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Being peeled to be healed

I walked into the kitchen and there was my mother, sniffling and crying her eyes out. Had I done something to cause this? Through reddened eyes she replied, “You forgot to peel the onions, so I had to do it.”
    I do not know about you, but peeling onions is not my favorite thing to do.
The more you cut into the onion, the more you cry. This is also true in life. But peeling onions is necessary if you want them to give up their gift to the sauce. The same is true of us – we must be peeled in order to offer a more sincere gift of ourselves to God and others.
    “Peeling” of the soul leads to healing of the soul.
    Peeling of the soul is a process of turning oneself over to the care of Jesus Christ. The Lord is the one who strips away the dead layers in us, and uncovers areas of hurt and pain to get at the deeper levels where his grace can make us new. We all can accumulate layers around our souls that are a result of repeated choices about how we cope with life. Painful experiences can leave memories that continue to enclose and bind us. Scars and wounds from our own sins, or the sins of others, can run deep. They never seem to heal. We end up doing “the evil I do not want.” (Rom 7: 19) We relate to others in ways that can repeat the sinful patterns we have learned, or in ways that protect us from being hurt again. Love is stifled within us. The husk surrounding us must be shed for us to grow.  By God’s love and forgiveness, these layers are peeled away. We grow and experience healing, and find new love for God and neighbor.  It is an ongoing process of being more and more reconciled to God and others.
    Personal prayer and the sacrament of reconciliation are two grace-filled parts of this process. Both help us to recognize the many layers of our soul, to turn to God and to entrust ourselves to Christ’s loving care.

Spiritual Exercise: Obstacles to being “peeled”
What do you do if you run into an obstacle with personal prayer or with the sacrament of reconciliation? For example, some have said, “I have gone to the sacrament, but I still feel guilty.” That is frustrating –  to say the least! A person can then feel even more guilty because she knows she should not be feeling guilty! And then he gives up personal prayer because he begins to think, “What’s the use?” Persistent guilt can hamper healing. A layer needs to be peeled. Here is an exercise that can help you work through guilt or any feeling that presents itself as an obstacle to prayer or reconciliation. Rather than being a block to God, feelings can open us up to deeper healing.

 Find a quiet place to pray. Start by considering Jesus. He loves you and died to save you. He wants your eternal happiness. Trust him. Read Matthew 11:28-30 a few times.

 Ask Jesus to help you understand why you feel guilty. You can also substitute any feeling that poses an obstacle. The feeling is the symptom. If you are feeling guilty, here are some questions to help you explore those feelings:
Am I still feeling guilty because I am not truly sorry for what I have done? Or because I am only partially sorry? Do I feel guilty because I know I will probably do the same old sin again? One remedy for this is to pray for greater contrition and hatred for sin. While Jesus’ offer of forgiveness is not conditioned on our sorrow, to receive deep healing we need to have a good awareness of the evil of sin. Think deeply about the sacrifice of Jesus and his love for sinners. Guilt can be a gift from God to help move us to greater contrition. It can help us be honest with ourselves and not absolve ourselves of responsibility for the sin. When we dismiss sin and do not consider its true effects – within us or what it’s done to others – we will not find healing.
Guilt can be rooted in a false image of God. When I consider God, what is going on within me? How do I relate to God? Do I believe God forgives my sin? Do I believe in a merciful God who is “slow to anger, full of loving kindness?” (cf Exod. 33:12- 34:9 ; Luke 23:33-47) Or does God have a club and is looking for an opportunity to strike me? Reconciliation was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. (cf Acts 10:42-43) When he healed people, Jesus often said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those healed would dance and praise God for joy! Their relationship with God was restored. Jesus offered a number of stories about forgiveness – the father who offered forgiveness to a wayward son, the master who wrote off a gigantic debt belonging to his servant, the woman charged with adultery whom Jesus forgave. Consider them for a while. Let the truth of God’s mercy sink in. God’s mercy was not just for them – it is for you!
Guilt can also be a result of holding on to a grudge or failing to forgive. Have I forgiven others for perceived slights, poor treatment, put-downs, or more serious offenses? Sometimes we bury our own hurts within us, and they become a source of further guilt or anger. Have I forgiven myself for what I have done in my life? We may be holding on to guilt as a sign that we still feel the need to be punished. We have not properly paid our debt and feel we do not deserve to be forgiven. How true! But that is the great mystery of God’s grace and forgiveness. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. No one deserves mercy – otherwise it would not be mercy.
Guilt can also be due to a past abusive situation in which we were constantly told we were unlovable, or that something was wrong with us, or that nothing we do is right.  In order to compensate, we are driven to perfection and yet, of course, we never measure up. Guilt is always there. This can occur in the sacrament of reconciliation. Check out whether you catch yourself second-guessing how well you made your last confession. “Did I do it right? Was it perfect enough? Did I have enough sorrow?” This is often why people feel guilty even after going to reconciliation.

Have a conversation with Jesus about the guilt you are carrying as you consider the reasons for it. He is with you. Talk to Jesus.

 Give up the guilt. Surrender it to Jesus Christ. Pray: “Lord, I believe in your love for me. I surrender my guilt and shame to you. Hide me in your wounds and set me free.” Listen to what Jesus says to you.

 Spend a good deal of time in thanksgiving. Thank Jesus for loving you. Thank Jesus for dying for you. Thank Jesus for removing your guilt and shame. Read Psalm 32.

Resolve to do whatever Jesus tells you. Inner healing is a process. We must be resolved and determined to follow Jesus by obeying what he tells us during our personal prayer. Maybe the Lord will have you prepare for your next reconciliation in a new way. Do not be afraid to bring to the sacrament the roots of sin and not just the scars. For example, I could confess that I get angry often with my husband or wife. The deeper question is “why?” Do not blame others for making you angry. Look within and find the root of the anger and bring it to the sacrament.

By Fr. Bill Ashbaugh

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