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Anni Confession Ink Slingers Sacraments

Lent & Confession: Growing Closer to Christ

Lent & Confession: Growing Closer to ChristLent. 

For some, the word strikes fear into their hearts. Many times, it’s because people feel as though they have “failed,” before they have even begun. Looking at the three pillars of Lent – fasting, prayer, and almsgiving – the mere word brings up memories of not being able to “fast” the entirety of forty days.

Yet, as I have grown in my faith life, I have begun to look forward to Lent. I no longer view Lent as an opportunity to “pass/fail” at this Catholic Faith journey. Rather, I view it as a way to grow closer to Christ – to enter into the desert with Him, to journey with Him, and to enter deeply into His Passion… with Him.

It turns out, for most people, one of the scarier aspects of Lent is Confession.

Growing up, I usually was sent to Confession in October as punishment for any number of reasons. I would approach the Confessional, express my sins and contrition, ask forgiveness, and be handed the penance. Traditionally, I received the “standard” penance of three Hail Marys, or a decade of the Rosary, or my favorite – the entire Rosary. Then, I would kneel dutifully at the pew after Confession, and pray the penance. We never took part in the Lenten Penance Services, and honestly don’t recall if they were even offered at that time.

Fast forward to about five years ago, when I was introduced to this routine Lenten practice in most churches – the “penance services.” As I have grown fond of the Confessional and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I know it strikes fear into others’ hearts. And, I confess, although I have come to love the sacrament, sometimes I still squirm at the thought of saying my sins out loud in earshot of another person. Even if that person is a priest, who is standing in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ, while sitting across from me.

Yet, as I reflect back on Confession and penances, I am left with a few thoughts as to why Lent is the perfect time to sit with Christ in the Confessional, and to fully embrace the three pillars of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

First, penances are not meant to be punishment. As I previously learned and counseled families, punishments are not meant to be teaching tools. Rather, they usually focus solely on the negative behavior that occurred, and does not lead to a learning curve for the person receiving it. Instead of punishments, parents are encouraged to discipline their children – meaning the person receiving the discipline is learning tools to assist them in appropriate behavior. In the case of Confession, penance serves to teach the individual how to grow closer to Christ, so as to avoid even the “near occasion of sin” in the future. Gone are the days where the three Hail Marys are used as a penance. 

For example, perhaps one of my most meaningful penances was one in which I was told, “Go to Mass tonight and receive the Eucharist for your marriage.” Other Ink Slingers, writers for Catholic Sistas, have shared their most meaningful penances. One included recognizing themselves not just as a sinner, or a woman, but also as a cherished and beautiful daughter of God. Another Ink Slinger shared that the mere presence of the priest, smiling and offering such a compassionate presence, made her feel as though she was in the presence of Christ at a moment in which she had been expecting to be chastised. These penances were less about punishment, and rather about leading the sinner closer to the One Who forgives us our trespasses.

Second, the meaning behind the penances don’t always make sense, but with enough prayer, we may be able to suss out the intent. While I am still trying to figure out just what I was supposed to learn when I was given the penance of reading the entire Acts of the Apostles, other penances have been a little more clear with a little time in prayer.

For example, I was once told to pray for the person I was struggling to like and respect. I didn’t want to pray for them, but I grudgingly undertook completing that penance (especially since we are not to partake of Communion until after our penance is complete). I was very specific in my initial prayer for that person, letting God know I had no desire to pray for that person; rather, I wanted the anger I felt toward that individual to just go away. As the week progressed, I began to notice a shift in my approach to that person. Years since, I look back and realize that my heart gradually softened as I spent time offering a bad day here for that person, or a prayer there, specifically for that person. I had been honest with God – both in the Confessional, and in prayer – and, He gradually helped shift my thinking. He helped me gain some clarity over the situation which caused me pain and anger, and helped me shift my approach toward that individual. Without seeking a deeper meaning in prayer, that penance would have been lost to me.

Finally, Ink Slinger and Catholic Sistas editor, Misty, summarized perfectly, “God uses imperfect instruments to confer grace and bring us to salvation.” When we sit in the Confessional and receive our penance, we are not sitting with mortal men who are judging us. Rather, they sit there, offering the Grace and Mercy of Christ, as we find explained in Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The Sacrament of Reconciliation is known as a “Sacrament of Healing,” precisely because it heals our soul. Through the words of absolution by the priest, Confession repairs our soul’s relationship with Christ.

