Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good as new

Because my home is also my office, and because both of them are here at the heart of the life of the parish, there is a certain fishbowl element. That’s fine with me, but it does make me wonder sometimes about what people see me doing. Perhaps I get too self-conscious about it, but I feel like I need to explain about my washing my car.

It is something I really enjoy doing. Most recently, a parishioner ribbed me about doing it on a Sunday, and I had to explain that it is nearly pure recreation for me. I almost always do it while I am on vacation at the family cottage. I took a few days after Easter to go to Birmingham, and while I was there washed and detailed all of my parents’ cars, including the one Dad had just bought and the one he was about to sell. My idea of fun, I tell you. Oh, I visited with my family, too.

I have always enjoyed washing cars, back to when I was a kid. Not only did I enjoy getting my dad’s tomato-red Fiat roadster (124 Sport Spider, 1974) as clean as it had ever been, but even the family station wagon got the full treatment (Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, 1978). When living in a dorm and apartment, I had to wash the car with just a bucket, without benefit of a hose. When I was secretary, the Cardinal’s car was always clean. About the only time I didn’t wash my car much was when I was downtown at St. Mary’s, with only outdoor parking. It got dirty after an hour or two just sitting there.

Nowadays, washing my car is especially therapeutic, because unlike most of what I spend my time doing, it has immediate, tangible results. It is very satisfying to step back and see what I have done, especially when it doesn’t rain for a few days.

The spiritual realm, toward which my efforts are mostly directed, does not offer such tangible evidence of progress. There are exceptions to that, I guess. Even spiritually, there are certain benefits to periodic cleansing. Maybe that’s why I also regularly go to confession.

It is satisfying to know that whatever sins you bring to the Lord in the Sacrament, are rightly and truly forgiven. And if you bring all of them – even the ones you’ve forgotten – they are all forgiven. Unlike me and my car, Jesus’ forgiveness will never “miss a spot.” The only thing His forgiveness can’t reach are the things we withhold by not mentioning, whether because we are embarrassed, or refuse to admit that they are sinful, even after we have been told that they are. Everything else is wiped away, and assuming we held nothing back, we are as spotless as on the day we were baptized.

I wash my car at certain times of the year more than others. Similarly, certain times of the year are great for the Sacrament of Penance. In addition to Advent and Lent, I recommend gong to the Sacrament on your birthday or wedding anniversary. I discovered that by accident a few years ago – nothing focuses the mind so well as a lifetime milestone.

I also recommend right now – the end of summer. Halfway between Easter and Christmas, it is also when we shift gears and get serious after the summer’s fun. Go now, when we are putting aside our flip-flops and getting out our wingtips and school shoes. Clean up after the summer’s mess now, so your notebooks – and your car – won’t be the only thing that’s clean and ready for fall.
Monsignor Smith

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