Friday, May 20, 2016

The Trinity: Lover, Beloved, and the Love between them.

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There is perhaps no doctrine as essential to the Christian religion than the Holy Trinity.  The belief in one God in three Persons makes Christianity unique in all the world. In the words of the Athanasian Creed:
Now the Catholic faith is that we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is One, the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.
If you don't quite grasp that on first reading, don't feel bad.  The Trinity is, fundamentally, a mystery.  It is something beyond our reason, beyond our ability to comprehend.  The Trinity involves the very essence of God, and to comprehend that, you'd have to be greater than God Himself.

But just because it is a mystery does not mean we shouldn't spend time thinking about the Trinity. Rather it means we can spend our entire lives thinking about it and never come to the end of it.  This is, in fact, the Christian vocation -- to spend all eternity pondering the great mystery of the Holy Trinity.

During the first several centuries of the Church, nearly all of the great heresies were Trinitarian.  They all involved some error about how Christ or the Holy Spirit were related to God the Father.  Is Jesus really God?  Is the Holy Spirit really God?  In each case, the Church held fast to the faith in one God existing as three Persons.  These three Persons share all things in common -- even the very same being -- differing only in their relationship to one another.

This idea of God having relationship within His being makes the doctrine of the Trinity so vital to our lives as Christians.  We are made in the image of God, which means there is something Trinitarian about us, as well.  No, we don't exist as three persons in one being.  But we are made to be in relationship.  As John Donne said, "No man is an island."  This is why Christ commands us to love God and our neighbors (Mk 12:31), and why He teaches that we will be judged according to how we treat our neighbors (Mt 25:31-46).  We are made for community.  We are made for communion.

The human relationship par excellence is marriage.  This is why God's relationship to the Church is described in terms of a marriage (Eph 5:32).  And this is why the Church takes Christ's teachings about marriage so seriously.  In his recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia (the Joy of Love), Pope Francis writes:
Marriage is the icon of God's love for us.  Indeed, God is also communion: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity.  And this is precisely the mystery of marriage: God makes of the two spouses one single existence... This has concrete daily consequence, because the spouses... can make visible the love which Christ loves His Church and continues to give His life for her (AL 121).
Being made in the image of God means that we are made to be in relationship.  The fact that God has within Himself relationship, while being a mystery above our reason, nevertheless is compatible with reason. God, after all, is love (1 Jn 4:8).  And love requires both a lover and a beloved.  Love requires relationship.  You and I must look outside of ourselves for this; but God, perfect in every way, has this within His very being.  This is why instead of saying "God is loving," we say "God is love."  God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is both the Lover and Beloved and the Love between them.

When we Christians worship the Trinity, we are worshiping Love.  When we defend the doctrine of the Trinity, we defend Love.  When we meditate on the Trinity, we learn the ways of Love.  And insofar as we love, we become like God.  Because "the love of God has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Holy Spirit: Intimate & Mysterious

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Imagine the Holy Spirit.  It's hard to do, isn't it? The Third Person of the Holy Trinity defies our attempts to hold a picture of Him in our minds. With the Father and the Son it is relatively easy. Even though we know that God the Father really isn't a bearded old man sitting above the clouds, we know what "fatherhood" is.  We can relate to that image of God.  God the Son became Incarnate and dwelt among us. Images of Jesus abound in our faith  He is the perfect Image of God.

But what about the Holy Spirit?  How are we to envision Him?  As a dove?  A breath? Tongues of flame?  A mighty wind?  Even though they each tell us something true about the Spirit, none of these images seem "personal" to us.  It is no wonder so few of us "get" the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit, like the wind, the flame, or a bird in flight, is elusive.  He cannot be confined by our imaginations.  You cannot cage the wind.

Yet the Holy Spirit is not entirely beyond our grasp.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies eight ways in which we can know the Holy Spirit (CCC 688):

  1. In Sacred Scriptures.
  2. In Sacred Tradition.
  3. In the Magisterium.
  4. In the liturgy & sacraments.
  5. In prayer.
  6. In the charisms and ministries of the Church.
  7. In apostolic and missionary life.
  8. In the witness of saints.
All of these ways to know the Spirit are found in the Catholic Church.  The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has traditionally been considered the birthday of the Church.  Just as God gave life to Adam by breathing His Spirit into him (Gen 2:7), God gives life to the Church with the breath of His Spirit. The Church is the Body of Christ, and just as our bodies have souls, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.

