by Jane Taylor
posted Thursday, 16 Jul 2015 in The Catholic Herald
Queuing for Confession: ‘What a great leveller it is to be alone-in-company’ (CNS)
A former Anglican’s first Confession was an unfamiliar struggle between her honesty and her vanity – but, as she explains here, it brought her one step close to her Maker
Make no mistake: converting to Catholicism as an adult after growing up in the Anglican Church is quite a culture shock. It didn’t take me long to discover how the two world views collide at the mention of just one word: Confession.
Picture me not so very long ago on the naughty step at Westminster Cathedral for my first Confession following nine months of the RCIA. I was about tenth in an ever-lengthening queue and wondering if the Catholic Church might want to change its mind about having me at this late stage. I recall feeling uncomfortable and a little bit vulnerable about being so visible. Do I really have to do this? I asked myself. I’m not such a bad person, am I?
That day I was still (just) an Anglican, part of a particular church’s family, a regular worshipper infused with all the cultural certainties of being a certain kind of Christian as defined by the English Church.
And yet, when I look back on the extent to which I have become assimilated into a new spiritual environment since then – over and above its rituals, worshipping norms and dogma – I truly believe that the strongest affirmation that I was right to take the plunge came when I first encountered the Sacrament of Reconciliation, only to realise what I had been missing before.
Oddly enough, it is Anglican friends who have prompted me to try to articulate why this might be so. So thanks, you Anglican sceptics, for pointing me towards far greater revelations than I could have imagined were about to come my way. Some friends said: “It seems strange to ask a priest for forgiveness when you’ve already apologised to God, don’t you think?” Others asked: “Doesn’t receiving an arbitrary absolution when you are free to repeat your misdemeanour seem like a cop-out?” Others still said: “Isn’t it unhealthy and bad for your self-esteem to dwell on what you might have done wrong?”
As I shifted down the formidable queue (it was Lent) there was evidence of preparation at work: people silently working through the rosary, consulting a prayer book or kneeling in silence. That we were there for a common purpose, while each was in an atomised state, gave me a sudden, chilling sense that there could be nothing worse, no greater sense of cosmic aloneness, than being in spiritual limbo or exile as a result of my offence. What a great leveller it is to be alone-in-company – in a similar sort of way to when we ask our brothers and sisters to pray for us at Mass. One person, one body.
My turn came. All you have to offer is yourself, I thought. Plus – and this was the biggest challenge of all – give the most forensically accurate summary you can muster of the misdemeanour.
This doesn’t come easily. Will he think less of me, I wondered, that man in the shadows? I’m afraid that was my first thought, in my vanity. That probably reveals an old Protestant habit of inwardly doubting a priest’s authority as God’s appointed shepherd here on earth.
A confession with a small “c” at this point: in some situations, particularly when I feel exposed, I resort to turning on some charm. I reminded myself that I mustn’t do that today.
Once I was sitting down in front of the grille, which serves to inhibit any force of personality (either my own or that of the other behind it), I could be in no doubt that nothing less than utter integrity was called for. This was no place to bring up extenuating circumstances or excuses, or I would simply be acting in bad faith and spoil the whole thing. For it was the most fundamental thing I could do, this getting to the heart of the matter – of myself. I was guilty: that’s why I was here.
But what is guilt expressed honestly if not a way of engaging with a genuine sense of humility? And what is humility if it isn’t a way of plunging through the fog of self-delusion towards, if not self-knowledge (surely the work of a lifetime), then at least a deeper sense of the self? Somehow it is this which elevated our conversation and put it on another plane, ratifying the presence of the priestly intermediary and confirming the whole process as both right and necessary.
The Samaritan woman at the well admitted her dubious past after Jesus “saw through her”. She recognised him for who he was, as we as Catholics are asked to recognise the authority of our earthly confessor who stands for Christ. But here’s the thing: the purpose of the encounter in the confessional is neither that I be understood in a worldly fashion (helping me to “save face”) or that I should in any way cower in abjection.
Rather, I am required to take up the grace on offer by accepting from him both mercy and a signifying penance, in order to seal the deal. As St Thomas Aquinas wrote: “In Penance something is done so that something holy is signified, both on the part of the penitent sinner and on the part of the priest absolving.”
