First Confession

Well, this girl has had her First Confession.

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Backtracking a bit. This week had been very stressful and draining, in light of the conversations JP and I have had with friends. We were spent. But I knew I needed to continue on, and I have very much desired to prepare myself for First Confession for a couple of weeks now.

So on Tuesday, I went through an Examination of Conscience I had found, and spent a couple of days wondering if I was, indeed, ready to go. Never having done this before, I wondered about how specific to get, and ended up feeling settled on the sincerity of my heart, and desire to place all I could at the feet of Jesus, in however I was able to form the words at the time.

Then, Thursday, at RCIA, our usual teacher wasn’t there, as he was meeting with high school students who were preparing for confession. So the priest was in. I felt a bit of a pang, because the week had almost gone by and I hadn’t called to schedule a time. And sure enough, our teacher popped back in about a half hour later, just as our group began a discussion of confession as a sacrament, to let us know the priest was available if any of us wanted to have our First Confession.

Seeing as I had done an examination of conscience earlier that week (God knew what was coming ūüôā ), as quickly as it was appropriate, I jumped up and got ready to head over. I had forgotten my notes from home, but they had an Examination of Conscience there I could use to help me remember. The door was open, and in I went.

Let me tell you, briefly, what my First Confession was¬†not. It was not a guilt-ridden situation where I had to go and remember all the bad things I had done, and tell them to some old man in vestments, who then tells me to do 10 Hail Mary’s and be on my way, only to see me the next time I’ve racked up a list of sins long enough to need another confession.

My First Confession was not that. No way. Not even close. This is what I may have thought Confession would be like in my life before all of this, and it may be similar to what some of my friends think Confession is like, which is saddening to think about.

In all reality, my First Confession was¬†beautiful.¬†I walked in, sat down, and the Priest guided me through. It was basically like this… having the chance to talk to God and say “here are all the ways I’ve failed you through my sin,” and have God say, in audible words that he loves me and forgives me. And to even get some wise advice on how to better deal with some of my areas where I struggle. And my penance, was both simply and profoundly a way for me to redirect my mind and thinking to allow God into those situations where I struggle.

That was it. I felt God’s peace. I felt God’s presence. I still, the next day, feel like I’m part of a very spiritual situation. I feel¬†grace.¬†I once had a very specific and unforgettable encounter with the Holy Spirit as a child, and how I feel now reminds me much of that, only in kind of an adult version. I even woke up in the middle of the night last night, feeling like I had been a part of something that transcended the physical reality I live in. Something big goes on in that Confessional, more than I even realize, I’m sure.

In short, Confession moved me closer to Jesus. In my desire to please Him, in my acknowledgement of how amazing his grace is for me, and in my humility as I attempt to live a life worthy of the call.

I understand now, first hand, even through this one time, how the act of Confession is good for the soul. I wish my Protestant friends knew more about it… that rather than a spiritual ball and chain ritual, Confession it is incredibly freeing. Protestants can look forward to the day of judgment when God finally puts all to right as an opportunity to hear God say “I know all you’ve done, and you are forgiven.” Catholics can hear that as often as they go to Confession.

What’s Next.¬†And now, since somehow I was actually baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church, and since I have just received my First Confession, our parish Priest allowed it up to JP and I if we wanted to start receiving the Eucharist at Mass, or to wait until Easter Vigil. I’m really excited for Confirmation and the Easter Vigil service and the celebration it will be, but if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to wait 2 months to receive Jesus in the Eucharist if I don’t have to. I want Jesus, and I want to experience the fullness of the mass. So, I think we know what will be happening this Sunday. Stay tuned :).

A Few Things of Note

I have started to have the conversations with friends to tell them about this journey I’ve been on. A few things have happened of note, throughout the talks I’ve had so far.