Ironically, even though the Holy Spirit is the most enigmatic of the three Persons of the Trinity, He is the one with whom we have the most intimate relationship. 

Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "Paraclete" or "Advocate."  These words both mean "he who is called to one's side" (CCC 692).  The Holy Spirit stands at our side throughout our lives as Christians, consoling us, sanctifying us, and leading us into the light of truth.  This is, not coincidentally, also what the Church is called to do.  This is because "the mission of the Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church" (CCC 737).  

Perhaps we can say that the Church is the image of the Holy Spirit, just as our bodies are the image of our souls.  We cannot separate the work of the Spirit from the work of the Church.

The best place, then, for us to come to know the Spirit of God better is within the Church, by participating fully in the sacramental life she makes available to us.  The sacraments, by their very nature, are established by Christ to bring us closer to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.  
The goal of the spiritual life is to grow closer to God.  The Holy Spirit is God, as we profess in our creed: He is the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  With the Father and the Son He is adored and glorified.  We can come to God only through the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the most venerable prayers offered to the Holy Spirit is this: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.  Let us invite the Holy Spirit anew into our hearts this day.  Let us cooperate with His grace, and allow His love to infuse our wills so that we may be drawn by the Spirit into eternal union with the Triune God.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Key to Overcoming Sin

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Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me."

-John 14:23-24

This Sunday's gospel reading is taken from the section in John's gospel where Jesus tells the disciples that He will be leaving them.  But He promises to send another, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.  Moreover, Jesus promises that even though we will not be able to see Him, He will still be with us "because I live and you live," and "I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you" (Jn 14:19-20).  

What Jesus is describing is a great mystery.  He speaks of the mutual indwelling of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God, lives within the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Father lives within the Son and the Spirit.  And the Spirit dwells within the Father and the Son.  Three Divine Persons, loving one another so intimately as to exist within one another.  This unfathomable intimacy is what Christ promises us a share in when He says that "you are in me and I am in you."  

All the mystery and magic of the inner life of God -- the life of divine love -- exists within the very hearts of the Christian who lives in a state of grace.  We can become part of that divine life.  This intimate experience of the Trinity is what awaits us in heaven, but we can also begin to experience it to a lesser degree right now.   The Maker of the Universe wants to make His home within you.  Wow. 

What must we do to gain entry into this most mysterious and intimate relationships of love?  Jesus begins this section of the gospel by saying, "If you love me, keep my commands" (Jn 14:15).  

We mustn't presume that Jesus is asking us to prove our love for Him with this statement.  He is not like the frustrated paramour who says, "If you really love me, you will do this for me."  He is not asking for demonstrations of affection.  

Jesus is stating a truth, which restates in our current reading: "Whoever loves me will keep my word" (Jn 14:23).  Note the order.  If you love me, then you will keep my word.  Not if you keep my word, then you will truly love me.  I suggest that if we struggle with serious sin -- and all of us have at some point in our lives -- it is because we try to do things in the wrong order.  

Sin can seem inescapable at times, especially sin which has become habitual or even addictive.  We can know that sin is evil.  We can hate the sin.  We can be filled with a hatred of the evil that we do.  And we can still commit that same sin.  Why?  (And if you think this is a problem that the saints don't struggle with, read Rom 7:19).

Anyone who has struggled with overcoming serious sin will tell you that hatred for sin is not enough.  Every sin has something attractive about it -- if it did not, then it would not tempt us.  But as we grow in our moral understanding and realize how wrong our sin is, our love for sin diminishes and we can -- rightly -- learn to hate our sin.  We hate our sin because of the harm that it does to us, and to our relationship with God.  We hate it for the control it seems to have over us.  We hate it because we cannot stop.  And we cannot stop because hating our sin is not enough.

Whoever loves me will keep my word.  Jesus tells us precisely what we must do to exit our life of sin and begin living a life of grace.  We must love Him.  Only then will we be able to keep His commands.  

