Category Archives: Confession

Your Sin Will Find You

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A few years ago my wife and I attended a Catholic homeschooling conference in Minnesota.   The keynote speaker was Jeff Cavins.

Mr. Cavins is a good man with a lot of good things to say.   In full disclosure, though, from his time on Relevant Radio as the morning host, there were times I felt he was judgmental against those with opinions other than his own.   I remember a particular show where outreach to the Spanish-speaking community in America was discussed.   I am perfectly fine with meeting people where they are at and reaching them in their own language, but I also firmly believe that, for the good of these very people, we need to empower them for future success, which includes asking them to learn English.   On this particular show, Jeff Cavins and his guest were advocating, paraphrasing here, that the Christian approach is for us all to learn Spanish deal with the fact – and expect – that some people will not learn English.

Someone called in and made the exact point I was thinking, which is basically that this is poppycock, and I don’t think it’s against Christian ideals to expect reciprocation from that community.    In other words, yes we will help them, but they need to help themselves as well so they can be the most productive members of the country they have chosen to come to.   I remember the caller making this point, in a very respectful and reasonable way.

The response was extremely cold.   I was actually offended by the reaction.   It was as if the opinion of Cavins and guest were an official doctrinal position of the Church.    What could have been a good back and forth on the respective merits of the approaches, and an understanding that we really want similar things but maybe we have a couple different ideas on the best approach, the guy was treated like a child who wasn’t deserving of their time and discussion.

Having said that, nobody is perfect.   Cavins does much good and has offered great resources to strengthen people in the faith.    The main reason I mention it is because that really, really annoyed me and it stuck with me.   And despite all his good, it goes to show how even one momentary failing can do a lot of harm.    Not that Jeff Cavins knows me or cares what I think of him one way or the other.   But it’s still a good lesson for us all – a momentary lapse of reason can haunt you.   Maybe in this case, few heard it and fewer yet looked at it the way I did, and fewer yet remember it either way.    But I remember it, and perhaps there are others like me.

Having said that, there is one other memorable thing I can remember of Jeff Cavins, and it was a talk he gave at the aforementioned homeschooling conference.   In this case, it impressed me as a piece of great wisdom, and it is this:  “Your sin will find you.”

As Christians, we all believe that we will be judged.   And we all know that some people seem to get away with all sorts of things – bad things, including things that hurt other people – without temporal repercussions.  And while, as Christians, we want everyone to abandon sinful ways and accept Christ and be saved, we also long for appropriate justice.   And thus, we simply have to trust that, whether this life or in the next, justice will be done.

So, it may not be universally true that “sin finds you” while still on this physical planet in the temporal sense.    But I think it’s true that a lot of it really does.   I think there is a reason for this.   I think one way that God brings you back to Him is to humble you so that you are forced to deal with your own sinfulness.    Perhaps if you fall and then repent, God finds that sufficient.   Perhaps if your heart is completely stone cold, there is little to be gained.   But if you are ripe for salvation but are a slave to some sin or another, you may need to be completely jolted out of your ways, and that may mean a very uncomfortable, and even public, and embarrassing revealing of who you are.

In my own life, I have seen this happen.   I have seen it happen with others around me.   And I think what we have seen over the last few months in the political arena is a perfect example of this as well.   Between all the things that have been revealed about Bill and Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, what is revealed to the world is a dark side of sin that ultimately comes at a great cost.   In the case of Hillary Clinton, it is very likely that everything that was uncovered by the Wikileaks e-mails cost her the Presidency.   In a bizarre turn, the sexting scandal of Anthony Weiner ultimately cost him his political life and his marriage, but also ensnared the Clinton campaign and also assisted in damaging her Presidential hopes.    And even though Donald Trump won, many ultimately supported him despite a number of problematic things that were uncovered and made public to the world.   Yes, he’s President and can make reparation for past sins by governing in a Godly way, but the memory of the things he has said and how he said them will not go away.   The damage to him is personal, not just in how we view him, but in how his wife and kids view him.    I’m not suggesting that there is any lack of love there, nor should there be.   But it is something they will now always know that their dad has said, and it may be a less tangible type of damage than losing the election, but it is real nonetheless.

