Betty Duffy

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Conversion and Relapse

Read in the Gospel awhile ago, about the Gerasene demoniac, and couldn't help noticing that the lepers, the possessed, the ones whom Jesus heals always want to follow him, but he always sends them home to tell their families what the Lord has done for them. Or, in some cases, to tell no one who healed them.

I think I've missed this point in the past, as I've always thought the highest form of praise is to "leave all things you have, and come and follow me."

To those he has healed, Christ says, go home to your family. Go be in relationship with your people. Make reparation, which in many ways, is a more difficult vocation than leaving a tragic past behind and starting fresh among new people.

I wonder if Christ sends them home because of a propensity for relapse--the seven devils that come back to take the place of the first.

A friend recently related that her confessor says we are supposed to confess the same things over and over again--that it's a sign we are noticing the parts of our life that are in most need of conversion, the things that are true attachments, and obstacles to salvation.

If we only confess easy things that we can fix overnight, well, then, chances are we're not really examining ourselves.

Example: my three-year-old had the cough that makes you barf, so we couldn't go anywhere for awhile, and instead, I spent an entire day eating. I can't even recall everything--toast, cereal, popcorn, PB&J…I don't know how I did it, how I managed to always be eating, but somehow my day allowed it, and I didn't stop it.

It's become more and more apparent to me that I need to be more faithful with an examination of conscience at night time.

The morning prayer is all hopefulness, but the evening prayer is an accounting. In the evening, one has to reconcile and accept the reality of who we are. There's a sadness to the evening prayer, acknowledging failure, knowing the day has come to an end, and the only thing left to do is offer it up, sleep on it, and start again in the morning. The morning prayer is child's play, the evening prayer, an old man's nocturne.

Anyway, without the exam at night, I might never realize that my gluttony had crossed a line. I didn't think about it, and I would rather not think about it, and if I'd waited until my next confession to remember it, I never would have remembered.

At a Parish dinner early in Lent, the Altar Society served cake pops for dessert. I took one and put it in my purse, so that I could save it and eat it on Sunday. I don't usually pocket dessert at the Parish dinners, but cake pops are sort of a novelty, one I've never tasted before.

The Parish dinner was Wednesday, so the cake pop had to survive four days in our home before I could eat it. On Friday, one of the kids uncovered my secret hiding place, opened the wrapper of my cake pop and bit into it.

"No!" I said, taking what remained out of his hands. "You ate yours already. This one's Mommy's." The pop, now opened, would be stale by Sunday--there was no point wrapping it back up, so I shoved what remained into my mouth in one bite. It tasted like cake, which I have had before, many times, and then I felt annoyed that I broke Lent to eat it.

That cake pop was the beginning of the end of my Lenten observation. The next time I encountered a rogue sweet on a weekday I didn't feel as bad about eating it, and the third time, I thought, "Did I give up sweets for Lent? Maybe I actually gave up TV. Yes, TV."

A friend from Church who also has five young children said her cake pop lasted only until Saturday. It was a better showing than mine. But I asked her, what is it then, about this life, being Moms, being older, that makes it seem more difficult to stick to a Lenten sacrifice? We both agreed that when we were younger, we'd finish Lent triumphant--giving up sweets or coffee was hardly a challenge.

Here's what we came up with:

1. Nursing and pregnant mothers get a dispensation on Lenten fasting--a dispensation that we have gladly taken--which means for the past ten years, while I was almost perpetually pregnant or nursing, I fell out of practice with sacrificing foodstuffs.

2. We are more tired now that we're older and have more children. We are also more likely to rely on food or drink, sugar or caffeine, for quick energy in the morning or afternoon.

3. Both of us went through a reversion experience in our young adulthood, which gave us zeal, or spiritual enthusiasm for the rituals and practices of our faith. Ten, fifteen years later, some of that zeal has mellowed.

4. We now hold the keys to the pantry, and not everyone in the family has given up sweets. Which means, we're encountering sweets more regularly, perhaps as leftovers on our children's plates, or tucked away in places only we know.

5. Being home with kids, we are busy about the home life, but also, less busy than we were with 9 to 5 jobs, where food was stashed in a break room far away from the work area. Now we have more mental "down time" to think about food, and our work predominately takes place in the kitchen.

Which brings us to Holy Week. I have pause to think about how I observed Lent this year, and as usual, I've had a rather disappointing show.

My zeal for the rituals and practices of my faith has become more inclined towards those I used to find distasteful--examinations of conscience, Confession, rituals that illustrate how fallen I still am, how needy I still am, rituals of cleansing.

Can you heal me one more time, please?

"OK, then." said the priest in Confession. "Holy Week is a good time to get back on the wagon. Do you think you can do that, just for this week?" His tone was that of someone speaking to a child, still a child, here, at the end of the day.

Go forth and sin no more.


Dorian Speed said...

I feel so guilty now for not bringing cake pops to New Orleans.

Julia said...

I think the evening confession has to be combined with evening thanksgiving to be effective. Kind of infuses the repentance with grace, if you know what I mean.

On your list of reasons Lenten sacrifices are harder now you forgot:
- many brain cells migrated to the placenta and were expelled during childbirth. These are the ones responsible for remembering what we're supposed to be doing instead of eating.
- we've become habituated to other kinds of sacrifices (sleep, solitude, preferences, eating half a cake pop instead of a whole one) and perhaps are not as reliant on the more obvious ones.
- we've grown to realize that Lent is less about having a spiritual experience (as in "Ta-da! I had a great Holy Week and feel all inspired!") as it is about realizing where we are out of step in the rhythm of the Church year.

