Today is the Feast of Divine Mercy, and what a wonderful feast, indeed! But it's not a new feast...God has always been merciful. Last semester, I completed a synthetic study on God's Mercy in the Old Testament, and indeed learned that many of the actions taken by God revealed His mercy. So much so that I titled my paper, "God is Revealed Through His Mercy." Just a quick glimpse through a concordance indexes many passages: "The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and quick to forgive..."
God has NEVER spurned a contrite heart; His wrath was for the unrepentant, and more often than not, the result of God's wrath was to let the consequences of the people's own sins overcome them. Yet if even ONE soul came to Him for forgiveness, God was merciful. And shockingly, the Father's greatest sign of love and mercy was personified in His only Son, Jesus Christ.
You expired, O Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls and an ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us. O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You. Amen
I had class all weekend, so this evening I'm relaxing, letting my mind forget the debacle that was my test this morning, trying to absorb everything I learned since Friday night. And I'm surfing a little.
You may be interested in visiting Fr. Schnippel's blog, for he has a great number of wonderful, insightful posts from the last couple weeks. And today's post inspired this one. He addresses the backsliding that occurrs after a spiritual experience.
There is a natural tendency after going through a traumatic experience to slide back into an old way of life, especially experiences of a profound conversion, a profound spiritual encounter; if it does not ‘take hold’ so to speak, we can find ourselves very easily backsliding into our old way of life, our old existence, and nothing really is changed from before.
(Read the rest...)
In reading that, it made me realize that there's a few ways to consider that backsliding, and something that we all need to look at. Because, let's face it; we all backslide. Every single one of us. If we didn't, there would be no need for Confession. We'd never committ mortal sin. Our veniel sins would become fewer and fewer. And it could be that for you, this is true. But for the vast majority of us, we go to Confession and we NEED to be there either because we're on that backsliding path, that path that is all-too-worn, the path that reveals our high-traffic and rapid slippage down the slope towards the unmentionable place. (Hint: I'm talking about Hell)
The Sacraments are our only handholds. When we've fallen, we can't get up on our own, but we sure can yell...and that's where God's mercy comes in. All we have to do is ask, and His Grace gets us to Confession. We still have to climb up far enough to reach that handhold, but it's one that will never drop us.
When I returned to my faith...REALLY returned, I had great difficulty with Confession. I would cry, I'd shake, I'd go, expecting to be yelled at, although that's never ONCE happened to me. My first Confession after 12 years was incredible and remains one of my most wonderful memories. But it was another 3 years before I was able to go again; I was terrified.
I had this crazy idea that I had to perfect myself. I was still not living a good life, and although I had confessed to the priest at the big confession that I didn't believe I had a firm purpose of amendment because I KNEW I would committ the same sins again and again, he explained that THIS is why we have the sacrament. THIS is why we need God's Mercy, and why He is so willing to offer it.
And as I've heard more than one priest say to the concern that we tend to confess the same sins over and over: "GOOD! YOU'RE NOT INVENTING NEW SINS!"
But I wasn't understanding God's mercy; my concept of the sacrament was, at the time, more legalistic. I had to go to Confession, I believed that my sins were forgiven, however I put so much pressure on myself to suddenly become perfected. It was up to me. I had to have the will to be perfectly good, from that point on.
WRONG! Yes, we are to desire to change, sincerely, (that's what it means to have a "firm purpose of amendment"), but we have to realize that we can't change ourselves. We need God's grace. We need His help, and our firm purpose of amendment means, really, that we're going to cooperate with God's grace and truly intend not to committ the same sins again. And if we do? We keep going back to Jesus, over and over again, and when we do this, we begin to see patterns.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
It took me three years to go to Confession again, and it was my fear that kept me away; my idea that I had to rely on myself, my own will to avoid sin. My fear that I would be yelled at. I think this latter idea came from my home, growing up. My Mom was bipolar and I was literally screamed at for everything. Especially when I'd done something wrong. Even when I was doing something right, there was a good chance Mom would be displeased and glass might shatter at any moment.
