Today was a good day to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There was nothing on my agenda that needed my time, nor was there any voice in the back of my head giving me false justification for why I shouldn’t go. It had been about a month since my last visit to the confessional, plenty of time to rack up a few venial sins for which I wasn’t very proud.
“Father, let’s start with the vice of Sloth. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe just coming down from the Holiday, but it’s been hard to get off my rear end and do anything worthwhile. I have a long list of stuff, some of it pretty important, but procrastination has set in and it’s only the feel-good stuff that’s getting done.
“Let’s move on to Gluttony. Maybe it’s a side-effect of the Sloth, but I’m overdoing it in the Comfort department. Instead of two cookies, four or five is better. An intended fifteen minute power nap turns into an hour. You know what I mean? I can’t say my lifestyle has earned much sanctification lately, Father.
“And last, and probably the most important, has been my Pride and my lack of faith. Oh, my prayer life has been great, but my trust in Him has been lacking. There’s a couple people whom I love very much who are hurting and struggling emotionally right now. I’m a guy, I want to fix them, but I know there’s not much I can do to help but love them the best I can, and I know I should trust God to answer my prayers to bring them peace, but He’s not working fast enough for me.”
After a few words of consolation, affirmation, and my act of contrition, Father gave me my absolution and my penance to spend some time in church in prayer for those about whom I am concerned. I thought, “If you say so, Father, but I’ve already been doing a lot of that at home.”
Finding a pew on Mary’s side, I looked up to the altar, above the altar, actually, and the first thing I saw was a stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a beautiful window and every time I look at it I can’t help but think of the emotional anguish Jesus was experiencing at that moment. He knew what was in store when He said, “Not my will, Father, but let Your will be done.” Uniting His will with the Father’s, He put His trust in God that all would be well, and then got up and got on with the business at hand.
My eyes dropped down a notch to that which was between the window and the altar – the Crucifix, that wooden cross upon which Jesus was nailed, and which culminated in the salvation of the world. Looking up at Him, I knew He knew what I was going through.
It dawned on me that the Agony in the Garden was Jesus’ passive suffering and sacrifice. It was what was handed to him as a loving human being. But, His crucifixion was His active suffering and sacrifice, that which He chose to do for the sake of the world, including you and me.
Most protestants don’t believe in In Persona Christi, that Christ works mercifully through the priest to absolve sins and bring us closer to Him. I thought how wrong they are because there seemed to be a heap of Grace, Mercy, and Divine Providence staring me right in the face. Jesus was making it clear that my own emotional turmoil was my passive suffering, it goes with being alive and is a grace that comes from my ability to love. I needed to offer it to Him with love and trust.
And, He was leaving no doubt that I needed to actively choose a sacrifice on behalf of the ones for whom my heart pours out. God doesn’t ask for the impossible. He asks for the possible but at the same time makes you stretch, makes you get over your inertia and get out of your comfort zones so that He can draw you closer to Him. For me, that means pushing myself to grow in the virtues of Temperance and Diligence to offset my tendencies towards Gluttony and Sloth. For the ones I love, that’s a sacrifice I can make.
In Persona Christi. Through the priest, the Holy Spirit could have given me the usual Our Father and three Hail Mary’s as a penance. Today, he didn’t. He just wanted me to sit before Him and pray, to open my heart to His Spirit and His Will, and let Him penetrate me with His Grace, and convince me that He’s got this.
“Loving and gracious God, thank You for Your bountiful grace and mercy. Thank You for putting in me a heart that is so full of love that it hurts. Thank You for bolstering my faith each and every time I let my pride put more trust in me than I do in You. Amen.”
(Confession, Gethsemane, and the Cross was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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