Lent is a time of entering the desert with Christ. The time we spend in the desert, fasting, praying, and giving of ourselves, we draw infinitely closer to Christ. This year, let each of us make a commitment to brave the uneasiness of the Confessional, and take some time to repair the damage our sins have done to the relationship with Christ. Allow the words of absolution to be spoken, and embrace the penance. 

See the penance not as a method of punishment, but rather an opportunity to work on journeying into a closer relationship with the One Who gave us, and still gives us, His whole body, His whole heart, His whole love…

Will you join me in the lines of the Confessional this Lent?

I would also love to hear – what has been your most meaningful penance?

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Alison W Confession Ink Slingers Sacraments Spiritual Growth

Exchanging Anger for Grace

Being angry with people is one of the leading reasons I land myself in Confession. Once, I had been offended by someone deeply, and felt this person owed me more respect and support. I felt this person was disrespecting my children and their needs. And I was angry. I had real anger seeping from my existence. It was that kind of anger that bites at every person within close distance and that isn’t fair to them. Worse, it was the kind of anger that blocks your relationship with God and steals your peace.

I was mad at one person, but was punishing everyone around me. Then my own son called me out on it. It’s pretty humbling to look your teenage boy in the eye and know his accusation of mom being hateful is on point. I apologized. That was when realized I needed to go to Confession, and needed help to get over it.

I would guess this is the kind of anger referred to in Scripture: “Refrain from anger; abandon wrath; do not be provoked; it only brings harm” (Psalm 37:8).

I very simply stated my condition in Confession. “I’m full of anger and I even feel justified.” My wonderful priest acknowledged me with a humble head nod and warm smile. Then he asked me to consider Jesus hanging on the cross. Picture our loving Jesus in so much pain, being mocked, thorns literally poking him in the head, nails in his hands, and through his feet. He, in this terrible suffering, asked God to forgive them for they know not what they do.

My perspective did change just enough and I could feel the grace helping me get out of my anger. In situations like this, I’ve found it’s better to rely more on the fact that Jesus will fill us with grace than in trying to get better on our own strength. Of course, we have a duty to try. But mostly, God just wants us to surrender.

It also was a reminder to offer my sufferings to God in union with Christ’s. And to get over myself a little bit. Further, it was a reminder to pray for the person who was causing my pain. In some mysterious way, that brings grace to forgive.

If we never suffered or were never tempted to be angry, we also wouldn’t have the opportunity to feel the grace and raw love of Jesus. I’m so thankful for the option to exchange anger for grace. I’m so thankful for the sacraments and the love of Jesus.

If you are struggling with anger, I encourage you to encounter God’s healing love for you Confession. Do you have any other tips for exchanging anger for grace?

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Faith Formation Feast Days Ink Slingers Mindy Saints

Obedience to God Alone: St. Maximilian Kolbe

A remarkable book came my way recently by a Polish Carmelite priest named Fr. Ladislaus Kluz, OCD. Kolbe and the Kommandant: Two Worlds in Collision offers a dual biography of two figures which have captured the attention of millions in recent history but for dramatically and painfully different reasons.

Growing up within a few hundred miles from each other and only six years apart, Kluz describes how both St. Maximilian Kolbe, Catholic priest and martyr, and Rudolph Hoess, Kommandant of Auschwitz, were each raised in devout Catholic families. In fact, both men desired to become  priests, and by the time of his execution for war crimes, Hoess expressed regret that he had not continued to follow God’s law and pursue a priestly vocation, rather than giving his obedience blindly to the Nazis.

At a young age, St. Kolbe entered the Conventual Franciscan Order and Hoess gave up on his plans to become a priest and gave up his faith. Instead, he became a militant and decorated soldier who began to apply himself to the  base and dehumanizing treatment of his fellow man for the cause of German dominance. After serving a prison sentence for murder, Hoess settled into what he hoped would be a quiet life of agriculture with his wife and children as he subscribed to the ideology of the Artaman Union, a group of young people from many political groups in Germany who desired to reject the superficiality of the day and return to a healthy and natural peasant life. But it wouldn’t be long before the Nazis would find in his former dehumanizing behavior a suitable tool for their cause.

