Embracing the Grace of Reconciliation

I feel like there is a huge stigma around the word “confession.” It brings instant fear when mentioned to a lot of people. But for me, when I hear “confession,” I think of the unique and beautiful gift that we, as Catholics, get to experience. In fact, along with the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of my two favorite parts of my faith. I did not always feel this way, though.

For much of my life, I, like many other fearful Catholics, would always try to avoid going to confession. I really disliked it. It was so intimidating to tell someone I saw every Sunday everything that I have ever done wrong and to wait for his response! However, when I was on a retreat in middle school, my youth minister at the time gave a talk about confession that really stuck with me. She told us it is common to experience fear as we approach confession, and she encouraged us to honestly communicate that with the priest. She also shared with us a Bible verse that really spoke to my heart:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

After hearing this, I sat there for a moment, digesting everything she just said, as I internally gave myself a pep talk. I really didn’t want to go, but I felt compelled to. Everyone else seemed willing to go, so I joined them in line, in spite of my anxieties building up. Have you ever heard the expression, “butterflies flying in your stomach”? Well, I had a whole flock of geese in my stomach at this point! I saw the knob turn and the door open… It was my turn. Tightly gripping a pamphlet with the “Examination of Conscience” and “Steps of Confession” printed on it, I walked right past the kneeler and straight to the priest.

I was beyond relieved when I saw that the man on the other side of the wall was Father Simon. Father Simon had been my favorite priest since he came to my parish years before, and he still is to this day. As I walked in, I blurted out, “Father, I am scared to be here.”


He said, “That’s okay; it is good that you are here. Thank you for being here.” Although I had heard him say that same catchphrase many times before, I knew he was right. It was good that I was there. He then proceeded to ask why I was nervous. I told him I was afraid of telling him my sins because I didn’t want him to view me differently every time I would see him for Mass or at youth group. He told me, “The only thing that has changed and will ever change is how proud I am of you for making the brave choice to be here.”

He then explained that I wasn’t telling “Father Simon” my sins. Rather, I was actually taking the action of apologizing to God “Persona Christi,” which, translated, means, “in the person of Christ.” Father’s words reassured me, and like my sins, my deep-seated dread of confession was soon wiped away, as I mustered the courage to divulge all of my past regrets and neglects. After I was absolved of my sins, I walked out of the confessional with a whole new perspective and a newfound love for the sacrament.

Perhaps you identify with many of these feelings regarding confession that I had prior to this experience. You may find yourself wondering, why do we have confession? Over the years, I have come to understand that God the Father wants to forgive us for all the times we have wronged Him. He longs to heal us of the brokenness we have consequently suffered. He longs to lift our shame off of our shoulders and to knock down the barriers that obstruct us from receiving His love. He longs to hear us apologize, so that He can tenderly say, “I forgive you,” and overflow us with His abundant mercy.

Fast forward: I am now an adult, and I love Reconciliation far more than probably most Catholics you will ever meet. I recently went to confession during Lent of 2021 and there he was— Father Simon. He was sitting there, waiting, and he smiled when he saw me walking in. He said the familiar, “It is good that you are here; thank you for being here.” Some things never change.

Before my confession even “started,” we talked about life and Lent and my family. I laughed, reminiscing about our first confession together, and we both were struck by all that had changed. Still, much like that middle school memory, I left the sacrament feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. It was one of the best confessions of my life. My heart felt so clean from not being able to go for a long time because the pandemic had taken that opportunity away from me. I felt so free.

After all these years, I have developed an eagerness to jump on every chance I am given to be able to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. I want to be able to grow in my relationship with Christ. I have a better opportunity to do so now that my views on confession have changed, and for that, I will forever be grateful to Father Simon and the works of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my heart.

Pierced and Poured Out

One Thursday evening, my friend and I enjoyed the leftovers of my grief, a meal that both fills and depletes you. I let the words out before finishing my plate, “My heart has been pierced.”

