Gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis.
(Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow.)
So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation:
The old order is gone and a new being is there to see.
—2 Corinthians 5:17
It is the last day of March. It is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent—laetare is Latin for rejoice and this Sunday is set aside as a celebration of the approach of Easter. Although I’m not sure of the exact origins of this special day, I think it must have something to do with having made it past the half-way mark of the Lenten season. The Resurrection is almost visible on the horizon.
Today I have even more cause to rejoice, because I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, otherwise known as Confession, for the first time. For weeks, perhaps even months, I have been preparing for this sacrament. I’ve been poring over various Examination of Conscience worksheets and thinking about what sins need to be confessed. The depravity of my life began to come into sharp focus and I started to really dread what I was going to have to admit out loud to my priest. I was filled with anxiety.
And, then something changed. Yesterday as I was preparing my final “list” of sins to confess, the feelings that had been swirling around in my heart started to shift. What had been strictly nervousness and embarrassment began to crystallize into something more closely resembling sorrow. My sins weren’t just shameful but painful. I think for the first time in my life I was really able to see with clarity how much hurt I had caused God and others—and myself—by the bad choices I had made.
I woke up early this morning and tried to busy myself so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed and somehow talk myself out of going to Confession. The 3pm service time finally rolled around, and I could tell from the moment I walked into the church that it was going to be an emotionally challenging afternoon. After a brief penance service, everyone lined up and the confessions began.
When it was my turn, I nervously entered the sacristy where my priest was hearing confessions. As soon as I saw my priest I burst into tears. I hadn’t even gotten to my sins and already I was losing it! A lifetime of guilt, shame, pain, and sorrow came pouring out of me and it was so much more intense than I ever could have imagined. At times I could barely get my words out. But, my priest was patient with me, and when I finally made it to the end of my confession, he exclaimed how great it was that God was forgiving all of these sins! They were being washed away! Gone forever!
In the moment I could barely process what he was saying, or fully understand the penance he gave me: “Say a prayer for yourself.” I received my absolution, thanked my priest, and bolted from the room. I tried to stifle my sobs with my hand as I passed by the line waiting to go in to the confessional. Everyone else had come out completely calm and collected, and here I was, a total mess with tears streaming down my face.
I slid into a pew to say my penance, but I couldn’t clear my head. I just knelt there with my eyes closed and my hands folded, and tried to regain my composure. After a few minutes, I got up and left the church. I didn’t feel like I could go home because I really just wanted to be alone. I had experienced something so amazing, so terrifying, so life-changing that I didn’t feel like I could just go back to my life and pick up wherever I left off. So, I drove around in the car for quite a while, alternately thinking and crying.
As the minutes passed, I realized that I still hadn’t performed my penance. What prayer could I possibly say for myself—for me, the person who had done all of those terrible things? I prayed the only prayer I could: That God would help me to forgive myself. It sounds simple, but the effect was truly miraculous. Within a couple of minutes the sorrow started to lift, and I began to feel a deep, deep sense of peace grow in my heart. I had a strong desire to forgive everyone who had ever wronged me. I felt nothing but compassion and love for every person on Earth and truly longed for them to know the mercy of God, as I had just experienced it.
Even now, hours after the fact, those feelings linger. I still feel raw, exposed, and vulnerable, but I also feel love pouring out from deep inside of me, spilling out through my fingertips onto this page. I feel immense gratitude and love for Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for my sins, and who instituted this beautiful, healing sacrament. I hope I will never forget what I experienced today, and I also hope that, at least in some small way, I will continue to experience my faith journey as one of perpetual conversion for the rest of my life. I pray that I will never become cynical or apathetic about the Church’s sacraments. And, I pray that others will experience God’s abiding love and mercy through me, and draw closer to Him.