But not all these things are ultimately a bad thing.   Whether Hillary, Bill, and Donald repent and change their ways is completely up to them.   But such public embarrassment can do it.   If one is able to self-reflect and realize that sins were committed, mistakes were made, and embarrassment occurred, then repentance can be initiated.   It can be a deep, sorrowful repentance.   Or, it can be action-oriented (“I’ll make sure I never make that mistake again”) out of fear of embarrassment.   Sure, I think God always prefers perfect contrition, but he gives us imperfect humans a lot of tools and feelings to help us do the right thing even with imperfect contrition.   And that’s still a blessing.

Even more important when discussing more public figures – but this still does apply to all of us – is that when the sins and mistakes of others are revealed it is a learning opportunity for all of us.   Do you think anyone in government with security clearance in the near future will be setting up private e-mail and lying about it?   Yeah…   don’t think so.   And that’s a good thing.   Should all of us watch our language, our conversation, and our actions at all times not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because in this day and age of constant video monitoring, cell phone usage, and internet tracking we may just be leaving a roadmap of our own sinfulness for all the world to see at some future time?    Yeah – not that I’m thrilled about the scary non-private world we live in, but it’s probably a good thing for all of us to ask the question “If I ran for office, would I want others to see and hear what I am doing and saying right now?”    It would be great if we just did the right thing because it’s the right thing and because we love God and neighbor.   But if we also do it out of a bit of a sense of fear that someone else may find out, that’s not entirely a bad thing, either.

The best antidote for your sin “not finding you” is to stop sinning.   Or, at least, go to Confession, be sorry, and work on your deficiencies.   We all have our weaknesses.   None of us are perfect.   Don’t embrace your sin – fight against it.   Those feelings of guilt you have?   Yeah, the world tell you that’s bad.   It isn’t.   It’s a gift.   Use it, but then after you are forgiven then shake the guilt for what you confessed and move forward.  We’re human – there will likely be some residual guilt for sin depending on the nature of it.   Don’t let that residual guilt allow you to question the gift of forgiveness.  Instead, use it to continue to be resolute that you don’t want to repeat your offense.   But if you do, don’t despair.    Most Catholics will tell you that they get frustrated because they end up repeating the same sins and confessing them over and over.    The goal isn’t to just go with it because you can go to confession.   The goal is to stop.   But that goal is much harder than it seems – it takes multiple confessions and continued grace to stop your bad behavior.   Hopefully, you will sin less often, and less severely.   But it will happen.   Let that guilt get you to confession – that’s healthy.   Despair is not.

Will your sin find you?    Yes, it will.   But better that it finds you sooner rather than never, and that you work to correct it.   Better that it finds you in a way that puts you on your knees and gets you to confession.    In the end, you can never be happy that you sinned, but you may thank God for the gift of your sin finding you.

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Fearing God, not just on Halloween

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So, I delve into the wisdom of Facebook Theology (I think I’ll trademark that.   I like it.)

On my timeline, one of my friends (an extended family member) posted this little bit of wisdom:

Common religious saying: ‘God fearing.’

New Testament of the Bible: ‘God is Unconditional Love.’

LOL.

 

My pithy response was simply “Both are correct.”    I really try to hold my tongue on Facebook for the most part, because you may have noticed that I can be opinionated and this doesn’t always serve me well, particularly when I think the point I’m debating is sheer lunacy.   Compassion and charity can take a sudden vacation at times.

But not to stop there, let’s view some of the other comments.   More Facebook Theological insight from the likes of people not quite at the level of, say, St. Thomas Aquinas.

“#mixedmessage”

“We were not created to fear God.   We were not meant to “fear” anything.   God is love.   We are love.   Therefore we all are one.”

Me:  Beyond the evidently failed logic class this person took in high school that somehow led them to the two-step conclusion that “We are not created to fear God” leads to the conclusion that “we are all one,” there are other issues with this.   If we were not meant to fear anything, God would have not created us with the emotion of fear.   Just like everything else about us, we can cripple ourselves with fear, or we can use fear as it was intended – to protect us, safeguard us, and take appropriate precautions.    To “fear” God is correct and natural in the sense that we recognize He has ultimate power and authority over us.   His benevolence, mercy, and love allows us to have a real loving relationship with Him, to befriend Him even.   But this does not negate His authority, and it does not negate the fact that with this authority comes with law and penalty.

