by Randy Hain | March 11, 2011 1:00 pm
I have been thinking a great deal about my experience at Reconciliation a few weekends ago. I felt an intense and unexplainable urge to go and confess my sins when I woke up Saturday morning. I try to go every six weeks or so, but this was no routine visit to the Priest for me. I needed to unburden myself of the numerous venial sins I had committed since I last participated in this Sacrament. For possibly the first time in the five years since I joined the Church, I was able to see the true nature of these sins as a tremendous burden on my shoulders, as a fog that kept me from seeing the path ahead and absolutely as an obstacle in my relationship with Christ. I know these observations to be true because the moment I left the confessional booth I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted, my spiritual vision was restored and I was again focused on serving the Lord.
Sin has weight. Every sin I commit in thought, word or deed is transformed into baggage that I carry around with me. As the weight accumulates, I begin to experience dryness in my prayer life. I make excuses for not reading the Bible and other books on our Catholic faith. My enthusiasm for sharing my faith with others becomes dampened under the burden of the sins I am carrying. My relationship with Christ is negatively affected and the joy I should feel gives way to nagging self-doubt and guilt – all because of sin. I am ashamed to admit that I feel like I am going through the motions at times when the weight of sin becomes too great. These bad habits which creep in are my warning signs, but do I heed these warnings fast enough? How do I break out of this negative pattern?
Stop and reflect with me for just a minute. When is the last time you went to Reconciliation? How did you feel the very moment you were absolved from your sins and did your penance? Compare that feeling with your state of mind today. Have you noticed any of the warning signs I mentioned in the second paragraph? Any that I did not mention? These questions are not for the purpose of making you feel guilty. I just want to encourage you to pause and reflect a little, as I have recently, on how accumulated sin throws us off track and puts barriers between us and serving Christ.
One of the wonderful gifts we have as Catholics is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When I was reading about Catholicism in 2005 in advance of my conversion into the Church a year later, I was immediately drawn to this Sacrament. I clearly understood through scripture that Christ had given his disciples the power to absolve sins and our Priests are the delegates of Christ and the successors of the early disciples. If you ask a Catholic convert about the first time they participated in this Sacrament, don’t be surprised at how deep and profound the experience was for them. I made my first Reconciliation as a 40 year old man and the experience of confessing decades of sin was both terrifying and cathartic for me. I will never forget how much better and liberated I felt when I cast aside the burdens I had been carrying around for all those years and the slate was swept clean!
It is easy for us to simply say: “I will go to Reconciliation more often!” It is certainly desirable for us to participate in this Sacrament more frequently, but I want to encourage all of us to think carefully about one of the key lessons of this reflection: Our sins, if not addressed and confessed, will negatively impact our relationship with Christ and the daily practice of our Catholic faith. Another important lesson is to avoid destructive patterns: Reconciliation, followed by a period of sins, Reconciliation, followed by a period of the same sins…is madness! How do we grow in our faith journey and break this pattern? Please consider these practical actions to lessen the burden of sin, break out of harmful routines and make the Sacrament of Reconciliation more fruitful:
Dr. Peter Kreeft says the Church is a “Hospital for sinners, not a museum for Saints.” We all sin and fall short. Let’s be mindful that these sins are a weight around our neck, they obscure our vision and they are obstacles to our relationship with Christ. Going to Reconciliation more frequently is a great step, but consider the opportunities to shed this burden through increased self-awareness, different actions, deeper reflection, a stronger prayer life and a sincere trust in the mercy of God. Leading faithful Catholic lives centered in Christ is challenging enough. Maybe, just maybe, we can stop tripping ourselves up along the way.
Additional Resources on the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
The Spiritual and Psychological Value of Frequent Confession by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Sacrament of Penance: Examination of Conscience by Fr. John Trigilio
Father Z’s 20 Tips for Making a Good Confession by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: Questions and Answers from the USCCB website
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