Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"Boy, was I bored!"

Confessions tonight, 8-9:30 pm, Newman Center. "The Light is on for You"

Last night, we had a couple of discussions at the Newman Center. The first one was on service and the second one on faith. The latter discussion was about making a comeback in faith with students who are trying to do just that. I told my story of how my Catholic faith was awakened in college. The basic point of my talk was that faith is a's something we receive. God is the source of our faith, so if we want to make a "comeback" in faith, we need to go to Him more...we need to receive more of His Grace in order for our faith to grow. As Catholics, that primarily means coming to the sacraments more, especially the Eucharist.

I finished my story by talking about the priest who was instrumental in my "comeback", Fr. Wells. I gave them each a copy of his book, "From the Pastor's Desk", which is a collection of his reflections (it was done by people after he was killed in 2000). Here is one of his brilliant reflections, which is related to what we discussed last night:

"Grace of Frequent Confession" (June 21, 1998)

"During a period of about four or five years, I served as a confessor to a convent of about twenty sisters. This meant that every two weeks, I would go across town for a couple of hours to hear the confessions of those who chose to take advantage of the sacrament on that particular day. How does one put this politely? Well, let me say only that these women took their vocations very seriously and, happily, they had little 'serious matter' to confess. In other words, on more than a few afternoons, with the sun shining warmly into the room where he sat, Father had to be gently called back to full awareness of what he was doing. Boy, was I bored! And then, as God would have it, something happened. Since I was there for four or five years and, therefore, heard the same sisters' confessions regularly over that time, I began to notice changes in the sisters. Without even their fully noticing, these individuals, in ways unique to their spiritual journeys, showed the grace of the sacrament in their lives. Impatience with this or that sister began to fade; stubbornness in the face of authority became a bit less challenging, or frustration with the girls in the school showed itself only after just a bit more provocation.

I had always heard that the sacramental grace of confession is that we are gradually given the help to turn away from habitual sin. These sisters, already close to God, showed me how grace, over time, gently turns us away from all that is not of God. What is true for religious women can, of course, be true for any of us; and interestingly, I also see it here at Lourdes. As you know, we hear confessions daily from 11:30 to noon. Because confession is so avaailable, we get so many people from the offices nearby. Most go behind the screen so, in one sense, I have no idea who they are; but as with those sisters, it is fascinating (and inspiring) to hear the spiritual journeys of individuals. And unlike the sisters, some begin that journey after years away from confession. Habits of sin, I have come to believe, are addictive in some ways and, therefore, are hard to break. One of the reasons I have come to love hearing confessions is that it is such a thrill to hear of the gradual victory over the addiction of habits of sin. We are tough and stubborn - almost like sidewalk concrete - but given an opening in ourselves, grace can gradually destroy the hardness of sin.

St. Paul says that faith is the ability to believe in things unseen. So many Catholics seem to have lost faith in the Sacrament of Penance. The act of confesing sins can be, of course, tough. It is true, certainly, that venial sins are forgiven through receiving communion, for example; and therefore, there is no obligation, in the strict sense, to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance unless there is serious sin. Obligation is one thing; opportunity is another. What a tremendous gift that promises that, in time and with God's grace, we can gradually move away from those petty habits of sin that so impede us from living the life of Christ. May God continue to draw people back to regular use of this wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation."


Anonymous said...

A good comment from one who is also a good confessor. Grace does come from unexpected places, at least in my experience.

Anonymous said...

Someone told me recently that despair can be a sin because it shows a lack of faith in God. Really?