A few weeks ago I made a very grown up decision. I went to Wal-Mart and shelled out $43.84 (plus tax) for a new vacuum cleaner. My old vacuum bit the dust a few months ago, but I had been lazy about replacing it.
A few screws and an extension cord later, the machine was assembled in my living room. My floor didn’t seem too dirty, but I flipped the switch to be sure it worked. Skimming the carpet, I noticed a dramatic difference. The carpet I had vacuumed sparkled, while the rest now looked dingy.
Apparently I had allowed things to get a little dirtier than I realized. It made sense, when I thought about it. During the school year I vacuum religiously, at least once a week.
However, after several weeks of camp, weekends away and just the fun of summer, I had let things go a bit and hadn’t even realized just how filthy my floor had become.
It reminded me of the sacrament of reconciliation. All summer, I encountered teens at camp who hadn’t been to confession in months, years or even since their first Communion. Every camp we attended this summer had an opportunity for the sacrament and the teens who receive it regularly are always the first ones in line, saying, “Oh, I really need to go to confession, it’s been a few weeks!”
Meanwhile, some of their peers shrink away. I’ve learned to let them discuss this amongst themselves, so I just listen in.
“Why aren’t you going to confession?” they ask their friends avoiding the line.
The reply of, “I don’t need to” gets a withering stare from their peers. “Really girl? I’ve seen your Facebook. Here, you get in front of me.”
Caving to this positive peer pressure, they get on line and, after getting absolution, they walk away bubbling with relief and joy. “I feel SO good!” they always say. “I didn’t realize how badly I needed that!”
It’s not just teenagers. Why do we wait so long to do what we know we need to do?
It’s a lot like my poor un-vacuumed floor. I knew it needed to be cleaned. There was sand tracked in from the beach and a fine dusting of glitter from a craft project under my coffee table. I kept resolving to get to it after I made dinner, called my parents, did the laundry, went away on vacation and watered the plants. The more I put it off, the less it bothered me.
Sin builds up the same way. We receive forgiveness in reconciliation and feel so fresh and so clean — because we are! Then that first bad word that escapes our lips or jealous thought gets entertained in our head and we think, “Oh, that’s not me!”
But as the distance between the sacramental graces we received increases, so does our lack of awareness of sin. One bad word becomes a whole venomous conversation. One jealous thought becomes an obsession. And we’re so busy we hardly notice.
How can we avoid becoming oblivious to our sinfulness? Just like I now know I need to be vacuuming regularly — whether or not I think I need it — we should frequent the sacrament of confession as well. Rely on a schedule, not feeling, to clean out sin and avoid it in the future.
ALISON GRISWOLD writes her column, Team Catholic, for The Miscellany. She is a youth director in Panama City Beach, Fla.
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