Skip to comments.Confessions of a Catholic Convert
Posted on 05/07/2008 7:28:23 PM PDT by annalex
by Elizabeth Ficocelli
A few years ago, as I served as a sponsor for our parishs Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, our class watched a video on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Although the piece was interesting in terms of its historical content, I felt it missed a great opportunity. The film reviewed proper procedure and obligation, but not once did it mention what a gift the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be for Catholics.
As a convert myself, I always thought confession seemed a confusing and intimidating practice of the Catholic faith. What was the purpose of those dark little rooms where you whispered the unthinkable to a total stranger? I didnt even like to think about sin, much less talk about it. It was only through the grace of God literally that I finally came to appreciate the beauty and significance of this life-giving sacrament.
Out of a Formal and Routine Past
In the Lutheran church of my youth, confession of was handled in a rather tidy manner. The congregation would stand and, together with the pastor, face the altar and read aloud a statement of confession. The pastor would then turn to face the congregation and read a response that essentially told us we were forgiven.
I dont remember feeling heartily sorry for my sins or heartily forgiven, for that matter -- it was just a part of our Sunday worship. I suppose I must have talked to God privately about my sins growing up, but forgiveness and reconciliation do not hold strong memories for me.
I was a catechumen in 1983 as a young adult preparing for marriage. When our RCIA class broached the subject of confession, the priest arranged to meet with each of us privately. I remember feeling incredibly nervous.
My faith was not yet strong enough to see beyond the man sitting across from me. I couldnt comprehend that it was Jesus and His forgiveness I was encountering in this sacrament. The priest was helpful and patient, taking me through the Ten Commandments one by one.
I squeamishly admitted my faults, looking to him for clues or approval. The next thing I knew, the priest absolved me and sent me on my way. I didnt feel any different and wondered if maybe I hadnt done it right. Puzzled, I decided that this part of Catholicism was going to be a learning process for me.
As I entered the Church formally and began receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a somewhat regular basis, I still found myself immersed in the "sin" part of the equation. I was focused on how terrible I was, how unforgivable, and completely missed out on the benefit of forgiveness.
I dreaded having to bare my soul to a man who, in my opinion, must be almost sinless (after all he was a priest, wasnt he?!) I was still concerned about what he would think of me, not only in the confessional, but every time we crossed paths. It was not uncommon for me, therefore, to go to other parishes when it was time to make a confession.
At the same time, however, something significant was happening. I was beginning to realize that once I made a confession, I truly felt better. Forcing myself to verbalize and take responsibility for my offenses and ask pardon for them really did make a difference in how I felt afterward. It was harder than my Lutheran way, but I was starting to see the benefits.
My biggest stumbling block remained not being able to forgive myself. I used to come out of the confessional disappointed by the Act of Penance to say an Our Father or something easy like that. I would have much rather been told to take ten laps around the church property. Still seeing things from a purely human point of view, I was unable to grasp Gods ready and complete forgiveness.
Then, I experienced a miracle.
Miracle of Mercy
It occurred during Lent, not long before Easter. I had just read the writings of a young Polish nun, the recently canonized Sister Faustina, and I was really excited about her message of Gods divine mercy. I was praying the Divine Mercy novena and had planned to go to confession on Divine Mercy Sunday for a complete pardon of sins as promised.
Inspired to share her story with my prayer group, I located a video about Sister Faustina and prepared a little presentation. All in all, things were going quite well. Thats when disaster struck, and I committed the most regrettable sin of my life.
A continual string of sleepless nights caring for my newborn was taking a serious toll on my patience level and rational thinking ability. One bleary morning, I lost what was left of my emotional control and raged against my four-year-old in a way that filled me with profound shame and regret. I was devastated and shocked at how such an unbridled outburst could occur during the holiest time of the year.
When I regained my composure, I immediately sought forgiveness from my son and, soon after, from my husband. I knew, however, that most importantly I had to reconcile with God. A part of me wondered if I could be forgiven at all.
The following day was Palm Sunday. As the Church prepared for its most holy celebration, I felt as if I should be counted among the ranks of Judas and Peter. Ashamed and unable to live with myself, I went to my parish to make a confession. My plan was to talk to a retired priest who heard confessions, because I was too embarrassed to talk with my pastor.
When I arrived at church, however, I saw 25 people on line for the retired priest, and only three waiting to speak with the pastor. Humbled, I joined the shorter line. God wasnt going to make this easy for me.
Inside the confessional, it all came out. Between sobs, I told the pastor the unpleasant details of my crime. He was very understanding and said pretty much what I expected, then he administered absolution. I still felt terrible.
As I was leaving the confessional, however, an amazing thing happened. I experienced an incredible, tangible sensation as if someone were pouring a bucket of water over my head. I felt washed clean, tingling all the way down to my feet, and feather-light, like the weight of the world was just lifted off my shoulders. I had never experienced anything like this before.
I recognized at once that God was giving me a hit over the head, an unmistakably clear sign that I was truly forgiven. He saw how my heart was breaking and how genuinely contrite I was, and he was happy to welcome me back.
