Sunday, April 03, 2011

I get tired of going to confession. It's always the same sins I confess. Does it even work? Why do I bother?

Of course it's the same sins.  Of course it works.  Of course you should bother.

Rare is the case when a sinner is immediately healed of all concupiscence, at least for some particular kind of sin or other.

Is it not hard to stop smoking?  Of course it is.  Would it not still be hard if it were only a habit and nicotine were not addictive?  Yes, it would.

Is it not hard for an alcoholic to stop drinking?  Is it not dangerous for a recovering alcoholic to pick up just one drink?

The sacraments are grace, not magic.  Whatever immediate effect grace may have on our souls, anyone who has sinned and tried to stop sinning can tell you that the recovery in the physical world tends to be proportional to the damage done, proportional to how far one has backslid.

What would you expect?  That, having having conquered compulsive gambling one weekend, you would find you had suddenly become vulnerable to pedophilia?  Should you be surprised that the devil would play against your weaknesses instead, tempting you with chocolate because you like sweets and not alcohol because you already hate beer and gin and merlot; take advantages of the opportunities he has before trying to contrive new ones, and tempting a convenience store clerk with shoplifting before tempting her with the murder of a random pedestrian?

So you can't seem to shake one particular sin or a particular suite of sins?  Did you hope that turning your life over to Christ and going into denial about the inertia of your sin, the scar tissue on your soul, would cause reality to spontaneously conform to your optimism?  Okay, maybe you don't think of it that way.

Let's try an analogy.  I used to be good at that.  Or, I used to be bad at being able to communicate without them.

Say you have a garden in your back yard.  Sins are like weeds in the garden, and going to confession is like weeding it.  The weeds keep growing so you have to keep pulling them out.  The weeds keep growing because the seeds have already entered the soil, or because fresh seeds continue to blow in and deposit.  Unblossomed weeds are like concupiscence, the potential for fully-grown weed plants is like the potential for succumbing to actual sin.  New seeds blowing in are like temptation.  The overall climate of where your garden is, the soil condition, the surrounding flora and insecta, even the fruits or vegetables you decide to grow, will affect what weeds are more and less likely to get a foothold and take root.  Maybe you've got encroaching bent grass because of a bad landscaping decision the prior owner of your house made; maybe your neighbor has foxtail because her pine trees provide enough shade and soil acidity to let them thrive (or whatever; I don't know a thing about foxtail).

Each of you has different situations to deal with, situations that are fairly stable if neither of you does enough weeding and situations that nevertheless are going to get worse if you give up and do nothing at all.

So one day in April you find dandelions and pull them up.  A week later you have to go out and pull them up again.  Should you be surprised?  They're everywhere, and you can't expect to have pulled up the ones that haven't sprouted yet, any more than you can claim to have broken a bad habit because you resisted that habit one time.


But, over time, if you keep weeding your garden every Saturday morning, if you keep going to confession and really try to amend your ways and avoid the near occasion of sin, you'll find that as the spring turns to summer and harvest time rolls around, you'll have fewer weeds causing you problems at all; you'll find that as try to cultivate good habits and get regular infusions of grace, the grip of old habits will loosen and their appeal with decrease.  Even if you start by doing nothing but uprooting the most egregious weeds, soon you will find you have the time to give some attention to other noxious species that are harming your produce, maybe even some that might enable other opportunistic species which by themselves might not have posed any great risk.  At first, you'll be weeding the same things every time, but with grace, the garden itself will become hostile to weeds.  

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