Forgiveness, Mercy, and Confession

So, just as in Advent, at Easter, many dioceses are offering more opportunities for the sacrament of Confession. And lots of people will go but not nearly as many (everyone) that should.

In becoming a more “Biblical Catholic” (I guess there is such a thing, at least, I’m told there is) I am busy reading my way through Bible and studying Matthew. Chapter 23 of Matthew ends this way:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” Matthew 23:37-39

As a fellow member of my discussion group intimated, I read this not as “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” but as “Kristen, Kristen.” And He calls me to Confession. He yearns for me to go. I yearn for me to go. We have a need and a deep desire to confess our sins to our God and receive his abundant forgiveness. For we know ¬†David said in the Psalms:

As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us Psalm 103:12

And we know that grace is God given when we leave Confession to complete our penance. I know I feel like suddenly I can breathe again. As though my sin has dragged me down under the water and held me there to drown.

We know how powerful God’s forgiveness is. We know that in His mercy, forgiveness is given freely. And yet we dread Confession we avoid going. We find excuses. It’s not available enough, it’s not at a convenient time, it’s too late in the day…and most of us end up like me, being forced to try and made it during Lent or Advent and sometimes failing even at that.

Why? Well, it’s true what they say, our sin separates us from God. But not only does our sin separate us from God in and of itself, our guilt over our sin drives us even further away. Sin is the gift that keeps on taking. And it’s not just the guilt, it’s the fear. Although we know of God’s forgiveness, we somehow cling to this notion of retribution and grudge that simply does not exist. And this has always baffled me, particularly as I struggle though it.

Then, yesterday, I got the concrete, crystal-clear reason. We were getting ready for dinner and I had been outside pushing William on the swing. I came in and was looking for Joseph because I saw a toilet plunger in one of the toilets and he’s been known to try and plunge himself. I found him in his room. He was sitting on the floor crying. Around him were the shattered remains of William’s Angry Birds “piggy bank.” Before I could fully comprehend what I was seeing he said, “I closed the dresser drawer and it just fell.” I don’t doubt that story in the least because things fall off their dresser all the time when drawers are shut. It had fallen and hit an open drawer on the way down and busted. I went over and made sure he wasn’t hurt at all and asked if it scared him. While I was hugging him he said, “I was afraid I would be in trouble.”

It was one of those parenting knifes through the heart. Kids have accidents all the time like this. And sometimes we punish them, they shouldn’t be so careless, so clumsy. As I picked up the shards of ceramic, I realized how often I do it. Way more than I should. And these are punishments (be they harsh words, spankings, time-outs whatever) for something that was unintentional. Something done with no malice at all, no ill intent at all.

We cannot conceive of God’s forgiveness and mercy fully because we’re conditioned to expect man’s version, which is obviously less than perfect. We know God’s mercy and forgiveness because we’ve received them through the sacrament, but our flawed human condition does not trust that they will always be there because we’ve experienced time and again man’s failure at these things. We’ve apologized profusely and heartfelt only to have people turn away from us or shut us out. And sometimes it’s for things we did not do intentionally or did not realize the hurt they had the potential to cause. Sometimes we had no way of knowing someone would be hurt or in pain from our words and actions and it is an accident and forgiveness is with-held even when asked for. Or forgiveness is given but later a grudge is formed because forgetting is so much harder. As my pastor has said, “forgiveness is an act of will, forgetting is a biochemical reaction.” Our minds simply cannot conceive of a God who can and ALWAYS will forgive when asked for forgiveness. And He will not suddenly decide that we are still accountable for our old sins, no, they are done and over with. No matter what man thinks or tells us, God has forgiven. We, as humans, demand justice. God, in His infinite wisdom, spares us judgment and condemnation and extends forgiveness and mercy.

Even in reading that passage from Matthew, yes, Jesus is telling of horrible futures for Jerusalem, but he’s not doing it out of malice, he’s mourning it. He is saddened with the choices people made. He wants to protect them but knows they have to want to be protected.

I don’t know that there is any solution to the whole “dreading confession” thing. I don’t think we can ever “train” ourselves out of expecting human reactions from God. However, I can recommend reading scripture to remind ourselves of the truth of God’s mercy and forgiveness. And making that trip to confession no matter what dread lies there.

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