For about two years, I went through professional counseling for panic attacks and intense anxiety. In a way, I can relate to the apostles
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
Fear. It is paralyzing. I had no idea how powerful our emotions can be until I was a grown woman, hiding from my emotions in my bedroom closet with the door closed. I would sit on the floor and cover my head with my arms, the fear was so intense. How could I hide from it? I couldn’t.
That’s the worst thing about fear: You can try running and hiding, but it screams at you from inside. Like a spiritual vacuum, it sucks you into a pit of darkness, despair, and loneliness. I would hear my wounds taunting me, ‘You cannot escape us. We have marked you forever. You will never be whole again; always wounded.’
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
What if Jesus had appeared in my bedroom closet that way?
His presence would interrupt the pull of that interior vacuum.
Exposing his glorified wounds, Jesus shows me that he has heard the sounds of that horrible ‘interior vacuum’; the taunts and jeers. But he shows me that wounds do not have the last laugh. By exposing his wounds, Jesus says, ‘I have been through hell. Yet here I am, more alive than ever before.’
He says, ‘I have peace, and I give it to you.’
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
That is when they must have known: the Messiah did not come to conquer political forces, or lands, as they once thought. He did not come to reign in a fortress of stone. God’s Chosen One came for the ultimate victory: to free human hearts from darkness. He came to reign in hearts. This was God’s Master Plan; a plan to free all of humanity from the ultimate enslavement — the interior kind. This is what they must have known all at once, and they rejoiced.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
When I would sit in the darkness of my closet and writhe from the torture of my wounds, one of the worst pains I felt were feelings of guilt and shame. Feelings of having permanently lost my dignity and beauty and freedom.
In the Gospel, the apostles — these men who have known the dank prison cells of fear, and experienced the liberation of Christ’s victory over wounds — are now empowered and sent to liberate others. Jesus charges them to go and break the shackles of guilt and shame, for those who wish to be free.
Confession: As Seen From My Side of the Confessional Box
My encounter with Jesus and his glorified wounds was (and continues to be) so important in my salvation, my healing, my liberation. That is why I am so grateful for the ‘birthday of the Church’ which is celebrated today by Christians. Today marks fifty days after the Passover; a Jewish feast called Shevuot commemorating God giving the Torah to his people. For Christians, we celebrate that First Covenant and the New Covenant; on Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles, fulfilling his promise:
But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
So, why am I grateful for this day? Because when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they were empowered to go out and free hearts likewise. They became ekklesia — people sent out (translated “church”). Today, the Church exercises this mission especially through the sacraments.
As I went through months of counseling, I also participated in the Sacrament of Confession, which is called a Sacrament of Healing and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’m sad — and frustrated — that Confession is poorly (and grossly) depicted in pop culture, because I and countless others have there encountered Jesus and his glorified wounds.
Confession is often portrayed as dark, eerie, and devoid of emotion. I did associate those things with Confession once; when I felt trapped in an abusive relationship for over a year. I would go to Confession sometimes several times a week. My life outside the Confessional was like a maze I couldn’t escape; I often felt like I was living a nightmarish Groundhog Day. As the weeks and months went by, I confessed the same ‘sins’. I began hating myself for letting someone do these things to me, day after day, week after week, month after month. I hated that I had gotten involved with this person. Confession became associated with self-loathing.
A miracle released me from that relationship. But I still carried intense, negative, emotional baggage associated with Confession. Thus began my uphill battle to separate that baggage from the reality of Confession.
Now, thanks to professional help, hard work, and prayer, my experience of Confession reflects what Confession truly is: light-filled, loving encounters with a God who loves more truly and beautifully than anyone else.
I hope that, if you are a Catholic who experiences Confession in a negative way, you’ll seek out a Catholic counselor. It can feel embarrassing, but SO entirely worth it. He or she can help you shed light on the source of your pain and become free from the misplaced guilt or shame that weighs you down. Finally, I realize: God wants me to be healed. He wants that for you, too.
Confession, experienced in a healthy manner, is truly a Sacrament of Healing. Jesus comes and offers you true peace. He shows you the wounds he suffered so that you don’t have to suffer them, too. He shows you that those wounds are glorified. He offers you a life that is new and fully-alive.
I pray that you will take his hand today.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away
– Pentecost Sequence