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Some people suppose that after a good Confession everything in the spiritual life will become easy, or the way ahead will be plain; yet they seem to be walking in a great spiritual cloud, unable to see the next step. They should believe that it is God who hides them within Himself. They are held by God, in God, as He urges them to take one step at a time, in faith, doing what is right and avoiding all that is wrong.
Christ is the way, the truth and the life: the only Saviour. Christ asks every Christian teacher, author, parent, religious, Clergyman and missionary to do what St. Paul did, who urged people to be reconciled with God, through Christ, in Baptism or Confession. It is as if Christ says, in this age of hesitation or even doubt: 'Would you send people to a false god or to false prophets?' He is the Way.
Just as the one way by which a person can lose weight is by eating less food, so the one way in which to emerge from spiritual and emotional unease is doing what wise people in the Church have always done: by using the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance ('Confession') and Mass with Holy Communion.
It's as if the Holy Souls are invited to wait, on a ledge, able to see the Abyss from which God has saved them. They cannot yet enter Heaven. Some people need a lengthy purification because, when on earth, they made compromises with the world which were scandalous or shameful, in the sight of God, Who sees everything. When our attempts to 'fit in' lead us to scorn or disobey God's Commandments, we shall have a prolonged Purgatory to endure, to be made worthy of Heaven, even when we have confessed our sins before we die.
A blanket of fresh, gleaming snow looks beautiful, but underneath are hidden the gloomy depths of the earth, with damp vegetation, and worms. Many souls are like this. Catholics who persuade themselves that they are not sinning, and who never go to confession, are good only on the surface, and ill-prepared for Heaven.
Some Catholics seem to lead pure, orderly, admirable lives - like a garden freshly-covered in a blanket of snow - but beneath the surface there is a great depth of filth, gloom and decay. The remedy for sin is Confession, and a renewal of God's grace within the soul.
Christ asks us to share the truth with hesitant Catholics, that the surest way to a holy life, and a confident but holy journey to Heaven, is to make a good Confession; then, freed from all sin, and trusting in Christ, in prayer, and guided by the teachings of His Church, the Way ahead becomes clear.
In Christ's sight, a person shows lack of love and respect for Christ when he is unwilling to prepare for an intimate encounter with his Saviour and God in Holy Communion. That preparation, for all who have gravely sinned, should consist of seeking forgiveness in Confession, called the Sacrament of Penance. In a state of grace, a person approaches Christ as if clothed in a pure garment of holiness, not the filthy rags of unrepented sin.
Those whom Christ has called has called to exercise a Sacred Ministry as members of the Clergy, in the sanctuary, should see themselves as required to live in such a way as to be always worthy to enter to ascend a flight of steps which symbolise the privileged ascent the priest has to the 'altar of God', to meet his Divine Saviour. Confession is the answer for any priest who has been deliberately unkind, disobedient or unchaste, or otherwise unworthy to be at the altar.
A Mass is valid, even if a man in valid Orders is in a state of mortal sin; yet any priest who believes that he is not worthy, because of sin, to offer the Holy Sacrifice, should seek another priest and make his confession, and be washed clean of his sins, by the Precious Blood of Christ Who chose and called him.
Some Catholics wonder why other Catholics look so light-hearted and joyful. There can be several reasons; but a main reason is because those who have had their sins forgiven have a peaceful conscience, and look forward to the joys of Heaven. Those who cannot be bothered to go to Confession, or who persuade themselves that they do not sin, do not receive such happiness and peace.
When a person has been brought to the brink of despair, because he feels guilty about the malicious gossip or slander he has spread, he can be certain of finding forgiveness and peace-of-soul if he confesses his sins, then makes amends, speaking the truth to the people he had misled, or had slandered.
It is not the Bishop's primary task to encourage people to 'save the planet' or merely to leave the world a better place - though we are trying to build God's Kingdom. The Bishop is a man who stands in front of the Abyss, his arms upraised, preaching, as he strives to lead his flock to repent of their sins while they can, to confess them, and to lead holy lives in preparation for Heaven.
Terrible loss is risked by Catholics too proud to confess mortal sins. If it seems strange that forgiveness from Christ through His Church, in Confession, is like a 'door' to a state of grace, and the promise of Eternal Life if we remain faithful, we need only consider the fortunate few who enter a small gate in the great fence surrounding a great Palace. They have access to great riches, beautiful galleries and artefacts, and a close relationship with the Royal family, having consented to do as they were asked.
St. John Vianney had lots of Confessions to hear, partly because he was brave enough to seek people out in their homes, and to preach about sin and Hell. He did not think it a waste of time to wait in the Confessional at the appointed time until someone came.
It pleases Christ when we examine our conscience, daily, recognise our faults, confess them and to try to change, by His grace. Whoever confesses sins should do so with confidence in Christ's love, and in His power to help and save.
After every Confession, every new start on our spiritual journey, we ought to move straight ahead, on the Way to greater sanctity. This means we should fix our eyes on Christ; with His help in the sacraments and in prayer we can avoid those routes which lead only to sin, in alienation from God, here and in eternity.
If we had a huge barn, that was full to the top with our sins, but then we confessed them sincerely, in the Sacrament of Penance, and received absolution, we could be certain that our sins are entirely banished, and that barn empty. Then our souls would be beautiful, giving joy to Christ, and hope to ourselves.
Just as a jug can only be swiftly filled with water if the lid is wide-open, so the gifts of God can only pour into a soul in full measure when the person opens her heart wide, to God, in deeply reverent prayer, with all sins confessed, all distractions banished, and an attitude of patience and trust.
Priests who find joy in the knowledge of God's love for them are like men who raise their faces to the sunshine to enjoy its warmth. Someone unhappy is as if holding an umbrella over his head, and shutting out the sun's rays. The umbrella represents any sin not yet confessed, or any injustice not yet put right, of which he was the cause. He needs to be at peace with God.
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