Fr Jack Feehily at PrayTell commented on religious fundamentalism. I was struck by his experience:
I’ve heard and made countless confessions over 42 years, my repentance was often woefully imperfect or even absent … confessing the same sins over and over again. I see this this pattern with great frequency, people hoping that sacramental grace will actually change them with no effort on their part.
I think there are two factors in play with the first sentence. First, that personal repentance (or contrition or sorrow or pricking of conscience) runs the gamut in us human beings from excellent to non-existent and bordering on magicalism. It’s just who and how we are. It doesn’t mean we stop trying.
Second, I’ve certainly been dogged by two or three persistent sins. And I’ve felt discouraged from confessing them or even going to the sacrament. But there are other graces to be experienced in sacramental celebrations–liturgy if you will–aside from the “magic moments.” Often the highlight of a celebration of the Eucharist isn’t Communion or the Word. Sometimes it’s a peripheral like music. Sometimes it’s personal like the expression of someone else’s faith or some Spirit-guided insight far away.
As for the second sentence quoted, my experience in 12 Steps suggests that we must indeed hope for a higher power to change us, because on some things, especially those persistent burrs that stick to us, we have no hope doing it on our own.
On the other hand, Fr Feehily is right: a hopeful penitent really must make an effort. To the extent our sacraments reinforce passivity and resignation instead of impulse and evangelization, they are unreformed relics of a tired age.
My wife and daughter were watching Moonstruck the other night. Aside from the “Snap out of it!” scene, I think Loretta’s confession at 1:03:02-1:04-37 here is my second favorite. The character attempts to tuck a serious sin in between two routine offenses. Her confessor gently rounds things back to the big one. He gives her a routine penance, but how the scene was handled struck me as very Francis-like. “Be careful,” he warns her.
Why would he warn her with such affection and feeling if he didn’t know her well, if he didn’t have an understanding of human nature, and if he had any hint she might well be swirled into something more serious than a full moon overhead?
For me, Penance gives God another chance to say to us, “Be careful!” The choices are ours to make. Over and over. Bad ones, too. But God’s ear is always open, and often, there are graces deep in the sacraments for which we can look. And expect to find.