When we’re mad at God because we’ve sinned

The other night, I was having a mild panic attack in the middle of the night, and I dealt with it this way: I breathed in while thinking, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” and then breathed out while thinking, “But I place my trust in Jesus.” I accepted my ignorance and my uncertainty, and I reclaimed my knowledge of the one true thing that will always be true, which is Jesus Himself.

It got me through that one bad night. But there has not been a single second in my life when that was not an appropriate prayer.

Read the rest of my latest from The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Max Pixel (Public Domain)

Sometimes I forget I’m a Christian.

We went to confession on Saturday. I popped in with my five-year-old, thinking partly about the gallons of ice cream melting in the car, partly about the colors they chose to repaint the narthex, and partly about how soon I’d need to get home in order to get lasagna baked before it was too late in the evening, Oh, and I thought about my sins.

I Willard Mitt* that I silently groaned when I saw which priest was suiting up for the confessional. There’s nothing wrong with him; I just don’t like him, and sometimes I feel like he misunderstands what I confess (although believe me, it’s not complicated or interesting). I brusquely reminded myself that, whichever man heard my confession, it was Jesus’ presence that counted. Hoop de doo, off we go.

So I bleated out my lame, cruddy little list, which was more or less the same as the lame, cruddy list I bleated out the last eleven times I went (including two weeks ago. The exact. Same. List). When the priest spoke, he said something I’ve strangely never heard before. He told me to pray to the Father to help me realize when I’m about to sin, so I can pray for help to resist.

I don’t know if it was just his advice of the day, or if he meant it specifically for me, but Christ definitely meant it specifically for me.

The other day, shaking my head in disgust and amazement, I told my husband, “Sometimes I forget I’m a christian!” And it’s true. It’s not that I do a bad job; I just plain forget. I say my prayers in the morning, and then the first challenge that comes up, I buckle like a damp saltine. It doesn’t even occur to me to put up a fight; and it’s only later, as I go to bed, that I realize how badly I lost the battle. I lost because I didn’t even realize there was a battle.

What a very excellent reminder (and, to my thinking, yet another form of Catholic mindfulness) that priest gave me: Ask God to help you notice the choice. Do I choose to be a christian right now, in this very second, or do I choose not to be? Because there is a choice, whether I acknowledge one or not. Hell doesn’t care if you run in with eyes open or slide in half asleep, as long as you pass over that threshold.

Scrupulous people don’t need this advice; but most of us are not scrupulous. Most of us need a reminder to open our eyes.

*this is a joke with no point at all.

Hey, faithful Catholics, why are YOU here?

This plea goes for sinners whose souls are heavy with old-fashioned sins of the flesh, and also for sinners whose souls are heavy with the even older sins of pride and presumption.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly here.

Bless me, Father, for I have neurally adapted

They discovered, as expected, that people initially had a strong emotional and neurological response to lying; but as they continued to lie, they felt less and less emotional response (flushed cheeks, racing heart) and, accordingly, their brains’ amygdalae responded less and less.

The study is especially interesting because the participants’ brains were reacting not to conditions outside their control, but to their own free choices. So, yes: Lying gets easier with practice.

It’s hard to know what to say about a study like this, other than, “Well, duh.” The Church already has a word for this phenomenon — and a cure, as well.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Stone Man by Gilgongo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It was a beautiful confession

On Saturday, we went to confession. Mine was a pretty standard operation: “Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last confession. I did that thing I always do, and that other thing I always do. I also did that other thing I always do, except more so than usual. And I stopped doing that thing I usually do, but then I started again.  And I was mean on the internet. For these and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”

And the priest said what this particular priest always says: “Thank you for that beautiful confession.” He says this when I have a long and sordid list, or a short and sordid list, or when he can barely understand me because my nose is running from the sordidness of it all. The point is, I am not aware of ever having made a confession that any normal human being would consider “beautiful.”

