August 16, 2012
Spiritual growth is an everyday process. Each and every day we learn and experience new and wonderful truths about our relationship with the Lord. One particular truth that I managed to discover recently is the sacramental grace of confession. Many, many, many years ago, I learned from my Religion class in elementary school that through the sacraments God dispenses certain graces. In baptism, for example, the sacramental grace we receive is our redemption from Original sin that Jesus atoned for us on the cross and God's very presence in our souls (sanctifying grace). In the sacrament of reconciliation, the grace we are afforded is the forgiveness of our personal sins and the restoration of our relationship with the Lord. Basic catechesis, but what I've discovered though is that there is a profound difference in knowing that we receive these graces and actually experiencing the grace working in you.
Lately I have discovered Catholic radio (through EWTN and the Catholic Answers Live program) and through it I'm learning so much about our faith and it has been enriching my spirituality each day. But while I'm growing in my understanding and love of the Church's teachings, I was also learning of the world's apprehension towards the Church Christ established. As I learn more about the issues we face in the world today, it reminded me just how true it is when Jesus said in John 17:14 "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world".
This, unfortunately, made me feel utterly hopeless. I was beginning to believe that we are losing the battle against the world and that our voices are being suppressed in the public. It made me fear for the future, especially for the future of my children. It started as a tiny doubt in my mind but it slowly developed into full-blown fear and despair.
I lifted it in prayer to strengthen my resolve and not give in, but it kept growing. I asked the Lord for reassurance that He will not abandon us and that we will be victorious in the fight but I did not experience anything that would lift my spirits or would renew the fight in me. It came to the point that praying felt like a burden and there was a deep sadness in my heart that I could not break. Still, I kept praying and asking Him for help.
Into the box -- the confessional box
I decided that I would bring this up in confession. I have had several opportunities to bring it up before but I convinced myself that I'll get over it or that it's not quite a sin so I don't have to bring it up. Fortunately, it was brought upon my attention that despair is a sin against hope. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice - for the Lord is faithful to his promises - and to his mercy" (CCC # 2091).
So without delay, the next time I was able to go to confession, I made it a point to tell it to the priest. I was energized and was eager to hear him tell me some profound mystery that I can use to buy my spirit up from this pit of hopelessness and misery. Unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed.
Nothing against the priest because he gave good and sound advice. He said that we, individually, carry a flame that if kept bright and shining can be a beacon to others. Persevere in doing good and in following Jesus and that flame can penetrate even the darkness of this immoral world. Very good advice and I believe that it would have inspired and alleviate the burdens of one's soul. But for me, it did not have quite the desired effect mainly because I have already heard that before. In fact, I had been telling myself the exact same thing hoping the truth of it would disperse the sorrow in my soul.
I quietly nodded my head and he absolved me for my sins and gave me my penance.
A still, small voice
Somewhat dejected, I went to a pew and gave my penance to the Lord. That was when something truly amazing happened. As soon as I said "Amen", there was this sense of, for lack of a better word, clarity. I later described it as if it was there all along but there was something that was blocking me from seeing it or "hearing" it. It felt like God was speaking all along but it was mumbled to a point that I didn't even realize that He was speaking. It was like being submerged under water and only when I surfaced (i.e. when I said my penance) did I hear Him loud and clear.
The message was, "Leave to the world what is of the world because this world isn't the goal. The goal is heaven and to be with me". And from that I understood that the goal isn't to change the culture but instead to be with Him forever. It does not mean that we remain quiet when immorality and injustice is happening, we have to speak up because other souls are in jeopardy and they need to hear the Truth of Christ. As Blessed Pope John Paul II said in his homily to young people at World Youth Day in Toronto, "The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity. It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God's love. It needs witnesses to that love. The world needs salt. It needs you - to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world".
If our broken world wakes up one day and society suddenly makes a complete 180 degrees, great! It makes it easier for us to be witnesses and spread God's love. But never lose sight of the ultimate destination. Especially when everything is working against us and the darkness seems impenetrable, we must persevere and live God's love and impart the Truth to those closest to us so that we can share Heaven with them as well. This is the hope that is in us: not to change the world (that's merely the by-product of our primary goal), but our ultimate goal, our prime directive, is to be with Him -- and everyone we love -- eternally.
I was floored. I wondered why I hadn't heard Him before this. It isn't a new mystery revealed but a refreshing reminder that I had been exactly asking for in my prayers. Why only now? I knew that He had been talking to me about it but there was a block that was preventing me from hearing Him and I understood that to have been the despair and hopelessness that took hold of my heart. Until I confessed of that sin and the penance took away the consequences of that sin, only then was I able to hear His assurance. I realized that this is exactly the grace that He promised us in reconciliation.
Admittedly, I have been "allergic" to telling a priest about my deepest, darkest and vilest sins. That seemed such a scary and stressful notion for me that I seldom (rarely) went. Besides, Jesus knows what's in my heart and He forgives me when I sincerely ask for His forgiveness in my prayers. But what I've come to realize is that, while it is true Jesus forgives when we ask for His mercy in our prayers, often times we find ourselves unconvinced of that forgiveness. There is an uncertainty because we don't audibly hear someone saying, "I forgive you" in our personal prayer. But in confession, the priest, by the authority Jesus gave them (Jn. 20:19-23) can tell you directly, "I forgive you". You hear it and you are assured that your sins are forgiven.
The best analogy that I've heard to further explain this was from Fr. Dwight Longenecker where he compared confession to dental hygiene. He said that you can practice good dental hygiene everyday; brush your teeth, floss them everyday, gurgle mouthwash and do your daily routine and you may feel that your teeth are clean, but you're not entirely sure that they're completely clean. When you go to the dentist and get that thorough, deep cleaning, you can be certain that your teeth are as clean as they can be!
May this sharing be an encouragement to you, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Know that God's mercy overflows through reconciliation and through it we receive His forgiveness and peace and it restores our relationship with Jesus. But also know that there is this very real, sacramental grace that He promised that you're missing out on (2 Cor 2:10-11; 1 Jn 1:9; Catechism of the Council of Trent pp. 261-306). If you are seeking guidance or seeking answers to questions or seeking some clarity in your life, God's grace through confession can remove the hindrances that sin may be preventing you from hearing His voice. Take advantage of this grace that He freely gives through this awesome sacrament.
Be blessed always.
Bro. Oliver Arcilla