Jesus' commands are hard.  He commands us to love not only our friends, but our enemies.  That's hard.  He commands us to forgive those who persecute us.  That's hard.  He commands us to keep the commandments not only in letter, but in spirit, not even allowing lust or hatred, envy or greed into our hears.  That's hard.  He commands us to be perfect, as the Father is perfect.  That's not just hard, that's impossible -- unless we love Jesus Christ with everything we've got.

You can live your whole life trying to follow all the moral commandments and it would never be enough.  Jesus told the rich young man who had kept the commandments for his entire life that he still lacked one thing -- to sell all that he had and to follow Christ (Mt 19:21).  If we are truly in love with Jesus, there is nothing we would not gladly leave behind to follow Him, whether it be our personal wealth, or our personal sins.  

Ultimately it is not hatred of our sins nor the fear of going to hell that will get us into heaven.  Only true love for Jesus Christ will get us there.  When we fall into sin it is because part of us loves the sin more than Christ - part of us desires the pleasure of the sin more than the joy and peace Christ offers. 

When we love someone, it becomes a joy for us to do what that person desires.  We want nothing more than to please our beloved.  This is why small children bring flowers to their mothers.  This is why husbands and wives are "subject to one another" (Eph 5:21).  This is why we honor our parents.  All of these things are done for love. 

If we love Christ -- not just give Him lip service, or say we "believe in" Him, but truly are in love with Him -- then we will begin to want only what He wants, and desire only what He calls good.  The more we fall in love with Christ, the less attractive will sin be to us.  The more we love Christ, the easier the commandments are to follow.  The more we love Christ, the more we will know peace.

This is one of this aspects of the Christian life that is easy to say and hard to do.  Very few of us love Jesus perfectly.  This is why the saints are so important, as examples to us of that perfect love of God.  This is also why it is important for us to pray every day for the grace to love Him more.
Dear Jesus, I don’t know how to love you as I ought. I beg you to show me how to love you. I want to be free from the shackles of my sin. I know that you have great plans for me. I desire to live the freedom of chastity and to fulfill my vocation to love in whatever capacity you are calling me to. Show me how to love you. Help me to make every decision not out of fear of hell but out of love for you. Please help me to be free of the oppression of sin. Protect me in times of trial and temptation, and in these moments, lead me ever closer to your Sacred Heart. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2016

As I have loved you...

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"I give you a new commandment.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34-35).  Jesus, as usual, has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter.

Love one another -- this is the essence of the moral life.  All of the commandments of God have love as their core.  The Ten Commandments are all about love.  The first three tell us how to love God while the rest tell us how to love our neighbors.  Jesus summarizes the Ten Commandments when He tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lk 10:27).  Of course Jesus, being the divine Son of God, loves perfectly. And so He summarizes the commandments even further with, "love one another as I have loved you."

To love as Jesus loves is to become a saint.  This is because to love as Jesus loves is to love truly -- to love as love really is, and not mimic some false idea of love.  This is because Jesus is God, and God is Love (1 Jn 4:8).

So it is important to know how Jesus loves.  Saying we should love one another is easy.  Everyone agrees that's a good idea.  But yet we fail at it.  That's what sin is -- a failure to love as we ought.  Each time we sin it's because we are not loving God as we should, not loving our neighbor as we should, or not loving ourselves as we should.  If we all agree that we should love one another, then why do we get it so wrong, so often?  It's because we are not loving as Christ loves.

Jesus does not say, "Think good thoughts about each other," or "Have fond feelings towards each other," or even, "Be kind and accepting toward one another," though these are all good things.  Jesus instead says, "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."  As I have loved you.

How does Jesus love us?

1. Jesus cares for our bodies.
Jesus does not simply say, "Keep warm and well fed," without providing assistance (Jas 2:16).  Jesus feeds the hungry.  Jesus heals the lepers.  Jesus gives sight to the blind.   And He tells us that we will be judged according to how we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned (Mt 25:31-46).

2. Jesus cares for our souls.
As much as He cares for our bodies, Jesus is always mindful that the needs of the soul are primary.  The body will die.  The soul is eternal.  Christ's physical healings are always a sign of a deeper spiritual healing.  Jesus cured the lame man as a sign that his sins were forgiven (Mt 9:5).  Jesus gives sight to the blind so that they may see the truth of God's kingdom.  Jesus loves us by directing us to repent from our sins so that our souls may be pure.  He tells us to "sin no more" (Jn 8:11).