Big Feelings. I knew some friends, or maybe even most, wouldn’t be super on board with my conversion to Catholicism. But I don’t think I anticipated all the Big Feelings that would be there. A dear and precious friend telling me, close to tears, that the concepts of things like confession are ones she just completely doesn’t understand. In that moment I wanted to tell her that I totally get it. I didn’t understand it for my entire life up until about a month ago. But it has been such a delicate dance to share this with people I love and to know when to explain how my views have changed and when it is better to just listen. I know I haven’t handled that perfectly. I’m so excited about all this Truth that I didn’t know before, and how it’s changing everything, and yet it took me years of disagreement before things changed. How to speak truth and be sensitive and loving and patient at the same time…. and to know when to do what…. of that I have failed and will fail again.

I, too, have had Big Feelings. I’ve cried all the way home from conversations with people so important¬†to me. Knowing that I’m causing distress, on one hand. Feeling sad because those dear people are not going to be happy for me in what is a huge moment in my life on the other.

Surprising Objections. I anticipated some things, and felt at least decently prepared to talk about them. But I had a few friends uncomfortable with the idea of me referring to them as Protestants. I didn’t expect that. It was difficult to kind of have to reframe how any denomination or church formed post-reformation would fall under that umbrella, though you can’t lump¬†all Protestants¬†under any one umbrella in most areas. I also had friends who were adamantly un-unnerved by all the divisions in the church, and hadn’t given much consideration to the idea of the Holy Spirit preserving correct interpretation of the Bible on a large scale, and were much more comfortable with the idea that¬†bits of truth scattered among the Christian churches of the world, and our interpretation of total truth is flawed due to sin. Though, I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was. ¬†But also it was so very foreign to them, that it was almost a situation of it being incomprehensible because it had never entered their minds as a possibility. They have known nothing else. And I get that, because I’ve been there too.

Things that Surprisingly Went Well. There were a couple of occasions where I felt I did a solid and logical job of explaining something. One such item would be the whole “God has actually preserved true interpretation of Scripture through His Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church” thing. My basis was that, as Christians, we believe a whole bunch of sinful, flawed people, were used by God to create a book we believe to be infallible. Truth. Pure Truth. I said I believe God to be loving, and it doesn’t make sense to me that God would leave us with an infallible book and only flawed and broken means of interpreting it. That was one moment where I felt like I conveyed my thoughts clearly and accurately, and that at the very least people were following my logic to the conclusion.

There were also people I have talked to where I haven’t cried on the way home. People who reassured me of their love and friendship in such an encouraging way after a deep and intense conversation. A couple who even said they¬†were happy for me. Ok- I’ll take it! It was relieving and refreshing after much intensity.

The Exhaustion. The past few days have been draining. I am so, so exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

None of my friends are going to be content with me saying that I just feel God’s presence in the Catholic Church and just being drawn to that. I do, and I am, but that isn’t everything. I’m being drawn by deeply theological reasons, and they are for the most part deep thinkers that are going to ask deep questions.

Moving Forward.

It’s interesting to me how over the past few months this blog, that began as an online journal of me beginning a line of inquiry into Catholicism has turned into a blog journaling my conversion. I didn’t say surprising, because I don’t think I’m really surprised. Converting is a logical next step after the research and soul-searching I’ve done. But it’s interesting… interesting because Lorelei from 10 Years Ago would have never imagined being here. Interesting because this started as a personal journey and has¬†become a journey that others are joining me on through reading and conversation. And interesting because I still have questions, that I will continue to explore, but I’ve learned enough to understand that the Catholic church has thought about and discerned every belief they have on a much deeper level than I have ever seen anywhere.¬†I don’t think I’m going to find something in my personal search that will stump Catholic theology or logic. Now… my personality type is such that I will continue to look into questions that arise, but I continue to do so boldly, and unafraid of the answers I will find.

 

Full Families

I used to be on the other side of this fence, too.

When JP and I started looking for a church when we moved to SE Wisconsin, one of the big things on my “list” was a good “Children’s Program.” In essence, I wanted an engaging program that taught my kids truths about our faith in a developmentally appropriate way. I also wanted to be able to focus on the service and not be distracted by little ones, so I, too, could grow in my faith through church.

Now, slowly, and interestingly, my view has changed. Some masses do have nursery, and the parish we have been attending does have a 3-5 year old program for members, but by and large, in Catholic mass, whole families are often seen sitting and standing and kneeling together.

