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Alyssa Azul Confession Ink Slingers Sacraments Spiritual Growth

The Rigorous Road to Confession

I remember my first face-to-face confession in 2011 so vividly. I was at a youth conference with hundreds of others, and I felt moved in my heart to go. Father was sitting in the corner of a cafeteria and there were people bustling in the background. I was terrified. I had only understood the sacrament as one of the most unpleasant things that Catholics had to do, and each step I took weighed me down. I remember that I ended up sobbing to the priest because I was so overcome with shame and embarrassment. I did what any teenager would do in a situation of complete humiliation. I ran as far away as I could.

I didn’t go to confession for almost 6 years.

Photo by Jyotirmoy Gupta on Unsplash

That was, until the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis completely changed my relationship with the sacrament of reconciliation.This book was given to me as gift by some dear friends in 2016, which marked the beginning of my long road back to the confessional.

Pope Francis’ words stopped me in my tracks.

Many humble people confess to having fallen again. The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is always to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds.” (The Name of God is Mercy)

Staying on the ground licking our wounds. This is exactly what many of us spend our time away from God doing. I was speaking to a friend about going to confession on a regular basis, and we agreed that the hardest part isn’t actually sitting in the confessional, it’s getting to it. I would describe the journey back to confession like the 40 years the Israelites spent in the desert. The months, weeks, and days leading up to your next confession can feel the most punishing. It is in the desert where we are most prone to the illusions and doubts planted by the evil one. We are hungry, thirsty, hot and tired. It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves, and even easier to jump at the sparkling glass of water in the distance to instantly quench our thirst.

In reality, many of us stay on the ground because we cannot fathom a love–a mercy– so divine and unconditional. Perhaps it’s because we tend to picture God as made in our image. One that is quick to anger and unforgiving like we are. We start to entertain the idea that we are worthless and that God wouldn’t dare embrace us after the countless chances we’ve been given.

Sound familiar? These are the lies we hear when we are in the desert. Satan tempts us with the illusion of a world without mercy.

Here is the crux: He is not a God that is made in our image; we are made in His.

So why face God in our sin and shame? He sacrificed his only son so that we would have the chance to be right with Him again (Romans 3:23-24). Therefore, we need to keep our eyes on the cross, especially when it’s hard to see. We may be tired, discouraged, and deliriously wandering through the desert, but God’s mercy is right before us. We must accept it. Pope Francis said it beautifully:

“Jesus waits for us, he goes ahead of us, he extends his hand to us, he is patient with us. God is faithful. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, no one can put a limit on the love of the all-forgiving God. Just by looking at him, just by raising our eyes from ourselves and our wounds, we leave an opening for the action of his grace. Jesus performs miracles with our sins, with what we are, with our nothingness, with our wretchedness.” (The Name of God is Mercy)

If God is patient and faithful with us, then maybe we start with being patient with ourselves.

We put going to confession off because we think, “what’s the point? I’ll just fall again.” Maybe we also think, “other people need me, and I don’t have time to do this for myself!” There are countless excuses we can make. I find that the longer I stay away from repentance and His mercy, the more cluttered my life starts to feel. Simply living day-to-day is a struggle. My pastor always says, “we shouldn’t forget to do a spring cleaning of the soul!” God also becomes the doctor whom I keep rescheduling appointments with. My spiritual health suffers and old sores become inflamed again.

Today I still carry some of those wounds, but I’m finding the courage to bring them before the Lord whenever they open up. I’m slightly embarrassed that the priest I confess to now recognizes who I am, but he always begins by saying, “first of all, thank you for coming back to confession.” I wonder if he ever gets tired of saying that.

“The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”- Pope Francis

What is one of your biggest obstacles when going to confession?

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Anni Confession Ink Slingers

An Uncomfortable Truth

During a homily a couple years ago, the chaplain at the time shared a quote based on Pope Saint John XXIII’s Coat of Arms. The quote said, “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.” At the time, this quote gave me the gentle reminder that it was okay to observe, and just as okay to hold my tongue. It was a powerful reminder that, while a spiritual work of mercy is to Instruct the Ignorant, instruction may not even require words and instead could take the form of modeling by our actions.

However, seeing everything, overlooking a great deal, and correcting little does not give us a green light to overlook our own thoughts, actions and words. As St. Teresa of Avila is credited with saying, “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.”

In today’s culture, there seems to be an emphasis on pointing out another person’s faults, and finger pointing, instead of taking some thought to account for individual actions. The tendency to blame others, and the ease of getting away with blaming others, has led to a culture in which introspection is on the decline. Add in a lack of catechesis, we are seeing Catholics struggle with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, choosing to stand adamantly against the notion of confessing “to a man.”

