I am not a terribly efficient confesser. This is a thing I know about myself, so I don’t usually line up 15 minutes before Mass when I know other people want to get in. I make an appointment or go at a daily Mass. (It’s my little sacrifice. Not all heroes wear capes.)
The typical confession—simply listing number and kind of transgression—is all well-and-good. Certainly valid. Probably appreciated by our good and faithful priests. However, one thing going to Confession frequently does for a person is a peeling away of the layers, revealing deeper desires and core motives.
Sometimes it is not enough to say, “these are my sins…”
Sometimes I have to say, “these are my disordered motives…”
Sometimes I can’t say, “these are my actions…”
Sometimes it comes out like, “my interior life is chaotic.”
Which is exactly how I began a recent Confession. I had my little list ready. I could have just tried to read them off. But when I looked at it, it became clear that outward actions stemmed from inner chaos. My interior house needed some cleaning. I eventually got to the outward stuffs. But first I dumped all the messiness of my heart at the feet of Jesus.
Which reminds me of when I was going through one of the most difficult times of my life, untangling my heart from trauma and trying to see through it to wholeness, a friend texted me probably the most profound piece of advice I have ever been given. He said, “Ask Jesus to be the Master of your emotional house. Lay it out before him and ask him what he wants you to keep and what he wants you to let go of. And then ask him to feel everything with you.”
That is what happens in the Confessional. Jesus takes charge of my heart and cleans emotional house.
My pastor said to me, “If you think of the next thirty years and start imagining your house empty and you an old lady sitting on your couch alone in your bathrobe you won’t be able to do this. But, if you offer him today, in reparation to his Sacred Heart for all those who have violated the Sacrament of Marriage, you can do this. Jesus doesn’t call you to any cross he doesn’t also empower you to carry.”
He talked to me about white martyrdom and making my life a living reparation to Jesus’ Sacred Heart and being a walking contradiction to the spirit of the age. And it all sounded 1) too difficult for little me and 2) not like a particularly good time.
And then I could see why my interior life was so chaotic.
It comes down to trusting God—to actually putting my money where my mouth is. When the rubber meets the road, how much do I actually trust God. Do I really and truly believe that only hiding deeply in his Sacred Heart is where I will be happy? Do I? Because if I say I do, my actions and words would match that.
I am a walking contradiction.
“Whoever manages to reconcile
The many contradictions of his life,
And views them gratefully as one big theme,
Will drive all noisemakers out of the house
And celebrate so differently at dusk
With you alone as guest.”
And then my Confessor said, “For your penance I want you to read Philippians 2 and…”
And I burst into tears. That was the passage read at my wedding. I told him. He said, “See, you are already prepared for this crucifixion.”
I replied, “God set me up!!!”
“No,” he corrected, ever-so-pastorally, “You chose this. And God gave you twenty years of wandering so you would be ready and find your way into his Church and the fullness of faith before you had to actually live it. You chose this 20 years ago.”
Still feels a bit like a set up. But, maybe, just maybe I can see it less like a trap and more like a surprise. Like maybe the great divine conspiracy that gets us to commit to stuff we cannot possibly understand, is more like when we agree to help a friend move on a Saturday and it turns out the an elaborate ruse because someone is actually throwing us a surprise party.
This particular surprise party is themed the road to sainthood. The party favors are epic.
When you tell your priest that your interior life is chaos, that you cannot imagine actually trusting God to the degree he is calling you to trust, and that God set you up 20 years ago, well, it has the same feeling as taking your hair out of a too tight ponytail after a long day. It is freedom and relief and a little pain.
I say everything in the Confessional. Mortal, venial, desolations, temptations, weaknesses, flaws. I say it all.
I mean, if you really believe that Jesus is sitting on the other side of that screen, why wouldn’t you say it all. He knows it already. So, may as well unburden yourself. To leave the Confessional with radiant joy. Nothing makes one feel as happy as a squeaky clean soul.
Now who’s ready to party?