Fire and Muck
I was reading an article recently that had a great quote in it describing the Eucharist as a “sacrificial ritual enacting a solemn marriage between the fallen muck of earth and fire falling from heaven.”
But I thought to myself, why limit this lovely expression to the Mass? Why not the other Sacraments? And, especially, why not the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
I mention that because right after I read that quote I went to Confession at a local parish and my experience was quite exceptional. I was challenged, consoled and filled with a deep sense of gratitude for God’s lavish and indulgent mercy and the priest’s humble service.
As I was praying my “penance” I was reminded of two Reconciliation memories.
I recalled speaking with a wonderful elderly priest who shared with me an experience he had in his later years while hearing confessions one Saturday. He said that while he was sitting in the confessional after a particularly powerful confession, and was praying in fervent gratitude, he had an earth-shaking encounter with Christ acting in him as the Bridegroom of the soul whose confession he had just heard. “Jesus made it clear to me that my humble ministry permitted him to reconcile with his estranged Bride, the Church, in the person of each penitent who entered my confessional. He made it clear that all of salvation history conspired to make present this sacrament so that God could be re-united in love with his covenanted yet fallen Bride. And my simple ministry of sitting in that room was part of his grand plan.”
That a seasoned priest could find in his later years, after thousands of confessions, such a fresh love for this ancient sacrament left a deep and abiding impression on me. I imagined that his youthful exuberance was a faint glimmer of God’s super-abundant joy over our smallest acts of repentant love.
Then I recalled a gentleman who returned to the Church after many years away. He had a gut-wrenching and heart-ripping experience in the confessional with an old monk that left him utterly changed (and to this day, years later, even more so). He described his confession this way: “It was like I was sinking in sewage and Jesus grabbed my hand and pulled me out. I’d never felt so clean in my life. After it was over, the monk said to me: now, the Lord has taken you to himself again, clothed you in white garments and re-lit the flame of faith that was blown out in your soul after your baptism. Now, keep it that way! It was like Jesus himself was talking to me!”
God conspired for a whole history in time to give us this reconciling Sacrament, like a bridegroom consumed by love for a bride who has spurned him; a Bridegroom who spares nothing to win her love back.
We Catholics really tend to domesticate our faith, but the truth is our Sacraments transact absolutely, totally, completely crazy stuff — stuff that could only have been dreamed up by (a la Catherine of Siena) Dio, pazzo d’Amore, God, the mad Lover.
Look for Him at your next Confession.