Seeking Divine Mercy
(The Prodigal Son)
Brothers and sisters: “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to the tradition of men, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it.” (Colossians CH2; 6-15)
“For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the holy Spirit and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again, since they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt. Ground that has absorbed the rain falling upon it repeatedly and brings forth crops useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is rejected; it will soon be cursed and finally burned. But we are sure in your regard, beloved, of better things related to salvation, even though we speak in this way. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones.” (Hebrews CH6; 4-10)
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.” (1 John CH2; 18-19)
Admittedly, I have been no less materialistic or a sinner than anyone else so let no one assume I have a “holier than thou” attitude. It is by the grace of God that I have come to the realizations that I have today and I give thanks daily for what I have come to know.
Raised in a typical Catholic family, I attended catholic grade and high school receiving the standard education, which included classes in the faith on a daily basis. As many do, once independence was attained as a young adult, I began drifting away from the practice of my faith justifying my lack of involvement with my criticisms of the practices and doctrines that I disagreed with.
After entering my sought after profession a few years later, except for the occasional visit to church at specific times of the year, I became for the most part non-practicing in any organized faith. Oh I always called myself a Christian and never stopped believing in God but I developed the ideas over time that as long as “you believed in God and did your best, it was what was in your heart that mattered in life.” I also believed that it didn’t matter what denomination a person joined or belonged to, that Christian faith was Christian faith because in truth, all Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ through Baptism.
As far as the sacraments were concerned, I had a real problem with the sacrament of “Reconciliation” or “Penance” and came to the conclusion it was not a necessity. “I could pray for God’s forgiveness directly to Him and didn’t need to go through a priest or intermediary”. There were many other issues I questioned or disagreed with regarding the doctrines of my faith. For instance, regardless of the method, “birth control couldn’t be wrong” and although I was against abortion in general, abortion when it involved terminating pregnancy resulting from other than consenting sex would probably be justifiable. For many years I went on with these and other adopted ideas, attended mass only when I felt it was really necessary (convenient) and lived according to my own interpretations of faith.
In my profession I held a position commonly considered of authority in the community. I believed that I was doing the right thing both in my personal and professional life by practicing the faith I adopted (my own). Of course I had my share of struggles just as we all do. I believed I was in control and could justify whatever goals I set for myself (pride and ego were no strangers) as long as I was doing what “I” thought would be considered acceptable with God. As time went on the years went by and the cloud that concealed the truth became thicker and thicker until there was no longer any thought to it. There wasn’t time to think anyway. Daily life had become so consumed by everything I was involved with including the so-called material and financial goals that I pursued that inadvertently I forfeited authentic living and the salvation of my soul in the very quest itself. We live by the path we choose. In truth, the goals many seek are actually those dictated by commercial industry through modern society and often have no real benefit at all other than feeding the ego, pride and corporate wallets. So what is the point of most of the goals we seek? Is it nothing more than competing egos for the sake of satisfying pride? And what about all the periods of struggle and crisis we go through. Why is it some things no matter how seemingly simple, can be so difficult or even impossible to attain?
As questions came to mind I looked more intently at my past, at both good and bad events. Suddenly the cloud began to lift and I realized it was not me who had control of the events in my life at all. Where I once thought I had the answers, I had none. Admitting my limitations, I turned back to our Lord and prayed. For the first time in many years I prayed with sincerity of heart and placed all that my life had become and where it would lead in His hands. It wasn’t long before the awareness of missing Christ in my life became overwhelming but I still had those issues regarding some of the practices and doctrines of the Catholic faith. There were other Christian denominations available to consider so it seemed the best course to take was to look into those faiths until I found the one that was “right”. So many “Christian faiths” seemingly so similar to each other and many preached along the same lines as my way of thinking but yet I was very troubled over the fact that many seemed to have parts of the Bible missing and others had completely different interpretations than what little I was familiar with. Even considering a non-denominational faith didn’t help. There was just far too much missing causing too much confusion.
Now I had an insatiable hunger to learn all I could about our Lord but I wanted authenticity. I decided to research from both historic and theological resources tracing back in time and forward from the origins of recorded Christianity as those investigating in preparation for trial. The more information I obtained the more I came to recognize just how much I didn’t know about my own Catholic faith. I was ashamed of myself beyond explanation. The very doctrines and practices I had criticized were instructions and teachings given by our Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostles in how they were to live their lives, preach and continue His word through their successors in His Church until His return. Not one of the teachings and practices has changed in substance since the first Bishop of Rome, Saint Peter. The sacraments (seven) including the Eucharist were also performed without change, then as today.