Let’s just say that when I emerged from the confessional I was not only lighter in spirit for shedding a niggling burden I had taken the trouble to face squarely, for once; it seemed I could also be one faltering step closer to my Maker as well. How big was that? I’d laid myself on the line for much bigger stakes because this small but significant sacrifice on my part amounted to nothing less than a brief immersion in all the Christian fundamentals of prayer, forgiveness, mercy and redemption in one go.
The will to do better after my Confession seemed to follow me around after that. Or, at least, the determination to “ever try”, even if it means I shall probably “fail better” next time, as Samuel Beckett put it.
No matter. What better preparation could there be for the Year of Mercy that lies ahead?
Jane Taylor is the author of the novel Over Here (Thunderpoint Publishing Ltd)
Dear children, I, as a mother who loves her children, see how difficult the time in which you live is. I see your suffering, but you need to know that you are not alone. My Son is with you. He is everywhere. He is invisible, but you can see him if you live him. He is the light which illuminates your soul and gives you peace. He is the Church which you need to love and to always pray and fight for – but not only with words, instead with acts of love. My children, bring it about for everyone to come to know my Son, bring it about that he may be loved, because the truth is in my Son born of God – the Son of God. Do not waste time deliberating too much; you will distance yourselves from the truth. With a simple heart accept his word and live it. If you live his word, you will pray. If you live his word, you will love with a merciful love; you will love each other. The more that you will love, the farther away you will be from death. For those who will live the word of my Son and who will love, death will be life. Thank you. Pray to be able to see my Son in your shepherds. Pray to be able to embrace him in them.
I greet all of those who hear and who are trying to follow Mary's messages. First let us again look back to what Mary told us on the 19th Anniversary. In that short message she only once again reminded us of prayer. We all know that Mary mentions prayer more in her messages than she does anything else. There is no message in which she does not mention prayer. The goal of the apparitions is peace and therefore she introduced herself as the Queen of Peace, but she speaks the most of prayer because prayer - prayer meaning also Confession, Mass, Adoration, and fasting - is the main tool toward achieving true peace. When we encapsulate everything in a few points, then:
1) Mary wants us to take time. When one does not take the time, then everything else just falls into the water and has no meaning at all. Nothing can happen if we do not take time for prayer. If we constantly make excuses that we do not have time, then this is simply not the truth. We have the time. The key for having the time is not the hours of the day, but is love. Whoever has love also has time. When one asks oneself how much time one has then the answer for this is the evening program here in Medjugorje, and so about three hours. Perhaps at home one cannot take these three hours in a row but one most certainly can take some time in the morning, at noon and then again in the evening. This should sometimes include Holy Scripture or another religious book, and when one does this then three hours come together very easily.
2) Mary wants us to pray individually, in our families and in prayer groups. All of this always begins with our own decision to pray. Even when no-one else on earth is praying, then we can always decide to pray and then begin to do so. Whoever begins to pray will certainly also experience that his family will eventually join them and that someone will then wish to start a prayer-group. It is often easier to begin or to find a prayer-group than it is to have one's family to join in, and this is because people who wish to pray come to prayer-groups. There where someone decides to pray a Rosary or to read some Holy Scripture with someone who is sick or who is alone has, in so doing, already started a prayer-group.
3) Mary wants us to change our motivation toward praying. This means that many people only pray when they need something and this is then pure egotism because such a pray never lasts long because when we do not get what we want we stop. When we do not get what we want we then are in danger of stopping with the belief that God one way or the other does not answer our prayers. Mary said in one message: "Seek God not according to your needs but for His love." So, when the inner motivation for prayer comes from our love for God and our liking to be with Him, when we love being with Jesus and Mary in joy, sorrow and glory in praying the Rosary, when we like hearing the word of God in Holy Scripture, when we like being with Jesus in the Eucharist, then the true motivation has been able to develop. Once this has happened then everything else can also happen and we then can also ask for and expect everything. Only when our love for God pushes us can we continue to pray and then also pray constantly. The fact that Mary prays with Mirjana on the 2nd of every month for non-believers -- this meaning for those people who have yet to experience God's love -- shows how one can solve the problem. She is praying for the experience of love and then, when one has received this love, one can also begin to pray. Mary has been praying for this beginning in the opening of our hearts and this is the reason why so many people have found their way to prayer here in Medjugorje. This beginning comes from the experience of love.
