Most of us don’t think of Lent as a season of gifts. Most have trouble thinking of Lent itself as a gift. And perhaps one part of this struggle is because the Holy Season of Lent reminds us to take seriously the 2,000 year old call of Jesus, the call to repentance. That call is still so necessary today. Moses called on the people and told them to adhere to the statutes and decrees of the Lord… and to teach them to your children and your children’s children. And Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the law or the prophets he came to fulfill them. All of this is leading to the topic of the Lenten practice of Repentance — the sacrament of Confession available to Catholics at this time of year.
There is a name you may be familiar with. She is Elizabeth Ficocelli – a writer of articles in Catholic magazines and with a number of published books. She has written on topics ranging from St. Therese of Lisieux, to Medjugorje and about Lourdes. Other book efforts have been for children.
I mention Elizabeth because I saw an article she wrote on confession — and I’d like to share a portion of it with you. In a wonderful piece penned about her own experiences with the practice of confessing sin… Elizabeth wrote these words:
“In the Lutheran church of my youth, confession was handled in a rather tidy manner. The congregation would stand and, together with the pastor, face the altar and read aloud a statement of confession. The pastor would then turn to face the congregation and read a response that essentially told us we were forgiven.”
“I don’t remember feeling heartily sorry for my sins – or heartily forgiven, for that matter — it was just a part of our Sunday worship. I suppose I must have talked to God privately about my sins growing up, but forgiveness and reconciliation do not hold strong memories for me.”
Later, Elizabeth became a catechumen when she began RCIA and the process to enter the Catholic Church. At first, she was squeamish about the Catholic approach to confession. She dreaded having to bare her soul to a man…. a man who would think badly of her whenever their paths crossed. Now quoting her again, she wrote, “At the same time, however, something significant was happening. I was beginning to realize that once I made a confession, I truly felt better. Forcing myself to verbalize and take responsibility for my offenses and ask pardon for them really did make a difference in how I felt afterward. It was harder than my Lutheran way, but I was starting to see the benefits.”
“My biggest stumbling block remained not being able to forgive myself. I used to come out of the confessional disappointed by the Act of Penance – to say an Our Father or something easy like that. I would have much rather been told to take ten laps around the church property. Still seeing things from a purely human point of view, I was unable to grasp God’s ready and complete forgiveness. Then, I experienced a miracle.”
Elizabeth read the writings of a young Polish nun – we know her as Sister Faustina… and inspired by what she read, Elizabeth seemed to become a missionary inside her own little parish for the Divine Mercy of Jesus… and she fell more in love with the Sacrament that celebrates God’s mercy.
Later, Elizabeth told a sort of ‘God has a sense of humor story.’ She said that she had one sort of major sinful experience in her life — enough that she had to apologize to her son and to her husband. She knew she also had to go and apologize to God. Approaching a penance service and confession – she wanted to avoid her pastor and go to confession to a visiting priest. Arriving at church, she found the visiting priest line had something like 25 people — while there were only three in the pastor’s line. (NOTE: Elizabeth — did you see me standing in the long line waiting to avoid the pastor too?
Swallowing fear and perhaps a bit of pride – she went to confession to her pastor. She said that upon leaving the confession she had an almost tangible sensation as of water being poured over her head — washing her clean and tingling down to her feet. Nothing like that had happened to her before.
I’ve shortened this story quite a bit – but it is told for those who through pride or hardness of heart will hear that God’s mercy awaits sinners — not the obstinate. God’s mercy is available in either the pastor’s line or the visiting priest line. God’s mercy happens in every line. It’s endless.
This Lent — join me in the line for a shower — a real and beautiful experience of restoration. It’s the only thing I’ve found that can restore this broken deacon to the state I enjoyed when I was three weeks old and was baptized on the east side of Detroit. That’s how profound this sacrament is. Don’t let the formation of the world or the formation of fear block you from this Lenten gift.