It’s Not Really That Complicated

This morning I did what’s called an “examination of conscience.” It’s basically a self-assessment based on the ten commandments, and it’s ideally done relatively often. My family and I came back from vacation this past Sunday. I hadn’t done much of anything other than sleep, eat, and read Lord of the Rings over the course of two weeks. It was honestly a little boring, and that is my kind of vacation. Because I did nearly nothing, I began to question where I was at, spiritually.

As best I can remember, I have done an examination of conscience twice before. I’m afraid of doing it, not because I’m afraid of God’s justice, but because I don’t like looking at my sins. Before I did it this morning, I took a pen and a piece of paper, and I prayed. At the top of the paper, I wrote “I am good. I am beautiful. I belong to Jesus.” I wrote that because I thought I’d be writing a laundry list of ugly things. Then I asked Saint Faustina, who was the catalyst for the Divine Mercy devotion, to pray for me, I asked my guardian angel to be with me, and I asked the Blessed Mother to walk me through it. I also asked the Lord to be gentle with me, because He is gentle.

If you’re not Catholic, those first prayers might seem a bit weird. As Catholics we believe that we are connected to the entire Church, even after death. That means we can talk to, and even be friends with the saints in Heaven, and the righteous souls still working toward perfection in Purgatory. I won’t get into Purgatory here, partly because there’s plenty about it on the internet, and partly because it’s not the point of the post. The point is, I can ask Saint Faustina, who knows so much about God’s Mercy to pray for me, as a friend on earth might pray for me. I can ask my guardian angel to do whatever he needs to in this situation, because I don’t know exactly what that is. I can ask Mary, Jesus’ mom, and by extension, my spiritual mom (again, there’s a ton about this online) to just walk with me through it, before I even start.

A self-assessment is difficult, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. It means I have to look at what I don’t really want to see. I remember realizing for the first time that what I wanted most was to become a saint. To be a saint means attaining perfection. Part of that means looking at what I don’t want to, asking for God’s forgiveness, and letting Him help me. It means figuring out what I can do to change where I can, and mostly it means letting Him work on me, whatever that might look like. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that He does most of the work. It’s hard to let go of control.

Recently, I realized that God’s Mercy doesn’t always look like what one might expect. I realized that often, His Mercy looks like making sure there’s a time and place for me to go to confession when I need to. I didn’t find a four-page laundry list of sins. I found four things. It’s one thing to be able to make the self-assessment and be honest with myself; it’s another to actually go to confession and state how I’ve gone wrong out loud. I know that I’m really going to Jesus, and I know that I will receive His Mercy. I just don’t like having to verbally admit that I’m not perfect.

The Lord knows that I’m as jumpy as a rabbit, but He also knows that I will go because if I’ve sinned, it means I’ve hurt my most intimate friend.  He’s been kind enough to make sure the priest I go to is gentle. Nonetheless, going to confession makes me anxious. I’m not alone in this. The last thing the priest says is “Go in peace.” The feeling after confession is amazing because sin is heavy, and it quite literally feels like that load has been taken away.

This is why not forgiving someone is such a huge problem. When we pray the “Our Father,” we ask the Lord to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness and mercy is meant to be exactly like His–infinite. It doesn’t mean it has to be immediate because forgiveness is sometimes hard (when you’re not God), but it has to come around eventually. God wants to forgive, but we do have to ask for it because that’s part of a genuine relationship.

I should acknowledge that there are two different kinds of sins. Small (venial) sins can be forgiven simply if we pray for forgiveness, and if we really are sorry. More serious (mortal/deadly) sins are what we have to go to confession for, but sometimes it’s helpful to go to confession even for smaller stuff. An inevitable question is, “Why do Catholics have to go to confession at all?” The Church is the Body of Christ and we’re all spiritually connected. That means that stuff I do, even if it doesn’t obviously affect anyone, does have a spiritual effect on the whole Church, myself included, and because we are connected, it hurts the Lord, too.

