Apr 10, 2009

I celebrate in the Forgiveness of Sin

On Wednesday night I went to my first Confession, or as the Church likes to say now - I received my first Reconciliation. Like with all of the Sacraments and/or Rites, it's one thing to read about it or know about it, and it's quite another thing altogether to experience it. So before I said I believe in the Forgiveness of Sins, and now I have celebrated it. I think I do better when I recount my experiences rather than trying to preach or teach, so here it goes.

For about thirty minutes before going to the church, I reflected on the Ten Commandments; AND the Beattitudes - this is how RCIA teaches us to contemplate our sins. Not simply, "Have I killed anyone?" but additionally things like, Have I valued human life? Have I hurt or injured anyone? Have I given care to my own life and the lives of others? Even more - have I helped those whose life is on the brink (whoa)? It's not just "What wrongs have I done?"; it's also "What good have I failed to do?"

As I usually do when I reflect on Christian ideas, I grew curious about the reasoning behind it, and I pulled out my notes from our RCIA class on Reconciliation. Here are some of the items I put a star next to:

  • Sins initially communal and Reconciliation only offered once - at Baptism; so early Christians were delaying Baptism until their death-bed - e.g., Constantine.

  • Experience Forgiveness: like parents and children - which is better? for child to passively expect forgiveness, or to say sorry and ask forgiveness?

  • Relationship with God - God is faithful to us even when we are not faithful to Him.

Anyway, I took notes of all the things I could remember. But as Fr. Joe told us, "neither the Church nor God will ever ask you to do anything that is impossible." So no need to worry about remembering everything we've ever done. (Technically, I only "have" to confess sins since my baptism about a year ago, but some people were baptized fifty years ago or more!)

There were three priests hearing Confessions - Fr. Joe and Fr. Emmanuel from St. Benedict (my parish), and Fr. Jim from St. Pius (Laura's parish, interestingly enough). Most of the RCIA candidates were there, along with other parishioners, and we reflected, contemplated, and prayed in the Chapel, one-by-one going into the Confessionals. Fr. Joe went into the Sacristy instead of a Confessional, which meant Confessions with him would be face-to-face. And I wanted Fr. Joe, so ... great. ;)

I reflected while I let the kids go first, then I was the first "adult" to go to Fr. Joe. I walked into the Sacristy, closed the door behind me, and he began: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." I responded, "Forgive me Father for I have sinned. This is my first Confession. ..."

Now of course, I'm not going to blog what I confessed or what we talked about. I'm preserving the comfort that everything discussed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is between God, the priest, and the penitent. I've always kinda liked that confidentiality.

After every Confession, we pray the Act of Contrition:
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and in failing to do good, I have sinned against You - whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with Your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.

I was assigned a prayer of penance, and I went back to the chapel to pray. I felt really bad because when I had gone to Fr. Joe there were about twenty or thirty people there. By the time I came back after my Confession, only about four were left! Yikes! It didn't feel like it was that long.

I prayed my penance, and prayed a little more because I have a few prayers I like to pray anytime I kneel to say any other prayer. I have to admit, I didn't feel an immediate flash of spiritual cleansing after Confession. Don't get me wrong - getting all of that stuff of my chest felt great, and I encountered the manifestation of God's mercy (rather than the judgement I expected). But it wasn't actually until the next day that I really felt some kind the spiritual effects ...

Maundy Thursday Mass is a Mass with quite a few purposes - receiving of the oils from the Chrism Mass into the local parish (the Bishop anoints the oils for the whole diocese during a single Mass in the Cathedral), washing of the feet of twelve parishioners (I was one of the twelve who had our feet washed by Fr. Joe [Bishop Slattery washes the feet of twelve prisoners every year]), recognition of the institution of the Eucharist at the Lord's Last Supper, and then finally we move the Blessed Sacrament from the main Altar to the Altar of Repose - a very somber act in which we remember that night as the time when Jesus was taken away from His disciples by the betrayal of Judas.

Now, in our previous Sunday Mass celebrations at St. Benedict, the RCIA group is dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word, before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When I've gone to some other Mass (e.g., the aforementioned Chrism Mass), I've always felt a little uncomfortable or awkward during Liturgy of the Eucharist. Some of it is unfamiliarity, but it was also a feeling of "I'm not ready for this."

But Thursday night was completely different. Instead of feeling unready for the Eucharist, I felt a strong desire for Christ in the Eucharist. I felt ready. I felt like it was were I belonged, like I was close to the closest I will ever come, in this world, to Christ's full presence.

I know there are reams and reams of more eloquent Catholic musings about the power, presence, and sanctity of the Eucharist. But I just know what I felt and I'm sure it was related to my Confession.


Jennifer and Daniel said...

I added your blog to my list... I really enjoy learning about your journey.

I have to admit I identify far more with the Pentecostal movement than the Catholic movement, but the idea of Confession is something that I often wish was more accessible in Protestant churches.

luke said...

Yeah, it's interesting to me that when I was Protestant and could theologically ascribe to forgiveness anytime, I felt like it was actually *less* accessible now that I understand it to be a sacrament.

Go figure, I guess.