Friday, January 11, 2013

Confession: Encountering The Mercy of Jesus

I finally had the chance to go to confession, fulfilling the desire I had last week on my birthday (see post dated January 4). I am 50 years old. I made my first confession when I was 7 years old. A lot of confessions. A lot of mercy.

It is a wonder, really. Here is the same Jesus who said to the paralytic, "your sins are forgiven." Now this same Person says this surprising and seemingly impossible thing to me two thousand years later, through the ministry of a priest.

It is a sacrament, a mystery of God's love that happens at a specific time and a specific place; a gift of grace that I receive in a historical way, from Jesus through a man who extends the priesthood of Jesus and His saving love through all space and time so that He reaches me and my particular sins. His healing reaches down to all my ingratitude and forgetfulness, which I try to express to Him in a particular way, with particular words.

It is an encounter between my fragile conscience and the Infinite Mercy of God.

I try to go to confession every month. But not because I think I have broken my relationship with God by grave sin every month. I don't have to go every month. So what's the point of my going to regular confession?

First of all, I hardly trust in my own assessment of my soul, however honest and thorough it may be. "But who can detect all his errors? From hidden faults acquit me. From presumption restrain your servant and let it not rule me. Then shall I be blameless, clean from grave sin" (Psalm 19[B]:12-13). Wretched man that I am. I throw myself upon the mercy of God! In this sacrament, however, we are not required to produce an impossible self-analysis. We are called upon to accuse ourselves as best we can, and trust in the merciful love of Jesus.

Of course, trials and temptations abound, and I know that I am as capable as Peter (or Judas) of betraying Jesus. "He that thinks himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).  I beg that the Lord sustain me in His mercy. I pray that He give me the grace to be faithful to Him.

With trust in the mercy of Jesus, I make my monthly confession. It is what is sometimes called a "devotional" confession. I think it is important to emphasize the value of this sacrament not only to restore the life of grace when lost through serious sin, but also for those who are walking with Christ, and living the life of grace. Such persons are far from "coherent" in their Christian lives. They need the grace of this sacrament to heal and strengthen them against falling away from Him, to preserve them from becoming lukewarm, and just to let Jesus go to work on all the weird stuff that still distracts and preoccupies their lives.

I love regular confession. I know that it is such a blessing to take out of myself and give to Jesus the stubborn mistakes, the childish impatience, the petty irritations, the mediocre vanity, the laziness, the nippy little rash judgments, misperceptions, and self-satisfaction that constitute 99% of my daily life.

Its true that I don't have to confess any of these things. They're not grave sins. But there's not a whole lot of positive stuff going on with my actions either. I still live mostly for myself, afraid to go beyond my own limits. God has given Himself to me, but where is my love? Why is it so small?

So much of me still sleeps in superficial preoccupations. God's life in me is hidden away, buried, constrained by all this nonsense. I am alive in Christ, but wounded. Even when I want to walk, I limp badly.

If there is anything -- anything at all -- that has real value in my life, it comes from the grace of Jesus. He really does act and renew my particular life, in such a way that it is clear to me that I must never let go of Him. But consider what He still has to work with:
Add all my misshapen semi-habits to aspire to do God's will, to be true, good and beautiful, along with some not-so-good character flaws, a quirky personality, a mind always thinking all over the place, some poetic insight and some skill for turning a phrase, a life experience with rough patches, an empathetic disposition, vast gaps of emotional immaturity, and of course a neurologically dysfunctional brain, other health problems, disability, insomnia, and just the ordinary "weight" the human condition. And I can't even begin to understand all the stuff that is going on in the "subconscious" (or whatever it is), that vast murky underworld beneath my awareness. What we have here in John Janaro is a big mess! 
And I judge other people? Its preposterous. We really have to love people. That doesn't mean we ignore when they are being self-destructive and destructive of others. It means we see them with love. Even when we know what's true and real, we don't know all that's going on inside that other person. I gather from my own experience that the inner world of every human being is basically pretty freaky. Jesus needs our love to touch deep places in the lives of others that we will never understand. If we are given some of that bread that is the Word of God, and we see someone hungry, we share it, not by bending down and offering a few crumbs, but by being with them, and sharing both the gift and our common poverty. If they turn away from us, we still have to stay -- as best we can -- and share their suffering.

For we are all poor, poor, poor human beings. Whatever our circumstances, we all have hearts made for God. We are poor and hungry and invested with a desire that refuses to die even when it turns to desperation. We are wounded and, somewhere in the midst of all our freakiness, we are longing for healing.

I am a poor Christian. How can I be a witness? Certainly not by pointing to myself and saying, "look how great I am." But Someone Else has come into my life and awakened an unconquerable hope that my poverty might be transformed into humility and love. I don't know how this will reach its fulfillment, but this hope engenders trust in Him, moment by moment, and I begin to find healing. This is something that can become visible in my poor world.

Back to the sacrament of Reconciliation: Here is a sacrament that nourishes hope in a poor man. Here is a sacrament where I can encounter the healing Christ. He wants His love to fill my whole life. This healing and transformation of my self is a slow process, but still God wants to accomplish it. In this sacrament, He offers healing and strength, as a gift that comes forth, in a specific yet ineffable manner, from the glorified life of Christ that remains concretely present in the world -- in my world. It is something real. It is a gift of His love. It is a sacrament.

Here is where I bring my poverty, because I am a poor Christian full of hope. Here I find the promise of God's mercy, the redeeming grace of Jesus, the outpouring of the Spirit, and a real step on the path of communion with Him and with my brothers and sisters in the Church, and every person that shares the path of life with me. I pray that I might rejoice again and again in this gift, this mercy, so that the joy of His life will grow in me, and become more visible and worthwhile to the others who live in "my world."