I’ve gone to Confession a few times while visiting Japan on business. I typically visit a particular church near my hotel because they offer confessions anytime—you just have to ask. Oh man, have I asked. Like, stalk-Father-30-minutes-before-Mass and ask. I’ve sat with and talked to the same priest every time. He’s Australian. Super nice.
He has a frequent saying in the confessional that it almost feels like a filler phrase, “just relax”, in-between pastoral nuggets in helping me by providing spiritual guidance. Though I’m 6000 miles away from home without really knowing this priest that well, I find that his grandfatherly demeanor (and Australian accent!), his openness, and his willingness to minister this Sacrament to be comforting and familiar.
Though I’ve been to Confession with him a few times now, I’ve never really truly understood why he keeps saying “just relax” because I’m not usually stressed out during Confession. Okay, maybe a little bit because I’m usually anxious to go with a high chance of having just battled rain, busy sidewalks, and busy subways just to get to this particular church in Japan.
During my seventh trip (and as of the time of this writing, my most recent trip) to Japan, I finally realized the practical potential of “just relax”. Sometimes I work myself up in response to stray thoughts about inner struggles (still keeping those largely personal) and that leaves me severely tempted to freak out. Such a state of freaked out-ness opens the door to make poor decisions regarding the state of my soul because I open myself up to near occasions. You classy Catholics probably know what I mean.
In the several times I really felt tempted to respond by actually freaking out this trip, I remembered Father’s words, “just relax”. So simple. So easy to remember. So impactful. These words helped me recall Father’s advice and helped me to chill out, internally. By chilling out initially, I find that it’s easier to respond to my struggles by remembering Christ’s love and mercy that leaves me with a sense of fulfillment and peace. A flow chart:
I suppose these words alone and its directive are enough to help me in a practical sense, but it’s that spiritual sense where I find its powerful, practical potential. Why? Because I realized that intentionally calming down and relaxing paves the way for an intentional response to Christ’s love. Only Christ’s love can help me in the battle against sin, and it’s really hard to remember that when I’m really anxious and wanting to freak out.
I guess I see why Father says this phrase a lot in the confessional. It actually helps! So if you ever find yourself in near occasions of sin, anxious due to temptations, or nervous in a confessional—just relax! And remember Christ’s love for you!
“Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and my heart is restless unless it rests in you” – St. Augustine, Confessions
Pope Francis hearing confession from WYD 2013 // Diocese of Cleveland