And yes, "My zeal for the rituals and practices of my faith has become more inclined towards those I used to find distasteful--examinations of conscience, Confession, rituals that illustrate how fallen I still am, how needy I still am, rituals of cleansing." Sounds like progress to me!

Julia said...

P.S. And next time you feel tempted to eat sweets you can do penance by counting the number of grammatical mistakes in my last set of comments!

Karyn said...

Love the line of brain cells traveling to the placenta - feels so very, very true.

I was going to go all out paleo for Lent - what a colossal failure. I could blame it on having a newborn, but then again, it's actually more work to procure sweets than it is to just fix up some meat and veggies. But I still somehow managed to do just that!

Diapeepees said...

Just turn the cake pop into another form of sacrifice. Let your kids make them in the kitchen. Sprinkles, hot melty chocolate, drippy runny batter, wet sticky children, wet sticky floors, wet sticky tables and counters...

Matthew Lickona said...

I remember Philip Roth getting really mad at Christianity's infantile character - we're all God's children forever, what about being grown-ups? And I thought I saw his point, until I realized how childish I was at heart, and was likely to remain, and how much of my childishness was related to my sinfulness...

Kimberlie said...

I am so glad to find out we are supposed to take the same things back to Confession again and again. I was feeling guilty about constantly bringing my selfishness, weakness, and same old same old back again. I truly did expect Fr. to say to me "again, Kimberlie? Seriously? When are you going to get this right?" Of course he doesn't but still, I wondered if he were just too polite to say it. I'm dead on serious. I am a convert, and even though it's been 14 years, I still feel like there is a ton of things Catholic that I don't have the hang of yet. Like sticking to Lenten commitments. Another fail. My brain cells didn't get lost in placenta because I didn't birth my children, but I do think my kids have somehow managed to steal them via osmosis.

Calah said...

It is a huge relief to know that we are supposed to confess the same things regularly. I was beginning to think that there was something wrong with me because my confession is like a broken record, stuck on repeat, with some small variations but mostly the same. There have been large sins I've overcome (at least of late) , but that took literally years of confessing the same.dang.thing.

Although I have to say that one of my favorite confession stories is from a friend of mine who used to confess drinking too much with such regularity (it was college) that our most wonderful and amazing priest finally said, "okay, here's the deal. For your penance, before you drink anything you now have to take two shots of olive oil. It will coat your stomach so you won't become intoxicated." Best. Penance. Ever.

My Lent has been horrific. I was so blindsided by pregnancy 4 that I literally said, "okay, for Lent I'll be in my first trimester." And that's all I've done. Easter is never quite the occasion of great joy that it should be when I look back and realize how lame I've been all of Lent.

On a sidenote, I love the vase and army guy picture and I'm so glad it's back. That was the first picture you had when I started reading your blog regularly and it's familiar and comforting. It suits your blog. Also, I just love it.

BettyDuffy said...

Dorian, I do wish we'd had cake pops in New Orleans. That's what started my idealization of them.

Julia, Thank you for reminding me of the gratitude portion of the night prayer. I do remember learning that at some point--that one is supposed to take stock of successes as well as failures. I don't always remember to do it, because it sounds self congratulating--but if one thanks God for one's successes, it changes everything.

ML, I wonder what Roth meant by being a grown-up. I don't really see "being grown-up" as a primary attribute of any of his characters.

Kimberlie and Calah--I'm not sure it's a black and white issue that we are supposed to confess over and over again the same thing. Just one priest that I know of said it. I've also had a priest ask if I was really sorry for an habitual sin, and if I wasn't and I planned to do it again, he said, "I can't offer you absolution." I really was sorry. And I really didn't plan to do it again. So he gave me absolution. But, then, I did do it again. And repented again. I guess if we keep fighting, we eventually win. At some point our faith in Christ's healing should become evident in how we live our lives.

Congrats on #4, Calah. Seems like everyone I know was blindsided by number four--but then got all buttered up for number five, wanting to get pregnant again. Something to look forward to, maybe.

nicole said...

Thanks for writing this. I liked reading about confessing the same thing. As a mother of 6, I can absolutely relate to what you write about keeping a Lenten sacrifice, even though I didn't give up sweets. Much to think about here.

Karen Edmisten said...

The real question is why our parishes serve us cake pops during Lent. It is, perhaps, a calculated move to strengthen us. I remember the year I was in RCIA, and each week during Lent the snack included cookies, brownies, etc., and naturally I'd given up sweets that year. "Are you *trying* to make us bad at this?" I wanted to ask. I never asked. No one ever answered.

twinwithtwins said...

I heard of your blog on the 25 Catholic Blogs list that was posted recently. I have read a few of your posts this morning and your wit and humor have given me a lightness of heart at the start of my day! Thank you for that!

I converted to the Catholic church in January of 2011 and confession has been a wonderful grace and a terror at the same time. I confessed to the priest how I am so frustrated about confessing the same things over and over again and he asked me if I really want to come in there and confess a new sin? That gave me perspective.

I’m so thankful that we aren’t left to ourselves and that the Lord has provided us the sacraments to draw us closer to Him. Oh, how much I would NEED them!