But the confessional is not a normal place. It’s the one place that no one would ever go for normal, worldly reasons. No penitent goes to confession to get ahead in life, or to make money, or to get a full belly, or to impress anyone; and no priest goes to confession to be amused or entertained. It’s where we go to unload our miseries, to show our wounds and our infections, to take off the disguises that make us appear palatable to each other.

So, not beautiful. No, not especially.

Or is it? If the ugliness, the squalor, the sordidness, and the running nose were all that happened inside a confessional, then it really would be an ugly place — just a latrine, a ditch, a sewer. But of course, the part where we lay out our sins is only the first part.

What happens afterward is more obviously beautiful. The priest reaches out and picks up the ugly little load you’ve laid in front of him. And right then and there, he pours the living water over it until the parts that are worth saving are healthy and whole again, and the parts that cannot be salvaged have been washed away entirely. What is useless is gone; what was dead is alive again.

This is beautiful!

And the beauty of absolution does one of those neat Catholic tricks where eternal things reach back in time and impart beauty wherever they want, regardless of chronology. The beauty of absolution makes the confession itself beautiful. Even though my sins are ugly, the very fact that I’m bringing them into the confessional has something beautiful in it: the beauty of trust that I will be forgiven; the beauty of believing that something real and life-changing will happen; the beauty of being willing to accept forgiveness even though I know that I don’t deserve it; and the beauty of knowing that, whoever’s turn it is to sit behind the screen, it is really Christ who is waiting to meet me.

If that isn’t beautiful, then nothing is.

***
This post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2014.

The X-Plan for salvation

Beep beep. I am here to tell you that, sometime after that seventh time (or maybe after the seventy-times-seventh time) a light bulb will click on in that dopey son’s head. After being rescued without comment one more time after time after time after time, that son is very likely to decide on his own that this is no way to live, and he’d rather face the jeers and yucks of his stupid friends than the quiet patience of his father one more time.

Not because he’s scared of his father, but because he’s not. Not because his father is mad at him, but because his father loves him, and it finally feels like it’s time to live up to that love.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

I so imperfect

resentful

You can start over even if you’re not sure God loves you. You can start oven even if you’re not sure He should.

And you don’t have to run. You can shamble over resentfully. You can sidle in doubtfully. You can skulk in with fear, doubt, despair, or even rage. As long as you go because you’re acknowledging that things are not good as they are, then that is good enough. It may not feel like it is enough, but that is what Christ has promised.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: photo credit: trepelu toes (detail) via photopin (license)

Your friendly last-minute Advent reminder!

Somehow, even though Advent is as long as it can possibly be this year, I didn’t make it to confession. I don’t absolutely have to go, having (thanks be to God) no mortal sins on my soul. But it’s such a basic way to prepare for Christmas. I’ve said it myself several times: If I manage to have an advent wreath in the house and get to confession, I’ll call it a good advent. Well, we do have a wreath, anyway.

When I realized that I was missing my last reasonable chance (and no, it doesn’t seem reasonable to call up our unbelievably overworked priests and make a special appointment, when it’s not a spiritual emergency), I started casting around in my mind for something else I could do, something that would be almost as good as going to confession.

I had a chat with God about my sins, of course, and that was pretty good. I thought about some penitential things I could do. I even briefly considered cleaning the kitchen without complaining. And I remembered one more time: There is no substitute for the sacraments.

Of course there isn’t. I mean, we can make do in an emergency. If I were in an airplane that was spiraling toward the ground, I could make an act of perfect contrition, and I would be all set. If I were someone who had never heard of Jesus, I could regret the things that even a pagan knows are wrong, and I would be welcomed into my unknown father’s kingdom, right alongside the elderly priest who had the seven precepts of the Church memorized before he was weaned.

But those aren’t substitutions, so much as accommodations. There’s nothing better than the real thing, which is why Jesus gave the sacraments to the Church to give to us. I felt so stupid for missing my shot, but feeling stupid made me feel so grateful that there will be a next time. No need to invent anything, or figure out on my own how to wallow my way back to God.

