Good evening, Father Angelo,
I’m writing to you because, since some time now, I have felt the need to have a spiritual guide (and I’ve never succeeded in finding one.
I am a 40-year old adult woman, who has always attended Holy Mass and the oratory until middle school (then, after the priest of my parish changed, we all drifted apart), I am married and I have a 5-year old daughter.
Just since I got married I have felt the need to grow closer to Jesus and to God, probably because of the difficulties I encountered in the relationship with my mother-in-law (intrusive) and with my parents (I have never lived in a loving family, my mother and my father… most likely did not separate because of my presence, but it has always hurt me seeing them talk to each other rudely and I have always perceived rancor between them), probably also because my marriage has never been a fairytale (my husband, I would almost say, is a smartphone-dependent, he thinks he is good and clever and other people are always a step below…), probably because I have not succeeded in realizing my dream (becoming a lawyer)… I don’t know but, even if apparently I lack nothing (I have a beautiful and healthy daughter, I have a job and for these things alone I should thank heaven) BUT I felt I was missing something, so I turned to Him, imposing on myself behaviors more adequate to the Gospel.
I have encountered many difficulties, I have improved in some respects, in some others I have still a lot of work to do but unfortunately, even if I have grown closer to Him it seems to me that things are getting worse, I am less serene, more nervous, always defensive, sometimes I am almost terrified and then, instead of being patient, I get aggressive.
At the beginning of my journey, I used to attend a parish where – fairly often – there were priests available for confession, and I would confess often, I felt the need to confess! Well, one of these priests told me that I was confessing “other people’s sins instead of mine” (but I have always read that one must specify the circumstances in which the sin was committed, in addition to the sin itself – e.g. I was at work and I let myself speaking bad of a colleague, because also other people were doing that), well, also the other two priests I talked to made me feel worse, almost dirty.
Recently I’ve been to Rome and I decided to go to Saint John Lateran to confess, communicate and climb the Holy Stairs to receive the plenary indulgence (I just recently found out that, despite going to confession and reverting to God, Purgatory still awaits us for the remission of the temporal punishment: I didn’t know that); I climbed it and I prayed (for sure not in the best of ways: my husband was waiting for me), however, I hope He has “appreciated” my effort.
Lately, I have also been pondering on a few things: if God forgives us, why do we have to pay our penance? You gain an indulgence (plenary or otherwise) and so you will not go to Purgatory (it almost seems like a summary judgement, in criminal law terms); we must pray for our dead but then someone tells you it’s no use praying for those who are in Hell, but, how can I even know if one of my dead is in Hell? It seems almost like an “administrative procedure” (if you follow specific rules, you will achieve the proceeding)
I naively believed that religion was something simple, that Jesus wanted simple things and instead, the deeper I get, the more I find myself asking questions and having doubts. Also, why am I not at peace? (Pay attention, I do not mean happy, but at peace!) What am I missing? A loving spouse (and how many women do not have a loving spouse, and do not complain?), two parents who love each other (and how many people come from separated families?)
In my life there is always a big “BUT”: am I praying? So why are there always more difficulties? Do I have to follow the rules? Or is it enough, for Jesus, that we love him and follow him, without worrying too much? Will we have to suffer even after death? Won’t we go to Heaven? Too many questions and too few answers.
One night – I wasn’t married yet – I had a dream (I never told anyone about it); in this dream I was in Jerusalem, in Jesus’ time, maybe it was Palm Sunday. Jesus was there too, I was in the crowd and I was looking at Him (I was sure that He wouldn’t see me), at a certain point he turned towards me and looked at me, I moved away and hid but He found me: wherever I went he would find me ( how strange is that I was running away in desperation – I was ashamed of myself – He instead was walking calmly… yet He would always reach me). At a certain point I got out from the city and found myself in the middle of the desert: here there was no way for me to hide behind a wall or a street corner, so I threw myself on the ground and I hid my face between my hands, but He again reached me, so I found the courage to look at Him and I saw He was smiling at me… then I woke up.
Let me state that I absolutely do not mean that I am a visionary or something like that! However, when I think about this dream, I feel like crying and I feel loved!
I know I should grow in prayer, I should be more patient, more loving, more kind, more tolerant… I know that what I am doing is not enough, but still, I cannot make it, really, I cannot, I am trying…
Thank you for reading and for your patience.
1. I’ve read your email and I would like to say to you that I am happy about the dream you had.
I do not have any reasons to doubt that it comes from God, since it is lucid and not bizarre, it conveys a message, and this message corresponds to the truth of the Gospel and has left you with a great sense of peacefulness and gratitude.
I think your dream is one of the most beautiful graces, or signs, that the Lord has granted you.
2. I will focus only on three among the points raised in your email.
The first point concerns the priest who told you to confess your sins instead of other people’s sins. Of course he may have hurt you. I acknowledge that.
But it is not needed to tell all the circumstances of sin.
The Magisterium of the Church says it is necessary to explain all circumstances which change the species of the sin.
Now, the circumstances you describe did not change the species of the sin: they explained its genesis and the way it was committed. It was enough to say, for example, that in the workplace there are situations that make you fall into impatience, into gossiping…
By saying that, you would have said everything that needed to be said.
3. The second point on which I would like to say a few words is this: “if God forgives us, why do we have to pay our penances?”
Well, this does not happen because His forgiveness is not sufficient, but because even after Confession, we still have some unholy dispositions.
John Paul II said that “even after absolution there remains in the Christian a dark area due to the wound of sin, to the imperfection of love in repentance, to the weakening of the spiritual faculties. It is an area in which there still operates an infectious source of sin which must always be fought with mortification and penance. This is the meaning of the humble but sincere act of satisfaction.” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 31,III).
The expression “pay our penances” is not the happiest one.
Still, we must recognize that a supplement of purification is necessary. Even after exiting the confessional, we are not perfectly holy.
4. Third point: “Do I have to follow the rules? Or is it enough, for Jesus, that we love him and follow him, without worrying too much?”
Of course, it is enough for Jesus that we love Him, but in a way that is true.
The true way is the one He Himself showed us when He said “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” (John 14, 21)
And: “Whoever loves me will keep my word” (John 14, 23)
St. John returns to this concept in his first letter when he says “Whoever says, “I know him,” (which means: I love Him, note by Fr. Angelo), but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2, 4)
And again: “If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4, 20)
Therefore, simple things: yes, that is fine. Provided they are corresponding to truth and not just words.
Happy about your spiritual renewal, I wish you an increasing growth in your life in Christ, I entrust you to the Lord and I bless you.