Over this last week, after a three week trip around Ireland, Scotland and England, the light of Christ has been renewed in my heart. My partner and I visited many churches, including Christchurch and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and abbeys whenever we could. Meeting the people of these countries, mostly Ireland because of our ancestry, and learning the religious history, I felt a renewed sense of obligation and destiny to pursue my Catholic faith with vigor.
Ancestry can be an interesting thing. Being African-American, my ancestral history is not so easy to follow on my mother’s side. Historical record keeping was not an obligation toward black people during our first few centuries on this land. Conversely, however, God blessed me with an ancestry that is traceable on my father’s side.
The significance of having a “people” outside of having a nation is a powerful feeling. Being American is not something I would trade for anything, but despite being born here and having family that has been here for at least six generations, my ancestors had traditions and religion brought from other countries, other nations. Not knowing what that is one both sides of my history fills me with a sense of great loss. How am I to pass something on to my children that I know nothing about?
Learning that my ancestry is part Irish and part French-Canadian, and knowing that Irish people are notoriously Catholic, I could not help but feel vindicated and justified in my faith, traveling about my ancestral land (or at least the only one I know about). God may have been trying to reach me and call to me over my whole life, but it was in those moments of travel when I sensed a oneness within myself and the world He created.
But still. Every Anglican church we saw made my heart sad, because to me I viewed that as a failure of the Catholic Church to live up to the tenets that it tried to teach (hence, the Reformation and the subsequent separation of the Church). All the Churches of Ireland, Churches of English, and Churches of Scotland were so inadvertently modeled after the Catholic Church that pride and bitterness rose in my chest.
Did no one see that Catholics were different now? The Anglican Church is exactly, exactly like the Catholic Church except! they are not within the Graces of Our Lord for the Eucharist or for the Sacrament of Religious Orders, because their head of the church is the ruler of England and not the Pope. (If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Anglican Church, do some research. I find it impressive that despite its origin, that it still persists today.) Despite this, I had the thought: “Well, if the Church fails at least the Anglicans will carry on some of our traditions.”
This worries me more than anything. Why did people not give credibility to the Catholic Church? How had the fracturing of a corrupt religious body almost half a millennium ago still affect the trust of people? What could I do to change that?
Be a better Catholic.
And so here I am.
In short, that whole three week trip, led me to be continuously awe-struck and inspired by the world, the people, and the Revealed Faith of Catholicism that God has created for humanity. And upon my return, I knew I had to do more to profess my faith and devote myself to God.
Thus, I went to confession for the first time last Friday.
Since my confirmation on Easter, I had never attended confession despite a desire for it. It was mostly fear that kept me from going, if we are being honest. Not being sure what I needed to confess, what was confession-worthy, or even how to give a proper confession, I stayed away and instead prayed for forgiveness privately.
But last week something changed. I was no longer unsure, no longer afraid, no longer ashamed; instead when I went to confess on Friday, I was surrounded by an overwhelming sense of peace. Parishioners were reciting the Holy Rosary while I waited in line for the confessional. Their voices echoed about the Cathedral and I found tranquility in the sounds of praise. So many diverse people were standing in line with me. A lovely older couple came in after me, and their kindness and dedication to the Sacrament of Penance inspired me to know what I was in the right place.
When it was my time to confess, I gripped the parish’s “how to” for confession and re-read it for the umpteenth time before I entered. (I had printed it out earlier at work and last-minute studied when I arrived). The first portions were easy enough to recall for confession; most I had seen from movies (“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been….since my last confession.”) And so I did that, and then the Priest said:
“You could probably speak lower.”
And I then took a deep breath. My voice was shaking amazingly bad, it surprised even me. After calming down, I professed my sins and then hesitated… Movies had only done so much at this point and this was uncharted territory. “I don’t know what to say at this point,” I said, forgetting the paper I had gripped like a lifeline and re-read thousands of times.
The Priest was worthy of the compassion of Christ and gave me my dispensation.
It was a cathartic experience and I felt lifted in my spirit. Admittedly, I was not prepared to make a good confession, where all my sins are confessed since Easter, of which I am sure there are many. Even still, I know Jesus sees what is in my heart, sees the sins I’ve committed that I have forgotten to keep present in my heart, and sees the marks of sins I’ve let persist on my soul.
Then I thought, “Why don’t I do those things?” Correct the wrongs I confessed. Do the things I know I need to do? For every Saturday or Sunday Mass we dictate The Confiteor:
I confess to almighty Godand to you, my brothers and sisters,that I have greatly sinned,in my thoughts and in my words,in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,All strike their breast three times during the following two lines:through my fault, through my fault,through my most grievous fault;therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,all the Angels and Saints,and you, my brothers and sisters,to pray for me to the Lord our God.The absolution by the Priest follows:May almighty God have mercy on us,forgive us our sins,and bring us to everlasting life.All reply:Amen.
On my drive home, I called my friend that I missed, that I had confessed to being a terrible friend. We had a lovely conversation that touched on the sadness and truth of human existence based on what she was going through. I carried that with me through the next week.
I’ve only been able to attend Confession three times in the last month since I’ve come back. My spiritual goal is to do more, to be more conscious of the wrongs I do to other’s, the unintentional untruths I’ve spoken to others
The Sacrament of Penance is a perpetual obligation to us as Catholics. It is also sad that the official catechism of the church only endorses, or requires, confession once a year. The truth of the Sacrament of the Eucharist asks of us to work on ourselves, continually, perpetually. Confession should not be look at as a chore, but Christ’s enduring love for us to rid ourselves of our sins to accept his Grace weekly in the best state that we can.
God bless you – have a beautiful day.