I pray the rosary on the train most mornings when I go to school. I save the rosary on Monday for when I get back from school since I am always doing some last minute studying for epidemiology (there's a quiz every day for this class and let's be honest...epidemiology is just no my thing so it takes a lot of effort to have things sink in). This past week I went to San Francisco for the Society of Toxicology annual meeting.
The trip was "....okay." While my family was enjoying unseasonable warm and sunny weather in New Jersey, I found myself getting rained on just about every day and having to get something with long sleeves in order to keep warm in California. I did not place in the competition, but I had a great time learning new things and meeting the people that I will one day know like the back of my hand (everyone seemed to know each other on a first name, research interest basis). I got a lot of SWAG ranging from pens, to t-shirts, to candy, to amazon.com gift cards. I would be lying if I told you that this wasn't one of my favorite parts in the whole trip. The other favorite parts were lab bonding, seeing my old PI (one of the greatest women ever), dining at some phenomenal places, and...SAINT PATRICK'S (the church, not the day). I will have to revisit a few Saint Patrick's experiences later.
Though I wore my brown scapular just about every day, I had a tough time remembering to pray the rosary every day...or I would "save it for later." "Later" has the tendency to be forgotten due to my knack for getting distracted or tired. I know that the scapular is supposed to count like a prayer...but I just didn't feel like I was wearing it correctly. In a sense, I felt that I was too unworthy to wear it....like I did not deserve such love....like I did not deserve God's love. Let's face it, even though I have a Catholic blog and attempt to live my faith...I still fall short of the goal. I still sin even when I know that what I am doing is wrong. I still sin even when I know that it damages my relationship with God. I still sin even though I know that it offends God. Though I find it easy to forgive others, I have a very tough time forgiving myself.
You see, I cannot play the "innocence" card or the "ignorance card" even if I wanted to because I have a pretty mature conscience. I have studied sin, committed sin, sought to avoid sin, and have come to recognize sin far too well to ever be easy on myself. I know my limits, God knows my limits, and I am not fooling anyone when I try the "I couldn't help it" or "the temptation was too strong for me" excuses. I can help it. No temptation is too strong for me when I put my whole trust in God. Yet, for whatever reason, I still fall short of being the Catholic Christian that I can be.
Why? Well, I am imperfect. I am still able to give into temptation even with an informed conscience. I am still able to let my guard down. I am still able to give into the things I seek to avoid.
As much as this idea of imperfection causes me to change my life...or just seek change in my life, this idea can also be a temptation. I've seen it in my own life. I have found myself feeling too imperfect to go to a confessional because I don't feel sorry enough for my sins or because I haven't done enough reparation for my sins. Sometimes I feel like I haven't suffered enough for my sins to deserve the mere asking for absolution.
Do you see how dangerous these thoughts can be? This way of thinking has kept me away from a confessional quite a few times and, as a result, has made me unworthy of receiving the sacraments. In essence, this temptation does more damage to me in the long run than most of the other sins I commit on a day to day basis. Furthermore, this temptation brings me down and convinces me that I am unworthy of God's love and unworthy of the promise of salvation in Christ. This thinking convinces me that I have turned my back on Christ and that Christ has, in turn, abandoned me for more worthy folk.
Thoughts like this are enough to bring anyone down. They are a great temptation because they can easily turn someone into a dark, bitter individual convinced that God has abandoned the world.
Fortunately for us, however, that's not how it works. God loves us. God loved us long before we were conceived and he will love us long after we die. God sacrificed his only Son for our salvation even though it must have hurt quite a lot seeing us nail Him to the cross. The fact that He endured and continues to endure such pain and humiliation for us time and time again is a great demonstration of just how much he loves us.
Also, God knows what He's doing. He did not grant padres the power to serve as screens for Christ in the confessional, just to hear and absolve the smallest sins from near-perfect people. The priest in that confessional hears my confession and absolves my sins though the power of Christ BECAUSE I have sinned and BECAUSE I am imperfect. If we were all perfect, none of this would have been necessary. Christ's death would not have been necessary and neither would this need for confession and absolution. If God willed all of these things, it was because He knows enough about our imperfections and our nature to know that we are in dire need of his love and mercy...ESPECIALLY when we are at our worst.
With that said, I cannot help but recognize how absurd I've been acting with regards to confession. I have sinned and DESERVE to go to confession merely because I am a child of God. That's enough. That's all it takes. As long as I am truly sorry for my sins, this is all that's needed for me to go to confession and seek the sacraments. I don't need to be perfect to go to confession. I just need to trust in God. Furthermore, I can forget about this need to atone for everything before confession. What good is all this atonement if I do not learn from my mistakes and seek to repair the relationship with God that I have severed with sin? I know enough about myself to know that I am a fool when it comes to knowing my soul's needs. I am often too hard on myself and my self-prescribed atonement or penance isn't usually helpful in the long run. As much as I try to fool myself at times (out of vanity, pride, or just plain stupidity), I do not have years of theological training and study under my belt. I certainly don't have years of experience regarding sin and absolution either.
That's why I need a padre. If I truly feel sorry for my sins, I will have the humility to kneel in the confessional and listen to whatever advice, help, penance, etc. the priest offers. Oftentimes, this priest seems to know exactly what I should do. I've had moments where 5 months of doubt or confusion are solved by 5 minutes of one-on-one time with an awesome priest. Surely God must have been thinking of people like me when He figured out this whole confession thing. Why would He go through all of this trouble of calling young men to priesthood if He didn't love imperfect people like me? He certainly didn't do this just so priests could have something to occupy their time with on a Saturday afternoon. He did it for people like me.
Time and time again, I lose sight of this great love. I tend to lose sight of the basic love that comes with being a child of God. I've read that guardian angels stick with you until the very end, going as far as the gates of hell itself in a last minute attempt to get you to turn back to God. If this is the case, it certainly demonstrates just how many chances we have to turn back to God. I have a tough time just accepting this infinite love with my whole heart...in a way where it's not something I have to think about it. I want to accept it in a way where I feel this great love at all moments of my life. I want to feel it even when that fear of imperfection creeps up on me, telling me to distance myself from God. I am convinced that simply accepting this infinite love as is (without adding any of my own conditions to it) will help me pray in a way where it doesn't have to become a routine. I know that it would certainly help me achieve some form of perfection.
"Love God then do whatever you want"
If I truly want to pray genuinely, live my faith genuinely, and even genuinely avoid sin....then I must love God genuinely. I am to love Him thoroughly and without reservation....but I cannot do this until I accept the fact that HE ALREADY LOVES ME THIS WAY. With that said, I am beginning to understand the quote above from Saint Augustine. It isn't simply about loving God and then allowing this love to govern your every thought, word, and deed...it is about allowing God to love you and ACCEPTING this love. True acceptance of this love would, I am sure, lead me to a confessional every week....spontaneous prayer every day...and so much reverence at every moment of my life that I would no longer get distracted.