Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Unburden Yourself – The Gifts of Confession and Forgiveness

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Many of our personal woes are driven by anxieties that seem to us to be inescapable or unmanageable. We deal with the boss that demands a project on a Friday night that is due on Monday morning, after he promised you the day off at that particular Monday; the co-worker that uses the idea that you mentioned to him over lunch as his own during a meeting with your boss; the driver that cuts you off and waves at you with one finger on the way home, making you spill your coffee on your lap; the spouse that makes a snarky remark as you get home because you forgot to buy milk; the neighbor kid that hit a ball onto your property, breaking your living room window, and then runs off.

On a stand-alone basis, the incidents mentioned above are really very trivial but sum them up and it produces undue stress on many of us, especially when they occur on the same day. It also creates stress when the tension is allowed to build up and the individual dwells on the acts that were perpetuated against them.

Another item that produces stress in individuals is being the perpetrator of the above acts. And the reasons we are performing these unjust acts are out of purely selfish reasons. We want to look good to our boss so we lack the courage to explain to him that you promised a day off to your employee; you steal an idea from a co-worker because you want that raise; you cut that driver off because you think you are more important than that unknown person; the list goes on and on…

When one dwells on the sinful acts performed against them, it creates stress on the soul because resentments are building. These resentments will eventually result in unkind acts. And certainly being the one performing these actions creates guilt and, in turn, feelings of unworthiness.

As the victim or perpetrator of these sins, what do we do? Well, luckily for us, God as shown us the simple, but not easy, steps to relieve the stress and come closer to Him.

Confession
Admitting when you are wrong is not easy. Sometimes you rationalize why you committed the sin. You can hear the little voice in your head saying, “Oh he deserved it. He was a jerk anyway.” Or “Nobody’s around, no one will notice it.” Other times you know the act was a sin but think if you just ignore it, it will go away.

However, sins do not go away and God knows it, your conscience knows it and frequently others around you know it. Sins are a burden on us and the accumulation of them weighs us down and distorts our thoughts. Which in turn leads us away from God.

As St. Pope John Paul II said, “As a personal act, sin has its first and most important consequences in the sinner himself: that is, in his relationship with God, who is the very foundation of human life; and also in his spirit, weakening his will and clouding his intellect”.

Going to confession has gone out of fashion in the last 40 years. But this hasn’t changed humanity’s need for confessions. We can see the explosion of physiatrists, talks shows, reality shows as evidence of the need. But these types of confessing are not sufficient. Though it brings comfort to speak our sins out loud and to vent to another person is very human, it needs to be done in accordance to the scriptures.

God has given us the wonderful gift of the Sacrament of Penance to help with our very human need to confess. This gift allows to us to unburden ourselves and rejoice in the love of God.

It’s difficult but all things that are hard are worthwhile. I know first hand of the difficulty and part of this season of Lent I promise to go more often. To be an example to my children but also to be closer to God, I will confess my sins.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The New Evangelization . . . begins in the confessional!”

Forgiveness is Painful
Forgiving takes courage, it’s magnanimous and it shows mercy. But at times it can also be very painful. The person granting forgiveness might feel that the one receiving it is not really contrite or might not deserve it. His transgression against you was so egregious, so outrageous, so wrong that he does not merit the gift that you are willing to bestow upon him.

People witnessing you forgive the one that gave you the slight might perceive you as weak. They might snicker behind your back; might think that you are a pansy and a fool or a person that can be taken advantage.

These factors are painful to our ego but ego and pride need to take a backseat. This is where courage comes in, because it is very difficult to tame those two beasts in our heart.

How To Forgive
Jesus commanded and showed many examples of forgiveness in the Gospels. When asked by Peter how often he should forgive, Jesus said, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times…” and “as we forgive our debtors” in His command on how to pray.

Jesus, dying on the cross in one of the most painful experiences endured by man, asked God to forgive his tormentors, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

In one of the more poignant and best example of forgiveness in modern times, St. Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin. What a shining light in a dark world. This act galvanized many in the world and led to the conversion of the attempted assassin to Christianity.

What wonderful examples to emulate!

When a person forgives it lifts a burden from the giver. The resentments building in the soul are gone. The freedom from the stress of bitterness is lifted. And once that freedom is gained, peace follows.

Practice Makes Perfect
God gave us two great gifts to help us relieve the stresses in our lives and bring us closer to Him, forgiveness and being forgiven. Using them wisely will unburden us and give us the freedom to focus on God’s love. Jesus has shown us the way to forgive and to confess. Let us have the courage to practice them.

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