My friend inquired, “How do you do it? How do you keep showing up with your heart? I admire you for being so vulnerable and real. But also, I just don’t get it. You somehow still choose to trust, to leap and fall, even after you’ve hit the ground.

I looked down at my cup of tea, which was now more a collection of my tears than green leaves. Turning towards the image of the Sacred Heart, I smiled with tired eyes and said, “I had a fight with Mama Mary about this actually. I told her I was done and couldn’t take any more of this pain. I begged her to take my heart away. But she told me it is better to have a heart pieced, rather than no heart at all.”


There was a silence that followed this disclosure, and my heart was comforted by the company of a fellow overthinker. I paused before admitting out loud, “My biggest fear is being buried alive.” At this rather abrupt confession, we both shared an amused burst of laughter before I continued, “C.S. Lewis writes about a heart that is no longer penetrable. It is a heart no longer open to love, scared of rejection, and thus in a constant state of avoiding anything that could make it vulnerable. This kind of heart spends its life in hiding to stay safe, yet it is practically buried in a protective case made up of its own fear.”


Again, we sat in silence as we let the candle dance and burn. 


After a moment, I admitted, “That is much worse: to be buried alive in a coffin of my own fears of loss and rejection. I would much rather be fully alive in the feelings of joy and love, which do inevitably come with the cost of accepting pain. As my dear Brother Titus reminds me:

God gives us roses because He loves us, and thorns because He loves us more.

The kind of lover I want to be is one who does not take offense, but takes every opportunity to learn how to better serve the other person,” I continued. “This love shows up without an agenda. Rather, it becomes purer as it seeks only to give and never to take. I am not perfect at this love and there are many areas in my heart, which desperately need His Refining Mercy. We are not ever going to perfectly love one another. It is only to the capacity of our reception of His Love that we are then able to share Pure Love with each other. A heart that is closed cannot receive and likewise cannot share the gift of its Maker’s Love. That is why we must stay open, pierced and poured out, if we are striving to live in the Image of Our Creator.”


Upon further reflection beyond the setting of dinner with my companion, I came to the conclusion that perhaps it is better to be left hanging, just as Our Lord was left on the Cross… hanging and poured out, pierced and abandoned, loved by only His Mother and dearest friend—this was somehow the chosen vocation for God’s Beloved Son. And so, am I, His Beloved Daughter, not also called to the same fate? Are we not all called to be in His Family, carrying out His Legacy of sacrificial love?

Letting God Heal You from Trauma

By Caroline van der Wegen

When hearing the word “trauma” the first thing that comes up in my mind are terrible accidents, extreme injuries or emotional hurt due to horrific things that I have heard happened to people. I never thought that I would be in a situation where I would have to go to seek out help due to a traumatic experience. But this did happen, and I had to seek out help. And help came.

Let me take you back to March 1st, 2018. It was a Thursday, 3pm. I was working in Minnesota as a missionary for NET ministries. I am originally from the Netherlands in Europe, and I moved to the US in 2016, as I felt the call to be a missionary. My family was still back in the Netherlands, which made that it was 9pm for them when I got the call. On the other side of the phone, I heard my sister in complete panic telling me that my mom just had had two seizures within a timeframe of about half an hour. A bit later, I received the diagnosis that no one wants to hear: Brain tumor.

There and then, I thought that I was going to loose my mother very soon. I cried on my roommate’s lap, cried in the chapel, cried at home. Being on the other side of the world, I tried to support my siblings and my dad as best as I could over the many video connections. In the days that followed, I prayed, I cried, I prayed more, took some walks, and cried again.

I had planned on continue serving with NET ministries the following year. But after receiving the message of my mom, I changed my plans and decided I would go home to support my family. I did not want to leave, as I felt very called to continue to serve as a missionary, but now I had come into a situation where my family also needed me. I prayed about the decision and had some conversations with my supervisors. I told God that if He wanted me to stay another year, He needed to be very clear. A few hours later, just before I had to let my final decision be known, my dad called me and encouraged me to stay to continue to serve as a missionary.

