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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Desperation for the Sacraments

This evening I left work earlier than planned because I REALLY needed to get to Confession, and there is a traffic snarl reminiscent of Hell in the general area of my home. The main highway bottlenecks a few miles before my exit, so during rush hour I always exit before I hit the backup. But there's a parallel route that is under construction and down to one lane, and two days ago I learned about than when I had taken that particular route home. But I got off before the major construction, and learned that had I come to that shortcut from the North instead of the south, I would have had to backtrack...because the connecting road was COMPLETELY closed due to construction. Whew!, I thought to myself. Dodged that one!

BUT! I have since learned that ALL possible alternate routes are completely useless...3 of them are under construction, and of those, 2 are completely blocked!

Knowing this, I left work early and took the last possible route only to learn that, ironically, it would have been better to just stay on the main least THAT was inching along. Not like the gridlock on the side streets!

So it was that I was biting my nails and praying really hard to get to Confession in time. At my parish, confessions are before Mass, giving the priest just enough time to finish and prepare for Mass. We try to respect the posted times in order to give him that time because of course, at some point he has to dart out of the confessional!

I got to the church with only 15 minutes left of Confession...hoping there was no line.

When I walked into the chapel, though, my heart sank...about 5 people in line ahead of me. It was by then 6:34. And these people were in NO HURRY to make their confessions, apparently. So I prayed and fidgeted, staring at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, begging to have enough time, begging for the Sacrament. Desperate to be reconciled to Him. Knowing that I might have been too late, and that the potential was that I might have to walk away, denied the Sacrament I needed.

I did not begrudge the people standing in line ahead of me...I assume they were as desperate as I, for NO ONE likes to stand in line waiting for Confession. I think it's part of the penance. It's Pre-Penance.

I just made that up. But that's what it feels like.

Yet, standing there realizing my desperation, I considered what it must be like for those Catholics in places like the Sudan and China and Saudi Arabia, or even ALASKA, where it might be difficult to receive ANY of the sacraments. And it might be impossible to be absolved even once per year! Maybe it's many years, but not out of desire for the Sacrament, but from unavailability.

I realized that, had there not been time tonight, I could come back tomorrow...there would be 3 opportunities. One requiring me to get up much earlier, another requiring me to go to work later, and one requiring me to leave EVEN EARLIER from work in order to get there on time.

I have no right to complain. My desperation doesn't COMPARE with that of Catholics all over the world.

I'm a spoiled brat.

It was a lesson in humility, in remembering the great gift that we have in this country. Even in realizing that in my metro area there are many parishes that have Confession times maybe only once per week, and only for a half hour.

But there was another lesson for me, one that reminded me of something I learned in class a year ago; and that was the lesson learned from the woman with the hemorrhage.

She had been bleeding for 12 YEARS! She was considered to be "impure" because of it. She was shunned, and she was probably very sick and weak. She'd sought cures for those long twelve years, to no avail. The woman was truly desperate. So when Jesus walked by, as the crowds pressed around Him, she sought Him out, maybe even crawling, for the scriptures say she touched the corner of his cloak. It may even have been the tassel of his prayer shawl that would have hung low to the ground, and the part of him that was most "impure" of what He would have worn as a Jew, for it would be close to the ground and dirty. She would not have wanted to cause impurity to Jesus...but she knew she needed Him in order to be healed.

Imagine the ground-level view, as she reached out towards Jesus as He passed her by. Imagine how desperate she was, how weak, how lonely. How outcast.

And how faithful! Consider how she did not want to render Jesus impure because of her own state...she sought only to be healed of her condition, so touched that which was on Him, and was the least "pure" according to the Law.

She touched the tassel...and in that instant, was healed. Jesus stopped and called out, and she came forward, fearful, expecting rebuke, but telling Him everything. Her shame became God's glory...her shame still impacts us over 2,000 years later.

And we see the mercy of Jesus through the desperation of an unknown woman. She gives us the example of the desperation we should ALL have when we receive ANY of the Sacraments, but in our American culture of plenty, even the Sacraments are plentiful. Yet our desperation is lacking.

Ever since that lesson, I've tried to consider, each time I receive Holy Communion, to consider the desperation of that woman, trying to realize what I am doing, Who I am receiving...and if I'm not "desperate" enough, I simply don't realize my wretched condition especially in comparison to the reality of the God who is about to enter under my roof.

Tonight, although I did not attend Mass, I was granted at least a small sense of desperation, truly fearful I would be denied the mercy I needed. And although I usually go behind the screen, I decided that even if I was walking in as Father was leaving, and he saw and recognized me (and I know he would return to the confessional as I was last in line), I would have made my Confession face to face. Because I was that desperate...I didn't care if I was "known in my sin." I needed the Grace of the Sacrament, I needed to meet Jesus face-to-face and touch the tassel on his cloak.

It is desperation that humbles us and makes us realize who we really are and why we need God. It is in our lowest moments that we can most clearly see His face. And it is only when we have hit that point that Jesus can reach down to where we crouch in the dirt and lift us up so He can embrace us.

Tonight was a beautiful lesson for me, one I hope to remember, not only so that I can recall the sense of desperation, but also so as to remember God's incredible Mercy...He did not send me away to suffer any longer.

He let me touch the tassel of his cloak, just as He was passing by.

We should all remember that when we approach Our Lord, we are the woman in the dirt, we are bleeding, we are humiliated...and we all need him as desperately as she did.


Unknown said...

Beautiful testimony, Adoro!

Unknown said...

just a thought, but you could have attended Mass and simply not received Communion.

I was unable and/or reluctant to receive the Sacarment of Confession and still went to Mass last night. I stayed on my knees and did not go forward to receive Communion.

Anonymous said...

Kevin ~ The point wasn't Mass...the point was that I needed to go to Confession. Period. THAT was the sacrament I needed. I went to confession in time, but I couldn't stay for Mass due to another obligation. So even if I hadn't made it in time, I would not have been able to remain for Mass.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely wonderful. Coming from a teenager who has been in a situation not completely comparable, but still like it, I understand what it can feel like to have to watch the priest exit the confessional for other obligations and leave you in the proverbial dirt. A beautiful statement that could probably bring even the most lapsed CAtholics back to the sacrament.

Melody K said...

Beautiful post, Adoro. You are right that we are spoiled and take so much for granted. We don't know what it is like to be deprived of Mass and the Sacraments for months or years, as in some areas of the world; and even as some of our own pioneer ancestors experienced.
Just a footnote to Kevin's comment: unless one has the misfortune of being in mortal sin, one is not obliged to go to Confession prior to receiving Communion. Of course one may feel that they have "blown it" so spectacularly (even though it did not involve grave matter)that they would rather go to Confession first.

Anonymous said...

Melody ~ Yes, that is important to note, however, please understand, once again, I was not going to Confession in order to receive communion at Mass last night. My SOLE PURPOSE of getting to the church at a certain time for Confession - COMPLETELY for Confession. I did not intend to go to Mass at all last night not due to my spiritual condition, but due to another obligation that prevented me from being able to attend Mass.

I have no problem attending Mass and not going forward for Communion. Although some people do. I should do a post on this.