The Sacrament of Penance

For many Catholics, the sacrament of penance isn’t appealing. Confessing one’s sins to a priest appears to be a daunting task. And yet the Sacrament of Penance is, next to the Holy Eucharist, the most efficacious source of grace that enables man to fully appreciate his rich Catholic faith and as a result, to constantly strive for conversion. These two sacraments aren’t limited to a once in a lifetime experience like Baptism or Confirmation, or a special sacrament to mark one’s vocation (Matrimony or Holy Orders) but a regular means of putting into effect the supernatural reality of our Christian faith.

Growing up, frequent confession was something my mother encouraged me to do. She likened it to a “spiritual shower” wherein our sins are pardoned and our souls cleansed in preparation to receiving communion. Knowing that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, we must in every way we can, ensure that our hearts are clean in receiving the Lord. In much the same way we bathe everyday to keep ourselves clean, the Sacrament of Penance is a spiritual cleansing instituted by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church as a manifestation of its redemptive character.

I have noticed that many Catholics these days attend mass frequently, some even on a daily basis, and yet go to confession infrequently. I’ve met friends and colleagues who go to confession only once a year (during Lent or when attending a retreat), or whose last confession was also their first. Regular confession should complement the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, because through the former, God’s mercy is manifested in unity with Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross, which we celebrate during mass.

Love for the Eucharist should lead us to a growing appreciation for the sacrament of penance. When we are intimate with our Lord, we become more sensitive to whatever displeases Him: our sins, faults, and miseries. Consequently, we want to purify ourselves, having recourse to the grace of Forgiveness, and we want to bring other souls to the sacrament as well. We teach our friends that in confession, we need to pray for humility, and we need to be utterly sincere. Sincerity, not scrupulousness, is the virtue of confession. We must constantly remind ourselves it is Christ himself who forgives us through His ministers. With this in mind, we should carry out an incisive apostolate of confession with our family and friends.

The great humility of penance must be instilled in our hearts as Christians. We are indeed blessed to have the sacrament so close at hand. St. Augustine affirms that the wonder of the words on absolution is greater than the very creation of the world. How merciful indeed is our Lord! How grateful we must be to receive these words when we go to confession!

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Stains

I am stained. I am broken. Sometimes I wonder why. Why did it have to be this way? Why did it have to be me? Why couldn’t I just meet a beautiful girl and fall in love with her and marry her and have children and raise a family? Why couldn’t I just become a monk or a priest – a religious where my life would have meaning, and where I could be useful?

Why did I have to like other men too?

Those who do not struggle with homosexual inclinations may think I am exaggerating the problem when I should be more concerned about charity, about others. But the way I deal with people is so often colored by sexual affectivity. Even if I tried, there would still be something different.

While two straight men would have no problem being in the same room together, I can’t. While most of my male peers could watch an action movie and remain unaffected by the shirtless, bearded superheroes, I must so often close my eyes discreetly to avoid nurturing my imagination. While it’s easy for others to talk about professional basketball leagues, I hide in my room watching replays of volleyball, a sport that is often seen as less masculine. While friends can watch romantic comedies and TV series without feeling uneasy, I am always wary about the melodrama and sexual tensions and how it often leaves me longing for companionship too.

There isn’t a day my disorder does not rear its ugly head in my consciousness. Memories of my past life are littered in the city, resurfacing and filling my thoughts without warning. There are streets, establishments, and spaces which remind me of the life I lived before, the great sins I committed, and the lies I had been immersed in. And there are faces I meet along the way which stir affections I continue to struggle with. Sometimes these faces are real, other times they’re just made up: billboards, television characters, imaginations. At times, I give in to a second glance or two. I find myself spending more than an hour gushing over the male lead or listening to sentimental music as I daydream about the love that cannot be.

After it all is nothing but loneliness. I am ashamed to say that even the most mundane of things is a threat to the sanctity of my soul. I am ashamed to say that I have failed so many times in my struggle for holiness. But, if I can admit these things to myself, then hopefully, I can battle the unhappiness too. And what is this melancholy which plagues the soul of a man with homosexual inclinations? It is quite simply the loneliness of knowing everything passes, that all these consolations and validations are fleeting. This infatuation? – it will end too. This obsession? – he will be part of the long list of crushes I’ll look back and laugh at too. I’ll get over this and that anyway. I’ll be happy again, soon.

Sometimes I wake up and realize that I have walked away from so many of these men and moments and I feel stronger than ever. I am grateful too for God, and the grace He pours. But there are also days wherein I wake up longing for a touch too – the simple pat on the back, the joy of holding hands with someone you love, the mundane conversations of lovers. And then, I move on – I get over it, perhaps in a day or two, or sometimes a few months. Nothing lasts. Nothing satisfies. My brokenness seems to be a hole in my soul where the joys seep out leaving my heart dry.

