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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | God
Tag Archives: God

To Whom Do You Confess?

Yet another (serious, and not sarcastic, though of course I can rarely resist making a few jokes here and there) post in my ongoing consideration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I have been incredibly blessed by the comment so far, and after letting this post sit for a while I now look forward to comments on it as well. It is perfectly fine if you have a different experience or view of the God we Catholics worship, and I am interested in how this plays into your experience of confession in a sacramental space.

Edith Stein divided up the prayer of the Church into the public (liturgy and Eucharist), and the private (solitary dialogue with God). My prayer life is incredibly lopsided toward the former. One of the many downsides of being so warped is that no matter how much I know about God, in fact no matter how much I know God, I am still mismolded by the Church’s imperfect language.

The Church’s public liturgy is not obsessed with God as male, but its poor wording naturally leads to misunderstanding in the deepest sense possible. My own soul contains the problem of the day, and God is conflated with Father.

This problem is no where more obvious than when trying to live out the acts of the penitent. A good examination of conscience is impossible for me when I only think of confessing to God as Father, because such a limited view of God shrinks my conscience and my awareness of my relationships and responsibility. When I think of God as Father, I think of a loving, just, and merciful God who created me in HIS own image, allowed me to be born with the stain of sin, knows all of my weaknesses, and sent HIS only son Jesus to redeem me. I think that HE graciously provided the Church so that we can have the sacraments here on earth as means of grace our our way to finally live with HIM in heaven forever.

I know all of the rules set forth by the Church, and I obey them. I never knowingly disobey them1. I even maintain the appropriate Catholic sense of guilt for not doing quite enough, without it mattering what exactly enough is (um, that part was a joke. Laugh. Haha).

With this understanding of God in mind, I have very little to confess. And when the Holy Spirit somehow breaks through and gets me to confession, priests are often quite ready and willing to remind me that God is Father. God is Father. Father is pleased with me for making a point of knowing what should be on the checklist, and then checking it off.

And priests are busy. They do not have time for people who don’t understand that God is Father; for people who do not understand that only those sins that violate the Father’s commands need to be confessed. If one does not have the most fearsome of universally mortal sins to confess, then one should start out every confession with “bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 11 months and 30 says since my last confession.”

If reconciliation simply means confessing my sins to Father Priest who sits in the place of Jesus as mediator between me and Father in heaven, then it is of incredibly little use in my life. It is, in fact, a complete puzzle why God should have chosen so many amazingly wonderful sacraments, and then tossed in one that is all but pointless. After all, the only people who need to confess to Father are those who are so far from God that they would never bother to confess.

I first realized the extent of this problem two years ago during Advent. I knelt in Church examining my conscience, and finding nothing. And then I looked at the crucifix and saw a sister hanging there. And instantly I felt it all: the knowledge of my sins, the perfect contrition, the complete awareness of my utter brokenness and horror at how I had broken the God who loved me through death.

Last night I realized it all over again. As I said my act of contrition, I realized that despite the happily generic word “God,” I was saying it to Father. I had sought reconciliation because I had been given an understanding  by a God who transcends such human categorization, and in fact demands more words in order to not be trapped by that one male word. But, going through the motions of confession, I was once again returning to the limiting understanding of God which keeps me away from the grace of reconciliation.

And that, I suppose, was one of the reasons that my stomach remained tight, even as I left the confessional amazed at God’s grace. The Holy Spirit was clearly present, but was being quenched even as I said the words for the purpose of accepting the sacramental grace into my life.

I have been formed to confess to Father, and unless I actively counter that tendency, confession is meaningless in my life. There is the grace to overcome my inclination, but every day I must accept it instead of absorbing the limiting understanding pressed upon me by miserable language.

To whom do you confess? Do you share my tendency to confess to a loving, just, and merciful Father?  If so, do you find it helpful or harmful? Has your understanding of reconciliation radically changed, and if so, how has it changed the way in which you embrace the practice?


1. That was true when this was written a month or two ago. It is no longer unambiguously true, but that is the subject of another (hopefully forthcoming eventually) post on reconciliation.

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Sin, Damnation, and Disclaimers

As usual, this post is half tongue-in-cheek and half deadly serious. My hope is that with enough of these I may not have to post as many disclaimers and explanations. Of course it is not most efficient (or material, formal, or final for that matter!) to include jokes in a post intended to prevent further confusion, but I just can’t help myself!

Every day I learn something new. Recently I learned that the real reason that God made Josh the head of our home is so that Josh can point out the obvious to me. Like the fact that, even though I am only celebrating my second anniversary of reconciling with Augustine, I was born with a profoundly deprived nature deeply ingrained Augustinian view of the world.

Basically, Josh would say that when I think about sin I am off by myself with three Augustine-lovers somewhere in sight, and the rest of the world in in, well, wherever it is that the rest of the non-Augustinian world is.

I think of the world as God, and degrees of not-God. I think of sin as everything that decreases the God and increases the not-God1.

The presence of sin in the world is so obvious to me that I simply cannot understand those who do not see things this way. It does not matter whether you tend to think of things in terms of original sin or structural sin (I personally embrace believe in both!), that which is not-Good, not-Beautiful, not-God–however you choose to think of it–is so clearly real. No matter how “good” I am, I will always live in a world that is burdened by sin. All will be well, but in my little human life there still remain huge gaps of non-wellness. And so talking about sin is quite natural and almost causal for me.

But then whenever I dare to hint at it (and I do typically feel as though I am only hinting) people misunderstand and are even offended that I could imply that they might possibly be sinning! I am then struck with a double-confusion: first I am typically writing about myself, and so do not know why others imagine that I was implying that they are sinning, and secondly I do not understand why anyone should be surprised to find sin in her life when it so clearly permeates all of our lives.

My view of hell and damnation follows quite naturally from my view of sin. I believe that hell is real. I also believe that God is willing that none should perish, and that God’s willing is infinitely more powerful than any human insufficiency. So I am one of those who believes in a very real, very empty hell. It is incomprehensible to me that any of my readers might possibly be in danger of damnation.

Yet I know that hell is the absolute absence of God. And in my own life I have been given the gift of awareness of how I bring hell upon myself through my lack of love for God. I am aware of swimming in sin and breathing grace daily.

Which brings me to the fact that I do not think of sin and hell as scary or threatening. I am not scared because only threats are scare me; reality simply is, and this is all reality for me. I am continually aware of God as Love. I dread not the wrath of God, but the sadness of God. I do not relate to God as a parent who might be upset by my failings, but as a lover whose day I want to make a little bit brighter. And oh how very crushing it is to have the one whom we love reject us through apathy!

So I rely on my earthly lover to not only provide an example of how I should love, but also to tell me when others are completely misunderstanding me because they somehow manage to live without a constant consciousness of sin.

And maybe I’ll sit here singing “I’m just an Augustinian girl in a Pelagian world!” while writing a list of all the ways in which I am oh-so-very non-Augustinian.

1. See! There is proof that I am not really Augustinian. It would not make any sense to a real Augustinian to say “increase the not-God!” Take that, Josh! Guess I won’t just accept everything you say after all! Which goes to show that I am not only not Augustinain, I am also non-Monicanian!

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