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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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Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers

Loved as His Daughter

Loved as His Daughter

“A father loves you enough not to let you remain a child. Any parent will love you enough to make sure you become all that you are meant to be– not remain the same. In the same way, the Lord, as our Father, chastises us. He does not want us to remain in sin, but His endless mercy means that we always have a chance to return home and repent.”

This was my takeaway from Father Marc Cramer’s homily back in June. I never really understood God as my personal Father growing up. I was raised by a single mother, so having a constant father figure as a part of a family unit was sometimes lost on me.

God is a compassionate Father. Sometimes it’s hard to see that at first, like most of us do with our own dads. We see someone who works long and hard, is unrelenting, and carries high expectations. The last thing you want to do is disappoint him. There is a different kind of “fear” that I felt in front of my dad that I didn’t feel with my mom. I always feared 1) not following his orders correctly and 2) doing something that would harm my relationship with him.

We all yearn to be noticed and loved by our fathers, especially as daughters. With our God, I think it’s easy to feel like every little thing that we do puts our relationship with Him in jeopardy. That every mistake we make severs a strand of the imaginary rope of love that connects us to Him. As sisters we are already highly critical of everything that we do. We must be the perfectly prayerful and faithful sisters that we are called to be. Otherwise, we are undeserving of God’s love. The thing is, God wants our hearts just as much as we want His.

As a single person, this strikes me especially strong. I’m still navigating the waters of the future that He has planned for me, whether that is in marriage or in the religious order. In praying for a partner, the model I should be looking to is Him. My friends and colleagues often mention how the kind of husband they want is really someone who is like their fathers. It all makes sense! This is not to say that every father is perfectly graceful and perfectly loving, but there is something in our hearts that wants a man who will love and protect our (possible) future daughters with that same steadfast and tireless disposition we see in many of the men in our lives.

I remember that I would see a sliver of vulnerability in my dad whenever we were getting ready for school. He would fumble trying to put a barrette in my hair. He would put it on backwards and then give up and tell me to fix it. And he had a clumsy, awkward roughness when it came to these feminine things. I appreciated that he always tried, anyway. These are the moments of my dad that I cherish, when he was soft and inviting.

With that, I encourage us to speak to God as a daughter every once in a while. Ask Him to hold you when you are broken, to challenge you to do your very best, and to lead you in making wise decisions. Most of all, allow Him to embrace you when you are repenting. Allow him to love you so that you can change and be the person you are meant to be. This is is a father that is relentless in His mercy for us.


Reflection

What is something that you learned from your dad or any father figures growing up?

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Advent Confession Ink Slingers Liturgical Year Michelle Spiritual Growth

Advent: A Time of Repentance, Penance, and Renewal

Advent

Advent is a time of preparation- preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for the Christ-child who will one day offer each of us salvation through His sacrifice upon the cross. It is a time to quiet ourselves and reflect on God’s love and blessings.

Advent is not only a season of preparation; it is also a season of repentance, penance, and renewal. We are called to have a conversion of heart and it is only through complete acknowledgement of our sins, dedication to overcoming the temptations through sincere and fervent penance, as well as with the gift of God’s grace, that we can hope to be renewed once again in Christ.

For Catholics this seems easy enough… we are blessed to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This makes it easy on us, right? Simply go into the confessional, confess your sins, and voilà, good as new! Right?

Wrong.

repentanceRepentance requires more of us than that. True repentance is taking a long, hard look at ourselves and finding all the places we fail. It is admitting that we have not put God at the center of our lives and that we have disrespected Christ through our thoughts, actions, and/or inactions. It is saying we haven’t loved others the way He calls us to love. This is hard to do. No one likes to look that closely at themselves. It’s scary and unsettling. How could we have become “that person”?

Does it truly matter if we repent or not? Doesn’t Christ forgive us anyway?

It matters because sin keeps us separated from God. When we separate ourselves from God we are separated from His graces and love. When we fail to be truly contrite, we tell Christ that His sacrifice is not important to us; that we are comfortable with the wall we are building between us and Him; that our wants and desires are more important than a relationship with Him.

We are each called to look deeply at ourselves to see where we may be building walls between us and God, where we may be failing to be Christ’s hands and feet to others, and how we may have turned our back on our Lord. Advent gives us ample opportunity to do just that.

Where do we start?