So I did stay in America and continued my work as a missionary. After this traumatic experience, I went to seek out professional help. I found a counselor who was Catholic, and she asked me often about my own personal prayer life. This held me accountable to dedicate some time every single day for personal prayer, during which I pray and simply sit with God. I started to see that the Lord was inviting me to let Him heal the wounds that this traumatic experience had left. He invited me to reflect on every wound, on every part of the experience, and to entrust these to Him.

Reflecting back, I can now see that God had placed me in a loving Catholic community so they could be a huge support during that difficult time. I can now see more clearly that God is leading me along the path of His great plan for me, even though this plan is sometimes difficult for me to see. I learned to rely on God in a deeper way, trusting that He will never ever leave my side.

God truly comforted my heart by inviting me to lean into His love, by providing the loving community for me and giving me clarity on what to do next. He cared for me by providing me with a great professional counselor. He healed my heart through His invitation to lay down my burdens into His hands.

And my mom, she received surgery and is currently stable and doing very well! All glory to God!

If you have gone through a hard experience, a mental health professional, such a counselor or a therapist, might be able to help you. Besides that, I want to invite you to turn to God in prayer and to ask Him to show you His unconditional and abundant love for you. Ask Him to heal you. He is right here with you, by your side and He will never let you down if you just let Him. Ask someone can to pray over you for healing. Be open to be healed. God wants to restore you, He is waiting for you. Now it is your turn to run to Him.

Entrusting the Past to God’s Mercy

By Rebekah Hardy

I was watching a college basketball game the other day, when I was struck with a vivid flashback of shooting a basketball over the backboard during one of my high school games.

I immediately cringed remembering how laughably terrible that moment felt as everyone watched my over-calculation. The referees didn’t know what to do, the opposing team was in shock, and my whole team immediately started cracking up. Our coach had to call a timeout to settle the team down. My teammates affectionately called me “rocket arm” for the rest of my high school career and we belly-laughed about it more than a couple of times. Looking back on this moment almost ten years later, I can safely say that my pride still crumbles when I think about it.

Unfortunately, the past can be a difficult place to revisit. Shame, regret, fear, hurt, betrayal… these are all feelings that play a part in our stories. Our relationship to our past can corrupt our present and future if we aren’t willing to submerge our every experience in the ocean of God’s mercy.

We see examples of this time and time again throughout history, literature and art— the tragic past that corrupted the villain is an all too common theme. From the jealousy of Cinderella’s stepmother, to the resentfully vindictive lifestyles of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and of Michael Goob in Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, to our own difficulties to move on from things that have happened, we see how this can be true. We see that our pasts need God.

When I taught middle school, there was a religious sister whose classroom was a couple of doors down from me. I’ll never forget the words she had written above the chalkboard in neat penmanship:

“My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.”

If you’ve ever struggled to reconcile with your past, I recommend taking these words of Saint Padre Pio to be your own. Sometimes the temptation to live in the past will arise, fear or guilt or shame will try to overtake you and steal your joy and put you down. Please know that this is not from God. God exists in the present moment. Do not buy into the lie that your past is unforgivable or that your past hurts are indicators that your future will also be full of hurt.

Whether the damaging or shameful things happened years or minutes ago, don’t try to carry them any longer. Our loving God didn’t suffer and die so that you would have a life of misery. God’s promise to Jeremiah the prophet is also a promise to us:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

My embarrassment in that story I described earlier wasn’t the only thing that came out of that awful display of athleticism. While that play may not have been my brightest moment, it sparked an inbounds play that no other team in our conference had. My co-captain and I decided to put that strength to use and while everyone on the other team was worried I’d bounce the ball in, my sights were at the opposite end of the court where she was waiting to catch the ball I was about to launch. It worked every time— no one ever saw it coming. We took a certain sense of pride in our “rocket arm” play. God wants to transform your shame into victory in this same way.

The hard question for us to answer in all of this is— are we willing to surrender our grips on the past in order to live in unimaginable joy? I pray that we can say yes to that.

