“Wherever there is repentance, there is faith. Where there is no repentance, Jesus is rejected and His Church persecuted.”“One Bread, One Body” reflection on John 10:31-42
Over the past few weeks, a handful of lifechanging Confessions have been on my mind. Each resulted in a deepening of faith, but only after I humbled myself and turned once again to God and His Church:
A SECOND FIRST CONFESSION: Not long after Jodi and I started our family, I began to think about my dormant Catholicism. Aside from a brief period in grade school, I had grown up outside the Church and had a lot of questions, misunderstandings, and disagreements regarding Church teachings. Our priest in Michigan, Father Bill Zink, spent an hour or more allowing me to unload my spiritual baggage in his living room, then told me I should ask my questions from within the Church, after receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion again—in fact, he offered to hear my confession then and there. At first I refused; I said I didn’t remember how, but he offered to help me through it. I had to acknowledge the need for mercy and accept the invitation; to let go of my pride, humble myself, and return to God. That was the beginning of my reversion.
TOUGH LOVE: Several years later, I was still enmeshed in habitual sins associated with pornography. I would drag myself to the confessional, embarrassed and full of excuses. One particular confession, I found myself face-to-face with Father Leonard Siebenaler, who listened to my sins and explanations, then said, “You remind me of St. Augustine praying, ‘Give me continence, but not yet!” He said if I really wanted to quit these habits, I should tell my wife the truth and ask for her help. I left the confessional thinking, “That man has never been married.” A few weeks later, however, when I hit rock-bottom again, I recalled his advice and took it. I had to humble myself and acknowledge that I was weak and needed help—I couldn’t do it on my own. That changed everything!
PUSHED JUST HARD ENOUGH: With Jodi to encourage me and keep me accountable, I did better at uprooting sin from my life, but it was still a struggle. We were contracepting at the time and had never confessed it as a sin, because we didn’t regard it as one—we thought we knew better. Over time, though, I realized that something was still off in our relationship, so I dug into what the Church teaches on contraception and why. It made sense, so I brought more than a decade of contracepting to Confession with Father Michael Rudolf. He encouraged me to entrust my marriage to the Lord, but then challenged my resolve to stop contracepting. He pushed me hard before absolving me; in the moment, I was just upset enough to think, “I’ll show him! Jodi and I are signing up for Natural Family Planning classes, and I’m not doing this again!” He was right: I was still questioning whether I could trust God with our fertility. I had to humble myself, surrender control, and fully commit to following God and His Church. Our marriage was reborn that night, and my old habits were gone.
Repentance is how we participate in our own redemption. God loves us enough to save us from any and every sin we could ever commit, but He loves us too much to do it by force. The freedom, and the choice, is always ours, to humble ourselves, turn back to Him, and receive His mercy—or not.
This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy. Hopefully all of us recognize the tremendous gift God gives us in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus—an ocean of mercy that can wash away a multitude of sins. We have never fallen so far into sin that He cannot redeem us. But we also have a role to play in that mercy. Our God will not save us without us.
This post appeared in the Sunday, April 24, bulletin at St. Michael Catholic Church.