“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Traditional words at the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday

Each year Lent gives us the opportunity to once again take the “long view” of things in our lives, to judge our choices and our habits in light of their eternal significance.  One powerful tool our Lord gives to help us reorient ourselves to this long view is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This past Sunday, the homily I heard was a strong encouragement to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lent.

We need to hear that encouragement because the vast majority of Catholics do not receive this Sacrament regularly.  I think there are probably many reasons for this but one that stands out to me is that it can be frightening and difficult to admit our sinfulness to ourselves and to another.  And we rarely have the courage and fortitude to do difficult things unless we can see a significant benefit to doing so.  Honestly, we often have difficulty doing hard things even when we DO see great benefits.

It is for this reason I am so excited to share this inspiring story with you.  I believe it has the power to help us all see more clearly the beautiful gift that is awaiting each of us in the confessional.  It touches my heart and I pray it touches yours as well.

I am participating in a course on prayer and, as part of the course, we are encouraged to go to confession.  Part of me wanted to go to be cleansed and healed of my sin, but it was not easy.  In the days and weeks prior to going to confession, I spent quiet time in prayer each day.  During these times of quiet, the Lord placed before me some images and experiences that gave me the fortitude to admit my own faults, do a deeper examination of conscience and have the courage to confess. The Lord, ever so gently and mercifully, showed me there was nothing to fear, for He was waiting for me with open arms in the confessional.

One image the Lord gave me was to see one of my own children, returning from play all covered in mud, some sticky black stuff that made it hard to recognize my child. As she stood at the doorway, the Lord asked me, “What do you think of this? How do you feel about it?” My response came very quickly and without hesitation, “I want to bathe my child, clean her up!” So I picked her up and took her to the bathroom where I spent some time cleaning her up. It was all giggles and lots of bubbles. It warmed my heart to finally see her face again. As I swaddled her in a towel, I gave her a hug and felt her soft, clean face next to mine… she smelled so good!

Just then the Lord said, “This is what I wish to do for you in confession. I wish to bring you to myself, cleanse and heal you. I am waiting for you in the confessional, not to punish you or recriminate you, but to love you, take away the shame and the guilt.”

The Lord also reminded me, “O how I desire that souls be healed, freed of so much pain and suffering! I am able to consume all sin. It all disappears in the immense ocean of my mercy. It cannot come out from there once you give it to me. Do not be afraid to get close to this ocean; it is not an ocean as you understand it. You will not perish in it. In this ocean, you will find all you need to break loose the rope that keeps you tied to sin. In my mercy, you shall find the key that opens the padlock of the heavy chains that hold you. Turn your sight, your heart and your will to me on the cross, see how great my love for you is. O how much I desire to forgive you! Do not stay in the sadness and desolation of sin. You must see the bad to be able to move towards something better, but I do not desire that you should remain in the mud. I wish to bathe and cleanse you.”

Strengthened by these reflections, I went to the Church.  I courageously poured out all of my sins and I was filled with a grace, mercy and love that I did not expect.  As I left the confessional, I felt lighter, much lighter than I had felt ever before from any confession. My heart was full of joy that I wanted to share.

I pray that this Lent you, too, might open your hearts and allow the Lord to give you His peace and joy through the sacrament of reconciliation.   

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