The words of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on the day of her first Confession are very appropriate: “How awful are those words of unloosing after a thirty years’ bondage! I felt as if my chains fell, as those of St. Peter at the touch of the Divine Messenger. My God! What new scenes for my soul!”
What a tremendous expression of freedom is in Elizabeth’s words which depict a mystery that is beyond our understanding: the mystery of God’s infinite Mercy and infinite Divine Love. I can imagine Elizabeth Ann Seton after her Confession being filled with tears of gratitude and wonder. After her Confession, as she approached the altar with His Real Presence, she experienced a heart overwhelmed with light and joy.
Elizabeth described the words of absolution in the confessional as “awful.” She meant the awe of wonderment. In one instant, she was freed of all the sins of her past, of all those ‘thirty years of bondage.’ It was as if she were among the Israelites wandering through the desert and finally entering the promised land.
The absolution of Confession is like an intense Lenten season in which we come to a better awareness of our sinfulness through pondering the sufferings of Christ, only to find that on the Third Day, His promise of redemption and resurrection is fulfilled and is really true. What a celebration! What Alleluias burst from souls who have waited so long for that day! The chains of sin are broken! We are free to enter Heaven with Christ as God’s own children, provided that we cooperate with His grace.
“What new scenes for my soul,” Elizabeth wrote. She realized that, at that moment, her soul was free. It no longer held the burden of sin that it had carried for thirty years. Her soul had become pure! Her soul tasted the possibilities of eternal life, and she was overwhelmed by the thought.
This lifting of the burden of sin in Confession also may bring in its gentle wake new enlightenments. We are able to ponder truths with greater understanding and focus more clearly on those things that are most important in life. With daily examinations of conscience, and frequent Confession and Communion, we gradually see more and more of our own nothingness in comparison with God, and more and more of the glorious purity of His Light.
The oft-used analogy for Confession is that of an object coming out of darkness into the light. The closer it comes, the more visible its imperfections appear, because the light begins to illuminate what had been hidden in the dark. Rather than focusing on these imperfections, which can lead to despair, we should rejoice in the truth, the truth of ourselves and of Him Who is Truth, and “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Confession is the way of perfection. Confession is a sign of promise, of hope. As the rainbow was to Noah, Confession is a sign, but the sign of Confession is more profound and promises Life Eternal. Confession is an invitation to join the ranks of the Church Triumphant!
This article was written more than twenty years ago by Margaret Flagg, who had a special devotion to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose feastday we celebrate January 4.
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