By Jonathan Lynch
So, a couple of weeks back, I decided I wanted to make soap. Those of you who know me personally probably aren’t surprised. Soap is useful. It smells nice. It makes you clean. And, as the stuff was curing on the racks, I realized that it’s an awful lot like the Sacrament of Confession. While Confession might not be your favorite Sacrament, it’s certainly one of mine, and in this penitential season of Advent, I think it’s a great topic for conversation. As to how soap relates to Confession, it’s more than the mere fact that it makes you clean. My friends, it gets way better than that.
Science lesson. Soap is comprised of two ingredients: oil and lye. Now, before you run to the pantry and think you’re going to make soap with vegetable oil and drain cleaner, get a book and read up on it first. There’s a lot more to the science and safety of soapmaking than is contained in this blog post. ANYWAY…
There is a certain dread that all of us have likely felt in going to Confession. “What will Father think of me now?” “I bet he’s never heard this sin before.” In addition to thoughts like these there is the inevitable and very real fear of revealing our failings to another person. Fear of the vulnerability. Certainly shame sometimes. This is the lye. Lye burns. So does revealing our brokenness. None of us like to admit that we need healing, for any number of reasons. Perhaps it’s because if we admit our brokenness, it means we need to change. Perhaps it’s because when we look at our sins, we doubt that God could ever forgive us, or that we could forgive ourselves. Perhaps we’re tempted to despair of ever conquering THAT SAME BLASTED SIN I’VE CONFESSED EVERY SINGLE TIME SINCE I WAS EIGHT. You get the picture.
And sadly, when many people look at Confession, they see no farther than this dreaded first ingredient. But the funny thing is, even though you bring this ingredient to the confessional, it doesn’t burn you, just like the lye in soap doesn’t burn you. Why? It’s because that caustic chemical undergoes a transformation, so that it is no longer the same substance. (For those who are curious, the process is called saponification. Looking at the Latin root words, sapo facere, it means: to make soap). It’s a process that needs … oil.
Ever since biblical times, oil has been a symbol of God’s favor and blessing. Priests, prophets, and kings were anointed with oil at the beginnings of their ministry. (Like you were at your Baptism). Oil is also a symbol of prosperity and plenty. It was also used for healing. These are all things that I have experienced within the walls of the confessional. I have been renewed in my courage as a Christian and renewed in my purpose as priest, prophet, and king with Christ. I have experienced spiritual gifts that have flooded my soul with the knowledge of God’s tender love for me. And I have been healed. All these are things that all of you can experience as well. But in large part (as I learned the long way), it depends on you. God’s grace is always there in abundance, but how much it affects you depends on how open you are to it. If you omit sins that you are ashamed of, if you try to be vague to protect your self-image, you’re closing the door on God, and consequently, on yourself. In short, the more you trust God, the more He can give you, the more He can heal you and lift you up. And the more soap you get.
And once you’ve got soap… you can be clean! Nothing beats walking out of the confessional, and knowing – knowing beyond a doubt – that you are right with God, and right with the world, and right with yourself. So many times I’ve walked out of the confessional thinking, “How could I possibly have dreaded that? I knew what this would be like!” And what’s more, when we confess our sins and are absolved of them, they cease to exist. Even the all-powerful, all-knowing God ceases to remember them. Not even Satan himself can accuse us of them anymore, not even at the final judgement, when all things are brought to light.
And what better way to prepare for Christmas than to prepare our hearts? What better way to welcome the Word-Made-Flesh than to cleanse our souls that He might find a worthy dwelling place? That way, when the Christ-Child comes again on Christmas, He will not find a cold, empty stable, but joyful hearts and pure, ready and waiting to receive Him.
‘Till next time, may Christ be with you all, and may His Mother shield you beneath her mantle.
All for Thee, Sweet Jesus,
Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
For the glory of God
And the salvation of souls.