I Was Agnostic, Now I’m a Catholic Priest – Don’t Let Pride Keep You From Confession

Grant Whitty, Unsplash, Public Domain / Josh Eckstein, Unsplash, Public Domain

Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus enable, look over, ignore, or otherwise gloss over someone’s sins.

Jesus never simply patted anyone on the head and sent them on their merry way, telling them to not worry about being sorry for their sins.

In other words, the Jesus many have concocted and cobbled together as an oversized stuffed animal sitting there and smiling an empty smile, comforting them without judging, is not the Jesus of the Gospel.

Nor is He the ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God’ who is just waiting for you to sin so He can laugh as you drop into hell.

No. The Jesus of the Gospels is quite different.

He is a Jesus calling us to turn from sin and embrace holiness. He desires to show mercy. He wants to forgive. He is pained by those who place themselves above His mercy.

He makes clear that those who have no sorrow for their sins or desire to change will cheat themselves of His mercy and be left with His judgement.

Remember, His judgement is merely an affirmation of the choices we’ve made.

Who would choose to go to hell?

Those who have no sorrow for their sins. Those who place themselves beyond mercy through pride or despair.

Christ calls us from sin because He loves us. He knows the wounds sin leaves in our lives and in the lives of those around us. He knows the deep damage and scars that result. He knows our sin upends all possibility of peace, joy, and ultimately, of love.

He knows our sin leaves us resentful and feeling helpless. Would not the God who created us want better for us?

At one time in my life, I was a de facto agnostic.

I did not believe in a personal God. I had seen so much sin, scandal, and hurt in my 1980s seminary years, that I could not bring myself to believe that a God who cares could allow such things.

For the better part of four years, I wandered in that desert. I was the epitome of the old U2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I Am Looking For.” The further I got away from God, the more lost and abandoned I felt.

As I drifted back to faith, one of the key moments was my understanding that God allows our free will.

All that I saw…every scandalous behavior, every act of inhumanity, every act of violence – it all boiled down to embracing sin for selfish gain. I was doing it too.

It hit me that God wasn’t part of the problem and He didn’t answer to me. No, I was part of the problem and I needed to answer to Him before I had to answer to Him.

There are fewer moments in my life more cathartic than when I went to confession and opened the floodgates: the floodgates of my sorrow and floodgates of Jesus’ mercy.

It was then that I started to understand that a god who never challenged me would never be a god that loved me.

A God who challenged me was a God who loved me…a God who saw something worth redeeming and saving, even if it came at the sacrifice of His Son.

Jesus is God who sees what I can be for now and eternity, and challenges me to live that. He gives His grace; so, it is incumbent on me to use that grace.

My brothers and sisters: Don’t let pride nor despair keep you from confession.

Don’t look for a false god who will appease you and accompany you straight to the gates of hell. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you have no room for growth and no need for forgiveness.

The big reason I asked the Fathers of Mercy to come preach a mission on mercy is because I, as a pastor, want to see the entirety of my flock in heaven.

Willful ignorance, self-destructive pride, and indifference will be the source of your eternal condemnation!

Hear the voice of Christ calling you to that eternal familial covenant bond. Be like the leper who says to Jesus, “Lord, you can cleanse me if you are willing.” (Matt. 8:2)

Be assured Jesus is waiting to say to you as He did to the leper (and to me in that confessional all those years ago), “I am willing. Be clean!” (Matt. 8:3) 

This post originally appeared on Facebook.

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[See also: A Priest’s Challenge for All Catholics: Worship at Sunday Mass – Your Salvation Depends on It!]

[See also: Who’s Your Confessor? Identify Your Favorite Priest in Confession in 6 Hilarious Infographics]

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Fr. Bill Peckman is a priest in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. He is the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon, St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, St. Patrick Parish in Clarence, Sacred Heart Parish in Bevier.