From a reader:
Dear Father, 12 mo ago I accidently scraped a car parked but did not leave a note in the church parking lot because I was scared. I have confessed this 3 times but fear God wants more of me. It is probably impossible to find the person whose car it was so I give $20/mo to Catholic charities, and make many Spiritual communions. I have gotten sores in my mouth when I try to receive Sacramental communion so am scared to do it. What should I do? Please help.
That memory of guilt is a powerful thing, isn’t it? It can affect us little humans in so many ways. The connection of mind and body is amazing.
First, I want to remind you of something about the Sacrament of Penance. If you make your sincere confession of all your mortal sins and you are truly sorry and intend to change your ways, those sins are forgiven. They will not be held against you in your judgment. You don’t have to confess them again. Sometimes there are reasons to bring up a past sin that has been absolved, but absolved sins are … absolved! They are gone. They are no more, insofar as your judgment is concerned. You will remember them, but they are forgiven. You have have to do penance for them, but they are forgiven. I hope that is perfectly clear.
Second, we do have to do penance for our sins. That is a matter of justice. In your case, you harmed a person’s property, and you are not able to make restitution because you cannot find the person whose property you harmed. Giving money to charity is a good and laudable thing to do, but – strictly speaking – you are not making restitution to the person whose property you harmed. However, God does not ask the impossible from us. If you cannot find the person, there is nothing to be done there. It is pointless to beat yourself up with it forever.
By all means continue to give to charity as a way of doing penance, but be clear that what you are doing is not quite the same as making up for that particular scrape. On that score, you might have a Mass or two said for the person unknown to you, but known to God.
Finally, I don’t think you need to be afraid to receive Holy Communion. You have confessed your sins. You have more than likely done the penances assigned in confession. You have to the best of your ability tried in some way to make up for what you did. You have learned an important lesson. I think you can and should return to the reception of Communion, provided everything else in your life is squared away, and reflect on the mystery of God’s forgiveness. Moreover, some day in the future you will perhaps be able to meet in heaven the person whose car you harmed and you will be at peace with each other. Perhaps the scrape and your anxiety and, I hope now, recovery from anxiety, will have been a turning point for you to bring you to a deeper understanding of our fragility, our dependence on God’s mercy, and His great plan for each one of us.
During Holy Mass in the Ordinary Form, before Communion, the priest prays that we be free “ab omni perturbatione“. In the old ICEL translation that was “free from all anxiety”. In the newer translation he says:
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress (ab omni perturbatione), as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
A perturbatio is a powerful emotion or passion, it is also a mental or personal disturbance, disquiet. There is both a physical and a spiritual dimension possible in perturbatio. You are clearly experiencing that. A little “anxiety” can be a good thing. It can sharpen the spiritual senses. Too much anxiety can paralyze. Don’t go there. Reflect on the great mercy of God and how he embraced sinful men and women and helped them by grace to live holy lives. Think of Peter who denied the Lord. Think of Paul who persecuted the Lord in the persons of his flock. Think of the sinners Christ forgave during his earthly ministry. Think of all the other great saints we venerate, all of whom were in their turn sinners who needed conversion, forgiveness, penance and peace.
A great challenge for many who have deeply sensitive souls and who are more prone to emotion and memory is to unclench and accept God’s forgiveness.
Ease up, friend. Continue with works of mercy for others, and now be a little merciful to yourself.
Any comments will go into the moderation queue. I don’t plan to release many. Comments from priests will get greater attention.