Who can even say what’s in this podcast? What isn’t in this podcast? Not Chuck Norris, that’s who!
And not a poem by Donald Justice.
Last week, a priest responded to the article “Five Rules for a Royal Bride” with a humble request: “I wish Catholics in the pews would write us new pastors and new ordained priests advices like these! Y’all help us to be men of God, men for others, and men that have joy in their lives! Send me your five advices before I become pastor . . .”
My husband and I both went to confession one afternoon. I got out first while he was still in line, and he asked me who was in there—the Nigerian nit-picker, the almost-deaf crank or maybe Father Distracto? I reared back in mock horror, rolled my eyes heavenward and whispered, “Um, it’s Jesus.”
photo credit: Freaktography Confessional Booth in Rural Ontario Abandoned Church via photopin (license)
Like a dummy, I misplaced our copy of The King of the Shattered Glass (Marian Press, 2017; affiliate link), but I want to tell you about it now anyway. It would be a great book to read during Lent, and would make a nice Easter present, too.
It’s a picture book appropriate for ages six and up, written by Susan Joy Bellavance and illustrated by Sarah Tang. Basic story: An orphan girl named Marguerite works in the scullery of a medieval king’s castle, when glass is an astonishing novelty. It’s so valuable that the king insists that anyone who breaks his glass must gather up the pieces and bring them to him personally.
Marguerite, an orphan, is a pretty good kid, but on three occasions, she breaks the precious glass — as the blurb says, “through temper, the pride of a dare, and selfishness.” Each time, she has to gather her courage and own up to what she did. It’s not easy, because she’s ashamed, and because she’s afraid of punishment; and eventually, once she comes to actually know the king, and just feels bad that she broke his stuff.
Catholics, you can see where this is headed! The book is a thoughtful allegory for confession; but it works well as a satisfying little story, too.
Marguerite has some penance and growth to do, and eventually the king reveals that he is using all the glass she has shattered to make a gorgeous stained glass window showing himself putting a crown on Marguerite’s head. He then adopts her as his own daughter, and there is rejoicing.
The king, to my great relief, is truly appealing, gentle but strong, and the illustrations successfully suggest divinity (especially Christ as the source of Divine Mercy) without being too heavy-handed. Some of the pictures are more skillful than others, but all are lively and bright, some in black and white, some with deep, saturated colors.
You can download a free pdf of a teacher’s guide, which takes you through the book’s themes:
1. Relationship with God as Father, King and Friend
2. Conscience, a gift to be developed
3. Penance, which brings healing to ourselves and others
4. Jesus, who carries our burdens
5. Adoption and family life; Baptism and Reconciliation.
The King of the Shattered Glass is not the most polished book you will ever encounter in your life, but it works very well, and it’s full of heart and theologically tight as a drum. Kids will find it memorable and appealing. Recommended!
Bellavance and Tang are collaborating on a second book, to be titled Will You Come to Mass?
If He was capable of healing with a touch, surely He could have performed some other kind of miracle that would have changed everyone’s mind about Mosaic Law, or He could have made the man incapable of spilling the secret, or He could have done a thousand other things to get out of the bind the man made for him when he spilled the beans. The way He chose to do it is impractical and confusing, and it doesn’t make sense to me.
So why did he do what he did?
Image: Detail of Byzantine mosaic (Public Domain)
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.
Image via Max Pixel (Public Domain)
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.
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.
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.
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.