Note from Steve Smith: This is part 3 of a series of three talks given by Carla Neupauer. Carla has most graciously offered these to Faith of the Fathers blogs for our readers.
Sacrament of Reconciliation
By Carla Neupauer
I want to start off by first stating that we are all sinners and that there is “Good News” in being a sinner. Why? Because we are the people that God came to earth to save. My personal prayer is that you soften your hearts enough tonight to realize the TRUTH that God did not come to earth in the form of Jesus to condemn us but rather to seek us out and save us. As St. Paul States:
“Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners- and I was the greatest of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as an example to show everyone how patient he is with even the worst sinners, so that others will realize that they, too, can have everlasting life.”
Based on this scripture, a favorite quote of mine is- “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” We must realize and admit that we are all sinners. It wasn’t long ago when I lived very a sinful life. I’d try to justify my behavior by rationalizing- God has got to understand today’s world, times have changed, everybody sinning, God can’t possibly send us all to hell. However, if you read the bible, the truth is today’s world is no different from biblical times. The world has always festered with sin and this is exactly why we need our savior, JESUS.
Our modern day society is very successful in desensitizing us against sin and dangerously leads us to believe that we can determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. This thinking is dead wrong. Only God possesses the divine authority to determine what is right and good and what is wrong and bad. Our “FREE WILL” only allows us to choose between doing right or doing wrong- we don’t in any way determine it. So yes, we can all choose to go to hell by our own choices. But know this, God doesn’t send anyone to hell- we freely choose to go there ourselves.
I personally know that when living a life of sin against God you are not whole and complete. You are empty, restless and life seems totally meaningless. After I surrendered my life to Christ one of my saddest realizations was that a lot of people on this earth die before they ever truly live. I know for a fact that new a car or a bigger house will never complete you. In St. Augustine’s words “our hearts are always restless until they rest in You.”
I want to share with you that from the moment I met my husband, I knew he was a gift of my prayers. In college, I denied my Catholic faith and I essentially became an atheist/agnostic. When I completed college and was truly on my own I began praying again- it was out of complete emptiness and pure desperation. I truly believe my husband was an answer to my prayers because when I met my husband, one of the first, most beautiful things he did for me was he brought me back to the Church. And he brought me back on a regular basis- as opposed to when it was just convenient for me to attend.
Within two short years of when my husband and I first met, we were married. God has blessed us with a wonderfully strong marriage, not always an easy marriage but a strong marriage. I wholeheartedly believe that our marriage is blessed because before we sought the sacrament of marriage, we both first sought the sacrament of reconciliation. I now understand that at the moment we decided to first seek the sacrament of reconciliation prior to the sacrament of marriage we were both consciously seeking to place God at the center of our marriage. Subconsciously, Jim and I knew we both had barriers or walls of sin in our life that would prevent us from fully receiving all of God’s love and blessings in the sacrament of our marriage.
For me, just the thought of going to confession after living a life of sin for so many years gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. However, I wanted nothing more than God’s entire blessing on my marriage to Jim so I died to pride and that dreaded feeling inside of me and surrendered my life to God. I actually physically shook and cried inside the confessional as I confessed all my past failings. Then, when I finally finished, the priest simply and lovingly replied, “Welcome Home”. That was a truly pivotal moment in what I now recognize as my long and continual spiritual journey in faith. All I thought is that God truly loves me and wants me here despite the fact that I am a sinner. So in the confessional, which at that time, was the weakest and scariest moment of my life God began to make Himself known to me. God is unconditional love- God is good, kind, and extremely merciful to a sorrowful, humble heart. God hates sin BUT He loves the sinner.
It was many years and many struggles later that I realized that it is in the solitude of the confessional when I most live by the way (or power) of the cross. It is in the confessional that I become soulfully naked and surrender my sinful life to God. He then gifts me with new life (His Grace). It is through God’s grace that the possibilities for life become endless and exciting. Philippians 4:13 reads “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.” Realize the sacraments are living. God is actually present in the sacrament of reconciliation through His grace (the power of the Holy Spirit). God loves humility so when I completely reveal my weaknesses and failings to God in the sacrament of reconciliation, God gifts me with His grace and through His grace HE inwardly strengthens me against future sin and temptation. The Holy Spirit fills me with love, joy, peace, true happiness and a feeling of being content no matter what my life circumstances may be. Ultimately, in the confessional, I am slowly being set free from the bondage of sin because in my deepening love for God I loose desire to sin.
And, let me tell you, the world’s definition of “love” is not enough to maintain a marriage. To have a strong marriage there must be three people involved- you, your spouse and God. You and your spouse’s relationship with God will have a direct and powerful effect on the strength of your marriage. Including God at the deep center of your marriage will keep your relationship alive, strong, and exciting. But, it is up to you both to actively pursue God through the beautiful life-giving sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. If you do not seek and pursue God, you cannot receive the grace and healing God has to offer you. To quote Luke 11:10-13, “For those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks.” If you had not actively pursued your fiancé seated next to you, do you think you would have fallen in love? God is always waiting for us to pursue a relationship with Him so we may totally and completely fall in love with Him. If you allow God, He will transform you inwardly by a complete change of mind and heart.
God has the gift of a new life waiting for all of us who choose it. However, contrary to modern society, the new life involves a lot less of me and a lot more of the other person. We live in an I, me, and my society. What’s he/she doing for me? I need more time for myself, I need to spend more time with my friends, I need to go to the gym again, I need more affection and attention- it’s endless. This is a deadly pattern of thought. Because of our original sin, we tend to think too highly of ourselves and think we always deserve something more from others- particularly our spouse. Your spouse is not your savior and through original sin we are all born very selfish and unwilling to sacrifice. Only through the grace of God can we turn our inner selfishness into the mind and heart of Christ. Christ’s love is a TRUE love that desires to give rather than receive. Jesus fully portrays this true love for us at the cross- this is my life and body given up for you. It wasn’t until just recently that I realized we aren’t just called to recall the very important scripture of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection; we are called to relive this Scripture on a daily basis. To quote Luke 9: 23-24, “If you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me. For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will save it.”
The sacrament of confession unveils us and humbles us before God. Confession removes barriers of sin so that the love from the Father can be completely received by us and then we in turn are strengthened to return that beautiful unconditional love back to the Father and share it with others around us, particularly our spouse. Christ conquered the death of sin at the cross- He became sin itself, died and defeated it through the resurrection. Ironically, it is through Christ, that our sin brings us to new life. The more we reveal of ourselves, the more we are forgiven- where there is much forgiveness there is much love and gratitude. Our anger dies, our bitterness dies, our resentment dies, our critical spirit dies, and our desire for revenge dies. We are now set free so that we ourselves may forgive and live a joyful, fulfilling marriage in and through the grace of Christ. (And, believe me, in marriage there will be no marriage if there is not much forgiveness.)
My prayer is that you don’t miss out on all the good gifts God has to give you to maintain a strong loving marriage. The world and society that we live in is against you and the beautiful sacrament of marriage. The traditional family of mother, father and children all living together in one house and getting along in a civilized manner is becoming extinct in today’s society. I want you to think about building your marriage on the rock of the sacraments and not the sand of society.
I know that the wedding planning and preparation for the ceremony is now very important to you. However, please realize that the ceremony will quickly come and go but your marriage is to last a lifetime. Please prepare for this very important sacrament of marriage by first partaking in the sacrament of reconciliation. Don’t foolishly only be concerned with cleaning and dressing yourself outwardly but more importantly cleanse and prepare yourself spiritually. May there be no barriers of sin between you and God on your wedding day so you and your future spouse may fully and completely receive all the love and blessings God has waiting for you.