From Darkness to Light

It’s been almost three years since I’ve talked about the subject of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (post) and I thought it might be worth following up on. During that time, I can probably count the number of times I’ve been to confession on both hands, maybe even one. That’s pretty infrequent, considering that most priests I’ve listened to, suggest that you try to go at least once a month, sometimes more frequently, depending on your situation. The last time I wrote about confession, it was a positive experience. So, what’s changed? That’s what I’d like to talk a bit about in today’s post.

Here’s an important lesson I’ve learned in the last three years: the longer that you stay away from confession, the more afraid you get internally about going back. There is (at least for me) an apprehension and fear of going to confession that feels like a massive weight that I’m spiritually and mentally carrying around. It’s exhausting, draining, I’m constantly tired, and weakened. I’m more susceptible to temptation and feel further away from God. Staying away from Confession, from the Lord and seeking His forgiveness and mercy…well, that’s exactly where the devil wants you. It’s one of his dirty little secrets. I’ll explain why.

When the devil speaks, he is loud, confusing, seductive, condemning, pushy, (to name a handful of techniques), but I think he really loves to keep people feeling isolated, alone, trapped, like whatever you’re going through, just keep those sins to yourself, keep it unspoken, silent, and you can’t tell anybody, let alone a priest. And you know why that is? Because, once you begin talking about a problem, you can start looking at how to fix it. You can go to confession. You can receive forgiveness. You can begin to heal, and experience freedom. And that’s exacting what the devil doesn’t want. He wants you in chains.

A while ago, I saw this illustrated beautifully by a drawing that popped up on my Instagram feed. There was man, depicted as kneeling in the confessional, separated by a screen from a Catholic priest, and around the man’s neck and body, chains were being broken. It’s a powerful image of absolution. As we receive God’s mercy and pardon, we place ourselves once again under Him, and are no more slaves to sin and death. We are once again, baptized and confirmed, sons (or daughters) of God, and if sons or daughters, then heirs with Jesus. And how powerful that redemption is! We are spiritually speaking, no longer bound to that darkness, but restored to God’s light, and that union with Him.

But how can you tell when you’re beginning to drift? What can you look out for — those early warning signs? This process requires developing a spiritual discernment on the movements of the spirit, the consolations and desolations we go through, as written about by St. Ignatius of Loyola. I’ve talked before about spiritual discernment (post) if you’re interested in learning more. The gist of it is — how is your spiritual life changing for the worse? Let’s briefly take a look at a few questions you can ask yourself.

— Do you feel further from God?

(This might be spiritual desolation God is allowing to help you grow, but could also be sin separating you from God). During a recent Examination of Conscience, I became more aware of all of my personal failings and the venial sins that I’ve clung to, that keep me from being closer to the Lord.

— Am I paying attention at Mass? Am I praying every day? Am I spending time reading God’s Word?

When we remove ourselves from opportunities to have communion and fellowship with God, to understand what He wants for us and from us (through His Word), it creates an opening for the cares and worries and other messages to stream in and crowd out the good.

— Am I experiencing an increase in temptations, or temptations to graver degrees of sin (ex: from venial sins to mortal sins) than I was before?

Sin separates us from God. Sin makes us weak. Some sin (grave matter) is a form of spiritual suicide. When the devil finds a weakness, he will exploit it. You may find yourself having thoughts you wouldn’t normally have before, temptations to do more serious forms of the same sins that you’ve grown accustomed to/accepted their presence in their life. The devil loves wooing us towards these mortal sins that destroy our soul. If you find these temptations present, it’s a big red flag to examine your conscience, and get to confession ASAP.

These were all red flags and if I’d been paying attention, maybe I would’ve spotted the problem sooner. It had been almost five months since my last confession (yikes!) and I’ve been in a period of spiritual desolation. My last confession was in September, and I thought about going around Advent, but it just kept getting further and further away from me, and harder and harder to come back again. It’s probably no coincidence that September was also when I last felt closest to the Lord. I’d been to confession. I was making resolutions to grow spiritually. I read a book of essays by C.S. Lewis and blogged about it (post). And somehow, things went into a deep decline and that led to this recent visit to the confessional.

The great news though is that, God was there, waiting for me. He’s still there, waiting. Waiting for me. Waiting for you. Waiting for all of us prodigals to come home. So let’s not presume on His mercy, or delay too long. Let’s journey together, and trust in His unfailing help. Let’s make time every day and every week, to cultivate our relationship with Him, and to spend time with Him at mass. And definitely, to be on the lookout for those warning signs when we’ve missed the mark.

From darkness to light.

From sin to grace.

From slaves to sonship.

God is waiting for you.

Reimagining the Ignatian Examen by Mark E. Thibodeaux

review-pink1


The Specs:
Title: Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day
Author: Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ
Published: 2014 by Loyola Press
Length: 123 pages
Amazon Categories: Meditations
Source: Overdrive (free); Kindle price: $8.79


 Every time I talk about Mark Thibodeaux’s book, I always get the title wrong but when I explain, I think you’ll understand why. While it’s true that the author reimagines the original examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola in a fresh way, after immersing in this book and its devotional exercises for prayer and meditation, I think you will find that it reignites your faith and prayer life. So, I wish on some level that the title was Reigniting the Ignatian Examen, because I think that the contents of this simple prayer has the potential to stir those coals in our hearts and reawaken the embers of our prayer lives. It certainly is rekindling mine.

The book isn’t terribly long for the price and that may be my biggest negative critique. I like a chunky book when I’m paying more than $2.99 for an ebook. But where Thibodeaux could have tripled the length of the book and bogged it down in unnecessarily long treatises on prayer and meditation, or on the background of St. Ignatius and the original examen, he chose to take a different approach.

The first few chapters talk about how he approaches the examen and on creating your own opening and closing ritual. The remainder of the book is thirty-four days of meditations/prayer with different subjects, building upon what you’ve previously gone over. Ideally, one for every day of the month, and a few extras in case one or two just didn’t click for you.

There is also an appendix where Thibodeaux talks about some of the terms he uses (like praydreaming and prayimagining), which helped me immensely as I began my own journey through the examen. For the sake of full disclosure, I am still working my way through the book and God willing, will continue to be doing the meditations for some time to come. Since the majority of the book is just the individual guided prayers/reflections, you’re better off reading them at the pace prescribed, rather than treating the book as something to be rushed through and checked off a list.

The author recommends beginning once a day and advancing to twice a day (at lunch, and at dinner) and when you reflect upon your day, you can reflect upon how your morning went, and how you expect the afternoon to go, and then at the evening examen, review how it actually went, and how you expect tomorrow morning to go. This idea of a daily review, or even a twice-daily review, can really be an excellent way of keeping God at the center of our focus.

The examen will prompt questions such as…

Are we really living each moment to please God? Where are we acting in the faith, hope and charity that all Christians should be? In what areas are we floundering? What can we learn about our mistakes and resolve to do differently the next time? What do we think that God is trying to tell us about this area in our lives (or the areas we are guided to by the reflections)?

If this sounds like something that you’d be interested in exploring, please check out Mark E. Thibodeaux’s book, and leave a comment below and let me know what you think.