Combine those with an attitude of only serious crimes (i.e. murder or robbery) being sins, there appears to be a serious lack of accountability…

…and, lack of the recognition of the severity of our sins.

Sins simply aren’t considered polite conversation. However, at times in our lives, we should be challenged to squirm in our seats.

We should be willing to face our own reflection in the mirror, and thoroughly examine what we have done in our days…

… and even more uncomfortably, what we may have failed to do.

Sin, no matter how small, separates us from God. They start small, with a nudge to perhaps sleep in a little bit one week, then the next, then the next – until it becomes an exception to the rule to actually go to church.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 states, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the spirit of our God.

The small sins snowball – starting from a single flake, compounding to an avalanche if we are not careful. We begin to be dismissive of the little things, placating ourselves with a mantra, “At least I haven’t done…”

With that seemingly small statement builds the roots of one of the deadly sins – pride.

Fr. Juan Jose Gallego, an exorcist from the Archdiocese of Barcelona once explained the devil’s favorite sin is pride. When we try to justify our thoughts, actions, or behavior, instead of simply holding ourselves accountable, we are weakening our connection with God. We are telling God we are disinterested in being transformed by His grace, mercy, and love.

Sin is an uncomfortable subject.

Based on human nature, sin is an uncomfortable truth.

Yet, if we are truly being nourished by God’s word, and allowing the Church to guide us into a deeper relationship with our Creator, we will begin to be able to look sin in the face. While we won’t be perfect, we will have the grace to seek forgiveness for the times we slip, with a truly contrite heart, intent on strengthening our bond with God.

While we should continue to observe everything, overlook a great deal, and correct little in others, we will be able to be gentle toward them, but stern with ourselves.

If we focus on our actions, our behavior, our thoughts, and are truly introspective, we will be able to dig out the roots of pride and emulate the tax collector in Luke 18:13, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Therefore, let us take some time to stop pointing fingers. Let us stop justifying our actions. Instead, let us spend some time truly sitting and reflecting on our individual relationship with God, celebrating our successes, but more importantly, acknowledging the moments we have created tension in that most loving and sacred relationship in our lives – with God.

And, let us seek God’s forgiveness – allowing our souls the reward of knowing they are forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession, and allowing our human nature to be transformed through the sage wisdom of our priests, as they are guided by Christ Himself in the confessional.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth is, we can’t save ourselves on our own – we must be willing to reach out, run to embrace the outstretched arms of our Savior, and allow Him to transform our lives. Allow Him to save us – today, and every day.

Categories
Confession Parenting Spiritual Growth Susan

Lessons from Flynn

 

What is it about parenting that can make us too controlling? How do we find the happy medium between guiding children and instilling independence? Do we care too much or are we missing something? What is the heart of the matter? How do we become holy parents?

 

The situation which raised these questions for me happened one Saturday in June when my husband and I went with the owners of local horse farm and my daughter to her third horse show. Being our third show, we have become more aware of some questionable parenting we have been habitually doing, and have had regular adult witnesses to it. What were we doing, you may ask? We were being too “helpful;” too “correcting;” too “coach-like;” and confusing it all with being “parent-like.” I, personally, have been allowing myself to be very critical. I have struggled with this as a mom, sister, friend and neighbor. Now I am seeing myself in the mirror, and something needs to change.

 

The first part of the day sounded like this: “hurry up, get ready,” “did you learn the pattern,” “you better go practice more,” “eat something,” “drink something,” “why are you upset?” “remember this and do that.” Then when she was away from us, I would gently complain to the owners on how she seems not to care, even though I know she does; and worse, overanalyzing the psyche of her behavior. They, being the kind people they are, were so patient with my immaturity. They only responded with kind words, encouragement, and understanding, allowing the subject to dissipate, and open me to self-awareness.

 

The first pivotal opportunity of change that day began when the announcer broadcast, “There is a palomino loose and he has headed down the street.” Immediately, I knew it was the horse my daughter was going to ride. Quite a few of us headed in the direction of the horse’s path. My daughter and her trainer went running across the field. They hopped a ride with a man in a jeep and later with another man on a four-wheeler to find the horse. This man knew where it went, where all horses go… to the apple orchard! They found the horse and he came to them easily.

 

Meanwhile, waiting at the trailer, I was very upset. Finally after venting, I said a quiet prayer asking God to help me not to say a harsh word to my daughter when she returns. “She is upset enough already.”  Soon, ease and calm soothed me when the owners voiced a forgiving “they-did-not-mind,” and “It’s all a learning experience. No worries.” It was their horse, and I was so embarrassed at the situation. But they were understanding and mature enough to know everything is a learning experience.

