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!

On John the Baptist & Contemporary American Beheading

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John the Baptist, who was imprisoned by Herod, was executed and martyred after a drunken Herod promised his beautiful stepdaughter anything that she wanted at the conclusion of her seductive dance before his friends at a banquet. In rereading the story (MK 6:14-29), one quickly realizes that Herod did not hate John the Baptist or want him killed – he realized John was a holy man and despite being “very much perplexed, he liked to listen to him.”

 

It was actually his wife, Herodias, who intensely hated and wanted John the Baptist killed because he publicly proclaimed the faith’s truth – that Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife – was immoral! When her daughter shared Herod’s drunken promise and asked for advice, Herodias seized the opportunity to silence her detractor, John the Baptist, with execution.

In this story, a simple but powerful truth is revealed to any who will courageously seek to witness or proclaim the faith publically. John suffered mockery and ridicule, imprisonment and martyrdom – not for being a specific religion or denying another religion, but simply for courageously speaking an unpopular truth of the faith to power.

Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostles were all born into a world very much like ours – where their religious values regarding marriage and human sexuality were not those of the mainstream culture. Multiple ways of understanding and living out human marriage and sexuality were practiced in the Roman world as it is today. Another historical reality shared between then and now is the way that the powerful and ungodly can use their power to ruthlessly punish and destroy those who courageously speak the faith’s counter cultural message of truth regarding marriage and human sexuality. As in the past, those who are courageous enough to speak these truths to the powerful – are often unaware or ignorant of those whom they have really offended and who have really ordered their execution.

Today in our secular and media driven world, these Herods’ and Herodias’ come in many different forms and can be found everywhere – not only outside but also inside of our Catholic Churches and institutions. Their undercover actions to silence and kill those courageously speaking the faith’s truth about marriage and human sexuality to power also takes many forms: from unjust lawsuits, firings and black listings to financially break and hush up the faithful who are poor and middle class, to all out media campaigns and public relation offensives against monied, orthodox and Christian individuals and institutions who publically take counter cultural stands proclaiming Christian truths regarding marriage and human sexuality. This is a fact: all who, by grace, courageously speak truth to power in history will suffer martyrdom – whether rich or poor.

In today’s secular world, there are a lot of John the Baptist walking around…

Since secularism allows all possible dialogue and discussion points in the public arena except those dealing with/grounded in faith, articulating Christian truths and arguments regarding marriage and sexuality – even if allowed Constitutionally – are simply ignored and omitted at best in public– if not openly disparaged, mocked or worse. When the worst parts of secularism surfaces, America’s freedom of speech simply no longer applies to stating Christian truths regarding marriage and human sexuality, which – even when stated simply and lovingly – are often still equated with the language of threats and hate.

For some, to believe in the traditional Christian teaching regarding marriage and human sexuality also means that that person is also completely incapable of living in a loving and respectful relationship with those choosing alternative lifestyles. This is an utter lie and a deceptively unhistorical belief which, in part, rests on highlighting the evil uses of religion historically and framing all possible future religious dialogue soley in terms of this very real but unfortunate lens. Note: we tend to do the very opposite with science and technology, ignoring its role in two World Wars while still proclaiming its ability to help and build humanity…

The reality of religious radicalism, hate and terrorism in our world shakes all of us to the core, yet equating whole religious traditions or any religiously grounded countercultural public dialogue with hate, ignorance and extremism is to choose – consciously or unconsciously- to ignorantly embody these very characteristics out of fear and to run from the real work of true change and growth through respectful dialogue and sacrifice. Such views often also fail to acknowledge that these same religious beliefs have given us the greatest examples – both individually and institutionally – of loving humanity that we have in history.

Yes, there are a lot of John the Baptists around today…

…even in this great country with its legal and historical traditions of free speech… As John the Baptist and many of today’s faithful have found out, courageous and faithful speech is not free – especially when aimed at the powerful. Speaking Gospel Truth comes with a cost, here in America as it did in Jesus’ times.

The downside of secularism for Catholics and Christians today, is that many Christians are willfully bludgeoning their Gospel call to evangelize in America, fearfully unable or unwilling to express the faith’s truths publically because of the very real risks. Like John the Baptist, they realize that there is a cost for courageously speaking Gospel truth to those who are powerful. I’m not sure this is the kind of America that the majority of Americans really wants for anybody…

John the Baptist and all who courageously follow in his steps are examples for us to follow today. Their example prepares and empowers us for that day, when we too will choose martyrdom, risking all by lovingly speaking the Christian truth about marriage and human sexuality in the face of very real power. By the grace we’ve received at baptism and the continuing power that we receive through the Eucharist, my prayer is that we can – in a loving manner – acknowledge, grapple with and publically dialogue about these hard truths regarding marriage and sexuality that God has challenged us with.

Yes, it is difficult and risky for most to speak and proclaim the faith’s truth about marriage and human sexuality publicly in America today…  Until you can do so lovingly in public, I propose starting with  Barry Sanders’ suggestion and accepting that initial challenge of seriously reflecting on, praying about and striving to live the faith’s truths about marriage and human sexuality in one’s own life…