Speaking to the 42.7 million non-practicing Catholics, and those who may have been raised Catholic, but no longer identify themselves as Catholic…..this one’s for you/us. Dreaming, imagining, exploring what Church could look like if it resembled the Church in my heart…and maybe the one that is in your heart too. PS This is Part 2 (or 4, depending on where you start) of a who know how long series. 🙂
As I mentioned in Tuesday’s blog, the church of my own making, the one that is reflective of what I have found in my heart, would have sacraments…seven of them to be exact. But…..some of them would differ from how we have come to know them in the Roman Catholic Church. On Tuesday I tackled baptism. Today……reconciliation.
The Value of Reconciliation
Growing up, I had a mostly positive experience with the sacrament of reconciliation. While it was always an effort to get over my resistance, once I entered the confessional and unburdened my conscience, I felt relief. Then, when the prayer of absolution was given, I felt a sense of being uplifted, of feeling as if my body was being released of some sort of heaviness within me. I can’t say I enjoyed going to reconciliation, but I always felt comfort and consolation after having gone. While I have never believed (contrary to Church teaching) that we need the intercession of a priest to be forgiven of our sins, and that like our Protestant brothers and sisters, we could simply turn to God to be freed of the burden of our non-loving behaviors, I fully appreciated the value of having a person with whom I could unburden myself. And, I cannot give explanation to the profound sense of consolation in the prayer of absolution – except to attribute it to grace. As a spiritual director, I understand even more acutely the value of having a person to whom we can go to be freed of what might be troubling our conscience and the profound gift inherent in compassionate presence and counsel….both potentials within the sacrament of reconciliation when done well.
One of the issues I have with the sacrament of reconciliation is its emphasis on sin, specifically, sin as an act that “separates us from God,” and sin that will be punished if not confessed and released through absolution. If we believe in our Oneness with God, then there is nothing, not even sin, that can separate us from that love, yet in the Catechism of the Catholic Church it reads:
It is called the sacrament of reconciliation because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles. (CCC 1442)
If we can never be separate from the love of God, then how is this love imparted? I like to think of it more in this way – the we are One with God in love as Jesus taught and was reported by John the Evangelist (1 John 4). While we are always one with God in this love and this love does not have to be earned, neither can it be taken away, because of the choosing the human experiment, we often forget this love. When we have forgotten this love, we feel separate from God which results in fear. Fear, then, causes us to seek outside ourselves for the remedy to this fear which often leads us toward non-loving actions (towards ourselves and each other). We don’t choose these non-loving acts because we are depraved. We choose these non-loving acts because we are afraid. The Church would call these non-loving acts sin which implies punishment. I call these non-loving acts compulsions which invites us to respond in compassion. The sacrament of reconciliation, when done well, has the potential of helping us to remember the unconditional love of God that dwells within us and frees us from the fears that generate our compulsive/sinful behaviors.
The Potential in Reconciliation
Because I have experienced the consolation and comfort in the sacrament of reconciliation, I would never be in favor of dumping it all together. Instead, I see great promise in expanding the scope of the sacrament and deepening its foundations in compassion. I see the value of having a person to whom we can go to unburden ourselves. I have experienced the grace of absolution. And, I see in reconciliation an opportunity to help people heal on an even deeper level. The deeper healing comes when we invite participants to move beyond simple confession and absolution and empower them to do the work of identifying what is causing them to indulge in their compulsive behavior in the first place, and then give them tools through which they can heal the fears that lead them to their compulsive behaviors. Healing these fears, is ultimately about helping people to remember that they are loved without condition by God and that they are in fact one with God in that love. Unfortunately, it is not enough to tell people this…..we have to give them opportunities to have a lived experience of that love and show them how to cultivate a practice in which they can frequently and consistently be open to these experiences. And then….we have to get out of the way and let God do the work. Because ultimately, the lived experience of that love comes from God reaching out to us….but first, we have to make ourselves available and then be open to receiving it.
For more on the fears that drive our compulsive behaviors, see my book, Authentic Freedom – Claiming a Life of Contentment and Joy.
copyright 2013 Lauri Lumby