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I had this moment last Sunday, where I looked around at all the families, wiggly ones and all, and just thought how cool it was. If parents are doing their job in forming the faith of their children at home, spending Sunday service together seems like a natural outpouring from that instruction. In mass, I can explain to my daughter what certain things mean, she can hear all the music, she can absorb some of the homily. Kids can catch on more than one might think. Through this, she also sees me and her dad living out our faith, and she sees us worshipping God with love and reverence.

This is not to say we don’t come “prepared.” There are some crayons and stickers in our row on Sunday. Though Auggie uses those more than Felicity does. And I know not every kid is going to adjust this easily, but both kids have done really well overall. The mass isn’t this long, same thing through the whole service. There is a lot of variety. Music, standing, sitting, kneeling, listening to spoken word, greeting each other. So I think as far as attention span is concerned, it’s actually more friendly to the adult and the child than some protestant services where you might have 15-20 minutes of music then a 30-40 minute long sermon.

And, not that the statistics are super awesome either way, with how many adult children leave the church, even for a period of time, but, it doesn’t seem that having Children’s Church helps change that statistic. I have ask myself: Is it really more beneficial for my daughter to learn Sunday school Bible stories, than to be immersed in the practice of worship in community, in context of the larger practice of the Christian faith?

And, finally, church history. The Early Christians didn’t have “kids church.” Whole families were together. And we too often ignore the example that was set by Jesus’ earliest followers.

I have concluded that there is a lot to be gained spiritually from one’s presence in church, and I love that my kids have a chance to learn from their parents what is happening during the service, and can see our example of how we practice our faith not only at home, but also at mass.

 

 

Lonely

At RCIA on Thursday, we had a “discernment” night, where we had a chance to ask any questions we had that hadn’t been answered yet, and to share overall how the process has been going for us.

Most people were effusively positive about how RCIA and the path to Catholic conversion has been for them. JP was so excited about having an understanding of his faith he had never had before, and expressed it well.

When it got to my turn, though, I teared up. So many parts of this journey have been great- I’ve been able to look at faith on a deeply spiritual and intellectual level, and have found fulfilling answers to things that have been nagging at me for years. I know how to find the tangible Jesus in this fallen world. But this process has also been very lonely for me as well.

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The waiting place is a lonely place too.

I’ve had support from my own and JP’s family. ¬†We have met and are keeping in touch with one friend who converted from Protestantism, but that is really the only person I’ve spent time with who knows what this is like. Only a couple of my friends know, still. One friend I’ve told is predisposed against Catholicism, and I’ve had a few take it¬†too lightly, not really understanding how significant this has been and how much has gone into it. When and how to have these conversations with the rest … I don’t know. We are attached to our small group at the Protestant church still because we haven’t officially revoked our membership, but that is coming, and won’t be an easy conversation to have. Nearly all of my friends are at the Protestant church, and the idea of leaving my community behind is still difficult, no matter how convicted I am to change. I’m wondering how I’ll balance maintaining those relationships and create a new community in our Catholic parish when they don’t have set small groups or other “programming,” for lack of a better word, that helps you get to know other people in the congregation. The idea of starting from scratch in getting connected to a new church community makes this introvert nervous.

As exciting, and fulfilling, and interesting this whole thing has been for me, it has also been a lonely road. I know that Christian history is full of people who have made much larger sacrifices than I for their faith, and that is comforting to some extent. But I’m still here, living my experience, and feeling a bit in no-mans-land at the moment. I need to wait until Easter Vigil¬†to be a full member of the Catholic community, and I have one foot out the door at my Protestant community. I will be thankful when all is done an settled. When the conversations have been had. ¬†When the transition has been made. But being content in “The Waiting Place” is never easy, and I struggle with it as much as any.

Confession

This one has taken me a while to put together. Because confession proved¬†to be a more difficult thing to work through than I thought it would be. Specifically, it’s necessity for Catholics, and lack of necessity for Protestants due to their lack of access to the sacrament, among other things.

In general, the idea of needing to go “through” a priest is very aversive to Protestants. The main argument here is that you can go directly to God with anything. You don’t need a go-between.

