying to get away. I ask them to say in words specifically what they are sorry for – not always complete on the first take.
And when the one hurt responds – sometimes preceded by their own jab or insult – “it’s OK,” I clarify that whatever was done is not OK but it can be forgiven.
When my husband and I lose our patience, we ask forgiveness for the outburst. If it was brought on by one’s of the kids’ misbehavior, we ask them to acknowledge their responsibility, then apologize for our overreaction. If it was internal frustration or irritability boiling over, we say we’re sorry (sometimes after a few deep breaths or a bathroom break to reset), and try to identify out loud the underlying cause.
I want my children to get comfortable giving and receiving forgiveness at home. I want them to see me make each day a new day, another chance to try again. And I want them to see me seek God’s grace in the sacrament of confession, acknowledging I need help, God’s help.
Sometimes I am actually more disturbed at seeing the attempts I make to show my righteousness and sin-less-ness. I am reminded in the Bible that Jesus said he came to heal the sick; that the healthy have no need of healing. (cf. Mark 2:17, Luke 5:27-32)
I want health. I want healing. I want wholeness. I want that for my husband and my children, for my friends and neighbors, and for anyone I’ve offended or been offended by.
Getting ready for school in the morning is not usually our family’s finest time of the day. There is often some mid-to-high level of frustration, snapping voices, sibling antagonizing and annoyances. After drop-off, I usually need a few moments of silence to regain my composure.
Last week, my heart skipped when our 4-year-old daughter, holding my hand as we crossed the school parking lot, looked up at me and said, “Even when I do something wrong, you still love me.” I didn’t remember the “something wrong” she had done, or how I had reprimanded her; but the confidence in her voice and the secure look on her face felt like a shiny gold star in my “great mom” column for the day. I responded, “You got it. You can’t do anything that will make me stop loving you. And tomorrow is a new day we can all try again.”
I was moved by Jackie Francois Angel’s description of reconciliation when she spoke in Rice Lake: an “eyelash to eyelash encounter,” taking apart the word metaphorically, re-con-cilia.
Rather than asking if we like confession or not, we could ask when was the last time we had an “eyelash to eyelash” encounter with Abba, Daddy? When was the last time we allowed Him to take us by the hand, to hold our face in His gaze? If it’s been awhile, can we identify what’s holding us back? Can we dig deep and find the courage to respond to His invitation to come closer, “eyelash to eyelash”?
The times I get most hesitant and nervous about going to confession, I find it’s because I am more focused on myself than on Him. It’s more about where I messed up than the mercy and encouragement He offers. I’m focused on proving myself worthy and righteous. I want to hide the scrapes and bruises and don’t notice His healing hands already prepared to clean and bandage them.
Pope Francis, who frequently speaks about confession – considered a sacrament of healing – said in his homily on Feb. 27:
“Let us thank the Lord for His goodness. He does not want to beat us and condemn us. He gave His life for us and this is His goodness. He is always looking for a way to get to the heart.”
Jesus is already hanging on the cross to prove His point – let’s not make it any more difficult for Him.