Sunday, September 06, 2009
I went to First Friday Mass at my parish on Friday evening and afterwards spent some time talking with a friend in the parking lot. Although our conversation covered many things, the core of it involved our shared struggle against sin as we strive for holiness.
Each week, each month, maybe every day, we have the same laundry-list of sins to confess. In that regard, I'm not alone. I've gone to Confession at times in tears, telling the priest that I am SICK of confessing the same stuff over and over again, almost by rote. I don't want to go in the next time with the same stuff. And yet...I do. And he tells me, "You're not saying anything different than anyone else."
It would be easy to give into the tempting thought, "Then what's the point? Why confess if it's always the same and nothing ever changes?"
I become very disheartened by my constant failures...so do we all. Raise your hand or leave an "Aye!" in the combox if you resemble this!
Moral Theology and Habitual Sin
The discussion with my friend covered the problems of habitual mortal sin, the Mercy of Christ, the need for Sacraments for those struggling especially against habitual mortal sins, as well as habitual sin of any sort. We all know this battle for we live it every day, and so often...it kills us, spiritually.
Which is WHY Christ instituted this incredible Sacrament of Confession.
In studying Moral Theology this semester, I am being even more convicted, and am finding that I have even GREATER culpability than I realized. As I read, I am condemned, understanding that my greater knowledge means I have even GREATER culpability, and while this is painful, it is also a GOOD thing, for it doesn't leave me to be in denial of my habits. Objectively, I have to complete this assignment realizing that everything applies to me directly. It gives me a greater awareness of my sin...and awareness of the great depths from which I must cry out to God for Mercy.
None of my readers would ever accuse me of being a Saint. Yet none can claim to know the depths of the evil I can commit, either.
In going back to the temptation of "Why bother?" I HAVE been often tempted to avoid Confession, realizing that, in fact, I DON'T have a firm purpose of amendment. I DON'T truly desire to avoid certain sins or even their occasion. I revel in my sin, and I do so willingly, even willfully. And even as I do this, I am ashamed for I know that what I do is wrong. Intellectually I recognize the wrong, but I give in through my will, and in that is my culpability. Even worse, it is a habit.
It doesn't matter if the sin is mortal or venial. It is a sin, and if I desire to ever attain perfection, I cannot remain in ignorance, nor can I claim ignorance. I know better. My conscience has been formed and I've been living in apathy for many years in spite of knowing what good I should choose...and don't.
I know that I don't claim anything different than anyone else, if we are honest with ourselves. The Moral teachings of the Church aren't meant to convict us and leave us in darkness, but rather to help us learn self-knowledge, take ownership for our own behavior, and in so doing, direct us to what is good and Holy.
And this...this is probably my greatest failure. I avoid what is Holy when I know I have deeply wounded Our Lord. I avoid prayer, I nearly avoid Confession, and it is then when I am most wounded that I also most need to pray.
God can always hear us. We cut ourselves off from Him through mortal sin, but He never stops pursuing us. Each time we reach out in prayer, even the most minimal prayer with the greatest effort, He is there, and it is is an action of His Grace.
We have to trust in Him. We can't save ourselves.
If we pray at all, it is Grace that prays within us. It is an action of the Holy Spirit who will NOT leave us alone in our chosen pit of destruction. Our prayer does not arise from ourselves alone, but is in response to an action of the Grace of the Holy Spirit who calls us back to union with God.
There is a reason why Jesus was crucified with His hands and arms wide open, even though there were many other methods of crucifixion; He was open to receive us, so that we would learn to be open to receive Him. Just as we enter His most Sacred Heart via His terrible wounds, so He enters our hearts through our own, if we would only INVITE Him.
The most perfect and most necessary method of this invitation, from our part, is through the Sacrament of Confession.
How can Jesus enter into us if we aren't willing to open our own hands to Him, to take our hands away and reveal the wound of sin? How are we to believe we can be and are forgiven if we don't hear the voice of those who stand in His place, giving us the words of His absolution?