In the meantime, St. Kolbe, even prior to ordination, began Militia Immaculata, an apostolate dedicated to increasing faith and devotion to the Immaculate Conception. While placing their vows of poverty at the center of their community, the Blessed Mother showered graces upon their efforts until their evangelizing publication reached millions in Europe and tens of thousands in Japan and other countries. St. Kolbe was an intrepid missionary and profoundly moving witness to Christ in the context of spiritual father and confessor.

Eventually, Hoess became the mastermind behind the death chambers of Auschwitz, particularly proud of the efficiency with which he could execute huge numbers of people. St. Kolbe was imprisoned in several camps, finally arriving at Auschwitz, where he ultimately provided a shining and otherworldly example of love and peace for those who knew him.

He was a refugee from insanity. I remember I risked my life once. I stole some potato peelings from a kitchen cart. And though Fr. Kolbe was very, very hungry, he didn’t ask for any food. He gave his food away, the little food we received, twice a day. The average American doesn’t realize, even the Catholics don’t realize, of his existence, his greatness. He gave away his food. He taught me so many things. His lips were swollen from hunger, but he was always smiling, always cheerful, the only one. Go spoke through him. It was always raining at Auschwitz and Fr. Kolbe said it was God crying with us.

Sigmund Gorson, Polish Jew and survivor of Auschwitz*

When a man was to be executed who cried out in pain for the fate of his wife and children, St. Kolbe volunteered to take his place, spending more than two weeks in starvation barracks, leading the other 9 men with him in hymns of praise to God as they each died, one by one. By the time the barracks were opened, St. Kolbe was the only man left alive—the orderly who removed his body from the cell testified that “it was strangely clean and radiant, not grimy and contorted as the others were”—and they finished him off with a lethal injection on August 14, 1941. His body was burned and ashes commingled with the countless others who met their earthly demise in that same place. At his canonization, the only first class relics which could be offered to the Church were collections of soil from Auschwitz.

Hoess, once the Nazis were defeated, stood trial and was sentenced to death, hung just outside of Auschwitz on April 16th, 1947. The author includes a great deal of personal correspondence from Hoess, who wrote an autobiography before he died and also wrote to his wife and children. Eventually, he came to express remorse about his actions. While it is clear that he initially denied responsibility, placing any of his own culpability into the hands of his superiors to whom he was unquestionably obedient, he wrote several times of the shock he experienced when finding, in the Polish prison, that there, the Poles still continue to see in him his humanity and treat him with dignity.

This, it appears, was the eventual means by which Hoess took responsibility for his role at Auschwitz.

My conscience is forcing me to make also the following assertion: In the isolation prison I have reached the bitter understanding of the terrible crimes I have committed against humanity. As a Kommandant of the extermination camp at Auschwitz, I have realized my part in the monstrous genocide plans of the Third Reich. By this means I caused humanity and mankind the greatest harm, and I brought unspeakable suffering particularly to the Polish nation. For my responsibility, I am now paying with my life. Oh, that God would forgive me my deeds! People of Poland, I beg you to forgive me! Just now in the Polish prisons have I recognized what humanity really is. In spite of everything that happened I have been treated humanely, which I had never expected, and this has made me feel deeply ashamed. Would to God…that the fact of disclosing and confirming those monstrous crimes against mankind and humanity may prevent for all future ages even the premises leading to such horrible events. (emphasis mine)

Eventually, Hoess requested a Catholic priest to be brought, and Fr. Lohn, a Jesuit, was brought to the prison from Cracow to hear his final confession and grant him absolution.

St. Kolbe eventually became glorified as a Saint in heaven, interceding for all who call upon him.

That both these men can be reconciled with God and spend eternity with him—what a scandalous faith we have! As Paul proclaimed,

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18, NAB

With God, even the most hardened sinners can be redeemed and spend eternity with Him.

May the prayers of St. Maximilian Kolbe convert many souls in this difficult age.

*All quotes above come from the book cited at the top.