Further, God wants us to come to Him however we can.   We learn that an “imperfect contrition” is going to confession for fear of Hell rather than the sadness in knowing that you have disappointed God, with a desire to repair the damage you’ve done to your relationship with God.    But imperfect or not, the Sacrament is valid.  God gets us.   And He’d rather us make it to heaven out of a fear of Hell than to not get there at all because of an improper sense of what the love of God is all about.     Yes, of course, God prefers that we love Him so much that we do not act out of fear.   This is a much more mature faith.   But to check fear at the door is to risk the sin of presumption.   There is still a proper place in your relationship with God for a properly disposed of sense of “fear.”   Fear may mean awe, respect, a bewilderment that God is impossible to completely understand, or at some level simply fear.

“I think it might be more realistic to assume that when one uses the term ‘God fearing’ it is implying a fear of God at a mass consciousness level in a rather negative way.”

Me:  No, that is not what it means.

“Actually the word ‘fear’ in the Bible is a mistranslation for the word ‘dance.’   So really it’s not supposed to be ‘fear god’ it’s ‘dance with your god.’ ”

Me:  To quote the original post:   “LOL”    Where do people get this crap?   Even if there is some alternate translation where the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word for fear is similar to dance, trying to insert the word “dance” wherever “fear” shows up is insanely ridiculous.

I can see the next biblical translation now:   “And the angel appeared unto Mary, and she danced.   And the angel replied “dance not!”     I guess it changes the visual during my meditation of the Mystery of the Annunciation during Rosary time.

 

I don’t know why people even concerns themselves with these things.   I guess we just want to make God exactly what we want Him to be.    God loves me, therefore I can do no wrong.   No, people.   God loves all of us, but history shows that He also means business.   God is not emotional.   Everything is for a reason that has in its final purpose the salvation off as many people as possible.   We look at chastisements/punishments as anger or wrath because we’re dumb people who can only think in those terms.   It’s an apt enough description for the purpose it serves, but it also means that if we stray from God, and He doesn’t want to see us stray, He may take drastic measures that we don’t like at all.   And, yes, we should fear that.

Beyond that is the obvious analogy of parenting at the human level.   I love my kids and they say they love me.   If they don’t say that, they get no ice cream, but I think it may even be true.   Precisely because I love my kids, I want to see them grow up exhibiting certain behaviors.   I want this for their own salvation, I want it for their own ability to make a living, to be a good citizen, to have a life that is gifted with good decisions.We really do get along well.   We laugh and we play.   But they absolutely fear the consequences to misbehavior.   By extension, then, you could say they fear me.    And you know what?   I’m perfectly fine with that.   Ultimately, I would hope that they act the way they do out of love and respect for me.    But before they intellectually mature, they may just not do something because the fear the consequence of doing it.

Compared to God, we’re all toddlers.   Fear works.  Deal with it.

 

 

 

 

Confession Stories

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Note:  Have you ever written a really long post and then hit Publish after all your hard work, to then be taken to the log-in page?   Do you know what that means?   It means that, for some reason, WordPress logged you out while you were typing, but for some reason let you keep typing.   It also apparently means that your drafts no longer save, but it doesn’t tell you that they didn’t save.   It also means that whatever you typed after you were logged out is kind of like your confessed sins:  they are gone and forgotten and never to be seen or heard from again.   Which is a good thing if you’re talking about sins, but it is not a good thing when you are talking about a half-hour’s worth of thoughts and words.   It also means that I may need to go to confession because I was none too happy when I realized what had happened…  

I consoled myself by thinking the Devil doesn’t want me to make this post, as if I am about to start an unstoppable reversion back to the Confessional.   In reality, it’s more likely that WordPress has an unfortunate bug and I am victim to it.   But never underestimate the battlefields used in Spiritual Warfare!

Anyway, here we go again…

Confession stories.  Everyone has them. Well, OK, if you’re Catholic then you do. Well, I mean, if you’re a Catholic who actually goes to confession you do.

I recently read a blog post at 8 kids and a business that was a nice, reflective post that covered a lot of good ground on the serious stuff.

But I always like to hear good confession stories on the lighter side. Anyone willing to share?

