Monday, July 4, 2016

Hope and the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Yesterday, I admitted to failing my readers. I'd promised that I was going to change and return to posting daily, but I made no plans on how I was going to live up to that commitment to change and that led me to failing you. Which led to me feeling guilty. Which led to me finding less inspiration and less incentive to write. Which, ultimately, provides me the perfect opportunity to talk about the role of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in keeping hold of Hope.

We Are All Broken

Every single human being is broken in some way. We've been hurt by other people, damaged by their unthinking unkindness. We've been wounded and beaten down by life. We are all born into this world shaped and molded into these little clay jugs, each for a purpose, each with a plan. We are whole and we are beautiful. But someone hurts us. 

Depending on who did the hurting and how badly we got hurt, we might have a piece of ourselves chip off and fall to the floor beneath us or we might just get shattered. Once we've been broken, we get these sharp edges that poke up all around us. The closer someone gets to us, the more likely that our broken edges will cut them. It's not what we want to happen. It's not what we intend to happen. It's simply what happens as a result of our broken nature.

The Only Thing Strong Enough To Put Our Pieces Together Is Love

Love is the only glue strong enough to bind back our shattered bits together. Love is the only one who is strong enough to look with compassion on our brokenness, to know that embracing us will cut Him, and is courageous enough to embrace us anyway. Love wants to heal our wounds, but that process is painful. It requires touching those wounded edges. That's why Love always asks our permission before He begins the healing process. Going to confession is giving Him that permission to work on what's broken so we don't have to pass on our pain to someone else.

The Symptom That Leads to the Discovery of the Wound

Sin is a failure to love. But that failure isn't the real problem. It's the symptom of the wound we carry inside ourselves, the one that needs to be healed. When we notice that we've failed and we've hurt someone, the answer isn't to beat ourselves up. That will only lead us to becoming more broken. The answer is to take our symptoms list - the list of the failures we've noticed - to a set of professionally trained eyeballs and look for answers. Those failures are symptoms of a broken piece inside of ourselves that needs to be healed up.

Failure Doesn't Have to Be Fatal

We all fail to love. It's part of the human condition. It's the result of us being broken. But that failure doesn't have to be fatal if we can just accept that failure is part of us learning to love and healing the wounds. There's no shame in having failed. There's no shame in being broken. There's only shame in not working to fix the thing that caused the failure in the first place. There's only shame in refusing to heal up that brokenness and choosing to pass on the woundedness to someone else.

Denial: A really big river that runs through the state of confusion.

Unfortunately, most people have learned to feel ashamed of their brokenness. They don't want anyone else to see it. So they work really, really hard to hide that brokenness and to pretend that they have it all together. They hide it even from themselves. This is known as denial. 

Denial is a really big river that runs through the state of confusion. Everyone takes a dip in that river from time to time. But it's a dangerous place filled with things that can pull you under and devour you entirely if you let them. However, some people go out and build houseboats and live there. They continue hurting people and destroying relationships all because they won't acknowledge their failures and they won't allow anyone to see their brokenness so that it can be healed.

Defending Your Brokenness

The only thing that makes less sense than building your houseboat and living in denial is defending your brokenness. "That's just who I am, that's just how I am, and you need to accept it."
Seriously? No. You do not get a free pass on hurting other people because you don't want to put in the work to heal the brokenness inside you.

That's not who you are. That's who you've become as a result of the wounds you've received. That's not how you were made to be, it's what's happened to you as a result of the things that were done to you. Staying this way is an active choice you're making, and that means you are making the decision to sacrifice other people's emotional health in order to avoid having to work on yours. 

If you find that statement offensive, if you don't want to hear it, I suggest that you take note of that. That resistance means you recognize that making an active choice to sacrifice someone else's health for the sake of your own is an evil act, and you don't want to think of yourself as evil. 

However, the best way to avoid becoming the evil you hate is to acknowledge that you can become that if you don't work on healing those emotional wounds of yours and to forgive the people that hurt you so you don't have to keep passing their pain on to other people.

Letting Go of Guilt

Anger's primary job is to point out injustice in our world, to show us where the little guy is getting beaten up by the big guy and to encourage us to step up and speak out for that little guy. Guilt shows up when we fail to do our part to stop the injustice, or when we cause injustice to happen because of our own brokenness.

A lot of people think that just because Guilt's shown up at our doorstep, that means we ought to invite it in and let it live with us. Heck, some people get married to Guilt and live their whole lives letting it nag and whine at them every day, all day long. That's not what Love wants for us. Love didn't send us Guilt so we could marry it. He sent us Guilt to encourage us to get help, to help us spot the areas of our life where we're doing things to harm our relationships with other people and to allow Him to set us free of the wounds that bind us and keep us from moving forward. Let go of Guilt. Let Guilt go back to doing its job of watching out for us, and get the help you need to get better.

