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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Create In Me a Clean Heart O God

Create a clean heart in me o God
~ Psalm 51

Today is the Feast of St. Augustine, a Saint that has been very special to me for a very long time, and, in fact, he's special to many people. Everyone may have their own reasons, but I suspect that most would cite this terrible sinner who continued to respond to God's grace. He was a great intellect and has contributed much to our faith and to the world. And now he interceeds for us, for we all get mired down in sins. For class this semester, we are reading "Confessions", and each time I read this book, I see more, I understand more, and I have more hope.

I think back to my “big” Confession of 12 years, the one I had delayed so long in part because I was not convinced of my own “steadfast spirit.” In being catechized through EWTN, I knew that I had to have a “firm purpose of amendment” and I questioned this, for I didn’t know how to get out of the life I was living at the time. I was truly struggling. It was purely God’s grace that got me to Confession and held me in the line until I could finally approach the priest.

And I told him, in between my sobs, that I had waited so long because I didn’t think I had a firm purpose of amendment. I knew that I would leave, and return right back into the depths of my sins. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to be clean. I wanted to be pure. I wanted God. I didn’t think I could be forgiven, and I stood there that evening, saying that to the priest, yet not in those words. But he understood, perfectly, what I couldn’t convey.

Even now, I struggle at times with this idea, with habitual sin. We all do, to some degree or another. The problem is that we become quite comfortable in our sins, and even if we recognize them as sins, we sometimes can’t break away. We “sorta” have a desire to change, but not really. We like to grasp onto our favorite sins, their comfort like a warm worn-out old blanket. The kind of thing we know we should just throw away but it’s a part of us now, so we can’t.

Back then, I remained away from Confession because I was so lost in my sins, I didn’t think I could walk away from them. And I was right; I couldn’t. But over time, I was freed from the situation and really started life over. Now, though, the situation may be different, but the concept is the same. And now, although I go to Confession frequently, sometimes I wonder if I should not, for I question my own intentions. I consider my habitual sins, and it’s not those that are worn’s me. They’re wearing holes in me. I WANT a clean heart, but apparently not badly enough to let go.

Still, I’ll return to Confession with my same old list, remembering the advice of that priest now long ago; that we all know that even as we confess our sins, we may return to them. And be back the next week, fallen yet again. But THAT’S why we have the Sacrament. That’s why we go back over and over again. Because we can’t pick ourselves up. Only God can, and He does, as many times as He needs to.

St. Augustine struggled mightily with sin, and even addressed this desire we have, this dichotomy and dissonance we all try to rectify. We want to become Saints, we know we are called to be Saints - but not yet. Not today. Let me just engage in this sin one more time and then I’ll really quit. I mean it. Or just a little longer, because it’s so comfortable, I don’t want to think about the fact it’s a sin. Because it doesn’t really “feel” like a sin. I LIKE my impatience, and my snarkiness. I like my laziness, etc. It’s what makes me “me”. It’s my quirk. It’s not a sin...that’s it. It’s a quirk. People have quirks. This is what makes me “people”.

It becomes very easy to rationalize, and explain away our little sins. It becomes avoidance of the real issue, and if we don’t take it to Confession, we don’t take that step to “own” it. Maybe it’s hard to break away, but God’s grace can do amazing things, if we would only let Him in and invite Him to change us. To pray that we WANT to overcome these things, instead of returning week after week or month after month to Confession.

I do often question my purpose of amendment, and I realize that all too often I don't want to give up those things that separate me from God. They don't SEEM that bad...but if there is anything that I keep in my life that keeps me from God, well, that IS a big deal! And so I go to Confession, and even when I don't mean it, I pray for the desire to change and truly WANT to eradicate sin from my life. Hopefully one day, the imperfect prayer will turn into a sincere one, and when we reach that point, that's where we can finally cooperate with God.

Create a clean heart in me o God, renew in me a steadfast spirit.

St. Monica, St. Augustine, pray for us!


Lillian Marie said...

What a wonderful post!

As I read your post (and as I am studying this Sacrament) two things hit me:

1) We should not be discouraged that we don't see progress nor feel/see the immmediate effects of Confession. We need to trust in God's mercy and forgiveness. When our sins are forgiven, they are COMPLETELY forgiven...and forgotten. No one can accuse us of these sins again - ever. When we walk out of the Confessional, we are a new creation in Christ Jesus - we have a clean slate.

2) There are so many names for this Sacrament. As I was starting to write this portion of my talk, I wondered why. To be quite honest, I wasn't sure what the 'real' name of the Sacrament was. I've heard it called Confession; Sacrament of Confession; Penance; Sacrament of Penance; Sacrament of Reconciliation; Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. I wanted to say 'would the real name please stand up?'

But no wonder there is so much confusion - there are so many aspects all rolled up into one Sacrament. Forgiveness, Confession, Reconciliation, Healing, Conversion.

btw - the real name is Sacrament of Penance...although many theologians call it the Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation.

Like your re-reading of 'Confessions' by St. Augustine; I am learning (and re-learning) so much about this Sacrament. Although I am a cradle-Catholic, there is still a lot more I don't know.

Thank you for this post!!!!

Anonymous said...

LM ~ ALL of those names are the real names of the Sacrament. I have a wonderful book, will send you the title, and it's written by a priest...all about the sacrament. ( I prepare for my talk to parents this fall I should bring that book in to work. I need to start working on that again.)

Anyway, the priest in the book makes the case for Confession, which has always been my preferred term, as I grew up with both it and the term "Penance". I don't like the term "Reconciliation" because it tends to ignore the other factors that GET us to reconciliation with God. And the term "Penance" is great, but is still only one part of the sacrament.

"Confession" has more than one meaning; we confess our sins, yes, but in doing so, at the end, we are confessing Christ and what He has done for us. "Every knee will bend and every tongue will CONFESS His name.." (can't remember the exact quote.) But the term "Confess" is ofte used to mean "proclaim" or "testify" or something similar that indicates this conversion of heart.

Lillian Marie said...

Yes - they are all names for this wonderful Sacrament. CCC titles it the Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation, however, it then goes into the different names & aspects of the Sacrament.

Where else can you get such wonderful conversion experiences and healing?

Your quote: Phillippians 2: 9-11
"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Anonymous said...

One of your best posts, ever. Thank you.