4) Mary has often said that we should pray with the heart. As soon as we pray out of love, the prayer with the heart begins, but for us, when we are at the beginning, it is also important to know that the external aspect of this prayer with the heart rests in our hands while the inner aspect does not. When we hear Mary calling us to prayer with the heart, and we out of love, and even when we do not yet know how to pray, decide to pray the Rosary, read the Bible and attend Holy Mass every day, then even if nothing at all is happening inside us, we will still have our start at praying with the heart. When we do this then the inner aspect of prayer with the heart can also begin to grow. This can easily be compared to the growth of a plant. If someone asks me when the flower will bloom, I must admit I do not know, but I did do everything needed externally so that it will do so. I prepared the ground, planted the seed, brought water and accompanied the plant throughout its growth, and hope that she will one day open and carry wonderful blossoms. This is the way with our prayer with the heart. We can take care of the external needs but the inner aspect is a growth that only God can arrange. And we must really pray that we may experience love so that prayer, the way Mary has taught us here, can then also happen. Finally she wants nothing except that we have through her Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit have a good relationship with God the Father. Mary also told us that those who pray have no fear of the future. When we begin to pray the way that Mary has called us and the way it has here been described in very short terms, then prayer will become an encounter with God -- God who created us, Who loves us, Who knows everything about us, even when, as Jesus says, a small hair falls from our head, and when we have developed complete trust in the Father, then certainly all fears will also leave us. We will no longer be in a fearful condition because of our past because we know that God is merciful, and neither for our future because we give everything to Him. In this time when many people are really spreading much fear, so much more should we open ourselves to God and let Him free us of all fears, and then give us peace in which to live, and then to spread this peace, which only He can give us, to all the others. We may never forget that fear is nearly always the result of sin, either ones own sin or the sin of another or of our surroundings. If we now leave away pathological fear, then we can really say that through prayer we can be freed of all fears, and especially in the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist because it is in these Sacraments that God's loving presence is to be felt. And precisely the loving presence is the freeing presence from all fears. This is why Mary says: "I am with you and I love you." So, whoever knows that Mary is with him and that she loves him also has but one more reason not to live in fear but rather in peace and in joy, and may it also be this way.
At the moment Ivan with his family and Vicka are here at home, while Marija is coming for the Youth Festival. These three are the ones that still have their daily apparitions while Mirjana, Jacov and Ivanka are also all here in Medjugorje with their families. As always one can say that they are living a completely normal life. Ivan and Vicka are the ones who speak with the pilgrims the most.
This month, since the 19th Anniversary, we have had many pilgrims from all over the world, not in huge numbers but still from everywhere. Of particular mention is the Retreat for Priests in Mary's School where about 300 came from some 30 countries. Everything went well and the many Priests were very satisfied with the whole program. At the end a Declaration came out in which all the Priests said that they all wished to follow Mary as mother of the High Priest. It is certainly important that all the Priests who joined us had good experiences for their own lives but also in the lives of the pilgrims who were here at the same time. In the Parish we also had a Faith Seminar with Fr. James and Sr. Margarita which about 600 people attended and then the last day was open and several thousand came for that. We know that many graces, including inner as well as external healings, were received. We are all very grateful for all these meetings and we recommend in the prayers of the pilgrims especially the program for the Priests because we all know how important it is when the Priests open themselves completely and then accept Mary's plans which are simply to bring all of us to Jesus - Jesus who is the only one Who gives the world true peace. We are now preparing for the Youth Festival and I recommend to everyone who reads these pages to pray for all who will be coming here with their inner needs and also for all those who will be assisting to make this Prayer Festival a great period of graces. As far as what we know we are expecting a good number. This month Mary is calling us...
