We often find ourselves in precarious positions, many times with things that are simply out of our control. The more time I have spent as a believer, the more I see this as true. After I search myself and examine my conscience and come up with nothing, I am left with the space that is just me and God.
Yesterday after contemplating a situation I am in for the better part of two hours or more, the Holy Spirit saw it fit to intervene. I think God saw that I had done enough self-questioning and self-loathing and decided enough was enough. Since I was too upset to pray, the Holy Spirit, my protector did it for me.
Many people will have myriad advice for you when you are going through a difficult situation. We bring our problems to what we consider our circle of wise counselors. These are our close friends and family who we trust and we know can help us walk forward. And so this is what I have done these past couple of months, surrounded myself with a circle of people who have led me here- to Jesus.
These many steps I have taken led me to an Advent retreat at a Passionist community not too far from my home. The day included a talk on joy, confession, and of course mass. While standing in line for confession, a wonderful new friend shared with me some preparatory confession materials, and I felt ready to tell Father all that I had done wrong, or so I thought.
I went over the situation with Father as best I could. I was ready to hear, “you shouldn’t have done that” or “you could have stopped yourself from doing that.” But instead, Father told me, “you are a human with feelings. No feelings are wrong, and you were hurt.” Instead of judging me, he consoled me. And right before he gave me absolution he said the words that would change my life forever, “The most important person you have to forgive is yourself.”
The tears steadily streaming down my face, I prayed one Our Father as he told me. He also gave me the instruction to ask God during that prayer for the grace to remember everything he said in the confessional.
In today’s gospel reading, sinners come to John the Baptist to ask him what they should do. And so is the human condition here on earth, lost and in need of direction. John was a master teacher, a beacon of truth, and the hope of the coming Messiah. People came to him to relieve their aching hearts.
And that’s just what John did- he listened to them, he told them the truth without judgment. Share what you have with the poor, take in what you need, and no more. These are some of the exhortations he gave them- so simple, but everything they needed to hear.
And this is the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The priest who gave me absolution last week gave me a truth that will last me a lifetime- forgive yourself. I had no problem forgiving others but harbored ill will against myself. I had to let go of that, I had to repeat what he said, that simple truth over and over, I deserve forgiveness too.
On this third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, let’s celebrate the joy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is not a place to feel burdened or judged but rather a place of comfort and solace. A place to ask the question from today’s gospel, “Teacher, what should we do.”