I’ll throw out a couple…

First, my spiritually uplifting story:

I went to confession after a very long absence – 15 years or so.   I never lost my belief in God and I never stopped knowing that there was something important about the Catholic faith.   But like many others in the Catholic faith, I had rationalized away the need to go to confession.   After all, what would it say about Uncle Richard who was Protestant if I thought you needed to go to confession to be forgiven?   Why isn’t it good enough that you just take your sins to God directly?   We all know the drill.   I don’t think I came up with any new arguments of any intellectual magnitude.  I just fell into the convenient ones.

In the meantime, it is very easy looking back at it to see where this led me.   Once you rationalize one thing you rationalize the next thing.   Pretty soon, it isn’t necessary to go to Mass every Sunday and contraception is no big deal.   God ultimately led me to a point in my life where I realized that I need to go to confession.   This only occurred after some intellectual honesty with myself.   I finally realized that God expects much more out of those to whom certain gifts are given.   I can not compare myself to Uncle Richard because I was given the gift of the Sacraments in my Catholic faith, whereas Uncle Richard did not have that same understanding.   How many times do we tell certain children “you know better” because it has been explained to them, while other children simply don’t know better?   We discipline those children differently because of our expectations of their actions given their level of understanding.

I further realized that the Church has a wisdom about it with respect to the Sacraments that takes uncertainty out of matters.   For example, will God allow people into heaven that have not been baptized for one reason or another?   We can reflect on that and decide that we think it makes perfect sense that He would.   On the other hand, if you are baptized, we believe in the adoption that comes with that and the certainty of having fulfilled the requirement that Jesus placed before us.   Likewise, I can certainly believe that God can and does forgive people who are sorry for their sins who don’t go to confession.   But at what level of certainty do we have that a particular confession we made worked?   I mean, we think that God will forgive us, and after all He is benevolent.   But most people won’t hear God actually whisper in their ear and say, “Oh, yes, my friend.  You are forgiven.  Go and sin no more.”  So, you’re kind of left wondering if you were sorry enough.   Maybe you should confess again?   But no…   you have to trust that God did it, and it’s a sin to not accept His forgiveness.   Except that you have no proof of actual forgiveness…   Agh!   Being a practical guy, I finally realized that I can go to confession and get absolution and hear the words “Your sins are forgiven” (and yes, non-Catholics, we know the Priest says it but we believe he is there in the very person of Christ, and it is Christ that is forgiving our sins, not a man.   But Christ acts and speaks through him so that we can hear those words of assurance) and be done with all the guessing.   It’s actually quite extraordinarily easy, when you think of it.

“I’m going to go to confession, and do a bloodletting…”   Um, no.   No bloodletting needed.

“I’m going to confession, at which point I will be kicked in the head and smacked with a wet carp.”   No…   no physical abuse necessary.

“I’m going to confession, but will only be granted forgiveness after running 5 miles and doing 1000 push-ups.”   While perhaps of physical benefit, no exercise involved.

“I’m going to confession, where I will tell a Priest my sins, be contrite about it, and then God will wash me clean and forget about those sins as if they never happened.”    Get outta here!   That’s it?!

As embarrassing as it might be to have to verbally tell somebody how bad you’ve been and how much you’ve sinned for all sorts of silly and unnecessary reasons, the actual thing you need to do for what you get is somewhat unbelievable if we didn’t, in fact, believe it.   It’s mighty good stuff.

And so, I finally realized all this.   My testimony is that I went and had the closest thing to what those evangelicals describe as a “born again” experience.   Except that I was born again in baptism, so what actually happened is that I had mucked myself up with all sorts of spiritual grease and grime and dirt and was scrubbed mightily clean.   A huge weight fell off me upon absolution and I almost physically felt the Holy Spirit rush back in.   It was amazing.    I admit that I long for that same emotional rush from time to time when I go to confession, but since then the experience has been mostly ordinary (if one is ever to consider having your sins forgiven simply for confessing them ordinary).   And that’s OK, because we don’t judge Sacramental validity by the emotional pulse of the experience.  