3. Jesus is compassionate.
The word "compassion" literally means "to suffer with."  Jesus suffers with us.  The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: "Jesus wept."  Jesus shed tears over the death of Lazarus, even though He was about to raise him from the dead.  This is because death -- even if temporary -- is still an occasion of sadness.  Jesus understands that the way to love someone who is grieving is not to "fix" their problem, but simply to grieve with them.

4. Jesus is merciful.
Can anyone imagine Jesus holding a grudge?  Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery, "Your sins are forgiven" (Lk 7:48).  Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them," for those who are nailing His hands and feet to the cross (Lk 23:34).  He is anointed to proclaim liberty to captives and to free prisoners (Is 61:1-2).  He hears the cry of those who say, "Lord, have mercy on us," (Mt 20:30-34), and He teaches us to forgive those who have transgressed against us (Mt 6:12).

5. Jesus witnesses to the truth.
Jesus doesn't love people by telling them what they want to hear.  He loves people by shaking them out of the darkness of their comfort zone and bringing them into the light of truth.  Regarding marriage, He tells us that Moses may have allowed divorce but "from the beginning this was not so" (Mt 19:8).  He teaches that to be angry is to be guilty of murder and to look with lust is to be guilty of adultery (Mt 5:21-28).  And He doesn't change His teaching when people decide to abandon Him because they don't understand or approve of His message (Jn 6:66).

6. Jesus gives Himself to us.
Jesus gives us a lot.  He gives us wisdom.  He gives us knowledge.  He gives us clarity.  He gives us a path to follow.  So do many other religious leaders.  But what makes Jesus unique is that none of these things are primarily what He came to give.  Jesus came to give us the best thing He could possibly give us, and to give it in the most full way possible.  He gives us His very self.  Jesus was willing to give His life for us on the cross.  And He established the Church so that He may continue to give Himself to us for all generations through the Holy Eucharist.

When Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He took the bread, which was to become His Body, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples (Mt 26:26).  If we are part of the Body of Christ, that means we need to be blessed, broken, and given away.  This is what it means to love as Jesus loves.

There is a Greek word that describes the way in which Jesus loves -- kenosis.  Literally, it means "self-emptying."  It is the word used in Phillipians 2:7, when St. Paul says Jesus "emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave."  We must empty ourselves.  And I don't mean emptying ourselves in love and service to others.  If that's all we did, our well would soon run dry.  You and I are finite, broken beings.  We can give and give of ourselves until we burn out and fall apart.  That does no one any good.

We must rather empty ourselves in order to be filled with Christ.  Then it will not be our imperfect love alone that we offer, but Christ's perfect love flowing through us.  This is why Jesus commands that we first love God and then love neighbor.  Because if we are not filled with the love of God, we cannot offer our neighbor authentic love.

Our love apart from Christ is but a shadow of true love.  But, as the second reading from Revelation reminds us, Christ makes all things new (Rev 21:5).  United in Him, we become a new creation capable of loving as He loves -- capable of loving truly.

Friday, April 15, 2016

I Know Them and They Follow Me

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Many of my students know that I keep a small flock of Soay sheep; a rare breed of primitive domestic sheep from the St. Kilda islands in the north Atlantic.  Once a student asked me if being a shepherd made me feel like Jesus. Not really, but keeping sheep does give me an appreciation of the meaning behind Jesus' words in this Sunday's gospel.  "My sheep hear my voice: I know them, and they follow me" (Jn 10:27).

Most sheep are timid beasts, and mine are no exception.  When a group of people comes to see them, the flock usually gathers in the far corner of the pasture, eyeing the strange crowd suspiciously. But if I walk out in the pasture alone, the sheep line up and walk toward me. Why the difference? The answer is simple. My sheep know me. They know I am the one who cares for them. They trust me. And because of that, they follow me.
As members of Christ's flock, we are to follow our Shepherd. But sheep will only follow one that they trust. Do you trust Jesus enough to follow Him? 

I find in my experience that lack of faith usually boils down to a lack of trust in Jesus.  

Why believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist?  Because we trust Jesus who said, "This is my body, which is given up for you" (Lk 22:19).  

Why believe in the power of forgiveness offered in the Confessional? Because we trust Jesus, who told the Apostles, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven" (Jn 20:23).  

