Home Opinion More opportunities for confession could make all the difference: Elise Italiano Ureneck

More opportunities for confession could make all the difference: Elise Italiano Ureneck

A hummingbird is seen getting nectar from a flower Sept. 28, 2019, in a garden on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua friary in Butler, N.J. In one of his most famous essays, "Joyas Voladoras," Brian Doyle ponders the glory of a hummingbird; those "flying jewels" whose heart is the "size of a pencil eraser" and beats 10 times a second. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

I recently became a first-time homeowner. After renting for nearly three decades, I have immediately recognized the blessings of this status change.

For starters, my husband and I have the opportunity to put equity into something; we have space to expand our family and dream about our future; and our children will have a place that they associate with the formation of their identity.

The challenges are also evident: the buck stops with us in terms of repairs and maintenance. Let’s just say that it’s been a steep learning curve for me when it comes to pest control, brands of dehumidifiers and gallons of paint needed per square foot.

But the greatest challenge so far has been our yard. In the three months that we have owned our home, my husband and I have weeded our gardens and flower beds more hours than we can tally. (We have since learned how much mulch is required to help in this eternal struggle.)

I don’t mind the physical work. There is something satisfying about getting one’s hands dirty and pulling up a weed by its roots. What has been demoralizing is that with just a little bit of rain, the weeds come back bigger and with stronger, longer and more sprawling roots.

All of this landscaping has me thinking about certain aspects of our Catholic faith. Naturally, the parable of the weeds and wheat has come to mind, namely how God permits the upright and the immoral to coexist until some future time.

Elise Italiano Ureneck, associate director of the Center for the Church in the 21st Century at Boston College, writes the “Finding God in All Things” column for Catholic News Service. (CNS photo/courtesy Elise Italiano)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how in ecclesial life today, many people are certain that they are the wheat and those with whom they disagree on various points are the weeds, wishing they would be uprooted and allow the church as they envision it to grow and flourish.

That in turn has led me to think a lot about the importance of careful self-examination and confession. Jesus makes it clear that the seed that falls on fertile soil can produce fruit “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Going to confession is an essential part of preparing good soil. It’s the act uprooting the weeds that continually threaten to choke out our good works and snuff out our goodwill.

I have encountered small, seemingly innocuous weeds that can at times look like good plants or ground cover. I liken them to venial sins. Left unattended, they build bad habits in us and even inhibit our ability to recognize them as problematic.

“Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,” writes Screwtape.

And of course there are weeds that are more like mortal sins, those which stand tall with a sort of pride and moxie. These are the big and flashy failings that do things like fuel addiction, fan the flames of anger and overpower our goodwill and self-possession.

There has been a lot of discussion and ink spilled in recent weeks over Catholics’ worthiness to receive the Eucharist, as well as the nature of the sacrament itself. But what I find lacking in this conversation is a robust reference to the sacrament that precedes it — the one in which we are reconciled to God.

The Eucharist indeed is medicine for the sick. But before we take any medicine, we consult doctors about the nature of our illness or ailment. We get a game plan in place to get better.

Or, to stick with my original analogy and Jesus’ own parable of the sower, we receive the word himself only when we have made our bodies and souls into fertile soil. Otherwise, it will get choked out by the weeds that are always ready to take more ground.

As the bishops prepare their document on the meaning of the Eucharist and make plans for a eucharistic revival, it would be good to see them encourage pastors to make the sacrament of reconciliation more widely available and to ensure that the experience of the faithful who avail themselves to it is one characterized by mercy and practical direction for improvement.

Evangelization requires something like curb appeal — not just moral coherence, but recognizable fruitfulness and beauty in the lives of believers. More opportunities for confession could make all the difference.

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Elise Italiano Ureneck is a communications consultant and a columnist for Catholic News Service.