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