DO NOT FORGET THAT YOU ARE HERE ON EARTH ON THE WAY TO ETERNITY AND THAT YOUR HOME IS IN HEAVEN
It is a truth of our lives that we are pilgrims here on earth. We know from where we have come. God has created us out of love and we also know where we are going - to our eternal home. This life here on earth is really only an introduction and a preparation for eternal life. That is why it is important for us to remain on this path, that we keep the right conditions on this path which is Jesus Christ, and the conditions are what He said about Himself: "I am the way, the truth, the light and life." Without light we cannot see, without truth we take wrong paths, and without the life that He gives, we are dead. For the path here on earth it is important that we retain inner freedom and that we do not get stuck to anything or anybody, and here there are many dangers that people close themselves and then hang onto themselves or onto other people, other ideologies and the material. All this hinders the path toward our eternal home. When we remain really conscious that we are on this path, that our life here on earth will some day come to an end, and that death is only a transition, then it will be much simpler to remain on the right path. Then it will become much easier to forgive, to love, to be merciful, to be good, because we know that everything is transitory, but when we forget this, then we will lose ourselves somewhere. Everyone who hates, who is selfish, who is dependent has already lost himself and will not be able to keep going. That is why so many people today are really empty internally or sad or depressed and no longer can find the purpose of life, because they do not wish to take the path that Jesus has shown us. When Mary asks us to fast and to fast with bread and water, she is trying to awaken us and make us conscious of and help us to cross that bridge, because over the centuries and throughout the history of the Church it was always the pilgrims who over weeks, months or even years passed from town to town as pilgrims. Pilgrims are those who travel to places where God showed Himself and on these pilgrimages the people could only take food that lasted and that was bread and along with it also water. So when we hear that we are supposed to fast with bread and water for two days, then we may deduce from this that Mary's intention is, in this fashion, to make us freer and so that we also behave like the pilgrims that we are. In this Jubilee Year and in all the years since the beginning of these apparitions, the Pope has often spoken about all of us being pilgrims and then called all Christians to visit holy places and especially the Holy Land and Rome in this Jubilee Year. Mary, as the one who comes to Medjugorje every day, is in a manner of speaking also a pilgrim and through her being a pilgrim she has also moved many people to knowingly become pilgrims and we must again be grateful for these 19 years and one month of her presence here and that many people by way of her presence have really accepted this way of the pilgrim because they have accepted the path of our faith. And we must really remain conscious that our eternal home is in Heaven. Then Mary says...
THAT IS WHY ... BE OPEN TO GOD'S LOVE AND LEAVE EGOISM AND SIN
If we really love God, and because of it then open ourselves to His love, then it is the love of God that will lead us on this path. And Mary is praying that the love of God may be experienced by all those who have not yet experienced it. While those who have already experienced the love of God will then, due to their yearning for Him, pray, fast and go to Holy Mass and Adoration out of love and purely because God loves us and then we will of course seek Him with all our hearts. When we hear of St. Paul's experiences, he says that he would like to die in order to be with Jesus but, if it is meant to be, he is also willing to continue to spread the message. He, of course, also had had special experiences and that is why he could write that the human eye cannot see, the human ear cannot hear and that the human heart can never comprehend what God has prepared for us in Heaven out of His love for us. Once we have been touched by God's love in that way, we will certainly untiringly go on Mary's path to Jesus. Mary mentions egoism and sin in general that can hinder us on this path or that can close us from God's love. Egoism is to be closed inside oneself, to depend only on oneself and to place oneself in the middle of everything with one's own program, with one's own thoughts and will without wishing to accept God's plans for us. Every person who behaves egotistically has distanced and removed himself from the path and will therefore one day have to live in a dead-end, in a cul-de-sac, in darkness and finally in death. Sin itself distances us from people and from God and it is always the result of sin that people remain alone. And it is one of the primary rules of being human that people are never doing well when they are alone. So, God is Emmanuel, God with us, God who accompanies us, God who is constantly with us and therefore we should all be open to Him. Then Mary says...
MAY YOUR JOY BE ONLY IN DISCOVERING GOD IN DAILY PRAYER
When we meet someone who loves us, then we will be joyful, and joy is always connected with love. Joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and to discover God in our daily prayers is really a great assignment that Mary is presenting to us, but it is then also her great intention that we all ask God that He may give us the grace that we may encounter Him in our daily prayers with joy. Here we may also think of something that is to be found in love but that in a way may even sound as though it is a contradiction. When one loves then one really has two contradictory feelings. When one loves someone then one is always close to them and this even when they are far from them physically -- in our feelings and in our heart we are with them and we can never have enough of that loved person; and that is why we also always find ourselves distant from them. Here we have the contradiction, we are close to them but we feel distant from them while we are distant from them, but still feel close to them. This we find especially among the Saints and the true mystics who always lived inside this tension that always pushed them forward. St. Paul also writes about this when he says that he was taken by Jesus Christ but always stretched himself forward in order to take Him. So if St. Paul is taken, then what else is he able to take? This is precisely the love that had taken him and that was so close to him; but because he always wished to come closer to it, he also always felt distant from it. For this grace we should also pray. Then at the end Mary says to us...
