“But if we acknowledge our sins, he who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong.” 1 John 1:9
Most of my life, I viewed confession as a burdensome part of being Catholic. I used to be afraid of going. Mainly I felt dread. Facing the priest with the same sins over and over again, or giving voice to any sin at all felt awful. But a simple incident reminded me of a key life lesson–we fear what we don’t truly know or understand, and Jesus always removes that fear.
When one of my sons moved back home with his American Pit Bull Terrier, I was mildly fearful around her. Dallas had an imposing frame and thickly-muscled broad head. One day as I came through the front door tired from a long work day, Dallas greeted me with bared teeth and heavy breathing back and forth through her menacing canines. Unsure I stood near the door calling for my son. He laughed when he saw me standing, briefcase still in hand, with Dallas “smiling” and eager for me to greet her. My son explained she was not baring her teeth to scare me; she was smiling because I was part of her pack and she was happy to see me.
With my son close by, I stooped down and grinned back at Dallas, pushing air back and forth through my teeth following her enthusiastic example. Her tail gyrated at hurricane force. I never feared Dallas again and now that I understand her intent we “smiled” at each other on a regular basis. We are friends and family.
I do not tell the story of a menacing dog with bared teeth to mean it is the same as facing a priest in the confessional. Rather, I share this to illustrate a point. Once I understood what was really going on with Dallas, my fear of her left me.
Understanding confession made a difference in my life too. Growing up I knew confession was good for me, but I was fearful. I knew it provided sacramental grace by lifting the burden of guilt from my soul, yet the dread persisted. But through a parish presented retreat program, Hearts Afire, fear really left me. At last I understood confession and was aware of Jesusâ€™ intent; his intense longing for friendship and union with us – his body, the branches of his vine. Jesus is rooted and waiting at the threshold to embrace, forgive, love, console, and commune with us–with me!
“Hence, declare your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may find healing.” James 5:16
Its been a journey to embrace confession and appreciate Our Lord’s wisdom in this sacramental gift.
Early in the retreat materials Father Michael Gaitley so beautifully writes,
Wonder of wonders” Jesus remains truly with us, not just in our minds through his Word, not just in our souls through faith and grace, but also bodily present with us in his Sacraments, where he continues to bless, forgive, cleanse, unite, heal, strengthen and make all things new. (The One Thing is Three “ How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything; Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC).
Just as understanding Dallas’ intense greeting allayed my fears, understanding Jesus’ intention for us through the miraculous sacrament of Confession changed me. While I don’t pretend to understand it all, I know in my heart that Jesus gave us confession as a means for us to grow closer to him, to keep getting up from the depths of the fall, and continue reaching upward toward his light.
Confession is still a bit uncomfortable for me. But I know Jesus’ ocean of mercy covers all. And for the repentant heart, then comes intimate communion through Jesus with God by the loving bond of the Holy Spirit.
~ Paula Veloso Babadi
In sunless depths, my wreckage
In darkness lies
In cold silence
In repressed screams
Scattered below the sandy floor.
Hides from sonar waves
Sins buried beneath
I have evaded anchor’s curves
Rescue from tumult
“Bless me father, for I have sinned,”
It seems an eternity since my last confession
“And these are my sins.”
His mercy is an ocean.
His light pierces darkness
His love reaches down,
Pulls me to his arms
Where I rest inside his heart
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee.”
His mercy is an ocean
Offering respite on glassy surfaces
Reflecting sky of balmy summer days
Beckoning upward a true and steady course
Back to the sun
Breathing spirit and life that
Once I knew.