There are many examinations of conscience out there that you can choose to read to figure out where your shortcomings are. You can even download apps on your phone to help you figure out what your sins are and to keep track of how many times you have committed a particular sin! I’ll be honest and tell you that many of the examinations that I have seen don’t particularly help me much. It’s not that I don’t sin, I do! But because of the way the examinations are written, I just don’t seem to get much help from them in truly digging deep into my heart and soul to find where my biggest faults lie.

To aid me in discovering where my sins are hiding, I had to come up with my own examination of conscience. Perhaps it’s a bit unorthodox, but I think it is effective nonetheless.

Many years ago I heard a song by Michael W. Smith called I Have Never Been Unloved. The lyrics spoke to my heart. I saw myself, and most importantly, my sins, in that song. I knew immediately it was the examination I needed the most.

My Examination

I have been unfaithful- have I doubted God and all His love and blessings? Have I been apathetic in my faith because of my doubts?

I have been unworthy– have I been thankful for the gifts I receive? Have I shown God’s love to others?

I have been unrighteous– have I had wicked or ill thoughts about/towards others?  

I have been unmerciful– have I withheld mercy to others? Have I been cruel to others?

I have been unreachable– have I tuned out God or turned my back to those who have reached out to me?

I have been unteachable– have I refused to acknowledge the truth? Have I insisted on my own way, denying that others may be able to show me a better path?

I have been unwilling– have I refused to allow God’s will in my life?

I have been undesirable– have I been rude, mean, or ugly to others? Have I pushed others away from me?

I have been unwise– have I disregarded good advice because of stubbornness? Have I made poor choices when I know that better choices exist?

I’ve been undone by what I’m unsure of– have I allowed doubt to pull me from my faith?

I have been unbroken– have I put my own will above God’s?

I have been unmended– have I refused to allow God to heal my heart? Have I held onto a grudge and refused to accept an apology from someone who has hurt me? Have I refused to ask others for forgiveness?

I have been uneasy– have I refused to place my trust in God and instead allowed worry to consume me?

I have been unapproachable– have I closed myself off to others whether it is because I worry about being hurt or some other reason? Have I acted like I am better than others or that others are beneath me? Have I been friendly to those I don’t know, to those who have hurt me, and to all those I encounter?

I have been unemotional– have I allowed myself to experience the joy of love and the pain of sorrow? Have I closed myself off to others so that I won’t get hurt?

I have been unexceptional– have I tried to be Christ’s light in the world? Have I tried to help others and to make this world a better place to live? Have I been lazy?

I have been undecided– have I faltered in my faith? Am I proud to be a Christian and to be a follower of Christ or do I hide my faith and beliefs?

I have been unqualified– have I refused to do God’s work because I don’t feel qualified? Have I refused to seek out the skills I need to do a particular task?

I have been unaware– have I closed my eyes to the suffering around me? Do I see Christ reflected in the faces of those who are most needy? Have I turned my back on Christ when I turn my back on those who ask for my help?

I have been unfair– have I discriminated against anyone? Have I oppressed anyone? Have I treated anyone in a cruel manner? Have I tried to get further in life by stepping on someone else?

I have been unfit for blessings from above– have I lived my life in a manner that tells God that I do not want His blessings and I am not deserving of His blessings?

When we look deeply in our hearts we can see our shortcomings and our deficiencies. We are called to acknowledge those sins, to ask for forgiveness, and then to change our lives so that we do not continue to separate ourselves from God.

God desires an intimate relationship with us. And as I conclude my examination of conscience, and particularly after I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I am reminded that despite all of my sins and my failings, Christ has always loved me. While I may separate myself from Him, He never leaves my side.

“Because of you and all you went through, I know I’ve never been unloved.”

 

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Alessandra Apologetics Catechism Confession Conversion Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Sacraments Spiritual Growth Uncategorized

How Christ Modeled Contrition, Penance and Reparation for Us

Catholics… we are very particular creatures. Those of us who try, every day, a little bit harder, to be that which we are called to be, tend to fall quite easily. It is awful to see ourselves falling, knowing full well that we, at that particular moment in time, should be doing better and making better choices. It is so hard to actually live through those moments when our conscience is clearly audible and our bodies completely ignore it. Most difficult is the moment after the offense is committed and you are left with yourself and your sin; you know that gross feeling in the pit of your stomach? Christ, in His mercy and goodness, has given us two very beautiful things: repentance and reconciliation.