I have confessed not having a firm purpose of amendment. I have confessed being obstinate in my sin. I have confessed my belief that I don't deserve to be absolved, fully expecting that I wouldn't be, even as my contrition poured out through my eyes, even as it does now while I write this.
St. Paul wrote of this struggle, how we choose what we do not want to choose, how we war with our own flesh even as we desire the Spirit.
This battle can't be conquered by one Confession, or even a thousand. We fight this war throughout our lives, and no, it never ends. That's also why St. Paul wrote of it being a "race", for it is a marathon, and if we finish this race, we also win the fight. That is the key...we have to finish.
We don't finish until we go to our own particular Judgment.
We have to continue to go to Confession, even if we think we aren't sorry enough. Even if we think that we can't be forgiven. We have to confess our despair, our lack of sorrow, and our presumption. In making that act, even if the priest agrees that yes, we are obstinate, and, worst case, he refuses to absolve us, he can help us to come to true contrition.
I have never been refused absolution, but at times I wonder if perhaps it would have been proper for the priest to do so? That leads me to question God's Mercy...or...more truly...my own repentance. It's a circle, and in the end, I realize that if the priest absolved me, I MUST trust, and if I do not trust, does that mean I wasn't honest? Have I withheld something?
It is easy to hedge around what is really going on in our lives. It is easy to confess a sin but without the context that surrounds it. Does it make us any less contrite for our sin? No. But the confession of the full context gives the priest a greater ability to help us overcome it.
Online, I read a lot of complaints from people stating that they don't receive enough counsel from the priests to whom they go to for Confession. It makes me wonder: Can that be blamed on the Priest? Or does the fault in that regard lie fully on the person making their confession as they withhold details which would reveal the true SOURCE of their sin?
It is not a judgment to say this, only a thought for consideration. We reap what we sow, but if what we sow isn't complete, how can we expect fruition to come from our labors? The Priest may have the benefit of the Holy Spirit, but if we block off the Holy Spirit through our own lack of revelation, how can that make the Priest AND the Holy Spirit culpable for the loss of the blessings God desires to impart for the benefit of our own holiness?
In my conversation with my friend, I realized I haven't taken my own advice. I think it was last spring or winter that I wrote of focusing on one thing. We all have our laundry list of sins, but the reality is that if we try to work on them ALL, we both fail to accomplish even ONE thing, AND we become "immune" to their presence in our lives.
It's very easy to become overwhelmed.
Each time I go to Confession, I experience this. I wonder how I can manage to have the same issues time and time again? And then I pray my penance, and move on...and immediately travel the same spiritual ruts and land in the same damned pit (Yes, I used that word on purpose).
The advice I always forget: take ONE thing and work on it.
Say you have a list of ten things. If you were at work, you'd pick ONE of those tasks, and work on it until it was done, then move on to the next.
Why don't we use the same method in our spiritual lives?
If I go to confession, say once per month with the same list, OK, maybe we need to accept the fact that some of those things are going to be on there next time, too. That fact doesn't mean we're not sorry, only that the sin is habitual or part of our everyday flaws. OK. Then pick ONE. For me...maybe impatience. I will work on that sin for that week or month or whatever, and in so doing will recognize the situations that make me impatient, my own reaction, and maybe the actual SOURCE of that sin.
If I don't focus so intensely on one thing, how can I root it out and make it go away? It should be a part of a frequent examination of conscience, every day, throughout the day.
Yes, it's hard to realize that other sins are ongoing, but if we don't stab away at them, individually, they BUILD; they don't get better just because we want them to do so. The multiply and in the end, we do nothing.
We must not let our sins define us, but rather, take control of them, systematically, knowing that our own intellect and will, with the grace of God, overcomes all.
Holiness IS attainable, but if we don't believe this...we will be lost. We have to be convicted not only of our sin, but of the fact that our conviction brings us into closer union with Jesus.
We have to keep our eyes on Him, our Judge, the lover of our souls....Our Lord.
I am Convicted.