Also, widespread belief in Protestantism is that once you are ‘saved,’ or accept Christianity’s teachings on who Jesus was and his redeeming role for mankind, then your sins are forgiven. Past, present, and future ones.

A result of that is we don’t think about our sins all that much. Our church does have a time of common confession, where there is a few moments of silence to reflect on our sins, then to be reminded of God’s forgiveness. But it’s really easy to let that moment pass without seriously reflecting on your sins. Like in the Mass, or any church service, you can go through the motions without engaging your heart.

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Here is where the Sacrament of Reconciliation started to make sense to me. This belief Protestants have that all past present and future sins are forgiven doesn’t really jive with the Lord’s Prayer that we all pray so often, where we ask God to forgive our sins. Also, the time of public (private) confession in the church service.Which is hard to reconcile with the past, present and future sin forgiveness at the time of conversion that is common belief. Both those things seem to indicate that at some level, continual confession of our sins is good, necessary even. But to what end?

We don’t even often, or ever, “count” our sins, per say. It’s more of a general acknowledgement of our need for God’s forgiveness. So the idea of going to a first confession in the Catholic church, and needing to try and remember things I’ve done and privately asked God for forgiveness for still¬†didn’t make a lot of sense to me early on.

So here are some of the other pieces of the puzzle that reconciled me peacefully to the idea of reconciliation.

Church History. What was the early church doing? How did they practice confession? Thanks to a friend I was pointed in the direction of a helpful website, which listed numerous early church documents that referred to the practice of confession. This is only one of them:

“[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness” (Repentance¬†10:1 [A.D. 203]).

See here for more.

In everything else, we consult historical sources to help us gain insight in interpreting texts. I am no longer hesitant to do that with the Bible and the Early Church (See my thoughts on Sola Scripture here). I think it is wise to look at other texts that might help us get an insight into the time and culture in which our faith had its beginnings.

The concept of sin.¬†Sin makes our souls sick. I think this is a concept almost anyone of any background could at the very least understand. Everyone knows what happened to Ebeneezer Scrooge’s heart due to his selfishness and greed. We all know the Grinch. Beauty and the Beast.¬†Let selfishness, bitterness, anger, pride, or any number of things take over in our life and we become ugly.

The Catholic concept is that all sin hurts our souls. Some more than others. Venial sins aren’t good, but they aren’t a death blow. Mortal sins are so serious that it inflicts a potentially deadly wound.

In short, sin is serious business.

As Christians, we have a call to live higher- to be selfless, loving, trustworthy, faithful, patient, kind, etc. We can’t be those things while crippling ourselves with selfishness, hate, anger, greed, rudeness, etc.

In Persona Christi So I agree. The Early Church practiced confession. Even Protestant churches, though rather non-specifically at times practice confession still today. So there is probably something to the idea of it. I also agree sin is serious and bad for me in my pursuit to live more like Christ each day.

Which brings me to… Protestant Christians are all about talking directly to God, so why need a priest? Well, the Catholic Church is all about the idea of taking a spiritual reality and giving us something physical to hold onto to represent what is happening on the spiritual level. Confession is no different.

The priest, during confession, acting in the person of Christ¬†actually isn’t that difficult for me to understand. In my circle, we frequently talk about needing to be the “hands and feet” of Jesus in this world we live in. When I go do the ministry I am a part of, I hope people will see Jesus through my interaction with them. In essence, and much more informally than a priest, I am hoping to be In Persona Christi daily as I interact with everyone I meet. So the idea of the priest acting in the person of Christ for my encounter with God through confession logically holds to many beliefs I am already practicing.

Instead of looking up into the air and asking God to forgive me my sins, which can sometimes be so difficult because as humans we want something tangible to hold onto, I would have the opportunity in Confession to look in the eyes of someone who is acting as Jesus. Instead of hoping to feel or understand that I am forgiven on my own, I can hear an actual voice speak to me that it is true. I could see that being a very powerful experience.

I’ve been hearing the words “both, and” in reference to Catholicism a lot. Yes, we can pray directly to God, and should and need to. And yes, we do need the Sacraments because we are physical beings and those physical, tangible representations of the spiritual reality of receiving God’s grace are immensely valuable to us. And if you have access to that beautiful gift, you should use it!