In addition to repentance and reconciliation, and particular to our Catholic faith,  we practice contrition and reparation. What a beautifully restored creature we are when we go through the process and humble ourselves enough to accept, admit, take ownership, and try our hardest, with God’s grace, to overcome those things that make us imperfectly human. It is important that we don’t dwell in them, but acknowledge them; that we don’t let them define us but teach us how to become stronger; that we don’t excuse them but search within ourselves the faults that let them be and the strengths that won’t let them happen again. The virtues that help us overcome the sins are all gifts that we are taught in our faith to embrace, absorb, and master. What a gift the Catholic Church is! What a gift we have in our holy priests!

Some of our Protestant brethren do not believe that it is necessary to do penance for your sins.  They say that all you have to do is ask God’s forgiveness and everything goes away. But we as Catholics know that there is punishment due to sin that must be taken care of before we can get to heaven. Either here in this life or in Purgatory, which, according to them, does not exist. Sometimes they just grab a quote from St. John the Baptist about baptism of penance and basically say that in baptism, there is forgiveness, and that is it.  It is a done deal, all past, present, and future sins are forgiven. Actually, this is only partially accurate.  In Baptism there is forgiveness but only of the original sin that is a gift from our first parents; for those adults baptized it also includes past sins. You cannot ignore the fact that we continue to sin and just think we are a-okay just because we got baptized.  We have to think back to Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion.  Christ died to reopen Heaven, closed due to the Original Sin. It is not a “free pass”. We have to render an account for every idle word.

Problem is that the entire Levitic system was about doing an action for reparation (offering lambs at the altar). Jesus’s coming changed a couple of things but not this.  His crucifixion didn’t change the system, we still have to make reparation. Just think about this, why does He command prayers? He fulfilled and perfected the law, He did not say anywhere in any of His discourses, “I am going to offer myself up for the sins of mankind and all the punishments forever.” When He talks about goats and rams and says, “what you do for the least of my brethren you do for me.” He commands action because He didn’t change the need because justice demands reparation. From the moment of Abraham and Issac, when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac and lets Abraham go through all the motions until the last second when He sends and angel to stop him.  It was a foreshadowing of Jesus’s sacrifice. Jesus too had to go through it all as well, the crucifixion, the walk to Calvary, all of the suffering in reparation. He had to do actions for our redemption. He could have just stood on Calvary and said, “Accept me as your Lord and savior and you go to Heaven with me right now.” NO, He wanted to model real sacrifice for each one of us!

So since Christ is our model, we too must make reparation for our sins by DOING something. Jesus never got rid of the action of reparation or contrition. Therefore, faith must go with actions.   We do have to make reparation just like in the Old Testament except we are not offering up rams and bulls but instead we are offering up His perfected sacrifice.  In addition, we must make reparation to Him because each time we sin we  injure Him.  His justice demands that from us! Jesus never said we no longer have to make reparation to Him for His perfect sacrifice. If He did not change it, then it remains something we must follow.  Unlike circumcision, Mosaic purity laws, the food laws, strengthening the marriage law, etc. which He changed explicitly;  How do we know this?  It is either taught in the Bible or through tradition.  Which is another reason we cannot follow the sola scripture stance.

When I was a teenager, my Youth Minister, Carlos Cristobal (RIP), used this piece of wood and the nails analogy.  He would say something like this:  Imagine a piece of perfect wood. Beautifully sanded down, smooth to the touch, flawless and unique. That is our soul after baptism, perfect. Every time we sin, we drive a nail through the wood. Now we have this (these) metal spokes driving through our perfection, these pieces of foreign material disrupting the look and feel of the wood. Confession removes the nails, takes them out permanently, until we drive new nails in. Most often, people tend to stick to the same brand of nail but don’t reuse the ones that have been removed. We tend to gravitate towards one particular sin, our root sin. Once the nails are removed, the wood does not look the same, there are holes in the place where the nails were. This is the damage left behind by the offense and this is why we need reparation; to repair the damage left behind by our sins. A big problem we see in our society today is the lack of accountability and responsibility. Because people are not being formed with a clear understanding of the difference between contrition (feeling sorry for committing a sin) and penance (a physical work to help you make up for your offense) and reparation (the act of repairing what was broken or damaged), it is not filtering into the mundane activities in their lives. We end up with a bunch of people that say “sorry” expecting forgiveness and that is that. Or worse, people who don’t say “sorry” at all and go through life like bulls in china shops. 

