“Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” Ezekiel 33:10
When I was in college, I read an article in a psychology journal in which the author said that research showed Catholics were generally more psychologically well balanced than the general population. Generally, Catholics, the article stated, were less likely to seek or to need psychotherapy or counselling. The author went on to say that because of our sacramental system, in particular, our consistent and normative confession of sins and faults Catholics had a tendency to face their demons and receive guidance on a regular basis. The fact that confession required reflection, self-examination, acknowledgement of fault, a firm intention to try to do better and change our behavior, led to dealing with our interior issues. Dealing with our interior issues, naturally, led to changing our behavior. The frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation, with a deep self-reflection, a recognition of sins and admission of faults, an examination of our intentions and actions, with an intention to live a better life, meant that Catholics were more inclined to live reflective lives, and adjust interior and exterior behavior for the better. This sacramental system guided our human nature, gave us purpose, and formed our way of life leading to a more reflective, purpose directed, and constantly evaluated way of living. Catholics purged their souls, hearts, and minds and had a greater sense of being freed from the festering bonds of sin. Confession moved us from the mediocrity of settling to the purposeful life which was worth living. Consequently, a more well-adjusted psychologically healthy person resulted.
I’m pretty sure that as Catholics have fallen away from the frequent use of confession the number seeking counselling and psychotherapy has increased. Sad really, when God said through the Prophet Isaiah: Why pay for what is freely available, come to the water and drink (Is 55: 1-2).
All of this is no surprise to us as we believe that we are not simply a physical being but a spiritual-material being made up of body, soul and spirit. The body and the soul are created to live in harmony with each other and the soul “informs,” or directs, the body, heart, and mind. In the Garden of Eden this harmony between body and soul was perfect but after the Fall that harmony was upset. What was once easy and natural, became difficult. Sin, the turning away from God and therefore turning away from God’s love, grace, light, and our very purpose in life and destiny, weights us down and crushes us benight its terrible weight. Sin never seems heavy when we are being tempted to commit it, but it certainly drags us down when it festers in our hearts and souls after we have given into it.
The human soul, the human heart, is made to be loved by God and to love God. Without this love, cut off from this love, it can never find its completion, it can only fester and waste away. It becomes resentful, bitter, moody, anxious, demoralized, and lost. This is not what God wants for us and so God, a merciful Father, reaches out from heaven and touched our lives so that we might live again as He intended. God does this through His Divine Son, who is God’s Divine Mercy. One of the sacraments of God’s mercy is Confession which restores what is lost and crushed by sin – God’s life of love and grace. In confession God reaches out from heaven and restores us to life. He does this freely – that is mercy – the free compassion and gift from God.
In his book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week” the late Pope Benedict XVI, God rest his gentle soul, puts confession within the context of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. From the earliest times the Church understood that before we entered the Eucharist, we needed to confess our faults/sin. In the sacrament of baptism, we are washed clean and are made righteous (restored to God). But we fail to maintain this righteousness so that occasionally we need to be cleansed, but not completely, only our feet. We did not need to be baptized again but we did need to be made righteous, to be made whole. Pope Benedict state: “The point is this: guilt must not be allowed to fester in the silence of the soul, poisoning it from within. It needs to be confessed. Through confession we bring it to the light, we place it within Christ’s purifying love. In confession the Lord washes our soiled feet and over again prepares us for the table of His fellowship” (p. 74). In fact, confession allows us to live again free of the poison and crushing weight of sin pressing us down.
Mercy is a gift of compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation – it is not deserved but freely given and freely taken. In the Merchant of Venice Shakespeare called it “dew from heaven” when Portia said: “The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: It is an attribute of God Himself (Merchant of Venice Act IV, Scene I).
Mercy is a gift from God to us. It is a sign of a great soul when you see a person being merciful to others. Mercy is a “dew from heaven” that we can share with others.