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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Holy Spirit
Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

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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Edith Stein on Praying Alone as the Prayer of the Church

The work of salvation takes place in obscurity and stillness. In the heart’s quiet dialogue with God the living building blocks out of which the kingdom of God grows are prepared, the chosen instruments for the construction forged. The mystical stream that flows through all centuries is no spurious tributary that has strayed from the prayer life of the church it is its deepest life. When this mystical stream breaks through traditional forms, it does so because the Spirit that blows where it will is living in it, this Spirit that has created all traditional forms and must ever create new ones.

Without him there would be no liturgy and no church. Was not the soul of the royal psalmist a harp whose strings resounded under the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit? From the overflowing heart of the Virgin Mary blessed by God streamed the exultant hymn of the “Magnificat.” When the angel’s mysterious word became visible reality, the prophetic “Benedictus” hymn unsealed the lips of the old priest Zechariah, who had been struck dumb. Whatever arose from spirit-filled hearts found expression in words and melodies and continues to be communicated from mouth to mouth. The “Divine Office” is to see that it continues to resound from generation to generation. So the mystical stream forms the many- voiced, continually swelling hymn of praise to the triune God, the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Perfecter.

Therefore, it is not a question of placing the inner prayer free of all traditional forms as “subjective” piety over against the liturgy as the “objective” prayer of the church. All authentic prayer is prayer of the church. Through every sincere prayer something happens in the church, and it is the church itself that is praying therein, for it is the Holy Spirit living in the church that intercedes for every individual soul “with sighs too deep for words.” This is exactly what “authentic” prayer is, for “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” What could the prayer of the church be, if not great lovers giving themselves to God who is love!

Excerpted from The Hidden Life

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