 

I voiced to my husband while waiting for the horse’s return that I did not want to say anything to our daughter that would make her feel worse; he agreed. Next, we looked across the field to see her and the trainer coming back with the horse. The trainer wore a smile and exclaimed, “that was fun!” Her words eased me even further. Compassion for my daughter stirred when I saw her face slowly returning to refreshment after shedding many tears. “It’s all good, Sweety.” And we listened to her story of their adventure.

 

Thankfully they made it back just in time for our daughter to get ready to show. Everyone had time for physical and mental refreshment. My husband kept encouraging our daughter. I, however, began to tell her what she needs to do to get ready. I did not say anything harsh, but I felt myself wavering between my let’s-get-things-done attitude and a new one of sincere support.

 

My second pivotal opportunity for change came as the afternoon progressed.  My daughter was doing increasingly well in the show classes. Her trainer was attentive to her; advising her…and us. The trainer was heading toward my daughter and politely, kindly, yet firmly said to us, “Let me instruct.” That was all I needed to gain the motivation to change. My husband and I looked at each other and admitted our fault, acknowledging: “We need to just encourage our daughter, and let her trainer do the rest.” We went right to work at trying to do so and were able to rejoice in our daughter’s success in ending the day with a blue ribbon from a competitive class.

 

We are so proud of our daughter. I am so grateful for the peacefulness, firmness, and kindness from the owners and trainer. Their correct reactions toward our negative behavior helped so very much. Thankful to God for what I learned that day and the variety of personal inner thoughts I continue to ponder, there are two lessons that really stood out to me from this experience, and that I hope will speak to you.

 

First, we need others so we can grow in virtue. Every interaction with anyone is a chance to grow in holiness. Even when we fail in practicing virtue, we immediately are given the opportunity to learn from our weakness, which opens up another chance to act with virtue. I am reminded of Romans 5:20, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.”

 

Second, interaction with Christ is the key opportunity we need for ongoing, lasting healing. It begins with knowing ourselves as we truly are.  I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal where I need healing so I am not so critical. This was not my own idea, it was prompted by the advice on a CD called Healing and Holiness by Vinny Flynn (ironically, Flynn is the name of the horse, too! HA!) This Mary Foundation CD encourages its listeners to go beyond recognizing the sins we have committed and discover the healing we need which is the root of our sin. Vinny Flynn reminds us that Christ wants to HEAL us, not just forgive because forgiveness is only part of the healing.

 

So, bringing to prayer, “where do I need to be healed, Lord?” opens us to healing. Then when we bring it all, sins and wounds, to Confession and Holy Mass, Christ will take it away and replace it with His holy life. I had a personal experience with this when I lived in fear which fueled my anxiety. Knowing my fear was not technically a sin, I knew I still needed to be healed from it, so I gave it to Christ in Confession. I knew He would replace it with grace. The more I confessed it, the more it lost its grip on my life. I know what Vinny Flynn teaches is absolutely true and am glad he shares it ever so well.

 

I encourage you to obtain this free CD, Healing and Holiness, at www.catholicity.com and apply it to your own lives, and share it with others.

 

When in your own lives have you seen yourself more clearly? How did the Sacraments help you heal?

 

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Ink Slingers

Collateral damage- Ugly

“Collateral damage—is that all I am,
adrift in the wreckage of your sleight of hand?
Is there a reason why I can’t heal, I can’t heal?”
(Collateral Damage – Levv)

Ugly. A word that looks and sounds like its own definition. Ugly, repulsive, vile, offensive, despicable, appalling, ghastly, revolting– words that trigger in us the immediate desire to pull back, afraid we will be contaminated by the source of that produced the reaction. Drawn to what is diametrically opposed, our human nature almost idolizes its opposite– beautiful, alluring, ravishing, stunning, glamorous, appealing, lovely, gorgeous, etc. We spend hours and hours trying to ensure that the things, events, and people in our life will fit our pre-conceived ideas of what beautiful looks, sounds, feels, tastes and smells like. On the contrary, we rush to hide anything or anyone that even faintly resembles that which we deem ugly. And when we can’t manage to stuff it neatly away, it becomes the object of freakish attention to the point of a bizarre attraction.

