I recently came across a tweet from Fr. Goyo Hidalgo, Associate Pastor at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Simi Valley, California, telling us of a little girl who was clapping every time a parishioner left the confessional. The mother apologized thinking that the little girl was being disruptive, and I imagine folks leaving confession thought the girl was sarcastically cheering that their session was over. However, the mother, the people confessing, and anyone else judging this innocent little girl would be wrong in their interpretation of her motives and actions. As often happens, we adults take the cynical or negative route to everything, judging harshly or assuming the worse motives. Again, as often happens, children can guide us on how to reach heaven because they are usually pure, innocent, and sincere in their motives and actions.
The Joy of Rising from Falls
The parables of The Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) and The Lost Sheep ( Mt 18: 10-14) tell us that heaven is more joyful when a lost sheep is found than regarding the many sheep who did not wander. We are all refugees struggling to find our way back home to heaven, which cheers our efforts. However, those cheers are magnified one hundred fold when we rise from our falls along the way, for it is in rising from our falls that we truly show our victory over sin and pride and relentless love for Christ. Think about your successes and stumbles in life and ask yourself which joy was sweeter, that following success or that overcoming a stumble? We are all human and we all stumble, so our success toward Christ cannot be reasonably measured by our triumphs. Remember that Our Lord came for the sick, not the healthy ( Mk 2:17) therefore our greatest success carrying our crosses toward Christ is best measured by whether we love and need him enough to rise from our falls along the way.
The Joy of Healing
The apologetic mother explained to Fr. Goyo that she had told her daughter that confessions make us friends with God again, and her daughter was just cheering that fantastic reality for each person leaving confession. When a loved one is sick and recovers, don’t we all want to cheer? Our faith can perhaps be summarized as accepting our weakness and propensity to fall, having faith and patience in God’s plan and will that these falls will ultimately serve us if properly considered, and sincerely cheering each rise along the way.
Ultimately, sin is an illness brought on by the virus of self. All sin is an expression of selfishness in some way or another. We either stomp on others while only thinking of ourselves, tell God to blow off because we know better, or sit on our high horse pointing fingers and gossiping about others out of selfish insecurity hidden behind arrogance. Regardless of the particular sin, we become sick when we sin and need a doctor to heal us. That doctor is obviously Our Lord and confession is clearly the hospital on earth where this healing happens.
The Joy of Redemption
Confession is truly a three-layered celebration of our love for Christ. First, it requires the infusion of humility which we all need from time to time to keep us off our high horse of superiority, self-reliance, and self-obsession. Second, it forces us to look in the mirror and take stock of ourselves which is the seed from which all moral and eternal growth springs. Lastly, it is our wonderful opportunity to reject the one who rejected serving God long ago. Confession is an in-your-face to the devil who wants nothing more than our surrender, hopelessness, bitterness, and mistrust of God. The evil one pushes the lie that sanctity is an unrealistic goal for unrealistic fools deluding themselves into reaching for perfection no human being can possibly obtain. Confession rejects that lie by reminding us that sanctity is not found in reaching perfection, but in rising from our falls in our struggle to merit heaven. There is a joy in wiping our slates clean, which is why the little girl’s innocent and pure celebrations are so sweet.
The Joy of Love
Ultimately, our recipe for following Christ back to heaven is love. The more we truly love without selfish agendas, the closer we will be to Christ and our journey back home to heaven. This world will tell us that things such as money, power, fame, pleasure, and revenge are the ingredients in the recipe for happiness, but that is the real lie of sin. Ultimately, simple, sincere love brings everything together, not self. How many superficial and useless things do we applaud every day? We see applause and celebration for things contrary to God’s Law every day on this earth. We are brainwashed with the rubbish that religion is all about restriction, rules, punishment, and manipulation. In fact, this world and society are the ones restricting, punishing, and manipulating us in their relentless efforts to shape us into what is acceptable today. True joy, then, is all about true love transcending the grime of self.
The Sacraments as Joy Applied
If we consider the seven sacraments, are not each of these wonderful gifts from God applied joy? Baptism is the joy of entering God’s family. Confession is the joy of healing from sin and reconnecting with God. Communion is the joy of receiving Our Lord within us, Confirmation is the joy of reaching a certain maturity in faith. Marriage is the joy of reflecting God’s love to form a new family, Holy Orders is the joy of serving God and others in ministry. Lastly, the Sacrament of the Sick is the joy of receiving God’s grace and strength to recover from illness or prepare for treatment from that illness.
We have lost our gratitude for mercy because we have lost our perception of the pure joy of returning to God. Confession provides us with the wonderful expression and application of that joy. We applaud after Baptisms, First Communions, Marriages, Ordinations, and recovery from sickness. We can certainly applaud in our hearts and minds for each lost sheep recovered, beginning with our own. While physically applauding confessions might not be particularly discreet, diplomatic, or practical, the sincere, innocent, and pure celebrations of this little girl remind us that we can applaud each return, including our own, along the way to Christ.
2019 Gabriel Garnica