A man is in his car. It is a Saturday afternoon during Lent and he is driving by his parish church. And he thinks to himself, “I really should go to confession. It’s been a long time.”
And this man has really been off track lately—his life is a mess. There are problems at home with his eldest son seemingly wasting away his first year of college, and the worries that his son will lose the scholarship he received. There’s been the bickering with his wife over a number of issues. Some silly, but others not so silly; there’s all the upheaval at work along with all the office drama each day, and then there are the temptations, the things he’s struggled with most of his life, but can’t seem to conquer. These temptations are stronger than ever now that he’s facing all this stress.
So he pulls into the parking lot and turns off the engine. But then he begins to think to himself: “Why am I bothering with this? It really doesn’t work anyway—this confessing of sins. Within a week or two I’m back doing the same old stuff. This so-called “grace” that’s supposed to come from the sacrament isn’t working for me. The man starts up the engine and drives off.
Don’t you sometimes feel that you can never win the battle against temptation? Or maybe you are able to resist temptations, even for a really long time, but then, for one reason or another, it all comes back again, even worse than before! We begin to lose hope and we think, “What’s the use?”
Let me share something with you that I think can be very helpful when feeling at a loss. These are very simple words that were shared many years ago by an old Irish priest. These words focus on perseverance in the face of sin and temptation:
“Hold on, do not quit. You will fall down, but it does not matter how often you fall. It does not matter how often you fail in humility. It does not matter how often you fall into sin. It does not matter how often things go wrong. It does not matter how often you are tempted to throw in the towel or to give up. Do not quit, but rather, turn back to God. As long as you keep getting up you cannot be beat. It is not a matter of natural fortitude. It is a matter of faith and confidence in God. You have to say to yourself, “God knows what he’s going.”
The man who drove off really wasn’t looking at Confession the right way. Going to Confession doesn’t automatically make temptations go away. But those very temptations can actually be the key that begins to open the door to a deeper relationship with Christ. Remember the wonderful words that St. Paul wrote as he tried to deal with his own weaknesses and temptations: “Three times I begged God to rid me of it, but God’s answer was: ‘My grace is all you need; my power finds its full strength in weakness.’ Therefore, I shall prefer to find my joy and my pride in the things that are my weakness; and then the power of Christ will come and rest upon me. For this reason, I am content, for the sake of Christ, with weakness, contempt, persecution, hardship and frustration; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So, in a strange way, our struggles can be seen as a kind of gift. Several of the Desert Fathers (they go back to the fourth century in Egypt) had this to say about temptation: “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Reign of Heaven”, and “Take away temptations and no one will be saved.”
We begin the season of Lent, a time of repentance. So, like the old Irish priest said, “Don’t quit, turn back to God. He knows what he is doing.” Remember, God’s grace gives us the power to be victorious, but does not prevent the battle!