Why was I made broken then? Why the stains in my heart? Why this disorder? Perhaps it is to become an instrument of God’s mercy and power. Perhaps so I will depend on Him more. Perhaps, so I can experience the sweetness of true happiness to a degree that can fill what the wounds and scars have scraped from my being. Perhaps, so I can make atonement for my sins. Perhaps, so I can lift up those who are lonely and lost, desperate and doubtful, worried and wayward. Perhaps…

 

On Scruples

Manila
20 January 2018

Dear M:

You keep remembering your sins. You see every fall as an insurmountable wall. The searing wound of your failures appears incurable. Holiness becomes a distant dream, in fact, a fantasy that is more and more incredulous with your tender conscience plagued by your scruples. Your resolutions seem to always end as a broken promise. Your mind knows what is good but your heart is lacking in faith and so your will is easily disposed by the enemy to a stubborn corner. Any attempt to conform it to the will of God ends in failure. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate, writes St. Paul. How true? Every morning you wake up wanting to be a saint and go to sleep having examined a day lived as a sinner.

M, you keep remembering your sins. But you forget to remember the mercy of God. You are obsessed with your falls you have forgotten you’ve risen. You have, rightly, credited sins to your own failures but have forgotten to give credit to God’s mercy and how he has not allowed you to fall any further. Do not be so scrupulous as to think you have complete control of your life and have deliberately dislodged the grace of God so easily. I must remind you to always look at the Cross. It stands for you. It stands firmly for you. The bloodied body crucified on the Cross has saved you. Do not simply believe in your mind. Believe in your heart. Christ is Mercy Himself who has come to meet you on the Cross – a shared space where one begins to see how madly in love God is with us. For God to be like us, to take the punishment of our sins – it sounds like foolishness to a man, but only “fools” fall in love, isn’t it?

Turn to Mary when your scruples attack you. She will help you see things clearly. She will teach you how to trust confidently in God, to contemplate Christ in your heart, to love and to pray.

Pax,

F.L.

Battles

Manila
25 November 2017
Fifth Day within the Octave of Christmas

 

Dear H:

I apologize for having taken so long to write again. If only busyness at work is not as flimsy an excuse. But I’m happy now, writing this letter. And I would like to take this opportunity to speak to you about a few things in my life, to reflect on them as I write.

How should I describe the last few months? Well, it has been a battle – as all lives are especially viewed from a Christian lens. Like most who are reeling from a past life that had indulged the homosexual tendency and who, through the Holy Spirit, now strive for daily conversion amidst what we would most properly call as same-sex attraction, the days have their fair share of doubts. These spiritual uncertainties mostly come in waves of temptations against, predictably, purity. A priest once told me in confession – after admitting how past sins I had already confessed still bothered me, and weakened my trust in God – that the evil we committed in our past lives, though healed through the Sacrament, remain as scars.

St. Josemaria Escriva captured this interior conflict quite perfectly, writing: “Don’t be troubled if, as you consider the wonders of the supernatural world, you hear that other voice, the intimate, insinuating voice of your ‘old self’. It is ‘the body of death’ crying out for its lost rights. ‘His’ grace is sufficient for you: be faithful and you will conquer.”

That voice of the old self can be deafening. But I am most glad to say that in the critical moments, I have taken to prayer for my safety. My guardian angel has been so kind as to buttress my “will”, and remind me what a waste it would be to throw away all the graces and merits I’ve received in choosing a life of conversion. It works, even if I still deal with the scruples of “bloodier” battles against these temptations. Mother Mary’s help cannot be overemphasized too. I know she’s been interceding for me not to fall into grave sin. For that, I realize now, I should be more thankful.

I have also been assailed by temptations against charity. Love – how little of it I give, when I have received so much. Work, family, friends – they can be sources of joy but also a limitless supply of daily tension, conflict, envy, and resentment. Biases further hamper the flourishing of relationships. Like the threats against holy purity, the lack of love, the lack of charity, weakens one’s own ability to experience God’s love. Looking at how things have been, I recognize with greater clarity the importance of humility in learning how to love. Humility is the soil where the seeds of love are planted. Pride dries the soul and makes it impossible to love, to live, to be free. Love is freedom. Freedom is love. Arrogance, envies, unwarranted criticisms, and uncharitable thoughts must be fought with as much strength as the sins of the flesh, for they offend charity. What use it is to be chaste in body when the heart is polluted with hate and anger and resentment?

Pray for me, H. I only am beginning. Indeed, I am only just a beginner in many ways. Discouragement remains a constant threat in this battle and I believe only charity can overcome it. A man who loses himself for the service of others never loses hope for his heart has been spread out across souls leaving the enemy confused. May I be that man in God’s time, with my Yes, and His grace.

 

Pax,

F.L.