Help us, O God, to entrust our pasts to Your mercy.

Freed from the Waters of Depression

By JJ Cephas

Not tonight. Things have to get better right? This can’t be the end of my story.

When I was 14, I learned what it meant to experience despair. I walked into a church, sat in one of the front most pews, went through all the motions of the mass, feeling nothing. I felt cut off from everyone around me, even the Lord, who was right in front of me. What I didn’t know then, and what I do now, is that would begin my long journey with mental health. For the next five years, I would spend hours each night questioning if tonight was the night I take my own life.

Depression is not something you stumble into by accident. It isn’t randomly found flipping through a magazine or surfing the internet. Depression slowly creeps into your life. It seeps in by the way we wish we could have more followers on Instagram, or how we wish we could have the best clothes, or have the best voice in car rides singing along to whatever Spotify playlist you have on that day.


Depression and its friends, anxiety and suicidal ideation, are much like a tsunami. When a tsunami happens, it isn’t a giant wave all at once that engulfs the coastal cities. It starts with water reaching farther inland in rather unnoticeable lengths and volume, until you’re at the edge of the beach and can put your feet in the water. You try to retreat back into the city, but there it comes, pushing its way through any barriers. It doesn’t mind your persistence– it will greet you in the end. But still, you retreat back, and still, the water rises up to your knees, and then you see the larger than life wave in front of you. Then, it devours you.


My life was overwhelmed by depression. I learned to fake a smile, act like everything was okay, and to keep my heart far away from anyone, even the Lord, behind the walls depression had built. Meanwhile, anxiety taught me to fear ever being noticed, to have a stutter when I was speaking to other people, and to never want to meet anyone new, for what if they saw me as worthless as I saw myself?


After depression and anxiety took their hold on me, that’s when thoughts of suicide entered into my mind. Without fail, every night, I would wrestle with myself to not take my own life.

In the midst of all this darkness, when I was a junior in high school, some might say at the peak of my depression, I went on a retreat in a last ditch effort. It was to be the last chance the Lord had to bring me back to him. His last chance to show me I was his beloved son. Man, did he deliver.


The theme for the retreat was “Mask Off.” We talked the first night about how we all wear these masks and this weekend we were encouraged to take them off. In obedience to my promise to the Lord, I took mine off. The next day, February 4th 2017, would change my life forever. So many beautiful things happened that day: I made the best confession of my life, truly basked in creation for a whole hour by myself, was reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for me, and then, in the most pure crescendo of love, went to adoration.


I went into adoration not knowing what to expect. I knew what was supposed to happen, but I didn’t know what the Father had in store for me that night. As Christ was placed on the altar, sitting inside the monstrance, I began to sob. For the first time since I had been a young boy, I felt his love and His grace flow into my heart. I felt Him hold me, as I sobbed in his arms like a small child, begging Him to help me understand why He loved me so much when I couldn’t even love myself. He simply replied in my heart “I just do.” It was the most pure, unconditional love I believe any human to ever exist could have experienced.


Unfortunately, I didn’t just magically have depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation lifted off of my shoulders in one day, but for the first time, I knew I had someone carrying that cross with me.


The next two years were not easier, if anything they were filled with more confusion and anger at the Lord for not making it so easy as he had in the North Georgia mountains. Nevertheless, on the night before I entered the 20th year of my life, I declared to my 400 instagram followers that my 19th year of life was filled with more good days than bad, and by a large margin.


When we hear “mental health,” many thoughts—both positive and negative—may arise, but maybe we should start thinking, how can I help? The best advice I can offer is to love. Love everyone like Christ loves them. I cannot tell you how many times my life was saved by a friend, most of the time a stranger even, loving me with a smile or a hello. A smile can save a life.


If you are someone who is like me, who has or is currently struggling with mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, etc., please know the Father loves you. He doesn’t care how unworthy of his love you feel. Believe me, I tried to convince him so many times that I wasn’t worthy, yet He still loves me today.


