Confession, Sweeping Clean or Building New?


READ:  Luke 11:24-26

“Jesus then said, ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of someone it wanders through the wilderness looking for a place to rest, and not finding one it says, “I will go back to the home I came from.’  But on arrival, finding it swept and tidied, it goes off and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and set up house there, and so the person ends up worse off than before.’ “ – Luke 11:24-26

The one aspect of life in a Roman Catholic monastery that most stirred apprehension in this old Methodist preacher was the Catholic version of “going to confession.”  All my life I have confessed to God in the privacy of my own thoughts, but to go and confess to a priest … well, that is not all that comfortable for a Protestant boy to do.  But my course of study required that I go through this experience … so I found myself sitting in the pew of the local Catholic Church, nervous me and sadly, two other souls, two elderly ladies who I couldn’t imagine what their sin might ever possibly be.  I waited to be last.  Then when the green light was on on the confessional door, I went into that medieval looking closet.  (Now, to be fair, most Roman Catholic confessions nowadays are more akin to what we Protestants would call counseling sessions, sit-down-in-the-office-with-the-pastor, face-to-face conversations, but here and there, the old confessional form is still kept alive for the sake of old saints and sinners.)  I had been coached by the Brothers of Greyfriars’ as to what to do; and this I did dutifully, with reverent care.  The kindly old priest listened intently to my confessions, nothing scandalous or dramatic, more just the not-being-that-saintly kind.  He followed up my confessions with exploratory questions, and then delivered to me the grace of mercy, but he did so in a two-fold way.

First,  was he bestowed the forgiveness of God that would be accompanied by my acts of penance – my penance for my “sins” involved saying ten times the “Rosary” and ten times, the “Our Father”.  Odd forms of penance I thought, prayer used as punishment – but I sensed that this was the traditional norm.  Now the second part of the mercy caught me a bit by surprise … the priest required of me an act of charity.  The priest asked me to add to my life a weekly new ministry of charity.  He suggested taking my turn volunteering at the local food bank.  I hadn’t expected that second aspect of this ritual of confession and mercy, but I had little choice in the circumstance to dare decline.  “Whew!  My first confession and I had survived!”
I shared my confessional experience with my Spiritual Director.  I believe he found a bit of humor in my Protestant nervousness with it all.  But in the theological reflection, he referred to the words of Jesus that we read earlier today, about sweeping out evil spirits only to have them return, only more so.  My Spiritual Director, a soul I do so cherish for his authentic holiness, said to me, “Brother Anthony, too many souls think of confession and mercy as being like sweeping or dusting one’s house.  They keep coming back to do their spiritual housekeeping, always cleaning … but seldom ever changing.  Confession and mercy is not like sweeping or dusting, it is more like making home improvements to a home in need of repairs.”  And that made sense to me …confession is not about punishment and the avoidance of it; confession is about allowing God to make home improvements in our lives and in our living.  But so often, before the home improvements can be made, some demolition work must be done.  But the demolition by itself, gains nothing.

My Loved Ones, too often we think that Christians are about ridding the world of evil, sweeping away the sins of the world … and that is part of it, but the far greater gain  is found when the evil swept away is replaced with the good and better ways of God.

Brother Anthony of the Cross
(jim mcwhinnie)

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