March 20, 2010
Reconcilliation and Absolution
Light To The World Lighted Cross that perches in a very steep hillside overlooking the valley below...
Mount Sequoyah Conference Center Fayetteville Arkansas
Every child who received Christian instruction learns the story of the man who's friends brought him to Jesus by lowering him through the roof. You remember that first Jesus says to him "My son, your sins are forgiven you"... This gave rise to protests from religious leader present and even today you will hear in Protestant Churches..."Who can forgive sins but God alone?"... Jesus goes on to say "Why do you ask this question? Which is easier to say, "your sins are forgiven or Rise, take up your bed and walk? But so you will know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins I say to you "Rise, take up your bed and walk" (Mark 2:1-12) As a Protestent I longed to hear those word said to me... "my son, your sins are forgiven you" As a Church of Christ Preacher I would preach sermons about forgiveness and wonder..truly are my sins forgiven?... There is much emphasis on the Lord's Supper...and the need to be fully confessed and not partake in an "unworthy manner".Was I unworthy? Was that why certain sins kept "hanging on" Was there something unaffective in my baptism ( I Cor 11:27)
All along I wondered if I needed to have been alive in the time of Jesus to have heard those words of pardon and forgiveness, or would I forever wonder...
Bruce Sullivan "Christ In His Fullness"
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”
St John 20:21-23
The Church is quiet, it is in the middle of the day, I can hear, off in the distance, the laughter of the preschoolers in the day care center that is run there on the campus. I wait in the Adoration Chapel until Msgr Scott comes and gets me... "Well... are you ready?" he says with a smile..."ready as I will ever be" and we walk into the church through a set of glass doors to the confessional room.
Gone are the days of tiny closets and wooden boxes. With scandal and accusations ever at the forefront, there are few truly private confessionals anymore and certainly none in modern Catholic churches in this country. You have the illusion of privacy but the lightly stained glass and the clear glass doors so that both sides of the screen are in full view from the outside. Its obvious that people are in there… As one young man said in class…”Why be so concerned about visual privacy, so you are confessing to Father…so what?” So what indeed my young friend, hopefully you will never have anything so pressing and shameful that such privacy will be needed.
But like the young man, I have similar feelings about this most misunderstood of the seven Sacraments. I wonder why people don’t take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to have this kind non judgmental person that cares about you listen to you unburden yourself. I have wondered how hard this could be month in and month out….that was until I sat down and really thought about what a monumental task this was going to be to prepare for my first confession.
First I thought that I was going to have to go back to my childhood and confess as many sins as I could remember. That was enough to make me cringe. How does one do that? So true to my 21 century electronic age culture and information gathering skills I went to that wealth of spiritual resource Google and pulled up this gem http://anglicanhistory.org/pusey/pusey1.html this treatise, written 150 years ago, was very helpful. Then I met with Father and he said “Oh, no you have only to go back to when you were baptized, which was 1990…and no laundry lists, lets talk about real things that hold you back, get you down… things you want to be rid of …” That really helped a lot. I have a lot I want to lay down and I only have to deal with recent sins instead of a lifetimes worth of sins. This is because baptism effectively washed the sins of my youth from my soul… This was a new concept when I first heard it….and I think that this is one of the things that draws me to the Catholic church… The Sacraments
The Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions....
I intend to write more about the sacraments, but this is so important. We Evangelicals and Protestants of every stripe have lost a valuable gift in giving up the sacraments. I am only just now coming to understand the value of a tangible touchable understandable evidence of the graces imparted by our Lord… and the sacrament of Reconciliation or Pennace is one of the most misunderstood. I have heard from friends and family that “you don’t need a priest to be forgiven. Well that is true and the “forgiveness of desire” is found as a legitimate theological precept in the Catechism. However, the concept that “confession is good for the soul, is very accurate. As it says in the book of James
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:14-16
I can only explain by telling the rest of the story.
I sat down over a course of days and broke my life down into segments based on lifes experience. My single life prior to meeting Woody, my courtship and marriage, the first few years , the time in Hawaii and then the time in Arkansas and our divorce. Like I have said before our life together was a play in three acts and it fit neatly into the structure laid out by Rev. Pussey in that article. I also wrote about my experience with Mr. Wonderful and confessed my inordinate attachment to him and how sorry I am for the damage this has caused so many people. I confessed my feelings of resentment towards my parents and my family, how even as they have hurt me deeply the resentment is a cancer that I want to be gone from my life….
My self indulgent sins, personal flaws and faults I had a laundry list, as do most people I filled a dozen pages or more in this notebook with the entire mess. I prayed about it and wondered how I would do….
I entered the room and there was a chair for me. This was a special appointment as I was not going to be able to go in the evening with the other candidates, since I am working. I sat down. I cant kneel anymore. My knees are so bad from the nasty falls I have taken and my weight. I opened my notebook and after Father said the bidding prayers…I began
“ Bless me Father for I have sinned. This is my first confession. I was baptized in June of 1990, and have tried with all of my heart to live the way Jesus would have me to live and I have failed most wretchedly, may God have mercy on my soul….”
I began to read my notes and it all came back to me. The sins both of commission and omission… I let it all go, from my bitterness regarding my barrenness to my desire for a married man I can never have, to my active rage at Woody for his faults, to my resentments towards my family for their misunderstanding and non acceptance of me… I asked God to forgive me of the defects of character that plague me due to my father’s and Woody’s drinking, and my mother’s controlling behavior.
My uncontrollable anger… My inordinate desires I cannot control…even my immaturity that while is not a fault or defect of character but in my struggle to try to grow up, I hurt people, and cause a lot of grief.
Father asked a few questions for clarification, admonished me to not see Mr. Wonderful again, ask if he was the reason for my divorce. I could say no truthfully. While he inspired me to find myself and to reach for better greater things he wasn’t the reason Woody and I are apart…and with that, I received the penance of saying the Rosary everyday for three days in reparation for the pain I have caused other people… and then came the Act of Contrition which I felt with all of my heart as I said these words…
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
Then Msgr Scott came to my side of the partition and stood over me and extended his hands in blessing over me, and prayed the prayer of absolution:
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son
has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
I have stood under waterfalls in Hawaiian streams, the pounding shower of water that flows over you in a stream of refreshing blissful coolness after a hot sweaty hike to get to them…It is one of the most wonderful feelings I have ever experienced… I had a similar rush after this prayer… I felt like a burden of years was lifted off of me and that God really and truly forgiven me.
Heaven opened wide its windows and the light of God poured into my heart… I will never forget this moment.
Father asked me if I felt different… Yes I do and yes I will be different from this day forward.
I finish this on the eve of my reception into the Church on Good Friday night. I am at work surrounded by my coworkers that are as supportive of this moment as family should be…some even in a sort of awe that I would do this at this point in my life. On man said that I will be forever changed after tomorrow night. I know that I am changed even now. Thank you God for this great gift
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