Ask Mary: God’s Grace & Past Mistakes

Question: 

I have been struggling lately with my spiritual journey. I have made some awful mistakes in the past, and I am afraid that God is so ashamed with my decisions. I want to go to confession, but I am scared that God is too disappointed in me. I also feel that if I confess my sins the priest will judge my past mistakes. When I think about all of my brokenness, I become nauseous. Do you think I can start over and mend my relationship with God? I feel completely hopeless. Anything will help.

 

 Answer:

I’m very sorry to hear that you are going through such a difficult time, and I want to assure you of my prayers for you.

The short answer to your question: “Do you think I can start over and mend my relationship with God?”  is a resounding ‘YES!’  And you may not realize this, but God has already started the process.

What you’re experiencing—that sorrowful feeling for offending God in the past, that knowledge of the fact that you need to be reconciled to Him— that is called prevenient grace.  It’s a fancy way of saying that God loves us so much that He will run after us, even after we’ve completely rejected Him and done everything in our power to separate ourselves from His love.

My grandfather once told me that every time we think about God throughout the day, that is God telling us He loves us, and inviting us into conversation with Him.  We can’t think of God unless He first thinks of us.  The very fact that you exist right now is because God is willing you into existence— at this very moment.  He created you for love of you, and nothing you could ever do can change the unchangeable God.

Now, prevenient grace is meant to precede and prepare us for sanctifying grace, which is what we receive in the sacraments.  Particularly, baptized Catholics receive actual grace in the sacrament of reconciliation.  If you’re looking for a way to mend your relationship with God, there is no better way than to be reconciled to Him in the sacrament of reconciliation (see what I did there? :-P).   If prevenient grace is God calling us to Himself out of love for us, sanctifying grace is God literally pouring out that love upon us.  But you have to first go to confession to get it.

So, none of this nonsense about God being too disappointed in you or too ashamed of you to take you back.  He loves you more than you could ever even want Him to, and He desires your happiness more than you do.  If you don’t believe me, just read the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament and see how many times they screwed up, turned their back on God, worshipped other gods, and still, God was constantly faithful to them.

Come now, let us set things right,
Says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
They may become white as snow;
Though they be red like crimson,
They may become white as wool
-Isaiah 1:18

As for the concern about the priest judging you, I know it can be nothing short of terrifying to utter our most shameful sins aloud to a fellow human being and invite commentary on them.  But the good news is that the priest knows this too.  And he’s not there to judge; he’s there to confer absolution, to free you from your sin and guilt (through the power given him by Christ, of course).  That’s why he sits in the confessional week after week, hearing confession after confession.  And believe me, the priest has heard it all.  You’re not going to surprise him with anything you confess (Week after week, and confession after confession, remember?).

But in all the talk about being afraid to confess our sins to another human being, I think too often we overlook one of the best things about confession: we’re confessing our sins to another human being!  It’s not some emotion-less, dry ritual.  It’s real.  It’s one human being to another, talking about what actually matters. What a profound gift!  So don’t be afraid of doing it wrong or anything like that.  If you’re nervous, say so.  If you’re not quite sure how to begin, say so.  The priest wants you to make a good confession, and he is there to help you do that.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten about going to confession was to ask the Blessed Mother to help you make a good confession.  She will.

I’m praying for you.  Please go to confession soon.  Your only regret will be waiting so long.

Out of the depths I call to you, LORD;
Lord, hear my cry!
May your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy
If you, LORD, keep account of sins,
Lord, who can stand
But with you is forgiveness
and so you are revered.

I wait for the LORD,
my soul waits
and I hope for his word
My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak

More than sentinels for daybreak,
let Israel hope in the LORD,
For with the LORD is mercy,
with him is plenteous redemption,
And he will redeem Israel
from all its sins.

-Psalm 130

PS- Sorry for missing Tuesday’s post!  But it felt like Monday anyway, right? :)