If you’re looking for new spiritual reading this Lent, I highly recommend Bathe Seven Times, a contemplative look at the seven capital sins, written by Mother Nadine, founder of the Intercessors of the Lamb. It is a fantastic book to add to your library and a wonderful tool for meditation and introspection.
The title is is a reference to Naaman from 2 Kings 5. He was an army commander of the king of Aram who contracted leprosy and was advised by an Israelite servant to go and see the prophet Elisha. Elisha told him to go and bathe in the Jordan seven times. Naaman thought that was ridiculous, that it would be too easy. He was expecting an elaborate ritual to correspond to the severity of his disease. His servants basically told him, “Give it a try, what can you lose?” Naaman bathed seven times and was healed.
The Simplicity of God’s Mercy
Naaman’s cleansing is a fine image for our spiritual healing. No extraordinary feat was required of him, only faith and obedience. Many people look for difficult tasks in their relationship with God, but He has made salvation simple. Call upon the Name of the Lord, repent and believe.
If you find that overcoming your sin takes much longer than Naaman’s healing, perhaps many years, don’t be discouraged. A priest from our parish once gave a sermon about a penitent who confessed having lustful desires. This person had confessed the same sin many times and wanted to know when this fault, this temptation, would be gone. Father responded, “Probably five minutes after you die.” That might not seem like an encouraging thought, but our part is to persevere and rely on God’s grace; as the saying goes, the saints are the sinners who kept trying. In any case, whether the victory comes instantly or after a lifetime of struggle, God’s mercy is always there for us, calling us to repent and begin anew.
Because sin requires atonement, we are obliged not only to be sorry but to do something by way of reparation. We must make satisfaction for our sins, not because God wants to punish us, but because our souls will be embarrassed to come before the Lord stained with sin. C.S. Lewis once remarked on this, speculating that it would “break the heart” if God invited a soul to enter Heaven before it had been fully purified (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer).
Thus, we must either be cleansed of our sins in Purgatory or atone for them in this life. God’s healing is a pure gift of grace, but we must make the choice to accept what He offers, as Naaman had to choose to obey Elisha and bathe in the river. Again, our access to this grace is beautifully simple. As Catholics, we are blessed to receive it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Confession. Jesus instituted this Sacrament after His Resurrection, when He told His Apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:22-23).
Stumbling Blocks to Confession
Some people feel that confession makes matters too easy. They may think that “God forgives me and I say three Hail Marys and I’m good until next time.” It is so much more than that. The prayers we say are the symbol of God’s mercy towards us, and help to straighten what has become crooked in our souls. Yes, sometimes there are stricter penances; for example, in the case of theft, one must make recompense to the person who was robbed. The graces God bestows upon us in Confession are more precious than silver or gold.
Never allow anyone to disparage the prayers you receive for penance. They are simple but powerful, like bathing seven times in the Jordan. And never let anyone disparage the powerful Sacrament of Reconciliation with the dismissive “I don’t need to go to a man to confess my sins” nonsense. Christ knew that we would need to make our confession to His representative, not simply to Him directly. First, confessing to another human being helps to keep us humble. Second, hearing the words of absolution gives us concrete assurance that our sins are indeed forgiven. Third, we receive a penance, something we can do to atone for our sins.
Others may feel embarrassed or ashamed to go to confession. This is natural, but we can’t let pride and fear deter us from receiving such great graces. Once, in Italy, there was man who was worried about going to confession. He felt embarrassed. He thought the priest would remember his sins. The man was on his way to the Basilica one day for Mass and Jesus appeared to him. This happened every time he was on his way to Mass. He was afraid to tell anyone because he feared they would think he was crazy, or, worse, that he was making it up for attention.
Finally, after Mass one day, he approached the bishop and told him that he has seen the Lord several times. This bishop thought for a moment and then told the man, “Next time you see Jesus, ask Him what the last sin I confessed was.” The next day, on his way to Mass, the man saw Jesus again. This time, when he fell to his knees, he said, “Lord, please don’t go. I told the bishop that I see you and I don’t think he believes me.” The man said to Jesus, “The bishop asked me to ask You what the last sin he confessed was.” Jesus smiled at the man and said, “Tell the bishop, I don’t remember.”
The Sacrament of Confession is a powerful cleanser of sin and even bodily sickness. It is even simpler than jumping in the river seven times. By the grace of Holy Orders, the priest does not remember your sins either. I know this because I once asked a good priest friend of mine if he remembers the sins of his penitents. In all sincerity and truthfulness, he told me that he does not and that it is by the grace of Holy Orders. I was so touched that God bestows such a grace on His priests. I am so grateful to all our priests and I wish I could personally thank each and every one of them that has ever ministered to me. I always remember the priests who have died in my prayers.
So we have nothing to fear in Confession, and much to desire. When we confess our sins and receive absolution, Jesus forgets them. As with all sacramental operations, an indelible change occurs in our souls. We are forever cleansed and our sin is remembered no more. God is so loving and merciful to us, and yes, it is that simple.
A Fresh Lenten Start
The year is in full swing and now Lent has arrived. Often people like to make resolutions at the beginning of the year, but when they fail, they quit trying. Every day can be a fresh start, and even if you failed every day before, my advice is to start again. That is what I do and it really works.
The best way to do this by a short examination of conscience as you lie in bed before going to sleep. Make a short act of contrition, and when you arise the next morning, make the sign of the cross, ask Jesus to help you this day and start over again. Our God is a God of never-ending second chances. He forgets our sins and loves us. Do not be discouraged by failure; everyone fails every day. Concentrate on the victories, even if they are small and even if they are few.
The best thing about being human is that God knows we are imperfect, He knows we sin and He knows our hearts. Once our sins are repented for, Jesus forgives us. It is that simple. As it is recorded in Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they may become white as wool.” There is nothing the Lord cannot forgive when a soul is truly repentant.
This Lent, I strongly encourage all my readers to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation often, maybe once a month. It is a great place to meet Jesus and to be washed clean of all your sins. Confession is a form of exorcism. When our sins are spoken aloud, the enemy loses all power over us. There is no longer anything hidden, all is revealed and laid bare, and the Healer of our souls, Jesus, refreshes us, makes us clean; and we shall become whiter than wool. The greatest words that I have ever heard, after the words of Transubstantiation, are when the priest pronounces absolution over me. When we are free in Christ, we are free indeed.