His words, as given to Sister Faustina, occurred to me, "Let not even the weak and sinful fear to approach me, even though their sins be as numerous as the sands of the earth, all will vanish in the fathomless pit of my Mercy."
If forgiveness from God were always to come as tangibly as I was privileged to experience it that day, Im sure the lines for confession would be far longer. But I suppose thats where our faith must come into play.
Divine Dimension Holds Sway
God works signs and wonders in our lives according to our needs. Evidently, on that day, I needed something pretty significant to get my attention. From that experience, I was finally able to learn how to let go of my sins and truly forgive myself.
Today, when I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I no longer drag my feet, focusing only on my sins. Now, I look forward to receiving Gods mercy. Even though I dont feel it in that same tangible way, I know its happening just the same. I look forward to being unburdened, and feeling close to Our Lord once again.
Instead of seeking out priests I dont know, I can now go comfortably to any of the clergy in my own parish. Each priest has his own style, but the absolution is always the same because it comes from God.
Through the years, Ive developed a special relationship with one of our priests by making him my primary confessor. This way, hes better equipped to help me overcome obstacles in my spiritual growth as I live out my vocation as wife and mother.
For me, an adult convert, the Sacrament of Reconciliation has become a way of encountering Christ intimately and meaningfully, second only to receiving Him in the Eucharist. At last, I experience confession the way I believe God has always intended it: as a great gift. Forgive me, Father, for not recognizing this gift sooner.
Elizabeth Ficocelli is a Catholic author who writes for children and adults. Visit her website at www.elizabethficocelli.com
Published in St. Anthony Messenger, March 2003
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Happy Easter. Christ is risen!
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May I add my nephew? My brother, his father, was also a NYC firefighter and died when Danny was 3 years old. His mother wasn’t Catholic and didn’t raise him or his brothers in the Church.
The Family Way in Port Jervis
By JOHN WOODS
New York City firefighter Daniel Bright had wanted to join the Catholic Church for some time, but he was not going to do it without the other members of his family.
“I didn’t want us to have two different churches,” he said.
Both baptized Catholics, he and his wife, Janet, had become Methodists and until recently worshipped in that faith, along with their children, John, 10, and Ashley, 7. Still, the possibility of returning to Catholicism was a recurring thought to Daniel.
He met with Father David A. DeSimone, pastor of Most Sacred Heart parish in Port Jervis, where the Brights reside, a couple of years ago and began to take adult religious education classes. Father DeSimone’s lessons brought the Catholic faith alive.
“He’s a history buff and a good teacher,” Daniel said. “The classes are a lot of fun. I look forward to going.”
While traveling on an airplane last spring, Daniel spoke with a seatmate who gave a personal witness about Catholicism and encouraged him to listen to the tapes of a leading Catholic evangelist, Dr. Scott Hahn, which he found very fruitful.
From time to time he would ask his wife about whether she wanted to join as well so that the family could remain united in one church. At Christmas time in 2000 the Brights attended Masses at Most Sacred Heart. Janet continued to have reservations. Then Sept. 11 came.
Daniel, a six-year firefighter who serves with Ladder 46 on Bailey Avenue in his native Bronx, was on vacation that day. He was recalled at noon and went down to Ground Zero the next day. He and his wife lost “a good dozen people we knewfiremenwise,” including a close friend. Those first few weeks after the tragic attacks were a tough time for the Bright family, as Daniel was away from home more than not.
“I didn’t see my family much at all,” he told me on the phone. “I think it really showed her what a dangerous job it is.”
Little things sometimes mean a lot. Janet was heartened that the doors of Most Sacred Heart were open to her and others who needed a place of solace after Sept. 11. She soon made the decision to join her husband and other adults in the Wednesday evening formation classes with Father DeSimone. Their children also are now enrolled in the parish religious education program.
Janet and Daniel will receive the sacraments of confirmation and First Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass at Most Sacred Heart. Their son will receive First Eucharist at the same, and their daughter will make the sacrament along with her fellow second-graders.
To cap the celebration at the Easter Vigil, Janet and Daniel will take their wedding vows as members of the Catholic Church. The couple’s mothers are coming in from Michigan and Ohio, and other family members and friends are expected to attend.
“It’s going to be quite a day,” Daniel said.
Daniel is not the first firefighter to be brought into the Church by Father DeSimone, who is chaplain to the fire department in Port Jervis. Last year, he guided the entry of John Launt, the fire chief of Port Jervis. In fact, Launt and Daniel Bright both attended classes together with the pastor.
Father DeSimone emphasized that Daniel’s interest was the impetus behind his family’s conversion, and said Most Sacred Heart is eager to receive its newest parishioners.
“We’re a pretty small parish,” Father DeSimone said. “It’s exciting.”
Thank you very much for this remarkable testimony of faith.
By the way, — Dr. Hahn strikes again!
I sent yesterday’s ping using an old list, and you weren’t on it. Sorry.
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