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!

Weekend Ponderings: Mercy Sunday

auschwitz

What do the Catholic Writers Conference Online, Auschwitz, Servant of God John Paul II, and confessionals have in common? They all make me think of one of my favorite feasts of the year, Mercy Sunday.

At CWCO 2009 this year, Danielle Bean talked about comments she gets from women who disapprove  her choice to combine her vocation inside the home with her work as editor of Faith and Family. That this homeschooling mother of eight manages to find a spare minute to do everything else she does is nothing short of remarkable … and yet she freely admits that she is sometimes taken aback when other moms criticize.

“Women are way too quick to tear each other apart. I think a lot of that comes from pride and insecurity. If I am confident that what I am doing is best for my family, I need to embrace it … And then the ‘snippy’ people can’t even touch me.”

Ironically, it is Christian women — those who have experienced for themselves the boundless grace of God in their own lives — who can be hardest both on themselves and on one another. We are quick to criticize, and slow to see when a sister in Christ needs nothing so much as a word of encouragement. In no time, we become imprisoned by the combined weight of a thousand assumptions, impressions, and assertions … all of which can be released with a single timely word of grace.

And so, in honor of Mercy Sunday I’d like to take a moment to recall a time in my life when I experienced this unexpected brush with grace, in the last place some Catholics expect to find it … in a confessional. The article, “Tender Mercies,” was originally published by Canticle magazine in 2007, examines the origins of Mercy Sunday, and affirms the sacramental graces that are available to those humble enough to ask for them.

Weekend Ponderings: Motherly Solitude

play-timeTonight as Sarah and I were getting the kids ready for bed (all of us in one hotel room, which means that I am writing this in the dark as four exhausted kidlets and my co-adventurer slumber blissfully in their beds), I managed to twist my bad ankle. Again. And yet, like a goose I kept right on doing what I had been doing before I hurt myself. I think I was getting somebody some cough medicine, or lovey, or some other such life-or-death errand.

“You know, I COULD do that for you,” Sarah pointed out. And of course she was right. I could have retired to my bed and let her run around on her two perfectly good feet. Instead I gritted my teeth and soldiered on. What a dummy!!!

After I finally settled in bed that night, I recounted the story to Sarah about getting my crutches from the basement. I posted about this at “Mommy Monsters” the other day. What I did not mention in the story was the inner dialogue that took place before I actually hobbled downstairs for the crutches. For about ten minutes, I wracked my brain to think of someone I could call to come over and get those crutches for me … Someone I didn’t mind seeing the carpet full of puppy shrapnel (garbage bag bits, pieces of rawhide, assorted spongy toy bits), last night’s dinner dishes still on the kitchen counter, and a whole basement full of … well, let’s just say a basement full, and leave it at that.

I couldn’t think of a single person. Not one. Those I knew well enough to call either worked or lived FAR away, and those I knew casually … I didn’t have their phone number to “promote” them. So I got the blasted things myself.

“What does that say about me,” I asked Sarah, “that I don’t have any close friends to call at a time like this?”

“I think it means you’re like the rest of us,” said my good friend. “I have one person I could call if I had been in your situation, and when her husband told her they might have to move, I told HIM he might have to take me along, too. Most of my really good friends are online …”

I felt a little better then, but still I knew that this little red flag, popping up as it has so close to Lent, signals a character flaw that needed some attention. The problem was my idiotic pride, not wanting anyone to see the house in such a state. I mean, if someone had called ME to help after they had spent two days trying not to walk, I wouldn’t expect House Beautiful.

The funny thing is … it’s part of womanly human nature to help, to come alongside, to support. It’s infinitely easier to do that … than to ask for help. Even when we know it’s the right thing to do.

When was the last time you felt you needed help … and were too embarrassed/shy/self-conscious/fill in the emotion to do so? If you had it to do over … would you?

In today’s Gospel, from the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus observes that those who are truly disciples are not those who stand on ceremony, or who are too proud to bend low and admit just how short of perfection they fall:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.”

In the Kingdom of God, those who labor to project a flawless, seamless image never get very far. However, those who are willing to let go of the things most precious to them (including their own reputations) in order to follow in the footsteps of our Master ….  leaning on Him all the way … attain the pathway to true perfection. “Saints,” we call them. 

Note to self:  Look for an opportunity this week to ask for a little help … exercise that humility muscle! The sacrament of reconciliation is a good place to start. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a new friend along the way!

Weekend Ponderings: “Make me clean, Lord.”

From the first chapter of Mark, the Gospel reading this weekend:

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning the him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn’t just send the man home — why He insisted that the leper receive the blessing of the priests before returning home? Surely, Jesus knew that the man was well, that he was not going to endanger his family or his community by returning home. Why did He send the leper to the priest?

In Mathew 18:18, we read an encounter between Jesus and His apostles that gives us a clue: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

This is the basis for sacramental confession. When the guilt of wrongdoing weighs upon us, there is nothing quite like the exhilarating release of hearing the absolution of the priest who reminds us of the loving forgiveness of God … to make us whole again.

Lent is coming soon. It’s a great time to avail ourselves of the sacraments, even if it’s been a while since we last went. Tuck a copy of the act of contrition in your sleeve and go … or ask the priest to help you. Believe me, you won’t be the first to do so.

Just go … you’ll be glad you did!

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