So, don’t be stupid, be a smarty! If you still have a chance to get to confession, why not take a load off and be really ready for Christmas? And if you’re in a state of grace right now, don’t squander it! You’ve got an open line set up right to the Father, so talk talk talk. And put in a good word for me while you’re at it.

 

So I says to God, I says . . .

mad mama

The following story is not for the squeamish.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written much this week. This is mainly because I, and several members of my family, have been hit hard with a bug that is taking its sweet time meandering its way through our intestines. In short, we have turned into incredible pooping machines. I seriously didn’t know it was possible to poop this much and still function, but there you go. The baby, of course, has it too, which means that I’ve been spending most of my waking moments racing back and forth between the bathroom and the diaper box. (No, she’s not getting dehydrated.)

Friends, it is all shit, all the time.

Then, a few days ago, one of the little guys messed with the dog’s electric fence transmitter, and the poor dummy got zapped just for coming out of his crate. So he got all shell shocked, and refused to go outside. This went on for a little too long, and the inevitable just happened: he crapped all over the house, and his crate, and his giant spongy cushion, and everything.

So, like the reasonable adult I am, I hollered and screamed at him, threw him outside, and cleaned up the mess. Picked up the shrieking baby, sat down to nurse her, and what do you know? She pooped all over my lap.

At this point, I did what any pious housewife would do. I yelled at God, “YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY TO ME?”

And He said, “Yeah, go to confession, dummy.”

FINE. Some people need to be drowned in poop before they even start looking for a shovel.

Supreme Court will not hear confession confidentiality petition

confessional

By Ib Rasmussen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Not good: U.S. Supreme Court will not hear Baton Rouge Catholic confession case.

Backstory: A young woman is going to testify in a civil suit against the Diocese of Baton Rouge. She says that, when she was a girl, she revealed during confession that a member of the parish (who has since died) was molesting her, and that the priest told her she should hush it up.

Every priest who hears something during confession is morally obligated not to reveal what he heard during that confession. So if this woman testifies that he told her not to speak about her abuse, he may neither confirm nor deny that she said what she claims she said, or that he responded the way she says he did; and he may go to jail for refusing to testify.

So the diocese asked the federal Supreme Court to consider their petition to prevent her from testifying about what was said during the confession, and to prevent the priest from being compelled to respond to her testimony. Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the diocese’s petition.

I previously didn’t understand why it was dangerous for the woman to be allowed to testify about her confession, because I erroneously believed that a penitent may release a confessor from the seal of confession. I thought that she would simply have to give her permission for him to testify, and that he would then be free to confirm or deny what she said in the confession; but this is not so:

Can.  983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

If a penitent wishes to discuss something he or she revealed during confession, he or she must have the conversation again, restating the issue outside of the sacrament. That is the only way that a confessor may morally discuss the topic that was confessed: if he hears the information outside of the seal of confession.

The young woman is, of course, still free to have a second conversation with the priest, and the priest would then be free to testify about that second conversation; but what is at issue is what happened in the original conversation, years ago.

Please note that there is no reason to believe that the young woman is lying about what she told the priest or about what he told her. The diocese is not trying to impugn her reputation, and we should not assume that its goal is to protect a guilty priest. The point is that the seal of confession is there to protect both the priest and the penitent. If the seal of confession may be legally violated, it would prove disastrous both for priests and for penitents, who have both always understood that what they say in the confessional is known only to themselves and to God. Jen Fitz explains, with her usual clarity and concision, why the seal of confession is vital for the safety of both the priest and the penitent.

If the woman’s testimony is allowed, then priests will constantly be in danger of having to remain silent in the face of accusations against them. I could make up any dreadful story about what happened inside a confessional, and a priest would not be able to defend himself. They would have to choose between going to jail and endangering their own souls by betraying their vows.

A well-trained confessor can find a way to get help for someone who has been victimized. It is not necessary for anyone’s safety to destroy the long-standing legal respect for the seal of confession.