For all those who feel, for whatever reason, you don’t need to go to confession…   just stop it.   Just go.   Seriously.  In the end, there is no good excuse for not going.   There just isn’t.   It’s all well and good to trust God, but what is God to think of us when we purposely decide that the avenue He placed before us and is readily available to us for forgiveness is deemed unnecessary?   Perhaps you’ve got an answer for Him on that one, but I don’t.   And what  Uncle Richard is doing is irrelevant.   And I haven’t even talked about the gift of grace you receive from the Sacrament.   Even if you think you’ve got the answers on the other points, we Catholics truly believe in an actual grace received from the Sacraments that is life-giving and unique.     Just.       Do.       It.

As for some more light-hearted anecdotes, I have a couple.

First, there was the time I visited a parish of which I am not a member, and never attend.   This was during the phase where I felt like going “face to face” was somehow more redemptive, because it was like I was hammering my pride even more to put my face with my sins.   I finally realized that this was a silly notion, and that the Sacrament wasn’t any more valid whether the Priest saw my overly chubby face than if he didn’t.   So now I mostly kneel behind the screen. But I digress…

Anyway, I sat down, and the Priest declared “And you’re wondering to yourself, ‘Who is this guy?'”   I was a bit taken aback, since nothing of the sort crossed my mind, I was not a parishioner, and I was just there for confession.   As long as there was a Priest there, I was cool.   After mumbling something about not being a Parishioner, the confession started.   I kid you not, it went as follows [actual sins are Xd out, because they are forgotten by God and none of your cotton-picking business 😉 ]

Me: On one occasion I did XXXXXXX

Priest: Oh, well…   that isn’t a big deal.

Me:  Um, OK.  I still feel like I need to confess it.

Priest: Sure, that’s fine.   Is there anything else?

Me: On two occasions I XXXXXXXXX

Priest:  Maybe I’m just too liberal on some of these things, but I don’t see anything wrong with that!

By the time it was all done, I felt pretty darn good about myself.

Well, he did give me absolution, so I assume the Sacrament was valid.   But part of me wanted to go somewhere and confess again just to validate my suspicions that I had, in fact, sinned.

Then, there was the time I was at a Catholic conference where they had speakers and they offered confessions all day long.   I went in and knelt behind the screen and waited.   I knew a Priest was there, because his foot was sticking out from behind the screen, propped up on a chair.   No sign of the cross…   Was I confused?   Was I supposed to start?   “Bless me Father, for I have sinned…”    But that didn’t seem right.   Nothing.   Then I realized that he was, ever so lightly, snoring.   Apparently there had not been a lot of confessing going on recently.

After a sharp cough on my part, I heard the shufflings of a living Priest, which is always a desirable attribute, and the confession was able to commence.

A co-worker who is older recounts a story from his youth.  He went to Catholic school and went to confession on a Friday.   His mother went into confession on Saturday and despite his protests, forced him to go again.   When it was his turn, it went as follows: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.   My last confession was…  um, yesterday.”   “Tom!  Is that you?   What are you doing here?”   “My mom made me come.”   “Get outta here!”

I’ll conclude with a joke, just because I think it’s funny.   Imagine a couple older, Polish/Scandinavian guys talking in a Northeast Wisconsin accent, dontcha know, hey.

Stash: Bless me Father for I have sinned.

Priest: Go on.

Stash:  I stole some lumber.

Priest: Oh, Stash.  That is not good.   Stealing is against one of the commandments, dontcha know.  What did you do with it?

Stash: I built a birdhouse.

Priest: Well, this could be worse, but it is still stealing.   Don’t do it again, and you will need to make 3 Our Fathers for this sin, eh?

Stash: Ya, Father.  But there’s something else.

Priest:  yes?

Stash: I took more lumber than that, and built a garage.

Priest: What?!  Stash, this is a much bigger deal.  What kind of garage?

Stash: My car fits in it all nice-like, ya know.

Priest: Stash, you must pay for the lumber, OK?   And now you must make a Rosary as well for this sin.  Do you understand?

Stash:  Ya, Father.   But…   um…

Priest: Oh dear…

Stash: I kinda had some lumber left over and built one more thing.

Priest:  Which was?

Stash:  I kinda attached a house to my garage.  Not a real big one.  

Priest:  Not a real big one!?   It’s a house, Stash!   This is very serious.   You must pay for the lumber!   Now, let me ask you, do you know how to make a Novena?

Stash: I never heard of one of them, Father.   But if you got the blueprints, I got the lumber!

God bless.