Recently, the kids and I undertook a huge project: we painted the kitchen cabinets. That is, we scrubbed the cabinets, dismantled them, sanded them, primed them, painted them, and painted them again and again. We also boiled, scrubbed, and spray painted the old hinges so we could reuse them.
Truth be told, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we started.
Sometimes the painting work seemed as if it would never end, our arms and backs were aching, and the older kids had to be patient with the younger ones. At one point someone threw a bucket of paint at someone else… it was an empty bucket, but it was the beginning of a paint war — we had to intervene quickly on that one!
Overall, it was a great team effort, though, and we were all pleased with the results.
While cleaning up, I realized we had drops of paint all over the kitchen…. on the floor, on the appliances, and on our kitchen table and chairs. So I spent a considerable amount of time scrubbing globs of dried paint.
And the more I scrubbed our old kitchen table, the more dirt I found! To my dismay, I realized that our table and chairs were actually gross! Certain chairs and parts of the table were literally caked in grime… ten years worth of baby food, pasta sauce, and dried ketchup. Much of it had been hidden by an old vinyl table cloth, and when we pulled it off, the flannel backing stuck to the table.
As I scrubbed and scrubbed the table, I wondered how I had failed to notice the grime slowly accumulating all these years. Every day I had sat at the table and I had just never noticed the dirt until cleaning paint drops made me inspect the table closely.
I realized the same happens to our souls.
How easy it is to become accustomed to our sins! Without frequent confession, our sins pile and accumulate. We become desensitized to them and don’t notice when our sins become habitual. Sins, like old ketchup, stick to each other and grow.
It’s like being in a room full of cigar smoke. When you first enter, you’re overpowered by the smell. Perhaps you’re even gagging and gasping for air. But if you remain in the smoky room long enough, you become used to the smell. Eventually you forget that you are breathing in the deadly, cancer-causing nicotine. You don’t notice it. You might even begin to like it.
Here’s an extreme example of what can happen when we allow ourselves to become desensitized to sin: This past winter, my husband and I watched a movie about Gosnell, an abortionist who was convicted for manslaughter. It’s the gripping account of his prosecution and trial. I found it chilling to see how Gosnell often appeared to be a benign old gentleman. And yet his abortion clinic was a house of horror, reeking with the nauseating stench of rotting flesh. When the police raided his home, they found it in utter disarray and the basement infested with swarms of insects. Gosnell was oblivious to the fact that both his clinic and his home were disgusting. His home and clinic seemed to be a reflection of the state of his soul; his oblivion reflected the state of his conscience.
At the end of the movie, one of our teens was confused by this. How could Gosnell think he was a good man when he was killing babies, even babies born alive? Such blindness to evil begins by justifying our sins. (I couldn’t help it. She made me lose my temper. It was only a white lie. It’s not really a big deal. If you had to deal with my constant stress, you’d be snappy too!) This in turn erodes our conscience as we fool ourselves into thinking that the sins we commit aren’t really sins. As the old saying goes: If you don’t live as you think, you will think as you live.
The formation of the conscience is an ongoing process. Even adults need to continually form and refine their consciences by examining them and feeling remorse for their sins. Without this, it is only too easy to slide down the slippery slope of self-righteousness into grave, habitual sin. This is only one reason why frequent confession is so necessary!
We must acknowledge that all of us are capable of falling into mortal sin. All of us are capable of criminal activity. According to tradition, when St. Philip Neri saw a man being sent to the gallows for murder, he said, “There thou goest, Philip, but for the grace of God!”
How much we are in need of the grace of God!
Because of COVID-19, many of us have not been able to get to confession. During these past three or four months, have we become desensitized to our sins? Are we more irritable or impatient, less trusting, more selfish, proud, or lazy? And do we blame it all on others or on the hardships brought about by the pandemic? Do we justify our sins instead of humbly admitting our guilt?
If you can’t get to confession, you can avoid becoming desensitized to your sins by making an examination of conscience. Ask the Holy Spirit to shed light on the condition of your soul (be prepared to be humbled!). Then make a sincere act of contrition.
If you can go to confession (many churches are finding creative ways to offer this sacrament) go as soon as possible and bring your kids with you. Don’t let spiritual laziness drag you into a state of lukewarmness.
I thank the Good Lord I have a husband who rallied our family into going to confession two weeks ago. It was easy to become accustomed to not going to confession during this pandemic. But our church started offering drive-through confessions, so we went. It was high time! We took our car and our van. The penitent sat in the car while the priest sat under a canopy and administered the sacrament. The rest of us waited for our turn in the van behind the penitent-car.
By the time we were through, the rain was pouring down along with God’s great mercy. It was wet but beautiful. Two days ago, we went again. This time, our poor pastor sat in the sweltering heat, but still with a smile on his face.
These good priests make such great sacrifices to hear our confessions. Surely we can make room in our schedules for receiving this sacrament of mercy!
This summer, don’t let your conscience become desensitized to sin. Make the effort to bring yourself and your kids to confession regularly. It isn’t easy. There always seems to be some resistence or some excuse for not going. But we must overcome such resistance in order to protect the integrity of our conscience and, more importantly, reconcile with God.
Our kitchen table is beat up, full of nicks and scratches, but it’s natural beauty shines once again. COVID-19 might have given your spiritual life a beating, but through the sacrament of confession, God’s grace will renew and restore the beauty of your soul.
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