True Confessions

Holy FamilyOn March 21 over at “Reconciled to You,” Allison Gingras is hosting a Lenten blog hop called “How do you really feel about confession?”

As I get ready for Easter, I think back to the first time I ever went to confession, back in 1995 just  before my confirmation at Holy Family Parish in South Pasadena, California (pictured here). I was such a difficult candidate my first sponsor actually quit — and the DRE took me under her wing. I will always be grateful to Dawn Ponnet for welcoming me into the family, and to the silvery-haired, golden-tongued Irish priest and pastor emeritus Monsignor Clem Connelly, who invited me out for lunch and, over spring rolls, assured me, “Ah, Heidi, you are a gift to us.” I still tear up when I think about it.

Truth be told, I did not feel like such a gift. My decision to become Catholic had alienated friends and estranged my family. I was in a toxic relationship from which I could not readily extricate myself. And, having recently graduated from college and on my own, I was just this side of homelessness. For many reasons, I was at an all-time low point.

And so, as the Vigil neared and Dawn talked with us about making our first confession, I knew it was a good idea. I also had no idea where to begin when I found myself face-to-face with a youthful Filipino priest who had recently joined the parish. I found myself rambling about what a horrible person I was, and he stopped me.

“You are not a horrible person. You are a GOOD person. You are God’s beloved daughter.”

I argued. With the priest. In the confessional. “NO! I’m NOT good!” And I started again, listing all my many faults and failings.

He shook his head and held up his hand. “No. I tell you, you are full of goodness. That is how God sees you. He wants to take these things from you. Will you give them to him?”

Of course I was a blubbery mess by this time. Utterly defeated. If he knew the worst of it, and declared that God wanted me anyway … who was I to argue?

Exhausted, I left the priest’s office and made my way to the church, where I knelt down in my favorite spot in front of the mural of the death of St. Joseph. It was the Holy Family at their most human, most vulnerable, most exposed to the realities of human existence. I knew God was offering me a fresh start. Both then and now, I am eternally grateful.

Are you in need of a fresh start? If you are Catholic, why not begin your journey toward wholeness and freedom with the sacrament of reconciliation? Don’t worry about how long it’s been, or what to say. God is ready to welcome you home. For more information about reconciliation (making confession) here is a one-page pdf you can print out and bring with you. Go with God!

Going up . . . the gift of spiritual authority

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, when the Lord returned to heaven in his glorified body.  “All authority on heaven and earth has been given unto Me . . .  now go unto the whole world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:16-20).

The gift of spiritual authority, passed from Jesus to his apostles and on to their successors, and the corresponding teaching/obeying dynamic that characterizes the spiritual relationship between pastors and their flock, can be a rare and wonderful thing.

Unfortunately, the idea of owing obedience to anyone is an increasingly foreign concept to most of us. Our parents obeyed their parents without question; as adults they deferred to authority figures such as pastors, teachers, and community leaders simply because of their position in society.

How that cultural paradigm has shifted!

Children regard authority figures with skepticism, even suspicion as their parents believe themselves to be their own final authority on everything from political sensibilities to personal ethics to moral values. “That might be right for you, but I don’t see it that way . . .” is irrefutable proof.   

The problem, of course, is that so long as we are our own plumbline, we can never know for sure when we are the ones who need to adjust our perspective. “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” We hear it in church or read it in quiet time, and never stop to consider the possibility of just how, precisely, we are to know what parts of us are still in need of personal transformation.

It’s easy to see the flaws and frailties of those around us, and know instinctively how much better off they would be if they would only change, how much better off we all would be if they would just have a “come to Jesus” moment and turn their lives over to God.  And so we pray, and ask for divine intervention.

And all the while it is our own hearts that are most in need of transformation. That person has been placed in our lives precisely because  God wanted to show us just how far from perfection we can be. Today in his homily the priest told a story about a father whose son was severely developmentally disabled, who somehow got a place on the school baseball team. At one game the team was losing so badly that the coach told the father he would put his son up to bat at the end of the inning.

When it was time for the boy to face the pitcher, the team was down three runs. They needed a homerun to win the game. The kid swung, and missed. Then a teammate came up behind him, and helped him hit. For some unfathomable reason, the other team purposely let him get on first base, then the next and the next. This small, spastic kid won the game. “Sometimes I get mad, and I ask God how he can be ‘perfect,’ and still create someone like my son,” admitted the father. “But in that moment, I realize that with his life, he was creating that perfection in other people — because of how they responded to him, they were given a chance to be more perfect than they otherwise would be.”

Who is that person in your life? That emotionally stunted, morally obtuse, intellectually clueless individual whose very existence causes your innards to twist?  Someone . . . whom God has entrusted the responsibility to be the thorn in your side, forcing you to grow in loving perfection not because of their example, but despite it?

Heavenly Father, take the blinders from my eyes. Let me see the beauty beneath the brokenness.

Guide me, step by step, towards the moment when at last I see you, and understand it all.   

Missteps and Mercy

These past few days a series of events have led me think about the human tendency to make mistakes that require us to extend grace and mercy to others, just as God extends that grace and mercy to us when we deliberately choose sin. The primary difference is intentionality:

The thoughtless action (or omission)

The unintended offense

The hastily spoken (and poorly chosen) word
While these things do wound and grieve other people, we tend to gloss them over with, “But that’s not what I MEANT! That’s not what I INTENDED!”

Nevertheless, these “slips” do contain destructive seeds, capable of wounding and alienating those we hold dear.

This week I’ve found myself on both sides of the banana peel. I sent an impulsive “Valentine” to a few friends, which a chance comment from my sister made me realize that it might have struck some as suggestive. I saw it as a playful romp down memory lane … then, after the fact, realized that it might have struck some as simply … TMI. Oops.

Yesterday was especially hard. Two people, in the span of an hour, had me in tears because what I had needed from them and what I received were so completely and unexpectedly different. (I probably could have handled one, but not both.) In the first instance, I felt additional salt rubbed into the wound when this person turned the tables and informed me that it was I, not her, who needed to apologize. (I did, but later I felt so manipulated that I just got angry.)

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
those who trespass against us.”

The thing about trespasses is … well, you don’t always realize when you’ve invaded someone else’s space, do you? And yet the offense is no less real for this lack of intention. What a great opportunity, then, for us to show mercy and do what we can to mend that breach.

  • Sometimes, that means letting something go, for the sake of the relationship.
  • Sometimes, it means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.
  • Sometimes, it means adjusting the nature of the relationship itself.
Lord Jesus, thank you that when you came to earth to show us the way to heaven, you never held anything back. You gave everything you had, even life itself, to remind us of the Father’s mercy. Help us to imitate our Heavenly Father in a more intentional way, this day and every day. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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