Maybe it’s time to turn back to God. In times of trial—health, economic or societal turmoil, for instance—a person’s stress and anxiety can increase dramatically. Many, many people are feeling stressed nowadays. Maybe you, or someone you know, have been spiritually inactive for some time and now are struggling emotionally with the trials facing you. God didn’t create us to live in fear and anxiety but in peace. As Jesus tells us, He “…came so that [we] might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10) So, how do you go about getting some of this abundant life?
Take the First Step
For starters, let’s assume that you still carry remnants of the faith somewhere within you. Perhaps you just have been away from the faith for so long that it seems nearly impossible to even consider attempting to come back. What’s important is that it doesn’t matter how long it has been since you last engaged with the Church. It could be a matter of months, years or even decades. That does not matter. What does matter is taking that first step, coming back home. Our God is a patient God. He’s there, waiting with fatherly concern, for you and me every time we turn away, no matter how long we have turned our backs on Him. He created you with dignity, in His image, to share His infinite Love with you. You truly are precious in His eyes. God wants to deliver you from the enemy and to give you the peace that only He can give. The world won’t give you that kind of peace, and neither will the enemy of humanity.
Possibly during that long time away, some bad choices were made. Doesn’t that make it pretty difficult to really turn back? Some of you may be asking, “How can I come back after the way I’ve lived? Past failings don’t matter. What does matter is that you take stock of where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you want to go. Do you feel sorrow for the mistakes made, with a desire for forgiveness?
We All Make Mistakes
We all make mistakes. If you and I each take ownership of the questionable choices we’ve made, admitting our mistakes, no matter how serious they were, we’re getting back onto the right path. This path leads toward the joy that only God can provide. You can turn back from the past detours you’ve taken. You can look forward to a new life, even after being away from the faith for decades. All it takes is acknowledging past mistakes, confessing them to a priest, and making a commitment to avoid them going forward.
Now, confessing one’s sins to a priest, after being away for some time, can seem daunting. But Jesus came to forgive our sins, and He left us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, (also known as Penance, or Confession), to assist us with that. In this sacrament, the Church, through the priest as a minister, in the name of Jesus, forgives our sins. (CCC 1448) This restores us to God’s grace and reinstates our intimate relationship with Him. (CCC 1468) In turn, it opens us up to receive many varied and abundant graces which we otherwise don’t have access to when in a state of grave sin. This really allows God to work in, with and through us, for our good and the good of others. As well, the sacrament gives us the grace to strengthen us against further sins. You see, it’s all about grace–the grace of God calls you and me back to Him; the grace of God places us on the path of return. Only by the grace of God can you and I do this; we desperately need Him and His help.
It’s Easier Than You Might Think
But, if you’ve been away for a long, long time, how do you even go about this? One resource I’d recommend is from the Fathers of Mercy. They have a terrific, free downloadable document, Examination of Conscience for Adults and Teens. It’s useful because it combines a straightforward list of questions to help recall sins, with guidance on how to go to confession. It walks you through the steps to make a good confession and then provides an act of contrition you can pray when the priest prompts you. The two-sided, one-page document also covers vices, virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit and more.
But I’m A Good Person!
You or someone you know may have wondered, “But I’m a ‘good person,’ so why do I need to worry about all this?” Well, for one thing, nowhere in the Bible or in Church teaching do we find the maxim that if we’re a “good person,” we’re going to spend eternity with God. For one thing, in today’s relativistic culture, what you think makes a good person may vary substantially from what the person next to you thinks is a good person. You may think that living life according to some or many of the commandments makes you a good person. The person next to you may think that ignoring the commandments and/or not getting caught makes them a good person. God doesn’t call you and me to be good people, but to “be perfect” as our Heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48) He states further that if we’ve seen Him–Jesus–we’ve seen the Father. Therefore, the one exemplar for you and me really should be Jesus Himself.
Yes, We All Need to Repent and Receive Mercy
A theme of repentance (and with it, God’s mercy) runs throughout the entire Bible. As Dr. Ralph Martin states in Will Many Be Saved?:
“Unless we squarely face the bad news — original sin and personal sin have severe consequences — it is impossible really to appreciate the good news (God is rich in mercy; out of the great love with which he loved us we are saved by grace through faith).” (P. 201)
After all, what is repentance, anyway? In Yes or No?: Straight Answers to Tough Questions about Christianity, Peter Kreeft summarizes it as follows:
“Repentance is an act of will. It means turning around, facing God instead of running away from him. Like the Prodigal Son in the parable coming home to his father. Saying “yes” to God instead of “no”. Saying to God, “I need you. I’m a sinner and I can’t save myself. I want to do it your way instead of my way.”
God, indeed, is rich in mercy and wants to pour it out upon you and me when we turn back to Him in love, saying “yes” to Him, desiring forgiveness with a firm purpose of amendment. He, through His grace, desires to heal you from the effects of all your past mistakes and make you whole in Him. (cf. Eph 2:1:1-7)
Our Decisions Will Make a Difference
Please, as you read and think about this, reflect on the words of Pope St. John Paul II:
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”
You and I are human, and we make mistakes. Mistakes of the past do not define you; our Father’s merciful love does. Through grace, you are reading this, and through grace, God is calling you to a renewed relationship with Him. With the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you have a new, fresh start available. That’s just one of the beautiful aspects of our Catholic faith. It makes it easier to turn back, and rebuild your relationship with God if you’ve been away from the faith for a while.
Pray About It
But perhaps this is all a bit much to really take in right now. What to do? Take it to prayer. Talk to God. Tell Him what you’re thinking, and ask Him to reveal Himself to you–to give you a sign that the next step you’re pondering taking is the right step. This only takes a few minutes. It doesn’t require sophisticated methods or approaches. All you have to do is to start by taking the time to place yourself in the presence of God, beginning with making the sign of the cross. Spend a few minutes just talking with God like you’d talk with any other friend. Then, be quiet and listen, and finish up with the Our Father prayer if you’re so inclined. It’s that simple! Make this a daily habit. Over time, when you hear God calling you to turn back, you’ll know what to do next.
He is waiting for you.
“Do not lose heart in coming for pardon, for I am always ready to forgive you. As often as you beg for it, you glorify My mercy.“ (Diary of St. Faustina, 1488).