So I would shake, I'd stand in line weeping, terrified. That three year confession was just as hard as the twelve year because I built it up so much to be what it was not. While my Big confession was face to face, this time I went behind the screen. And I was just out of control. I couldn't get a single word out. On that occasion, Father (an elderly priest whom I've come to know well since) was a bit gruff with me, but his gruffness helped me to speak and get my emotions under control. He never raised his voice. He was very matter-of-fact. He held me responsible for my sins, and I was ready for that. He did chastize me, but in a way that really checked my contrition; did I mean what I said? I'd confessed some pretty big things. It was in fact much like the renewal of Baptismal vows but more applicable to my specific sins: Do you reject Satan? I do. Do you reject... and on down the line.
I left much calmer, still in tears, feeling very chastized, but also very liberated. I was born again, and I really MEANT my contrition and my penance.
On that day, I realized that my fears were groundless, but I needed to begin to go to Confession frequently. So it was that I began to go every month, or even more often. Sometimes it was days. Over time, I stopped shaking, I stopped crying at the very thought of the sacrament, and I learned to accept God's mercy. Although I'll admit that sometimes this is a challenge; because it seems too easy.
Yet it's not in the Sacrament of Confession that the Lord challenges us the most; it's in the Eucharist, it's in our daily lives. He is most gentle with us when we admit our sins and our failings, for He wants to encourage our humility and our willingness to trust Him and come to Him for healing and forgiveness. Our Lord's heart is warmed with Divine Love and Compassion when we so willingly come to him.
It is when we sin and flee Him that we hurt Him the most. It is when we sin and refuse to look upon his wounds, the very wounds that restore us, that He is most pained, and His pain is on our behalf. Because by fleeing, or refusing to repent, we are denying His wounds and the reasons for them.
So it has been that I have gotten used to frequent Confessions, and I've begun to see patterns of behavior, patterns of sin, all the time. During Lent, or maybe just before, I realized that every time God blesses me in some major way, I backslide. I fall into sin or into an old pattern of behavior, and that sin leads me to Confession, all too often by necessity versus devotion. And even after I recognized that pattern, it continued to happen. Over and over again, I'd be in the chapel, praying, making my examination of conscience before Confession, and berating myself for offending God so much after He had just been so good to me.
In prayer, a few things have come to me with regard to this pattern and the sins themselves, but the biggest revelation was God's mercy; why we need to accept it. We have to learn to see ourselves, honestly, through God's eyes. St. Paul stated (in Romans, I think) that he does what he does not want to do; it's a battle of the flesh and the spirit. We are all in that battle as we truly seek God, but give in to our fallen natures, doing what we really don't want to do, falling. But we have to get up and keep going, because even if we don't know why we continue in this pattern, God does, and He saw the pattern long before we did. His response is not condemnation; it is a response of compassion. He does not excuse our sin, but rather, holds us accountable but is willing to forgive us as many times as we fall. Because as long as we're willing to admit that we can't stand on our own, and that we have offended Him, He will take us back, over and over.
It's not about falling; it's about trying, or repenting and converting, even if it's the same thing for 50 years. God knows our weaknesses, and He Himself bore them on his Cross. The Father sees us all through the wounds of Christ, through the holes in His hands and feet, through the blood and water gushing from His side.
God requires only one thing of us; willingness to admit that we are wrong and come to Him with our soggy, muddy souls. He knows that He will clean us up and send us toddling away encompassed in Divine Love...and tomorrow we'll be even muddier and soggier than we were today. And that we'll get up again and come to Him, crying, and He'll wipe away our tears, clean us up again, and send us back out into the world. Proud of us. Because we belong to Him, we know who He is, and that no matter what we do, He will be there. And eventually, maybe, we'll be able to go a little further before we have to come back to be healed.
Jesus, I trust in thee!