How can we know peace in a troublesome and chaotic world?  Because we trust Jesus, who said, "Do not be anxious about your life" (Mt 6:25).

How can we have hope in the face of suffering?  Because we trust Jesus who said, "Take up your cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23).

Trust the Good Shepherd.  He will lead us to where we need to go. We simply need to learn to recognize His voice and trust Him enough to follow Him. We can hear our Shepherd's voice through the Church, as Christ has given us shepherds in His name, as He told Peter after the Resurrection, "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:17). We can hear our Shepherd's voice in the scriptures. We can hear His voice in our prayer. Once we come to know and love Christ, we will follow when we hear His voice -- not cautiously or hesitantly, but with trust and love.

Christ is the Good Shepherd. He knows us, His sheep. May we always strive to hear His voice and trust in His loving care for us, so that we may follow Him to springs of life-giving waters where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev 7:17).

Friday, April 8, 2016

Do You Love Me More Than These?

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Last week we read the gospel of Doubting Thomas (Jn 20:19-31).  I ran across a cartoon shortly after that depicted a frustrated St. Thomas complaining to a few of the other disciples.  "All I'm saying is that we don't call Peter 'Denying Peter' or Mark 'Ran Away Naked Mark.'  Why should I be saddled with this title?!"

The cartoon Thomas had a point.  After Jesus' arrest, all of the disciples were in turmoil.  Mark's gospel tells us, "They all left Him and fled" (Mk 14:50), including Mark, who left behind his clothing to escape.  Peter, the leader of the Apostles, did the worst thing any Christian could do.  He denied being a follower of Jesus -- not once, but three times.

Yet at the end of last Sunday's gospel, "Doubting" Thomas proclaims the Risen Jesus as "My Lord and my God" (Jn 20:28).  And in this Sunday's gospel, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to counter his three-fold denial with a three-fold expression of love.

"Do you love me more than these?" Jesus asks him three times.  Three times Peter replies, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You."

As faithful Christians, it is all too easy to imagine that we would never deny our Savior.  We see the courageous martyrs in the Middle East being put to death by terrorists for their profession of Christ, and wonder whether we would have the same courage.  Or might we, like Peter, deny even knowing Christ?

I once left a magazine laying out on the coffee table at the Catholic Student Center, the front of which had a prominent headline: "Would you die for your faith?"  A while later I noticed an anonymous student had taken a marker and written the answer "NO" beneath the headline.  That was an honest student.

How can we be certain that we would never publicly deny Christ, when we privately deny Him in so many ways?  Every time we sin, it is a denial of Christ.  Every time we sin, we say "no" to Christ and "yes" to something less.  Every time we sin, we say "no" to He who made us, and "yes" to what will destroy us.  Every time we sin, we say, "I do not know Him."

But there stands Jesus, where we least expect Him; having breakfast by the side of the sea.  Despite our sin, He calls us over, and invites us to eat.  And then He asks us, "Do you love me more than these?"

Do you love me more than these?  Do you love me more than your sin?  Do you love me more than your collection of pornography?  Do you love me more than the alcohol you abuse?  Do you love me more than the pride that won't allow you to say, "I'm sorry," to a friend?  Do you love me more than your selfish ambition?  Do you love me more than these?

If we can say, with Peter, "Yes, Lord, You know that I love you," then there is hope.  Peter denied Christ, but Christ welcomes him back with open arms.  Each time Peter affirms his love for Jesus, Jesus commands him to "feed my sheep."  Thus Peter -- weak, denying Peter -- is transformed by the love of Christ into the first Pope, leader of the Apostles, visible head of the Church on earth, who will strengthen his brethren to the point where they would willingly die a martyr's death out of love for their Lord.

If Jesus can do that for the man who denied Him three times, imagine what He might have in mind for you...

Friday, April 1, 2016

Go to Confession. Seriously. Just Go.

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If we had to summarize the Christian faith in one sentence, we'd say, "Christ died for our sins so that we may be reconciled with God the Father." But what next?  How does this apply in our lives?

After death comes resurrection.  After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.  And this Sunday's gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) tells what happens to the apostles when they encounter the Risen Christ on that first Easter Sunday.  They were hiding behind locked doors when Jesus appears, and in the midst of their fear, offers them peace.  "Peace be with you," He tells them, and then after showing them His wounds, suffered for our sake, He does a marvelous thing.  He breathes on them, and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).