I also realized something else. Regardless of who the founder of a given Christian faith was, the very basic Bible sources they adopted most often came from the original Bible as compiled and translated within the Catholic Church. I had issues with practices and doctrines more because they might have interfered with some of my choices in life as well as a lack of understanding and knowledge of my own faith. Not much different than the misguided issues that lead some to found their own faith based on their own “philosophies”. Of course some had other reasons but most often of a personal nature or agenda. And this splintering of Christianity has deceived many people who have no idea of what our Lord through His sacraments has given us because they have so many years ago been lead away from their parent faith. The only faith that can provide all seven sacraments and their founders were well aware of that at the time.
As Jesus Said; “…Simon, Simon! Remember that Satan has asked for you, to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may never fail. You in turn must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22: 31-32)
Wouldn’t “Sifted like wheat” look something like this graph?
In regard to the sacrament of reconciliation or Penance; many of those who have this sacrament available to them find it very difficult, embarrassing and yes humiliating to confess their sins to a priest. These are the most common reasons people are hesitant to do so and claim it is more acceptable to seek our Lord’s forgiveness directly. In reality, it is easier to say because they do not stand before Him. That idea only sounds acceptable as long as we are not actually confronting Him. But when you think about it, would anyone truly want to confront our Lord with his or her sins when He provided the opportunity for forgiveness before we faced judgment? And doesn’t this sacrament provide us the added strength through grace and additional incentive to avoid repeating our sins? Isn’t humility what we pray for in honor of Jesus Christ?
Unfortunately, many do not understand the seriousness of the need for confession or the greatness of gift it truly is as Jesus provided it to us through His Church. They forget the Church did not just form itself out of a group of “guys” who wanted to establish a club, but many take it that casually. This is the Church founded by Jesus Christ of which many who represented Him throughout history to today were horrifically martyred for their Faith. In the beginning, confession itself was performed openly among the congregation but we complain today to take advantage of it even in closed private session.
The key is, one must have true solid faith in Christ to realize the Church is in fact His established body on earth and with the authority He Himself placed in her as given Him by His Father, our Father in Heaven, including that of forgiving or retaining sins. It is not realized that this commitment one freely makes to reconcile with Christ through His Church is not only a provision of forgiveness, but healing through that forgiveness.
Many Catholics look at confession as something inconvenient, but even more so feel it humiliating. Yet humiliation is nothing but offensive to one's pride and pride is what leads most of us into sin in the first place. The degree of humiliation or embarrassment increases in correlation to the seriousness of the sin one has committed, rendering the sin that much more difficult to confess, and possessing more of a hold over us. This is Scriptural and no Catholic can deny this without denying Scripture itself. Even those of Protestant denominations who deny this can only do so through their denial of the Church as His true Body but they remain in opposition to Scripture. This is a sacramental gift, Jesus, our divine Judge, provided so that we may repent and amend our lives, and be strengthened in His Grace, expressing our contriteness of heart BEFORE we stand before Him in our final judgment, believing we have the time to prove our sincerity by amending our lives while still in this life. Just how deep is one’s sincerity in the desire to reconcile his or her sins with Christ if one refuses because “it feels embarrassing”?
Priests, as part of their devotion to their service to Christ have offered themselves through their sacrifices on our behalf for the forgiveness we receive for our own sins. In doing so, they take on a responsibility for our sins. There is no earthly benefit to a priest for having to sit in a 3' X 3' closet waiting to hear the worst possible things human beings can do to each other. Most sins confessed are not stealing bubble gum. Based on some of the experiences this writer has had in law enforcement and investigations, it is no secret how inhuman people can be toward each other. To imagine having to offer absolution to some after what they may have done would for me, not be an easy task. Something only a priestly servant of Christ could offer.
Jesus called upon all to repent and made it clear that the way to God the Father was through Him and ONLY through Him. That He Himself gave His apostles the power, grace and authority in His name to forgive us of our sins or retain them until our day of judgment; that this authority through His sacrament of reconciliation would be bound to whom ever they elected as successors. To be Christian means to believe in Christ, trust with faith and follow the Word of Christ in its entirety to the best of our human abilities. As far as abortion is concerned, look into the eyes of the unborn to know pure innocence. Understand the reality of what abortion means. The fact is man condemns himself when condemnation is at hand. But only our Lord can extend to us His Divine Mercy and forgiveness to those sincerely repentant.
I have shared my past ignorance here so that others may understand the common misconceptions and ignorance we may fall to. All Christians regardless of denomination are brothers and sisters in Christ through our Baptism. If we truly seek to know Him as we should, one day all Christians will again have the fullness of all the sacraments gifted us by Jesus our Lord.
May God Bless us all.