Pope Benedict sums up what's wrong with kids today in eight paragraphs.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

Amazing stuff. Long live Pope Benedict XVI.

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I Need My Fix

I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That's right -- Confession. I love it; or rather, I love the pure feeling of knowing my sins are truly and permanently forgiven. It's been about two weeks since I last entered the booth, and I can feel the difference.

There's nothing like the moments, hours and days immediately following a good confession. The actual confession is horrid -- like taking a shot of some particularly nasty elixir. My parish priest, bless his heart, tries to make the process as easy as possible, but frankly, listing your sins before God and your priest should make you feel uncomfortable. If you think the hot flush of embarrassment hitting your cheeks as you stutter through the whole sordid list and the gripping sense of shame in your heart is bad, imagine Jesus actually suffering on the cross for those same sins, then get down on your knees and thank Him for how easy you have it in comparison. Admitting what we did and saying we're sorry for it, no matter how humiliating, is a cakewalk compared to what happened at Calvary.

Anyway, confession itself is rightly awful. But something wonderful happens in the moments after the priest declares your absolution -- you actually feel absolved. It's like being presented with a new start in life. Father is fond of assigning Bible reading and prayer for penance, so I usually go straight from the Confessional to a pew, sit before the Blessed Sacrament, and do my penance there before I have a chance to forget. It is usually during this time that the clean feeling washes over me, and the really great thing is that it stays. How long? Well, it diminishes with each sin I commit. After a couple of weeks, I feel more or less like my old self again, which is NOT a good thing. But the amazing thing is that the graces poured out in the Confessional make me more aware of sin and temptation in the first place.

The first time I went to Confession, I was amazed by the feeling of grace and peace I had the next day, and how much easier it was to avoid sin and choose good. And then I got stuck in traffic.

Now, I am a traffic screamer, in the worst way. I holler and shout and drop the f-bomb and all manner of other obcenities that I'm sure will come back to haunt me in the form of a young boy who will probably call someone important a bleepity-bleep someday at exactly the wrong moment, like the Bishop at First Communion, or Grandma at Thanksgiving dinner. Anyway, this is my standard M.O., so I was surprised as I pulled onto the freeway at 1 in the afternoon only to find it a six-lane parking lot that all I said, over and over was "Noooooooo. Noooooo! This wasn't supposed to happen! I'm already running late!" That was so incredibly tame for me that I thought someone else was speaking for a minute. And then I remembered: Confession. Ten minutes later, when someone blocked me from my exit, I finally cursed under my breath. And literally as it was coming out of my mouth, I was trying desperately to suck it back in -- which means I NOTICED! I noticed my sin, instead of numbly, callously driving the nails further into Jesus's hands without even a second thought. My traffic-induced diarrhea of the mouth was not only under much better control than it had been the day before, but it HURT. And that's a good thing.

I share this story to show that Confession is about more than just forgiveness. There really is supernatural grace available in the sacraments that help us to live out the promises we make in the Act of Contrition -- specifically to "sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin." It doesn't elminate our ability to screw up -- after all, humankind has been perfecting the daily rejection of God's grace for thousands of years. But there is a marked difference in our ability to resist evil when we are fresh from the Confessional as opposed to two weeks, two months, or twenty years later.

So it's been two weeks, and I need to go back. I need God's grace; I want to feel clean. I shower my temporal body every day -- the least I can do is let God bathe my eternal soul a couple of times a month.

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The Vigil

The Vigil. Everyone wants to know about the Vigil.

The reason I haven't posted is that words simply can't describe the experience. People ask me about it all the time, in real life and on the blog, and I -- a woman of so many words -- just kind of stutter and fumble with an answer. But I'll try to do it justice here, in fact, I've asked God and St. Francis de Sales (my Confirmation Saint!) to help me find words.

It was a gorgeous spring night. Warm, breezy and just humid enough to be comfortable. We began outside with a candlelight procession into the Church. My husband (who sponsored me) and I found the other Candidates and Catechumens and stuck close to them for moral support. They had reserved a block of seats for us up front, and even though I knew most people didn't know for sure who was coming into the church, I felt as if everyone's eyes were on us.

We entered the church, which was darkened, and stood in the glow of the candlelight as Father and the altar boys put the Easter Candle in place. At the first "Alleluia," the house lights came up all at once, and it was stunning. Father told us later that they had gone and replaced a bunch of burned-out lightbulbs in the ceiling earlier in the day, and as a result, it was brighter in the church than most of us had ever seen it before. Good call on Father's part -- it was amazing.

Anyway, the service itself was long but very beautiful. There were seven readings, seven call-and-response chants from the Psalms, and seven prayers. Then the blessing of the Holy Water and the Litany of Saints, and then they got to us: the Candidates and Catechumens (by the way, Catechumens are those adults who are being baptized for the first time, Candidates are baptized Christians who are coming into the fullness of the Catholic faith through Confirmation).

For a little while, I got to sit back and relax as the Catechumens were baptized. I was surprised at the groundswell of emotion that washed over me as I watched these adults washed clean of their past sins and given new lives in Christ. I'm not a crier, but as one woman from our RCIA class went up there with her young daughter and both received baptism, I burst into happy tears.