Relationships, to varying degrees, bring out the best and the worst in us, the beautiful and the ugly. All relationships, especially those that are worthwhile, challenge us at some point to go deeper, to be more vulnerable; to allow the other person to see more of who we are. While I was discussing something with a friend the other day, I began to realize we had reached one of those points. To not share what was on my heart, a difficult experience I had many years ago that was pertinent to our current discussion, meant I was choosing to shut out a part of who I was from our friendship. I prayed about it, decided the next day to share my experience, and once I had finished, I said, “So, there it is… the good, the bad, and the ugly.” My friend’s response was startling, “Okay… first… nothing about you is ugly.” Of all I had said, my friend homed in on the one thing my story had been full of– self-condemnation, shame, guilt, remorse. Despite the years that had passed, I was still wrestling with the demons hiding in the darkness who were screaming out, trying to convince me that that part of me was ugly. My friend only saw the beauty behind it, that I had been able to still choose to be a good person despite the difficulties, when it could have very easily gone the other way.

What if we truly saw the beauty behind our ugliness? If we could do so, we would be seeing with the eyes of Christ. Lepers, demoniacs, paralytics, the deaf, the lame, the blind, the mute, a man with a withered hand, a woman with a bleeding disorder. Jesus saw their beauty and saw them for who they were; beyond what the world would have called ugly. He saw their desire to be healed of their physical “ugliness,” but He knew their greatest desire was to be healed of their separation from Him.

“Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:34)

As long as we hold on to those parts of us we deem ugly, we are our own collateral damage. So, what is holding you back from letting Him heal what you cling to as ugly? What is blocking you from seeing the beauty behind it waiting to be revealed? Because nothing… nothing about you is ugly.

Categories
Ink Slingers Liz Spiritual Growth

God Wants You to Get Help

God Wants You to Get Help
image source
In a recent conversation with a friend, she confided in me she had been suffering for an extended period of time from what she suspected was depression. Her family had requested she see a professional, but she was hesitant.
 
“At what point do I turn to a doctor and feel as though I’ve betrayed my Healer?” she asked.
 
This question is echoed all too frequently by Catholics with mood disorders. Fueled in equal parts by anxiety, pop spirituality, and true faith, we begin to believe the sweet-sounding lies the world tells us about Christians: good ones are always cheerful, favored ones are always happy, and authentic ones rely on no one but God. 
 
“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to,” we hear the crowd chant. So defeated, condemned, exhausted and broken, we retreat into our illness, waiting for the miracle we have come to believe is the only moral form of healing. 
 
But what does our Catholic faith really say about healing? In 2009, while tackling the issue of New Age therapies like Reiki, the U.S. Bishops wrote these wise words

“Because it is possible to be healed by divine power does not mean that we should not use natural means at our disposal. It is not our decision whether or not God will heal someone by supernatural means. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, the Holy Spirit sometimes gives to certain human beings ‘a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord.’ This power of healing is not at human disposal, however, for ‘even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses.’ Recourse to natural means of healing therefore remains entirely appropriate, as these are at human disposal. In fact, Christian charity demands that we not neglect natural means of healing people who are ill.”

Deciding at what point to seek help for a serious mental illness is an intensely personal decision. But “never” is always the wrong answer. Good Catholics can get depressed. Favored daughters will still go through trials. Christian authenticity means submitting to Christ’s healing work in your life, even when He works through your doctor. And that crowd you keep hearing? It’s fueled by the devil himself, as it was 2,000 years ago, and it wants you to stay pinned to that cross. 
 
Below are a few of my own physical, mental and spiritual warning signs that tell me it’s time to think about getting help. What are yours? 
 
Physical
  • Insomnia
  • Exhaustion to the point of inability to do everyday tasks
  • Extreme neglect of self-care like showering, brushing hair or teeth, or wearing clean clothes
  • Intense food cravings 
  • Vivid, disturbing dreams
Mental
  • Consistent, prolonged lack of creativity; perpetual “writer’s block”
  • Feeling as if everyone dislikes me or is judging me 
  • Inability to mentally recover from small setbacks
  • Feeling guilty or angry whenever I find myself happy
  • Soaking up the negative emotions of others
Spiritual
  • Scrupulosity: feeling like every mistake I make is damning
  • Feeling as if God is punishing me with sadness 
  • Feeling as if I deserve all of the negative things that I experience
  • Inability to ever derive happiness or solace from prayer 
  • Despair 
911 Symptoms (Get help NOW)
  • Self harm (cutting, starving oneself, seeking out dangerous situations, etc.)  
  • Near-literal inability to get out of bed for work, Mass, or family 
  • Intrusive, unbidden thoughts of injury, death, or going to Heaven or Hell
  • Temptations to suicide 

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

BOOK: The Catholic Guide to Depression by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty

Review of The Catholic Guide to Depression