As a member himself, the priest is, in this context, a representative of the Church, as well as a representative of Christ, through whom Jesus administers the sacraments. That means when I go to confession, I can acknowledge that I’ve hurt the Church, I’ve hurt myself spiritually, and I’ve hurt Jesus, and because God is Mercy, He can take the load from me. I still have to do some sort of penance, though, because I did make a mess in the first place. An analogy might be a brother and sister playing together get into an argument, so the sister breaks the brother’s toy. The sister then feels bad and says she’s sorry. The brother forgives her, but the toy is still broken, so the parents decide that the money to pay for a new one has to come from her allowance.

None of that is to say that I’m still guilty after confession. Penance should be natural if I really am sorry because out of love, I should make amends for causing hurt. Because we are God’s adopted children, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re a massive, crazy, dysfunctional family, which is seriously awesome. I have written a post before about “agape” love. It’s love that simply wills the good of the other. It’s the kind of love that, by nature, looks outward. We should be attentive to our inner spiritual lives in order to most effectively maintain this agape love.

Justice, Judgement And Forgiveness

I don’t know why, but it feels sort of awkward to me when I see people praying in public. It’s even weirder for me when people write prayers on the internet. Prayer is a very private thing for me, so when I see people throwing their prayers out there for everyone to see, it’s a bit uncomfortable for some reason.

I know this probably isn’t a good thing, but I even find it hard to pray with other people. I don’t often have the opportunity, so I guess it just throws me out of my comfort zone a little. I don’t think I’m particularly good at praying, so the thought of leading a prayer terrifies me. Some people my age are just so much more eloquent when they pray, and it’s rather intimidating. I think part of my problem is that I equate eloquence with the power or effectiveness of the prayer. I know I shouldn’t and I don’t even have any reason to because God answers my prayers no mater how pathetically expressed they were.

I think it’s uncomfortable for me when people write prayers on the internet because I think there is a fine line between being honest and showing off. I always have a suspicion that people are writing prayers on the internet to show off. They might not even know it, but somewhere in the back of their minds people think, “I’ll show the world how good I am. Watch this.” I’m probably being cynical to a degree simply because of the way I feel about prayer. I pray about things that most people care about and are worried about. I pray about the things that are going on in Syria, etc, but I also pray about very personal things, and it’s the personal stuff that I really don’t want people to know about. I think maybe I just have trouble letting people know about my spiritual life, partly because I really don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

The thing is, I don’t think someone’s spiritual life should be entirely comfortable. I know from experience that it’s an ongoing learning process and I get worried when I feel too comfortable because I feel like I’m missing something. I guess I just don’t want to personally be the cause of someone’s discomfort and maybe that’s selfish. Jesus was constantly making people feel uncomfortable, and I love him for it.

Lately I’ve been a bit worried about the issue of tolerance, courtesy of a post by a friend of mine. As a Christian, how much am I supposed to tolerate, and where is it my duty to not tolerate things? For the most part, I try not to judge people’s beliefs. I grew up among a group of friends and relatives who believe many different things and because of that I believe that for the most part, truth can be found in most philosophies and religions as well as scientific fields.

It’s when we get to morality that the tolerance issue becomes uncomfortable for me. A couple of my friends have told me that had sex in this past year. I still believe that sex and marriage are sacred things and that you shouldn’t do it unless you are married. I haven’t said that of course because I don’t want to offend them. On one level I believe that it’s not really hurting anyone, so who am I to judge? On another level I believe that it’s not my place to judge because God judges everyone and everything. On another level I wonder if I’m ever supposed to judge anything if I’m supposed to be a servant of God and try to spread his Word and his love. On yet another level I simply want to know right and wrong and judge people because it’s human nature. It’s all very confusing.

Ultimately, my worry is that I would end up forgiving people for terrible things and end up getting hurt because of it. On another level, culturally, it’s weird to be very forgiving. I’m not trying to sound self righteous or anything, but I’m a very forgiving person, and I have found myself forgiving people for things and then feeling weird about forgiving them. I also don’t feel that my forgiveness excused them in any way. Forgiveness doesn’t make bad things right. Most of the time I just don’t feel like staying angry at someone does any good. People who do terrible things usually have to pay for them one way or another, whether it means going to jail or just living with their conscience.

I guess that’s all I have rattling around in my head for now.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!