If you are struggling, reach out. Don’t believe you can do this on your own. You can’t. You need the support you will get from your friends and family. Look up local therapists in your area, seek out a priest you trust, or seek out a trusted teacher or youth minister. I was able to climb out of my dark pit that I had been trapped in for so long because I asked for help. Please, do the same. You will be amazed at what will happen when you do.

Finding Freedom from Same-Sex Attraction

By Emmanuel Gonzalez

Growing up, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the Catholic Church. Since I experienced physical attractions towards other men, I felt far too broken and “dirty” to ever find myself sitting in the pews at Sunday Mass. I despised God. I despised His Church and its “restrictive” teachings on homosexuality. And yet, even amidst the deep distance that I drilled between the Lord and I, Jesus patiently waited for me to return home to Him.

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Responding to a “Triggered” Culture

By Ava Hill

Trigger warning! Not necessarily, but let’s take a look at the meaning of “being triggered.” The concept actually originated in the field of mental health with the intention of aiding victims of trauma or disorders such as PTSD. For instance, a “trigger warning” may be placed on content involving suicide to prevent those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts or have experienced loss as a result of suicide from reentering into an unhealthy state.

Now, most of us who are familiar with popular culture know that this is not how the concept of being “triggered” is often used. In fact, the popular usage diminishes the real purpose of what it truly means to become triggered. Just scroll through the comments of any Instagram post—it does not even need to be politically controversial—and it is very likely that you will find someone who has been “triggered.” It is almost impossible for anyone to share their thoughts online without allegedly offending others. This may not be news to anyone, but this offense I am speaking of is more nuanced than your old friend from high school unfollowing you because you tweeted about your support for a particular candidate. As this habit of being triggered occurs most often on the political left, it often involves an accusation and questioning of the other’s morality merely because of their religious or traditional viewpoints.

I attended a liberal Catholic Jesuit high school. I met many wonderful people and, most importantly, received a stellar education. I could not, however, simply speak my mind or think out loud in any of my classes. It was not for the fear of others disagreeing with my viewpoints, but the worry that I would be deemed as a less-than-charitable Catholic. Yet, this is precisely what happened. In a very social justice focused Catholic school, I could not speak openly about how birth control distorted the theology of the woman’s body because classmates and teachers claimed that my privilege kept me from understanding why birth control is supposedly so necessary. Furthermore, students would stand up claiming to be triggered because of their personal experience with birth control. Now, contraception is another topic, but I assure you that the Church’s stance is one of the utmost charity and beauty. Like other topics that people become “triggered” by, it must be taught, discussed, and understood properly—which is rarely done.

Another distinction between finding offense and being “triggered” is when one is supposedly triggered and shuns the other person because of the apparent infraction. The response to the offending statement is no longer, “I am offended so I shall have polite discourse or leave the conversation until this blows over,” but rather, “I am offended so I shall create a permanent rift between this person and I.” Many of us have seen this when our long-time friends unfollow us or start social media arguments because we shared our thoughts on a controversial topic, and it is a sad reality.

Let us make one thing clear, when people become triggered, it is most likely because they have a personal tie to the topic at hand. This is vital to recognize, and it is one’s Christian duty to be present to simply listen to someone’s testimony of hardship. Our responsibility, however, does not end when we listen.

Additionally, social media is hardly ever a place for productive dialogue. Therefore, we cannot sit back passively as we watch the morals of our world crumble down and the souls of our brothers and sisters be lost. We must continue to speak for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Furthermore, as social media is a realm that seems to emit a great amount of darkness into our world, we ought to be the light source. If all Catholics were to delete their social media because they believed it to be a source for evil, it would only be because they let it become one. Thus, all the lost souls left on Instagram, Twitter, and the like would be left with no illuminating presence.

