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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Living as a Hypocrite

I walked into that beautiful church with a heavy heart. It was my year of living at home after college and my life seemed "out of control." It wasn't, of course, but it was a really difficult season for me. I'd graduated college in Michigan without a job and moved home to North Carolina because it was my only option. I didn't grow up there, so I didn't have any friends or social connections. On top of my feelings of worthlessness, exclusion, and instability I was also hitting an emotional low with my personal relationships. I was caught in sin, caught in my ego, caught in the same patterns of selfishness and hurting others. And the guilt was unbearable.

I was going to St. Pius X parish almost an hour before mass in order to go to Confession. I'd reached a point, as we all do, of seeing clearly my sin and spiritual failures but feeling helpless to really change, to leave it behind and move forward. After all, I've done this all before, the cycle of sin, conviction, repentence, confession, absolution, determination, lukewarmness (or maybe just absentmindedness), and back to sin. The true beauty, the only beauty of Christianity, is grace. But how do I get there? I at least knew that the confessional was a good start.

I walked into that gigantic church feeling the typical sense of shame one does before approaching God and asking for mercy. The church was almost empty except for the sacristan and a few others mulling around. I wandered over to the confessional at the side of the sanctuary and saw there was no waiting line. I thought I probably had the wrong time. But after sheepishly poking my head into the confessional the priest on the other side beckoned me to come in. I knelt down and began.

When I was done this priest, who I could tell was fairly advanced in years, gave me the greatest comfort I could have asked for.

"God is Love."

I no longer remember what else he said before giving me absolution but just that simple phrase, one I've heard a thousand times, was exactly what I needed.

Confession, also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is by far my favorite sacrament. You want to experience God's love, God's grace? You'll get more here than you know what to with! I like to critique a lot of what Catholics do but by God, we get it right with Confession!

I think the love I felt through the words of the priest and the hope I had leaving sin behind were the real takeaways that day. And really any day you confess your failings before God. Anything and everything a priest will say in the confessional can be summed up by my confessor's words, "God is Love."

It's so odd that we have to be constantly reminded of this. There are times when I can feel like a real hypocrite who professes a desire to live one way and then constantly fails and chooses something else. Are we hypocrites? Are we living a dual life? Yes. Absolutely. But that is the human experience. That is the spiritual life. It's struggle and pain and imperfection. But it doesn't invalidate the beauty, the serenity, the perfect that we do find and are graced to live.

After confession that day, I waited for the other parishioners to arrive and mass to start. The priest from the confessional said mass and gave a homily. He talked about how he was a retired bishop, and how he had spent the better part of his younger days as a priest abroad in India. Calcutta, India. Hearing the sins of a tiny nun. This man had spent the better part of his priesthood as Mother Teresa's confessor. And here he was, an hour before, hearing my own confession. If I didn't feel God's love and providence before, I sure felt it then.

The point I'm trying to express is that we are forced by necessity to live with our natures and our propensity to sin and yet be offered freedom from sin. And just because we fall back into the false self and sin doesn't mean we are worthless. It's a lesson I think every Christian has learned time and again but still needs to hear. Like the creed, we need to say it over and over, plumbing its depths for deeper meaning. It's a lesson I've been lucky enough to hear not only from Mother Teresa's confessor but plenty of other priests along the way.

One thing I hope is helpful is to pass on words of comfort for the sinner. I wish I had a lot of wisdom here. But thankfully others have had that wisdom, which I offer to you. The following is some of the best advice I've been given in the intimacy of Confession over the years. Each should be savored and contemplated.

Pray for recognition of goodness. Pray for recognition of beauty and joy.
Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit - fortitude, wisdom, understanding, strength.

Our emotions should be listened to. They tell us something about what is true.

Take time to reflect on your feelings - Why do I not like this person? Why am I annoyed? What do I find this person attractive? What do I find admirable about them?

A sin has to be very serious to be a mortal sin. Give yourself a break.

Let the memories and moments of consolation carry you through the moments of desolation. (Let the 'highs' carry you through the 'lows' in your spiritual life.)

Your sin doesn't define you. You don't have to wait for all parts of your life to be holy in order to grow closer to God.
Above all, know that you are loved.

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