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This picture to me is a beautiful reminder of overwhelming, undeserved grace.

Moving forward.¬†I don’t have to have this all perfectly understood to move on. A life lived in faith of any kind is a journey and a process and I think something you grow into as your understanding and experience develop. But I’ve come a long way since I started this inquiry into this particular sacrament.

I think I will be nervous leading up to my first Confession. I know I will hear words full of grace¬†at the end of it, but the idea of telling my worst moments as a person and the darkest parts of who I am to God through this sacrament is still scary.To say ones sins out loud, to another person, I imagine, changes things. I experience a sort of repulsion to the idea of thinking about the ways in which I am not a good person. The ways in which I hurt others or myself through my thoughts and actions. And some part of us, like Adam and Eve, thinks that if we just stay hidden in the bushes that God won’t know what we’ve done. Going to Confession rids us of the ability to lie to ourselves in that way.

Still, how can we possibly be truly ourselves and stand in the presence of the holiness that is God and live? Interestingly and obviously,¬†God knows all those parts of me anyway, and here I am, alive. So. much. grace. I can’t even comprehend it in my mind. And I think the Sacrament of Reconciliation makes that grace tangible, in a beautiful and wonderful way.

And I think an official examination of my conscience is in my near future.

 

The Misconceptions

I told a friend yesterday about what’s going on with me and JP and studying Catholicism with the possibility of conversion. This was a bit of an easier friend to start with because she is not connected with our current church.

I was all like “Can I test out a difficult conversation that I’m going to need to have with a lot of people on you?” And she was like “Sure.” And I was like, “JP and I are thinking about becoming Catholic.” And she said, “I’m probably not the best person to talk to about this.”

Great start! Ha.

But it ended up being ok.

Her first question to me was about needing to go to a priest vs. talking directly to God. That’s a very classic concern for Protestants. I’m working on writing about it now, but the necessity of Confession for Catholics was surprisingly difficult for me to understand, and I’m probably going to become Catholic, so her point was understood for sure.

I began by sharing with¬†my friend that, of course, Catholic Christians can also pray directly to God, and should. And that one of the main premises of Catholicism is that since as humans,we are both physical bodies and spiritual beings, many of their practices give a tangible representation of what is going on spiritually, and that confession is one of those situations. I went into more detail than that, but that’s for another entry because how I actually went from being someone who would ask the same question my friend asked to someone who was arguing for the other side of the issue¬†requires more explanation.

All said, though, once I finished explaining how I’ve come to understand the importance and role of Confession in the Catholic church, she replied:¬†“It makes sense when you explain it like that.” Yes! It does make sense. But I also got the impression that confession was only one of many, many things that make her a bit squeemish when it comes to Catholicism. And, unfortunately, we had arrived at our destination and had to end it there for¬†now.

When I talked to JP about my conversation later last night we both shook our heads at how many deep-seated misconceptions there are about what Catholicism is. Mostly it seems to be due to people who go through all the ritual but aren’t engaged in their hearts. And who, even beyond that, don’t live a Christian life outside of church. Protestants see a perception of meaninglessness to it all, and instead of attributing the meaninglessness to the disengaged people, they attribute it to the faith as a whole.

What is particularly interesting to me about this is Protestants have the same frustration when it comes to non-Christians having deep-seated misconceptions about Christianity. We are very quick to say the Christian Protestant church is full of sinful people, and that people are wrong to base their perception of God on what the people do instead of who God is. Many non-Christians who use that argument have also probably not looked deeply into the theology and rationality of Christianity.

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But so many Protestants take that same prejudice and apply it to Catholicism.

How many Protestants have looked deeply into the theology and rationality of the Catholic faith? From what I’ve seen growing up, it’s not many. I sure didn’t. I just let people tell me untrue things about it, and believed them. And yet how many have a strong predisposition against Catholicism because of how Catholic’s they’ve known have behaved? Too many.

I think this point is fair enough, for sure, but at the same time I don’t think it entirely lets Catholics off the hook. Just like I don’t think the arguments about Christians being hypocritical and thus the faith being invalid lets any Christian off the hook.