The Son of God grants authority to forgive sins to the apostles. He tells them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  Christ passes on His ministry of reconciliation to the Church (2 Cor 5:18), and the Church continues that ministry today through the sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession or Penance.  These three names for the same sacrament each reflect one aspect of what happens in this encounter between the sinner and Christ.  We confess our sins.  We perform our penance.  And we are reconciled to God.  This is a marvelous and beautiful mystery that most of us fail to appreciate.

And why is that?  Why do so many Catholics shy away from this healing sacrament of mercy?  I get it.  It's no fun to go into a cramped little room and tell someone all the bad things you have done.  No one likes to admit to themselves, let alone to someone else, all of their faults and misdeeds.  But consider this: God already knows all of your sins -- better than you do.  By not confessing them, you are not hiding them from God.  You are hiding God from yourself.  By sealing those sins up within yourself, you seal out God.  God wants to dwell within you, but He will not come in uninvited.  You have to let Him in.

Yet the thought of going to confession after a long absence can still seem daunting.  I hate doing the dishes.  Well, that's an overstatement.  In truth I don't mind washing dishes. What I hate is when there is a huge pile of them to be done; then it becomes a chore.  If I wash the dishes immediately after each meal, it's not a hard task.  But the longer I wait, the more dishes pile up, and the more daunting the task seems.  I look at the sink overflowing with dirty plates and pots and pans and think, "Ugh, what a mess!  I can't deal with all that right now."  And so I put it off, more dishes pile up, and it only makes the job harder when I finally get around it it.  I may even avoid walking through the kitchen so I don't have to look at the mess.  I pretend it's not there, but my pretending doesn't make the pile of dishes go away.

When our souls get dirty through sin, they need washing, too.  And, just like with the dishes, if you take care of it right away, it's no big deal.  But the longer you wait, the more the sins pile up, and the more daunting confession seems.  So we avoid it altogether.  We don't want to confront the reality of how dirty our souls have become.  But what we are avoiding is God's mercy, the very thing we need!

This is why it is such a good idea to set a regular schedule for confession -- and keep to it.  The Church requires us to confess our sins at least once a year, during the Lenten season, but this is the bare minimum.  Pope Francis goes to confession every two weeks.  Some go weekly, which can be helpful especially if you are struggling with an addictive sin.  For most Catholics going once per month or two will be sufficient.  I find that any less often than this, however, and it becomes very easy to forget about and put off until another time -- and then, like the dirty dishes, the next thing you know a big pile of sins has built up and separated you from God.

If your first Reconciliation was your last Reconciliation, know you are not alone.  Plenty of college students I speak to have not been to confession since they made their first Holy Communion.  Sadly, many Catholic families have not made reception of this sacrament part of their spiritual lives.  But you can change that.  You can start the practice of regular confession now.

Begin by examining your conscience. Reflect back on your life since your last confession and try to call to mind any time you did something you knew was not right, or that you later realized was wrong. You may find it helpful to use an examination of conscience that provides questions meant to help call to mind your sins (there is a short one in the back of the worship aid and prayer booklet in the pews in our chapel, or you can find many online, including this one for college students). One great thing about keeping the time between confessions to a minimum is that examining your conscience is much easier when it's been a short time since your last confession.

And then go to Confession. Just do it. Walk in there, kneel or sit down. Make the sign of the cross and then say, "Bless me, Father, I have sinned. It has been [X amount of time] since my last confession." Then say your sins. If it's been so long that you don't remember what to do, just ask Father to lead you through it.  Sometimes we may fear that the priest will be upset with us if we tell him that it has been years since we last confessed, but in fact the exact opposite is true.  He will rejoice to have you back to the sacrament.

Each confession, in fact, is an occasion of rejoicing.  While the act of recognizing and admitting our sins is a humbling thing, it's only the necessary prerequisite for the purpose of the sacrament, which is repenting from those sins and being reconciled to God through Christ.  Our reconciliation is so important to Christ that He died in order to make it possible, and then came back from the dead to announce it!  

So, tell me again... why are you putting off going to confession?  

"Confession is an act of honesty and courage - an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God." - Pope St. John Paul II