n. An outward sign
instituted by Christ
to give grace
I still remember reciting definitions from the Catechism as a young schoolgirl. The all-girls Catholic school I attended provided for religion class at least once per week. On this particular Friday, the teacher had called my name and I was to stand at my desk and define "Sacrament" for the whole class to hear.
I stood, nervous, hoping not to make a fool of myself in front of the other girls:
"A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."
* * *
I have never felt God's grace wash over me as overwhelmingly as I did on a special Saturday a few months ago. The week prior, my husband's family had been in town and one member of the family in particular had thought to point out everything she deemed wrong in the way I cared for my husband, my home and my children.
It wasn't a gentle sit-down where she could address her concerns. It certainly didn't seem like an honest desire on her part to help me become a better wife, mother and homemaker. It was more like an angry outburst -- like the bully on the playground that won't quit until you're crying.
When they left, our home was left in emotional shambles. As my husband and children recovered over the next week, I continued to feel a great deal of anger and, more than anything, hatred. I had screamed obscenities at this person, and I just couldn't shake the hatred. Evil had invaded our home.
The following Friday night, as I sunk into despair at those feelings I did not want to feel, I remembered the words I had recited as a child: "A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." I needed grace. I longed for grace.
* * *
I was early. No one else was at the church yet -- not even the priest had arrived -- and I was getting more and more nervous as each minute passed. I felt out of place in that pew, facing the Tabernacle and still unable to think a single good thought about anything or anyone. I prayed for grace.
Slowly but surely, Father John made his way to the confessional. As he approached, he gave me a warm smile that seemed to break a small slit through the hardened walls of my heart.
Once inside, I began to confess my sins. I saved the worst for last.
"...and I can't shake this feeling of... hatred. I don't want to feel like this, Father, but I can't help it. I've had horrible thoughts about this person and I don't know how to stop it." I was crying.
I looked up and found Father John's compassionate gaze, visible in it God's own compassion and mercy. I couldn't help thinking, "This man truly personifies God's love!"
Feeling relief at having confessed my sins, I could not understand why the powerful hold of the grudge against the person who had wronged me still held on tight. I listened to Father John's advice and found it good, though I wondered whether I would have the clarity of mind and enough peace in my soul to resolve to it.
Then he said the powerful words of the absolution and, all of a sudden, my soul surrendered:
"...and I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
As if God himself had blown the breath of life into my soul, what I experienced at that moment was transcendent. In a way that was strictly spiritual yet affecting my entire physical body, I was washed over with grace. The hate had melted away to leave... peace. It was something beyond myself, for I had no power to do it. What I could not accomplish on my own was surrendered to God through this sacrament; the fruit of it, grace.
I think back on those days as a young girl. Back then, religion class was about memorizing without thinking... and I've realized that what happened in the confessional that day was a fruit of the faithful obedience of long ago.
It was... evidence of grace.
Longing for God,
The Catholic Wife