There was one woman in particular in our class with whom I'd struggled the entire time -- she seemed adamantly opposed to all of the Church's moral teachings and I'd wondered if she'd actually go through with it. I'd been in prayer for her since the first night she opened her mouth about her support for abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, and I prayed that God would lead her into the Church, but not without changing her heart to one of joyful submission to God's law. (I think the last thing we need is more people trying to change the Church "from the inside.") So I was glad to see this woman there at Easter Vigil, and again prayed for her. God has filled me with an affection for this woman that I can't fully explain, as she has spoken out in ways that anger me more times than I can count. But God has made it clear over and over again that I am to love this woman and pray for her whenever I see her or think of her. So I do.

Continuing with the service, they had us Candidates rise and state individually our belief in the Catholic faith. With that simple action, we were received into the Church. The entire class, Catechumens and Candidates alike, went forward with our Sponsors to be Confirmed. I was confirmed with the name "Francis de Sales." Francis is the patron saint of Catholic writers, and I'm definitely one of those, now. But I can also relate to his life story on many levels.

Like Francis, I have parents with big dreams for me (his wanted him to be a lawyer, soldier and politician -- he became a priest instead). I had quite the rising career myself before God showed me that my primary vocation, at least for now, is motherhood. My parents, while they love my son, were woefully disappointed when I announced my pregnancy shortly after our wedding and honeymoon. They thought I was throwing my life away. Francis faced the same reaction when he announced his calling to the priesthood. So I can relate to Francis, or he to me, or something like that. At any rate, since he's been through it all and come out on the other side not only successful, but sainted, I desire Francis de Sales's lifelong help and intercession.

Another interesting, pertinent tidbit about Francis is that he converted tens of thousands of Calvinists in reformation-era Europe back to Catholicism. I was never a Calvinist, but as a convert, I hope to be able to follow in Francis's footsteps and help God to show my Evangelical brethren the truth about His Church. And last but not least, Francis was renowned for his incredible PATIENCE. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that patience is a virtue I utterly lack. So I'm hoping, through his intercession, that some of Francis de Sales's abundant patience will rub off on me.

I need to pause again here for a moment to mention that the thing I was most nervous about before the Vigil was First Holy Communion. I'd been praying to God for weeks that He would give me a tangible sign of His presence in the Eucharist, a feeling, a vision, a word, anything! I wanted Him to leave me completely free of doubt that the Eucharist IS Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. Well, as I was confirmed (before Holy Communion), and Father P. put the Chrism Oil on my forehead, I was overcome with an incredible feeling -- I was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. If I were of the charismatic persuasion, I probably would have fallen on the ground and started speaking in tongues or something. It was like being drunk, only with perfect clarity of thought. I felt like I was miles off the ground, and suddenly understood why the book of Acts says the Apostles were accused of being drunk at 9 A.M. when the Holy Spirit entered them at Pentecost. And as I returned to my seat to pray before Communion, I realized I didn't need a sign anymore. This was it, the real deal, and whether I felt anything or not at Communion, I knew I was truly Home.

But God is good and his lovingkindness never ceases, so as unexpectedly wonderful as Confirmation had been for me, the Eucharist really put me "over the top," so to speak. The actual act of receiving the Eucharist was thankfully uneventful (I'd messed up the order of things at rehearsal, so I was worried about doing that again), but when I got back to my kneeler, I got a real treat -- infused prayer.

Father had told us at rehearsal that the very best time to pray is after receiving the Eucharist, because Jesus is physically with you. So I had a laundry list of Important Things I wanted to pray about in those special, holy moments of communion with my Savior. I didn't get but two items into it before (and here is where my vocabulary gives out and I find I really can't describe it) Jesus just took over. I couldn't think of anything on my own, the only word in my mind was JESUS, like a mantra, and I was nearly knocked over by an incredible feeling of warmth and intimacy that I can only describe as better and closer than any sex anyone in the world has ever had. Not that it was arousing, mind you! But the feeling of just being one, united, and totally consumed with the presence of the Divine Person was absolutely incredible in a way that really can only be compared in Earthly terms to the marital embrace. For a few blessed moments, I didn't need air, I didn't need water, I didn't need food -- Jesus would sustain me forever, I was sure of it. And then the feeling gradually lifted, and all that was left was a happy afterglow, just an echo of the intense peace and joy I'd experienced in those first few moments after receiving Jesus.

And then the Vigil was over. I was Catholic. I had my husband's two sisters, his mother and two of our nieces wrapped around me, crying joyful tears. I cried a few tears myself. We took some photos with Father P., and headed home to relieve our babysitter of her duties and celebrate with a late-night snack and a glass of wine.

And since then? Well, I have a lot to say about the incredible graces poured out in the sacrament of Reconciliation. I have quite a bit to say about vocations. I have some thoughts on St. Francis de Sales's classic book that I've been reading, "Introduction to the Devout Life." But it will all have to wait for next time, because my son just woke up and it's time to go be Mommy.

Blessings to everyone who joined me on the journey across the Tiber this year! I hope you all found as much joy as I have -- and there's so much more to come.

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