Saturday, January 28, 2012

Facing Dragons

We discussed Reconciliation in RCIA a couple of weeks ago. But I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. It’s one of those Catholic things that was totally foreign to me, and I just haven’t been able to determine what my feelings about it are. I believe it’s a sacrament, and I believe what the Church says about sincere confession, absolution, penance, moral and venial sins, etc. But how I feel about it? Just don’t know. Part of the problem might be this sacrament’s big PR problem. What is it called: Penance, Confession, Reconciliation? And then, you’re supposed to go list all your sins out loud to a priest? Otherwise, you’re still in a state of sin? It sounds so depressing and embarrassing. The only idea I had about how Reconciliation worked was from movies where a character steps in the confessional and says, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” and then goes on to reflect about the personal conflict to move the plot along. I thought my biggest concern with Reconciliation was that it was an unknown: that I couldn’t really know how I felt until I did it.

But lately, I’ve realized that concern is masking the real big concern: I have to list my sins. My fear doesn’t lie in the fact that I have to say them out loud; it’s that I have to say them to myself, to acknowledge just how totally depraved I am (hey, Calvin got something right!). It’s not that I haven’t noticed I’m a sinner before. I know I sin a lot. I ask God for forgiveness and for His help a lot. But there is a difference in noting, “Hey, I did that. That was wrong. Help me not do that,” and realizing how that moment of sin fits into the big picture.

Sins are not independent. They feed off one another. They collect, and they settle in, and they start to convince you that they’re just a part of life. I’m not just a sinner (one who commits sins); I’m a hostage victim of sin. Even when I’m not sinning at the moment, I’m still a bruised person from all the sin I’ve accumulated. To go over a lifetime’s worth of sinning, and recognize just how far off the mark I am, even though I think myself a “good” person, is a big, humbling step. One that I’m not that keen on doing.

Now, before you think I’m about to go off and put on sackcloth and roll in the ashes, I’m not beating myself up about how awful I am. Because there’s hope. Christians are all about second chances. We love a good, “I did wrong. I met Jesus. Now I’m saved, and life is peachy,” testimony. We love forgetting the past and just focusing on a heavenly future. But the past is a tricky thing. It doesn’t go away just because we don’t want to think about it. A buried past will just pop up unexpectedly, ruining that peachy future. To move on from sinful past, you have to eliminate the sin. You have to purify yourself and resolve to fight even harder against temptation.

That’s where the good part kicks in. There is a second chance. There are as many chances as you’re willing to give yourself. God will always clean the slate and give you another chance. You just have to ask. But asking for such a huge thing requires more thought and commitment than that quick, “Oops. Help me not do that.” I’ve been asking myself: Do you hate your sins enough that if Christ were standing before you, with his disciples around him, you would go straight up to Him and list off your darkest crimes? I know I’d be hesitant. I’d be embarrassed. Because even though I’m a hostage of sin, I have Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t hate it enough. I have to battle sin, but I identify with some sins. I'm quite comfortable with them, and I don't want to admit to myself how wrong I am. Only in brief moments of reflection can I see how pervasive sin is and the need of destroying it and feel the desire to be clean and unburdened. Once I get angry enough with my sin, then I’m in the right frame of mind to truly repent and turn from it.

I’m still a few weeks out (probably) from making my first confession. I don’t know when I’ll go. I don’t know which priest/church I’ll go to. I don’t know if I’d feel more conformable face-to-face or behind a screen. In a lot of ways, it’s still a big unknown. And big unknowns are scary. But the knowns that I have to acknowledge and fight with myself, they’re pretty scary too.

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