Putting Aside Shame

Shame's another negative emotion people don't like. It happens when we notice our brokenness and our first temptation is to cover it up and hide it away. But putting away that brokenness won't stop it from hurting others. It will just lead us into denial. Instead, we need to take our shame and put that away. If we feel shame, we need to go get help. Let a priest examine that area of our lives and help us understand why we feel that way so we can fix the brokenness that led to the shame.

Allowing Ourselves To Be Seen For Who We Are, Exactly As We Are

If the thought of standing in front of another human being and having them see us for who you are, exactly as you are, scares you, you're not alone. Most of us fear that if we reveal who we really are, exactly as we are, with all of our broken bits showing, that we will be rejected or judged. It takes tremendous courage to step forth into the confessional and allow ourselves to admit just how badly broken we really are to someone else.

However, until we have the courage to allow ourselves to be seen that way, we will never experience the liberation of knowing that we are truly loved just as we are, without having to do anything more than allow ourselves to be seen and known in order to be loved. There is this incredible grace that comes from having another human being look at you when you are at  your absolute lowest point of life and say to you, "You are still good. You are still beautiful. Yes, you are broken, but you do not have to have it all together to be loved."

This is why Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Confession. He knew that there is a huge difference between mentally knowing that God loves us in spite of our brokenness and receiving the gift of another human being seeing us emotionally naked in front of them and confirming it for us by loving us that way, too.

Our Failures Don't Just Affect Us

There's another part to the equation, too. One that we so often overlook. Our failures to love don't just affect us. They affect the people around us, too. And I'll use my own as the example of how that works.

I promised you that I would deliver content to you everyday that would help to bring you hope. But I failed to do that. I didn't make a plan and because I didn't have a plan, I allowed life to get in the way of living up to what I promised. I excused my failure at first because I said to myself, "Well, nobody's really reading this stuff anyway, so what does it matter?" But that was me taking a dip in denial so I didn't have to do the hard work involved in making the changes needed to live up to my commitments.

What I was failing to keep in mind was that my failure to keep my promise broke your trust in me. It lead you to being unsure about what they could expect from me. Would I deliver what I said I would deliver? Could you trust the content I was writing if you couldn't trust the promises I was making?

For those who are not Catholic and are reading my blog, I might be the only example of the Catholic faith in action that you have to work with. But if this is the Catholic faith in action - unreliable, undependable, untrustworthy - why would you want to examine it any closer? I'm bearing false witness about what you can expect from the Catholic Church through my behavior, and that means I might be contributing to your difficulty in accepting the things that will help you heal and gaining from those. Rather than drawing you closer, I might be pushing you away!

Confronting the Damage

Once you know you've done damage, running from it doesn't solve it. Guilt and Shame will become your companions if you do. You can't get away from them until you go back and fix what you've broken. You have to accept responsibility for the problem you've caused, seek the forgiveness of those you've harmed, figure out why you've been failing to love the way you have, and then put together a plan that keeps you from falling into the same trap you fell into earlier.

The Priest and the Penitent

You might think you know where your woundedness is when you step into that confessional. However, the priest may recognize something you don't see. Once I confessed that I thought I lacked faith because I was getting discouraged in my prayers since they weren't being answered the way I expected them to and stopped praying regularly. The priest corrected me. He told me that the fact I was praying regularly was a sign that my faith was doing just fine. It was my gratitude that was lacking. He could see clearly what I was missing, and that is the grace of having another pair of eyes to examine your situation with you and help you uncover the truth that you've been overlooking.

Sometimes, though, the priest's prescription is prayer. He will tell you to enter into a conversation with Love and ask Love to show you the brokenness that's leading you to wound others. It can sound lame, but it's no more lame than the doctor's office prescribing penicillin for strep throat. So what if he prescribes the same thing for a large portion of his patients? The disease is the same in all of us.

The Benefits of Coming Clean

Once you've come clean about what you've done and you can clearly see the wounded area of your life that's been causing the problem, you will find a Hope returning to your life and encouraging you to step forward into the better life that's waiting for you ahead. You will feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Guilt and Shame can go back to sleep for the time being, and you can finally make the progress forward in getting your brokenness healed that you've been needing to make.

This Is Not a One-Shot Deal

You don't get healed of your wounds with one confession. You're not going to stop finding places that need to be put back together in your life. You're not going to reach a place where you always love perfectly. The more you go, though, the faster you'll heal and the less damage you'll do.

What happens in the healing process is that the biggest areas of your life that are causing you trouble will get the most attention first. Kind of like a doctor in a triage unit will take care of stabilizing the individual first by addressing the biggest problems first. Once you're stable, the next level of wounds will be presented to you and you'll have to work on healing those. Then the next, and the next, and the next. It's a life-long process, but it's worth the work.

Tomorrow: Hope and the Sacrament of Matrimony

Come back tomorrow and I'll discuss how the Sacrament of Matrimony provides a steady source of hope not only for the couple who enter into it but, through their daily example of unconditional love, to the world around them. 

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