On Scrubbing the Floors of Our Souls

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Please jar your memory and remember, if ever, the last time you got on your hands and knees to scrub a floor.   What was the occasion that forced you to do it? Perhaps it was finding that great apartment – in the right neighborhood and at a great price – that just happened to be really filthy or seem to have an unforgiving odor!?! Maybe it was the need to clean up that unexpected vomit from a small child, etc. If you are like most people today, it took something very bad to force you to get on your hands and knees and to scrub that floor!

In a lot of ways, scrubbing the floor on one’s hands and knees is kind of like going to Reconciliation: unfortunately, often something very bad that has to happen in order to force us to this sacrament! When that very bad something occurs, like floor scrubbing, there is simply no other way to get that “confidently eat your dropped food off the floor” kind of clean soul back, restoring us to that original state – unless one breaks down and goes to the sacrament of Reconciliation. For some sins, there is simply no other way to completely and confidently remove both the sin and its smell from the soul- simple prayer just won’t work!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to new school ways of cleaning: Swiffer mopping, or the more common repeated mopping without ever scrubbing – they have their place and role in our fast paced world! But Swiffering or repeated mopping can never clean as scrubbing a floor can. In fact, repeated use of these methods can actually blind us from seeing and smelling the slow build up of dirt over time.

How is scrubbing the floor like reconciliation? Well, unless you are using a machine, one will have to get on their knees to do both – a humbling physical act in itself. Since both are generally not our first chosen means of cleaning, we generally have to be forced – even if by circumstance – to do so. Both floor scrubbing and reconciliation requires that one’s person gets very close to the dirt – as it were – owing it! Like scrubbing the floor, reconciliation requires that you wet that dirt with tears from reflection, humility and repentance; it also requires that you scrub it clean through an oral confession to another. To claim and confess our sins with our own words is truly an act of scrubbing! I doubt whether those who ridicule or never utilize the sacrament can often acknowledge or confess their sins to significant others in relationships, for where else can they safely practice this essential act to restore relationships? Practice doesn’t often make perfect but often makes permanent; those not practicing may be fracturing their significant relationships by never acknowledging and repenting of their sins before others.

Like reconciliation, scrubbing the floor requires that you wipe up the wet mess made by the tears of humility and the scrubbing of oral confession – by completing the process – with a penance. Finally, just like the sigh and unquestioned knowing of “ah, its now clean” felt deep within after an act of scrubbing the floor, the absolution given by a priest can consistently console and give certainty regarding one’s forgiveness in ways that simply falling down on our knees rarely does – especially regarding serious and repetitive sins! Many non-Catholics and Catholics who dismiss this sacrament are also ignoring and dismissing the VERY REAL psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of healing and restoration that the sacrament can bring to the soul!

Scrubbing a floor is always a very tough and dirty job, just like truly cleaning our soul.

            If the truth be told, repeated mopping of the floor is an incomplete cleaning at best! One should start with a clean mop (and who does?) and also remember that mopping cleans best the uncluttered and open portions of the floors and stairs, but often ignores and simply can not reach all the little nooks, crannies, corners and molding surrounding the floor and staircase. Here, mopping refers to our humble prayers of forgiveness and our contrite praying of the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass.

Like a grand set of stairs in the foyer of a beautiful home, mopping cleans the treads that we step on, which upon a cursory glance, can make the whole staircase appear to be clean. But if you continuously mopped this beautiful set of stairs, which is your mind, heart and soul – over time you would find that that mopping and Swiffering – as the sole means of cleaning – is simply insufficient.

Over time that beautiful set of steps would revealed themselves, with just a cursory glance, to be not just dirty, but in fact, filthy. A visitor to the home would easily notice what the homeowner is often blind to: the grime in each of the once 90° corners that now has become curved and rounded with grimy and embedded dirt. The molding on the steps, once clear and distinct, setting the steps apart and distinguishing them in their unique beauty, now blends in with the treads due to years of encrusted pet hair, dust and dander that has disintegrated those once clean lines and now leaves a mopped clean center tread that is surrounded by imbedded crud.

We have all seen steps like this – once beautiful, but now due to years of mopping – they are a testament to sloth and uncleanliness. The owners who have always mopped and never scrubbed, have become blind to – or worse they simply ignore – the built up dirt!!! In their slothful or willful ignorance, the owner is now also unaware of the subtle smell that emanates from the stairs – a smell that the occasional visitor is confronted with when s/he enters the home!

The years of mopping have transformed that once beautiful staircase; it no longer reflects or appears to be worthy of its once unique beauty and what is worse, it now appears unable to be restored. If new owners moved in, they would certainly tear it up and rebuild the staircase rather than work to reclaim and restore it. Such is often the case of regularly mopping and Swiffering to clean of our souls.

If we only pray for forgiveness and prayerfully enter into the penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass, but never scrub our souls of those great and repetitive sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation, we stand a chance of becoming so encrusted with and blinded by sin, that we too may smell of fifth and appear as a lost cause to the visitor with a keen eye.  It’s sooooooooooo good that our loving God doesn’t rip up our staircases, but grants us until our last breath, the chance to scrub our souls clean and restore them through this sacrament!

My mother, the cleanest woman I have ever known, required that we scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom floors weekly, but she also allowed us to mop the basement and our bedrooms – except when we Spring Cleaned each year. Yes, we need both: the regular mopping/Swiffering of our private and public prayers for forgiveness plus the Grace and restoration that comes from the scrubbing that the sacrament of Reconciliation provides.

By utilizing all the grace filled methods given to us as Catholics, we can truly be cleaned and purified. We need not just run in place like on a treadmill, but in our running we need to actually get ahead – growing in holiness – to become the Saints that we are called to become!

Follow my mother’s cleaning plan and please, Spring Clean at least once a year… get on your knees and scrub the floors and stairs of your soul!

Author: P. J. West, Jr.

Paul J. West Jr. is a cradle Catholic and native Chicagoan who has ministered in Catholic Schools, parishes and hospitals for over two decades. His current ministries are focused on both hospital chaplaincy and writing. Prior to this, he ministered as an educator for almost twenty five years teaching religion, scripture, philosophy and ethics at four Chicago area high schools and adults at the Chicago Catholic Scripture School. His parish ministry has included preaching, teaching, writing and serving as a Eucharistic minister. Mr. West, who is native south sider, has been married for almost 30 years to Dr. Joy West. They have raised four beautiful daughters who are all hardcore Bears and White Sox fans!!!!

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