Smelly Churches

By Jonathan Camiolo

A few weeks ago I heard a convert talk about the Catholic Faith.  He was formerly a Baptist and shared with those listening about why he loves being Catholic.  During part of his talk, he talked about the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation.  I thought his comments provided a good image.  He spoke about his experience of going to confession.  He said, “I hate going to confession.  I love going to confession.”  He spoke of the conflict of emotions that exist around the sacrament.  He spoke about how hard it is to open up and admit his sinfulness and the mistakes he makes.  He admitted the shame over the selfishness that exists in him and how he hurts others.

I think we are all that way.  So many young people I know, teens and young adults, talk about how they don’t like to go to confession.  Most adults say the same.  We just don’t like telling the priest that we were wrong and what sin exists in our life.  It is not pretty.  It actually is rather ugly when we think of how we hurt others with our words and actions.  Our thoughts can be judgmental, impure and self-absorbed.  We can be lazy and apathetic when it comes to being generous, helpful or really being courageous to stand for what is right and holy.

When I read the story in the gospel of Luke of the Prodigal Son, I can imagine he was like the speaker I heard and like each of us.  When he realized he was wrong, he did not want to ask for forgiveness and admit that he had sinned.  He instead delayed by working with the pigs in the mud.  He lowered his standards and ate scraps and what we might think of as garbage.  He did not want to humble himself and go back to his father.  I think he would agree that going to confession is hard.

After finally coming to his senses, the prodigal son approached his father to ask for a job.  He does not expect love and forgiveness.  He expects justice and hopes for a bit of mercy.  It takes courage and humility to go back home in shame.  He is surprised when he is welcomed home by his father with open arms and great celebration.  His father wants to give him everything he has.  He loves his son, and nothing his son can do will ever change that.  He takes back his son that stinks and is filthy; he has been living in a pigpen.  He must have stunk.  He probably looked like a mess.  His father did not care.  He welcomed his son home, had him cleaned and groomed and given new clothes.

As mentioned above, the speaker did not simply say that he hated going to confession.  He also said that he loved it.  He loved it because when he goes, he is set free from his sin, can truly come clean, and feel the loving mercy of God the Father.  He gets to hear God’s voice through the priest forgive him.  He feels better than ever when he leaves the confessional.  He leaves empowered by God’s love and grace to be more.

We are like the prodigal son; we are the prodigal children of God.  God our Father waits for us to come home.  We smell.  We are dirty from our sinfulness.  We need to be renewed, cleaned.  We need a “spiritual shower.”

During the Lenten season it is a great chance to go to confession, to be reconciled with God and all those we have hurt.  It is a great time to take the “spiritual shower” we need.  So many Catholics, young and old, have avoided the sacrament of Reconciliation.  The pews of our churches are filled with Catholics that have not taken a “shower” in a long time.  Let’s clean up.  Let’s get right with God.  Let’s humble ourselves, get back to the sacrament, and listen to the priest as he says, “You are absolved of your sins.  In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  Let’s see what our churches are like after that!

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