All That I Have Written Is Straw. . .

Meanderings of a Catholic Devout

“I’m here to save you.”

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Last night, I finally got around to going to an Advent Penance Service. It had been eight months since my last confession. I didn’t cry, like I normally do, probably because of what the priest said at the service.

I brought a friend with me, who hadn’t been to confession, or even a Mass, in many months. She’s proud to be Catholic and relies a little too much on the “that’s the way I was raised” mentality of Catholicism. She confided in me that she could not figure out why she was so reluctant to go to events like this, or even to Mass on Sundays, but she always felt happier once she stepped foot into the building and was glad that she came. I confided in her that although I never miss a Sunday Mass, I still find myself reluctant to go, too, so great is the stain of sin.

If you’ve never been to a penance service, there’s ups and downs to it. You go in for a quick, ceremonial prayer and Gospel reading and then you divvy up into individual confession lines around the church (out of earshot, of course, of other penitents). I prefer them, however, to scheduled confessions. On the upside, there’s relatively a lot of people in attendance (well, more so than on a typical Saturday). They are seasonal, usually during Lent and during Advent. . . maybe for other special occasions, too. There are several “guest” priests on hand, so there isn’t a terribly long line to confess. You can walk into one at any Catholic Church that happens to be hosting a service—you don’t have to be a parishioner of that church because the service is one of convenience. And it’s humbling that you are exposing yourself to others. . .showing that you are a sinner and, in turn, you get to see all the other sinners, too, to remind yourself that you aren’t the only one.

On the down side, the priests don’t know you like your parish priest might know you, so they cannot “customize” their advice to your situation as much. For example, one piece of advice I received from the visiting confessor last night was to focus more on quality prayer time and almsgiving to the poor. And I will do more of that, but what he didn’t know is that I pray all the time and recite the Rosary in prayerful meditation at least six days a week. And I give not only my money, but also my talents when I can, to charitable causes. I wish I could give my more of my life to these. Hold the sarcastic remarks because I know that I could if I really want to live the life of a saint. I think, though, that this is the reason I am undertaking my theological studies on my own time, with my own money and resources. Not because I plan to change careers, but so that I might be of more use to the Church when I’m done.

Nevertheless, I don’t intend to criticize the priest, in persona Christae, regarding my penance. I’m very grateful for the “light” sentence I received (said with a slight grin). And I am extremely grateful for his service to the priesthood, for giving his life to saving mine. I stared hard at the crucifix last night, trying hard to focus on the most precious bones of our Lord, and found myself teary-eyed at the entire phenomenon of the sacrament of Reconciliation. For as the Risen Christ said to his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained” (Jn 20:23).

Something the resident pastor said at the beginning of the service was very beautiful to me. He was speculating in his brief homily on the need for Confession. The fact that the modern world has lost its sense of sin is a different matter, but he discussed the need for a savior to save us from our “out-of-control” lives.

Of course, he mentioned, we don’t feel out of control. That’s probably why we don’t feel like we need to be saved.

He said the best way he could describe the need for the sacrament of reconciliation is to imagine a pool and you’re happily splashing about with your friends when a lifeguard jumps in, swims to you and declares, “I’m here to save you.” You look at him like he’s crazy, thank him for his sincere intentions, but you reply, “I don’t need you, I’m pretty sure I can do this on my own.” And when he’s gone, you laugh at him with your friends.

A few minutes later, however, you find yourself paralyzed from horseplay and you begin to drown. And the lifeguard jumps in and catches you and says, “I’m here to save you.” What, then, are your feelings about handling it on your own?

Heaven knows I constantly put my own will before His. I don’t know why I feel like I can control anything. Often, though, I am guilty of focusing too much on the sin and not enough on the saving. I have to remember that if I don’t keep my eye on the land at the horizon, I get lost at sea.

“The highest truths cannot be forced into the type of empirical evidence that only applies to material reality.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

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Written by Written Straw

December 21, 2011 at 1:43 pm

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