Spring has surely sprung. During this time of year people set aside some time to "spring clean" their vehicles. The carwash business thrives during these warmer months. If your car is anything like mine, it is covered with pollen, mud, and some mysterious form of bird droppings??? However the outside is luxurious in comparison to the interior: energy-drink cans, dirty clothes, paperwork, leftovers, and possibly even a dead animal...or two. To be honest, we get used to the mess and only end up cleaning it because we are embarrassed of what possible passengers will think.
Like our cars, sometimes we get used to the dirty mess in our own spiritual lives. The trash in our hearts. We need a spiritual washing. We are embarrassed of what's inside. We are embarrassed of what others will think if they find out. My brothers and sisters, that's why Christ gave the Church the sacrament of reconciliation, "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld'" John 20:21-23.
We are so lucky to have the opportunity to receive visible and definitive absolution within the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so why don't we utilize it more often? Canon Law states that everyone who has reached the age of reason is required to confess his grave sins at least once a year. Canon Law also recommends that the faithful confess their venial sins as well. Blessed John Paul II noted in his Apostolic Exhortation that venial sin "must never be underestimated, as though it were automatically something that can be ignored or regarded as a sin of little importance." In fact, every sin partly closes us off from being able to fully receive the Grace that God is trying to give us. If we don't recognize that, while continuing in vice or giving into temptations, we run the risk of falling into grave sin which completely closes us off from receiving God's Grace. If that happens, we must remember to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation before we receive our Lord in the Eucharist, as that would compound even more grave sin within us. Regular trips to the confessional not only absolve us, they also fortify our spirit against future conflict, helping us to resist temptation and avoid instances that could lead us to sin. The Sacrament makes straight whatever bends we have created in the narrow path to our Heavenly home. The more we acknowledge and confess our sins to Christ through His ordained representatives in The Church, the stronger our consciences will become, and the closer we will be to Him. We will grow in holiness, and move farther away from a life of sin, even the "small ones". However, when you begin this growth in holiness, be prepared for the forces of darkness to try discouraging you into believing it is unimportant.
Are you nervous about confessing your sins? Do you feel weighed down? That is entirely normal, but think of the peace and freedom you will have once those sins are washed away! It's dangerous to think that there is no need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or that your sins aren't big enough to need absolution. We also need to remember that the Sacrament doesn't give us carte blanche to sin as much and however we want during the week, only to go and have it absolved on the weekend before Mass. We must have genuine contrition, and a resolve to turn away from sin in the future for it to be valid.
One good way to help be consistent with Sacramental confession is to form a habit of making a daily examination of conscience using the spiritual exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Call to mind the Blessings God has bestowed upon you throughout the day; ask for the wisdom to know your failings, acknowledge them and ask for forgiveness; feel the forgiving embrace of Jesus who is Mercy Himself; then resolve to avoid sin better the next day. When you do this, it will help you realize just how much we can fall short of our Baptismal promise, and it prepares you for the Sacrament of Reconciliation itself.
An important thing to remember is God's greatest attribute, His Divine Mercy. As Pope Francis said, "The Lord never tires of forgiving, it is we who tire of asking for forgiveness". The abyss of His Mercy is unfathomable, and so great that He was willing to be sacrificed for our salvation. Let us trust in this Mercy, and in thanksgiving embrace the life of sanctity completely. Ask our Blessed Mother to guide you into this holy life, as she is the perfect model of it. Make the examination of conscience and the Sacrament of Reconciliation a regular occurrence. I trust that if we do this, we will grow in union with our Heavenly Father.
Do not be afraid to grow in holiness, only be afraid to become stagnant in it. Confessing grave sins once a year may be the minimum requirement, but we should do more than meet the bare minimum; we should strive to become saints.
Imagine how great you feel after you wash your car. It shines and shimmers. Now imagine if you ran your car through the wash and it restored your vehicles newness- no matter how beat up or dinged it was. That's what the sacrament of reconciliation does for your soul! When you leave the confessional, your soul shines and shimmers and angels sing praise to God for your confession and for your restoration!