The Catholic church focuses doctrinally more on living a holy life than any other denomination. And Christians in general have a well-defined moral code we are called to live by. We need to be better. Being lukewarm in our faith is worse to God than being cold. We need to live this Christian life so that people can’t use us as an excuse to not live in communion with God.

At the same time, though, I think it would be wise for Protestant Christians to not make the same error in logic we are so quick to point out that non-Christians make. How sinful people live out their faith isn’t reason enough to prove that the faith is wrong. Seeing some Catholics just go through the motions isn’t reason enough to prove that Catholicism is ritualistic and empty.

I sincerely hope to be able to have some great dialogue when I’m able to have time to share this journey with my other friends, and to continue it with my friend from last night. They may not be easy conversations, but I have found so much logical, down-to-the-core truth in my study of Catholicism so far, that I know I have a solid foundation to stand on.

 

Science

Ok, to be fair, you’re reading this from the girl who sat out of the evolution unit in both middle and high schools. What can I say, I was a Young Earth Creationist girl growing up in a Young Earth Creationist world. Or a very conservative church community. I had some books about it that explained away fossil evidence, warned about the theological suicide of not taking every word in the Bible literally, and, in short, made evolution out to be a pretty evil idea. I, too, at the time, believed that if you don’t interpret the creation story as a literal 7 day creation, that the whole of the Bible unraveled.

I’m not a flip-flopper, but my position on the issue has changed. For many reasons, but mostly because I’m not the kind of person to turn my nose up at evidence just because it leads me to believe my original conclusions were wrong.

Also, my husband is a Scientist. We literally make our living off of science. He does a really good job both at and away from the bench at fairly weighing the evidence and making a conclusion based on that. It’s kind of how we approached our near-agnostic year and ended up strongly and reasonably in Christianity. But that’s another post…

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Nowadays, it’s difficult for me in the to understand the fear. Many smart, adult Christians in America¬†at least somewhat afraid of science. Don’t want to get too close. Evolution is a quick frontrunner when it comes to conflicting evangelical vs. science teachings, but there is also this general idea that God and science don’t fit together.

It’s so odd. Dear and lovely American Christian people have pulled their kids out of school so they could control what kind of science they would teach their children. Which is totally everyone’s right in this country. But if those kids are never exposed to the idea of Evolution at all, and thus have no concept of it, their freshman year college Intro to Bio class is going to be a bit of a rude awakening. In my opinion, it is best to let our little ones understand other points of view, even if we disagree with them, so they aren’t shocked when they leave the comfort of living at home and head out into the world at large. All this¬†made talking about the evolution and Christianity conference JP went to last year a bit awkward to bring up in certain crowds.

That all is so different from how I view my faith as an adult. It just doesn’t sit right with me that science would be the enemy of God. If God made everything… God made science. He clearly already knows how everything works and how he made it all happen, so, no problems, right?

In short, then, I basically like the Catholic Church’s stance on evolution and science. Just like I realized I didn’t have to turn off my intellect to remain a Christian, I realized I don’t have to ignore science either. Yahoo!

The Catholic Church’s stance on evolution includes this: “there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution, provided that Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces.”

Awesome. Great. Agreed.

Not only is it easier to comprehend God as the Creator of Science, but it also frees me up to marvel at the intricacies of His creation. JP gets to see this all the time, but to think about the entire universe that exists inside each and every cell is crazy. Then to zoom out and think about how our entire galaxy is basically a cell inside an incomprehensibly large universe. And gravity!? Gravity is nuts. And hey, how in the world do trees know when to sprout their leaves each spring? Each year the timing is a little bit different- what are the mechanisms involved? How is a baby’s instinct to nurse passed on genetically? They don’t have time to learn it once their born, but they just. know. how. I could keep going. Science is so cool.

And, by association, as the Creator of it all, God is so. so. cool.

The Catholic faith leaves me free to rejoice in an intricate physical world put into place by a big, amazing God. Our understanding of the bigness of God is already limited by our human minds. We don’t need to find ways to make Him smaller. We need to look for opportunities to see his glory. Including in science.