THAT IS WHY, MAKE GOOD USE OF THIS TIME AND PRAY, PRAY, PRAY; AND GOD IS NEAR TO YOU IN PRAYER AND THROUGH PRAYER
In Mary's messages we have constantly received calls to prayer and this three-fold call is also not the first time. Mary is untiring with this call to prayer, and for this reason we should simply continue to pray so that we may accept prayer, to take time for prayer and constantly to turn toward God in prayer, so that we may feel His proximity in and through prayer. It is especially important that we feel this presence of God in Confession and in the Eucharist. We are at the height of summer and many people are on their holidays and it is here that we should be even more aware than otherwise that we should consciously take more time for God. And when we do so we may also not forget that this is a time for us. While I really wish everyone beautiful as well as restful days during their holidays, I also invite all of you to again pray with us. . .
Almighty and Eternal God, in the name of Your Son and with Mary, we wish to thank You for our lives. We also thank You for our path while here on earth and ask You, give us the strength that we may stay on Your path, that we may accept Your Son, Jesus, as our way, our truth, our light and our life, that we may find our way through all cloudiness, all problems and difficulties and that we may stride directly toward our eternal home. Give us the grace, that we may, once we go across the threshold of death, come to meet Your love and Your mercy, and that we may reach You in our home. Awaken in us a deep yearning for You, O Father, and for Your love. With Your Holy Spirit, open wide our hearts for Your love and in the name of Your Son, we denounce egoism and sin and everything else which hinders us from our path to You. Give us a deep yearning that we may constantly discover You in prayer and that it will develop as our joy to meet You as Father of Jesus Christ. Through the joy of Your love, free us of all sorrow, meaninglessness, sadness, depression and all other negative feelings, and give us the strength to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, so that we may remain loyally on the path to You along with Mary. Give us all a renewed spirit of prayer, so that we may accept with joy and take seriously the three-fold call of Your humble servant, and then stay in prayer loyally. Bless, O Father, all those who are praying, so that they may meet You. Bless all those who no longer pray and have taken wrong paths in their lives, enlighten them, and give them Your love, open their hearts, so that they may return to Your love, so that they may return onto Your fatherly lap. We also ask You for our deceased who died in wars, violence and accidents, so they, who You had prepared with Your Son, may come to You. Mary, help us to remain loyal, so that we may some day live in peace and joy with you and all the Saints in Heaven. So may it be. Amen.
It is with sadness that we inform you that Eileen McHugo has passed away peacefully after a long illness.
Eileen played an important role in encouraging people to go to Medjugorje in the early years of the apparitions, organising her first group to go on pilgrimage there in 1985. In 1993 a small group from Weybridge went with Eileen to Medjugorje along with a group from East London led by Sr. Immaculata. The groups from Weybridge and East London became firm friends and for over 20 years now have been going on pilgrimage to Medjugorje taking hundreds and hundreds of pilgrims with them to receive the many graces of Our Lady's presence in Medjugorje and encounter her messages of peace, conversion and love of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eileen was a very special lady who started something very important for a lot of people and was dearly loved by all who knew her. We give thanks to God for the gift of her life.
We pray for Eileen's brother, Father Jude, of the Josephite Order at St.George's College in Weybridge, her sister Barbara and all those who mourn her passing. Her Requiem Mass will be at 11.15am on Tuesday, 11th August at Nazareth House, Southend-on-Sea.
Eternal rest grant unto Eileen, O Lord.
And let the perpetual light shine upon her.
And may all the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
“Dear children! Do not forget that you are here on earth on the way to eternity and that your home is in Heaven. That is why, little children, be open to God's love and leave egoism and sin. May your joy be only in discovering God in daily prayer. That is why, make good use of this time and pray, pray, pray; and God is near to you in prayer and through prayer. Thank you for having responded to my call. ” Medjugorje Message, July 25, 2000