Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When I Embrace Reconciliation

"‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’" (John 20:21–23)

I admit it. I am addicted to reconciliation. Not in a million years did I think that I would WANT to utilize this sacrament-especially since I have a fear of trusting anyone in ministry. But, now that I have utilized it, I can't seem to get enough of it.

When I was growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, I was taught that the Catholic's practice of reconciliation was not necessary. I was taught that confession directly to almighty God through prayer is all that is needed for forgiveness of sins. Although my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters are correct in that confession directly to God will forgive their sins, they are overlooking a great gift Jesus gives us in reconciliation.

I wasn't sold on the idea of reconciliation when I first became Catholic. I didn't really understand why I should confess my sins to a perfect stranger. To tell you the truth, I never really thought about my sins. As a Southern Baptist, we weren't taught to focus on what we had done wrong, but to try to move on and live right. God has already forgiven us when we invited Jesus to live in our hearts so there was no need to ask for forgiveness unless you did something really wrong. So, when I became Catholic, the whole thing didn't make sense to me. I hadn't murdered anyone, so why did I need to go to confession? It wasn't until I started studying the bible through the eyes of a Catholic that I understood how Jesus established this great sacrament in order to bring us closer to Him.

In his letter, the Apostle James says that we should confess our sins to one another(James 5:16). This was common practice during Jesus' ministry and the early church. As the church developed, what had begun as a public confession of one's sins turned into a confession to a representative of the community- a Priest. The Priest as the confessor makes perfect sense when you read John 20:21-23(above). Jesus intended for the Priest to hear and forgive the sins of the people, just like He heard and forgave the sins of the people who followed Him during his time on earth.

Throughout the gospels, you can see how Christ experienced all of His humanity. He felt all the human emotions. He knows what it feels like to be happy, sad, angry, hurt, or scared because He felt it as a flesh and blood human. Christ knows how important it is for us to face our emotions so that we can live in His love. Jesus understands that humans need to say it out loud with their own voices to other Christians where they have failed. When we do this, we are forced to put our faults it into words which helps us to understand their impact and to work through our emotions. When we acknowledge our failings, we can begin to heal the damage those choices have made and find peace. Jesus knows that our voices need to say it out loud and our words need to be heard by trusted ears so we can grasp that acknowledgement and deal with our emotions. And our ears especially need to hear a human voice say that God loves us and forgives us. Our spirits need to feel Christ lift those burdens from our shoulders. And this is why He gave us the sacrament of reconciliation.

In the few times I have gone, I have had a great experience. The Priest always says something that blows me away. His words have given me confirmation of something God laid on my heart or direction on something I needed to do. Sometimes the words that spilled out of the Priest's mouth are the same exact words a friend said to me or something I read in a book or an article or the bible that didn’t really make a whole lot of sense until that moment. Every time I go and give a voice my failings and ask for forgiveness from God with the Priest, those obstacles that were between me and God are lifted and the communication I have with God is that much clearer. And the Priest is the catalyst of that communication. It’s a really interesting and amazing experience for this simple girl who stumbled upon the Catholic faith.

I wish I can say that I have been to reconciliation many times, but I haven't. I do have trust issues with people in ministry that I am working to heal. Becoming vulnerable to a Priest is still not easy for me. But now that I have been a few times, I find myself examining my conscience more often. Every time I go, I let a little less time pass between visits. I suppose my mind and my heart are feeling the value of the confession while my spirit is anticipating and craving that next close and unique encounter with our Lord. And every time I have the courage to walk through that door and trust the Priest and ask for God's forgiveness, a little more of the wall is torn down which allows a little more of Christ to live in me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Old and New Faith

As I enter the New Year, I can't help but reflect upon the past and be hopeful about the future. Lately, my refection has been upon my experience with church. I have thought long and hard about my decision to leave the realm of Protestant life. My humanity questions this decision. Although my family is supportive of my faith, I did severe something when I left my childhood church- the church that raised four generations of God-fearing Protestants, and followed Christ to the Catholic faith. Being that I am right smack in the middle of the Bible belt, I am also surrounded by my Protestant friends who find my path confusing if not troubling. In my weaker moments, when I let my humanity overpower my spirit, I find myself in a lonely place.

I'm not lonely because I left the Protestant faith. I'm sad because my Protestant family and friends do not experience Christ like I do. Because I am a convert, I have done a lot of justifying of my Catholic faith. One reason I believe Christ is in the Eucharist is through John chapter 6. There are many references to the Eucharist throughout the Old Testament and St. Paul also writes about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist in his many letters. I believe in the authority of the Catholic Church because it was established by Jesus and has endured for 2000 years. I believe in the intersession of Angels and Saints- especially Mary because in his dying breath, Jesus established her as our Mother. She is a beautiful window to Christ. For me, the Catholic faith is a complete package.

But, here is my problem. In all of my justifying, I have become closed minded to other Christian faiths. I have drawn clear boundaries between what is right about the Catholic faith and wrong about other Christian faiths in order to justify my path. In doing so, I have built a wall. I have drawn a line in the sand. I have forced others to choose a side or not play the game. Obviously, this isn't a step towards unity. Christ wants us all to be united under one church. My wall building is not a positive step toward that goal.

I want so much for my Protestant friends to see and experience Christ like I experience Him. I want them to be in a church where scripture makes sense because church doctors and apologetics have been interpreting them for 2000 years. I want them to be in a church where heaven kisses earth every time we gather around the Lord's Table. I want them to experience a mass where the focus isn't on the human delivering the message but the divine coming to humanity. But my wants have built this wall. My past experiences have clouded my ability to reach out to them. My human justification has not allowed Christ to work through me. And although I have worthy desires for my Protestant friends, my humanity is driving them away from the Church.

So, once again, my humanity is getting in the way. I must die to my desires in order to let Christ work in me. I must set aside my justification and allow Christ to use my passion. I have my reasons for embracing the Catholic faith, but I cannot make the people around me share those same reasons. They have to find their own path in order for Christ to light that fire in their hearts. My role is set aside my justification and share the joy Christ has placed in my being. I must let go of the old and embrace the hope in the new.