Ultimately, it is paramount that our prayer lives fuel our words. It is useless to babble on about God, the Church, and politics on our social media timeline if the Holy Spirit does not have time to fill us with His words. Then, if we feel passionate about and called to highlight a particular truth, we can feel confident that we are doing so out of Spirit-filled inspiration and charity, rather than arrogance. If people are “triggered” by our words, we can discern the true intention behind their meaning and act accordingly with kindness. As Christians, it is a grace, for we cannot go astray if we remain in the Lord and speak boldly and in love.

How to Start a Relationship with Jesus

By Ellie Pierre

July 3rd of 2019, Catholic Youth Summer Camp: I walked into a room filled with worship music, and before me stood Jesus in the monstrance. This was very new to me given that I’d never had an encounter with Him. I’d heard about Him, and I didn’t really think I needed Him. But I knew I wasn’t happy where I was at, and something needed to change. So I knelt down and held out my hands. I started to let the words of the song take meaning in my heart, and as I did, tears came—tears of repentance, tears because I wanted to change, tears because Jesus was real, tears because Jesus’ love for me was stronger than I could ever comprehend. I felt so close to Him at that moment, so loved, known, and held.

Let me say before all this took place, I was in a bad place. Long story short, I would make bad decisions that felt good at the moment, but once that moment wore off, I was left feeling more empty, lonely, and hopeless. I felt a longing in my heart for something more that I tried to cover up with things of this world. This longing was left unsatisfied until I started a relationship with Christ.

We can all have an encounter with God. But it is up to us whether or not we are going to let it change us. To have a relationship with someone is not just a one-time thing: it takes time, effort, and persistence. An encounter is only the start, just like meeting a person for the first time. If you want to start a relationship with a person, you have to take the time to get to know them. Here are things that have helped build my relationship with Christ:

Prayer

Prayer is turning the heart toward God. When a person prays, he enters into a living relationship with God.

CCC 2558-2565

You can’t get to know a person until you talk with them. Take time every day to talk with Him, being open to Him and everything He has to offer. It’s all free for us to receive. It’s just our choice whether or not to take that step to come to Him to receive it. He is here right now, patiently waiting for you to turn to Him so that He can shower you with His gifts and flood you with His grace.

The Bible

Above all, the Gospels sustain me during my hours of prayer; in them, I find everything that my poor little soul needs.

St. Therese of Lisieux

By reflecting on the Gospels, we understand how Jesus lived and how we are called to live and treat others as He did—not just by reading the words, but by praying them. This is called Lectio Divina. It involves reading attentively, reflecting on what phrases speak to your heart, resting in the silence of His loving embrace, and responding to what He is calling you to do.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

To love Mary is not to take love away from Jesus. It is to multiply, amplify, and grow in love with Jesus.

Fr. Mike Schmitz

If you are looking to build a relationship with Christ, Mary is the one to turn to for help. She was given to us to be our Mother and will point you right to her Son. Much like how the moon reflects the light of the sun, Mary reflects the love of her Son. Pray the Rosary, and meditate on the mysteries of Christ.

Eucharistic Adoration

The soul hungers for God and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.

St. John Vianney

Eucharistic adoration will bring you into an intimate relationship with Jesus. You can come to experience this intimacy just by sitting in His presence, truly believing in your own heart that before you stands your Savior, the One who bled and died for you, the One who knows you more than you know yourself, the One who has a love for you that is greater than anything you have ever experienced before. Just resting with Him in the silence of your heart will allow intimacy with Christ to flourish. Take the time to listen to what He is speaking to your heart.

I pray this helps you to start a relationship with Jesus—to experience a love, peace, joy, and freedom that exceeds everything this world has to offer. There is a hole in everyone’s heart that only God can fill. He created us to be in a relationship with Him, so why would we want to do anything other than what He created us for?

Loving God with the Heart of a Child

By Theresa Moore

Do you ever miss the simplicity of being a child? Those carefree, candy-licking, nap-taking, running barefoot in the backyard kinds of days? Most people have reminisced over these moments at one point or another. What is it about these moments that keeps drawing us back? I believe the part of those memories that is so attractive to us is the simplicity of them. And if we could remain this simple as we grew older, our love for Christ would increase remarkably.

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