One of my favorite parables is about the lost sheep. How God loves us so much that He rejoices in that one lost soul that returns to Him. I have been that lost soul who returned to God, not fully realizing how limitless His love and mercy was...until this morning.
After returning to the faith, I slowly began to rebuild my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I started visiting Adoration and soon found myself returning every week, then signing up for a Holy Hour. My first time in the Confessional was full of anxiety going in...but coming out I was walking on clouds amidst God's mercy. I yearned to be close to God...yearned for His endless love and dreamed of the day that I would lay my head on Jesus' chest, like St. John the Evangelist, listening to His heart beating, fully knowing that it was the heart beat of God. Confession and the Mass became my weekly renewal with our Lord. I would attend daily Mass at the Cathedral and once a week, maybe every other week, I would go to Confession. The graces I received were so fruitful that when I looked back, I couldn't believe how much I had grown in my faith. One of the Priests at the Cathedral remarked one day that I was trying so hard he didn't know how I wasn't exhausted. It was God - not me - He was the one changing me into the person He wanted me to become.
However, in the past month and a half, my relationship with God has been strained. I longed to feel His embrace after Confession...but no matter how hard I tried to examine my conscience, nothing came. I prayed to the Holy Spirit to enlighten me, to show me my sins...nothing. I listened to tapes by Fr. Larry Richards and Vinny Flynn....nothing. My heart ached to feel God's presence again but all I felt was a black abyss... nothingness. I was teary-eyed during the Mass, especially during the Confiteor and the prayer before Communion...'Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the Word and I shall be healed.' I wasn't worthy...yet I knew God in His intimacy would heal me before I received Him.
This morning I was made anew. I felt and understood God's mercy in a whole new way. I arrived at the Cathedral early, thinking I could pray before Mass. But as I walked into my usual pew, I noticed that the door to the Confessional was open and no one was in line. Without thinking, I walked over, expecting Fr. E. to be there (his usual morning to celebrate Mass). God sent me Fr. J.
I walked in, closed the door, and explained how I used to go to Confession every week. I rejoiced in receiving God's graces through the Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist. I explained how I yearned and ached to feel God's love, His presence. Fr. J. and I talked, he suggested reading Romans 8 (the entire chapter). Then he suggested absolving me from my sins.
I rebuttled that I couldn't....I have not prepared...I tried but could not prepare. I could not accuse myself of my sins, I had not done a full examination of conscience. But Fr. J. gently explained that I have been trying, I have been at Mass regularly, I prayed for insight and God already knew my sins, even those of omission. He asked me to say an Act of Contrition. I looked at him, tears forming in my eyes. How could God grant me mercy for sins that I can not voice? I didn't understand.
'O, my God, I am heartily sorry...' my voice started shaking, tears now streaming down my face. I suddenly felt God's presence...His mercy...His love. I didn't deserve any of it, yet He gave it freely. I had to stop several times to gather my composure before I could continue. I acknowledged my own sinfulness in a way I had never before experienced. No, I do not deserve God's mercy and tenderness, yet He knew that, which is why He sent His only Son. I recognized myself as weak and entrusted my entire self to God.
Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that it is most important in the Sacrament of Penance, no matter the sin committed, if the sinner recognizes the sin humbly and entrust themselves to the Priest-confessor, they will always experience the joy of God's forgiveness. God strengthens us through this Sacrament, to live a new spiritual life, to grow in Him and restore communion with Him and the Church.
One day a pastor of a Church in Germany asked what was most important about the Sacrament of Confession. Answers came from the congregation: 'Telling your sins to the Priest,' 'Being sorry for your sins,' 'Examination of Conscience.' Granted all of these things were important, but they were not the most important. A little girl raised her hand and said, 'It's what Jesus does!'
It's what Jesus does!