THE breath of God is at the very center of creation. It is this breath that not only renews creation but gives you and me the opportunity to begin again when we have fallen…
THE BREATH OF LIFE
At the dawn of creation, after having made all other things, God created man in His own image. He came into being when God breathed into him.
Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
But then came the fall when Adam and Eve sinned, inhaling death, so to speak. This break in communion with their Creator could only be restored in one way: God Himself, in the Person of Jesus Christ, had to “inhale” the sin of the world since only He could remove them.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
When this work of Redemption was finally “finished,”John 19:30 Jesus exhaled, thus conquering death by Death:
Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:37)
On Resurrection morning, the Father breathed Life into Jesus’ body again, thus making Him the “new Adam” and beginning of a “new creation.” Only one thing now remained: for Jesus to breathe this new Life into the rest of creation—to exhale peace upon it, working backwards, starting with man himself.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 2o:21-23)
Here, then, is how you and I become part of this new creation in Christ: through the forgiveness of our sins. That is how new Life enters us, how the breath of God restores us: when we are forgiven and thus capable of communion. Reconciliation is the meaning of Easter. And this begins with the waters of Baptism, which wash away “original sin.”
BAPTISM: OUR FIRST BREATH
In Genesis, after God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils, it says that “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden.” Gen 2:10 Thus, in the new creation, a river is restored to us:
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (John 19:34)
The “water” is a symbol of our Baptism. It is in that baptismal font that new Christians breath for the first time as a new creation. How? Through the power and authority Jesus gave the Apostles to “forgive the sins of any.” For older Christians (catechumens), the awareness of this new life is often an emotional moment:
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17)
Jesus says of this River that “it will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14; cf. 7:38 New life. New breath.
But what happens if we sin again?
THE CONFESSIONAL: HOW TO BREATH AGAIN
Not only water, but Blood poured from the side of Christ. It is this Precious Blood that washes over the sinner, both in the Eucharist and in what’s called the “sacrament of conversion” (or “penance”, “confession”, “reconciliation” or “forgiveness”). Confession was at one time an intrinsic part of the Christian journey. But since Vatican II, it has not only fallen “out of vogue,” but confessionals themselves have often been transformed into broom closets. This is akin to Christians forgetting how to breathe!
If you have inhaled the toxic fumes of sin into your life, it makes no sense to remain in a state of suffocation, which spiritually speaking, is what sin does to the soul. For Christ has provided for you a way out of the tomb. In order to breathe new life again, what is necessary is that you “exhale” these sins before God. And Jesus, in the timelessness of eternity where His Sacrifice always enters the present moment, inhales your sins so that they can be crucified in Him.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
…there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance. —St. Ambrose, Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1429
I don’t know how Christians could live without this great Sacrament of Confession. Maybe they don’t. Maybe it explains in part why so many today have turned to meds, food, alcohol, entertainment and psychiatrists to help them “cope.” Is it because no one has told them that the Great Physician is awaiting them in the “tribunal of Mercy” to forgive, cleanse, and heal them? In fact, an exorcist once said to me, “One good confession is more powerful than one hundred exorcisms.” Indeed, many Christians are walking about literally oppressed by evil spirits crushing down upon their lungs. Do want to breathe again? Go to Confession.
But only at Easter or Christmas? Many Catholics think this way because no one has told them any different. But this, too, is a recipe for spiritual breathlessness. St. Pio once said,
Confession, which is the purification of the soul, should be made no later than every eight days; I cannot bear to keep souls away from confession for more than eight days. —St. Pio of Pietrelcina
St. John Paul II put a fine point to it:
“…those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress” will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives. “It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.” —POPE JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Penitentiary conference, March 27th, 2004; catholicculture.org
After preaching this message at a conference, a priest who was hearing confessions there shared this story with me:
One man told me before this day that he didn’t believe in going to Confession and never intended to do so again. I think when he walked into the confessional, he was just as surprised as the look I had upon my face. We both just looked at each other and cried.
That was a man who discovered that he does indeed need to breathe.
Confession is not reserved for just the “big” sins.
Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful…
Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession.” There are profound reasons for this. Christ is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner: “My son, your sins are forgiven.” He is the physician tending each one of the sick who need him to cure them. He raises them up and reintegrates them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1458, 1484
When you go to Confession, you are truly freed from your sin. Satan, knowing that you are forgiven, has only one thing left in his toolbox regarding your past—the “guilt trip”—the hope that you will still inhale the fumes of doubt in God’s goodness:
It is incredible that a Christian should continue to feel guilty after the sacrament of confession. You who cry in the night and weep in the day, be at peace. Whatever guilt there may have been, Christ has risen and His blood has washed it away. You can come to Him and make a cup of your hands, and one drop of His blood will cleanse you if you have faith in His mercy and say, “Lord, I am sorry.” —Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Kiss of Christ
My child, all your sins have not wounded My Heart as painfully as your present lack of trust does that after so many efforts of My love and mercy, you should still doubt My goodness. —Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary, n. 1486
In closing, I pray that you will reflect on the fact that you are A New Creation in Christ. This is the truth when you are baptized. It is the truth when you emerge again from the confessional:
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Cor 5:16-17)
If you are suffocating in guilt today, it’s not because you have to. If you cannot breathe, it’s not because there is no air. Jesus is breathing new Life this very moment in your direction. It is up to you to inhale…
Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord—each of us knows what they are—so that He may enter and grant us life. Let us give Him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish… May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives. —POPE FRANCIS, Homily, Easter Vigil, March 26th, 2016; vatican.va
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