Lastly, something we should always keep in mind when discussing sin, contrition, penance and reparation is that we are not disconnected. Being created in the image and likeness of God, means we are created in communion with one another, and most importantly, with the Holy Trinity (the epitome of communion). This means, that sin is not isolated, it affects not only the sinner but many, many people and instances around the sinner. A good visual is the pebble in the lake. If you drop a pebble into a still lake (or puddle, whatever) it will create ripples. Sin, always creates ripples, very damaging ripples. Whether our sin hurts us or those around us, it always, without exception, hurts someone. And so, contrition, penance and reparation must be a part of our daily lives for our physical and spiritual health and the physical and spiritual health of those around us.

God also gives us tremendous graces to help us overcome those sins which are deeply rooted in our souls because of ingrained habits.  Even some of the saints who were mystics shared with us that the amount of holiness is at God’s discretion.  In doing so He helps us grow further in holiness because withholding these graces make us yearn Him even more and search for Him continually in Confession and Communion.  Sometimes suffering through some spiritual sins help us grow in other areas in our lives.  For example when I struggle with pride, when I am contrite, make penance and then reparation He will grace me with an increase in humility.  His plan is so perfect for each one of us.  The good news is that every day is a new opportunity, because God is Love and Mercy, to do better. Being aware that it is an opportunity to do better, not a do over, it is the beginning, the easy part. Making it happen, well, the devil is a tough adversary, keep reminding him that God is greater and all things are possible through Him that strengthens you.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us sinners.

 

*** This article was a combined effort between my friends Cristina O., Ryah S., and myself during a conversation we had on Facebook.  Thank you ladies for allowing me to include your words in this blog post for His greater Glory! ***

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Andrea Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year

It’s Good to Feel Dusty Sometimes

It’s Ash Wednesday! Lent is here! Lent is here!

I love Lent. I love what it means… I love why we do it… I love what we’re preparing for. In my experience, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In conversing with Catholics (and traditional, liturgical Protestants, for that matter) the overwhelming attitude towards Lent is that it is one of their favorite liturgical seasons of the year, if not their favorite.

A season of fasting, penitence, and sacrifice… favorite.

Why do you suppose that is? Here’s my theory:

Lent is a time of renewal. Renewal of our relationship with God most importantly, and our attitudes and relationships towards what is around us… whether you are working on patience with your family or your attitude towards a particular vice you’re trying to kick.

During Lent, we re-prioritize. We give up something we love, not because we’re masochists, but because self-sacrifice is good for us. In our time and age, that’s going against the grain in a major way. We live in an age of unprecedented convenience and luxury: I want a hot meal in the next five minutes but I don’t want to cook- so I’ll go through a drive-thru. I want a new book but I don’t want to leave my couch- I’ll buy it online and download it onto my e-reader. Point being, picking something you love and choosing to go without it chips away at your “old man”, your flesh that indulges you with what you want instead of seeking God’s best for you.

Lent is also an opportunity for healing. This year, I’m giving up smoking. Yes, yes, a terrible, nasty habit that will kill me if I don’t stop. I don’t mention it for pats on the back or to point to my piousness. I mention it because it’s a habit that I picked up in a time in my life when I was so far away from God, and so far away from faith. It’s the last vestige of a life I don’t live anymore, of a person I am not anymore. It’s time to let go of what kills us. Maybe your thing isn’t as literal as my thing, but if we miss this opportunity to get real with ourselves and with God, if we look at Lent as a test where we see if we can give up marshmallows for 40 days and that’s all, then we miss an opportunity for grace.

Last year I didn’t give up smoking for Lent, though I knew that I should. I was too afraid. We humans are foolish, not stupid. We know what is killing us, and it is often one of our favorite things. Nobody likes to suffer, but as St. Paul tells us:

Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

When you go to get your ashes today, when you hear the words “Remember, o man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return”…. log it away. As the shiny newness of Lent wears off and the struggling comes and you hate it because it’s suffering, remember that it’s good to feel dusty sometimes. We are dust that God still chose to redeem.

Remember, too, that giving something up is half the battle. We must replace it with something else. Namely, prayer. My old pastor used to say, “Fasting without prayer is just dieting.”

Have a blessed Lent, as we prepare our hearts for Christ and renew our relationship with God!