Patron Saint of Confessions? I Nominate Father Tom Allender

Father Tom Allender Catholic Ministry

The other day while I was cleaning my desk, I ran across a 4 page handwritten list of sins I wrote while waiting in line for confession. As the old saying goes…”Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been 43 years since my last confession and the list is long, so long that you may not have enough hours left in your day to hear them all.”

After attending a 3 day parish mission called “Life’s Journey” led by Father Tom Allender, I decided he was the one to hear my confession after many years of procrastination and transgression. Father Tom has written several nonthreatening books on the subject of love and forgiveness and life in general so I though he might be the right guy to hear the litany of embarrassing sins I had committed in my life. He is a Jesuit priest who’s life is now traveling and speaking all over the United States. The Jesuits are considered the marine corp of the Catholic church, front line, in the trenches, gut wrenching selfless helpers of the sick and needy, the old and the illiterate. I’ve always had a special appreciation for the Jesuits. So in a nutshell, Father Tom seemed the easiest to tell. I felt I could come out of the closet, confess that it had been 43 years since my last confession and I wouldn’t see him at breakfast after mass on Sunday. He had a plane to catch and I liked that part a lot.

Now that I have outed myself, I need to explain why it took so long before I could face going to confession. I felt many of my sins were unforgivable and if I didn’t speak aloud of them then maybe they wouldn’t exist. Many I just dismissed, justified or refused to think about because of the discomfort they caused me. Many I though about and felt such guilt that I couldn’t even allow myself to ponder without tears the pain I most likely had caused others. It’s a conundrum to know you need forgiveness but you can’t begin to ask for it because you don’t believe you or your sins are forgivable. So days, months and years go by without really facing the weakest part of your soul and in the process you live on the periphery of a value system you know to be just and true. I rationalized because I painted saints for a living. I was busy convincing myself that I was doing penance and holy work by spending my time creating and painting beautiful saint statues that would go on to tell their story to others. I almost had myself convinced until I heard Fr. Tom speak. His topic was from his book called “God Loves An Unmade Bed” and boy, did I feel like one rumpled mess inside.

Father Tom was hearing confessions in the afternoon of his last day before leaving town on what is jokingly referred to as his Highway to Heaven tour. I arrived early. The line was long. It seemed many had felt the same level of comfort with him that I felt. As I began my wait, I did the math. There were over 30 people ahead of me and the average he spent with each was more than 10 minutes. That meant over 5 hours of waiting. I wanted to leave right then because after all I had other things to do that day. Plus, it had been so long what did it matter if I went to confession today or not. It took a giant act of self discipline to settle in and begin my wait. First, I quietly pulled out my iPhone and did a quick search to update myself on the process of confession. I’m pretty sure it’s a sin to use your phone in a House of God but I was desperate. Then I prayed and fidgeted and daydreamed and wished I was anywhere else but waiting in line to confess years of sin. I studied each person around me and made up stories to entertain myself. Periodically a transgression I had forgotten about would float through my consciousness. I would write it down and before long I had filled a page. Then I began to remember and list every sin no matter how small. I made a timeline sketch and noted them in chronological order and the pages multiplied. And then I started to cry. Seeing 4 pages of less than stellar behavior, 4 pages of contributing to someone’s pain, 4 pages of living outside of a value system that I really did believe in, dredging up memories I didn’t want made me realize that the worst part was I hadn’t been able to admit these to myself let alone confess them. Besides, just maybe the Divine didn’t know I was such a sinner and I had foolishly been hoping to keep it that way. Suddenly, I saw the value of confession in a way I hadn’t before.

4 1/2 hours later I was invited into the confessional. One look at my swollen eyes, worried face and wad of notes and Kleenex must have told Father Tom all he needed to know…I was his worst nightmare with 43 years of sins to confess and a line of 25 more people behind me and another Parrish to visit across the country by tomorrow. I got the Confession-Lite version. Thanks be to God. He asked me about love in my life and who I cared for and what was important to me. He asked me about caring for my 100 year old mother and what I felt from doing that. As I wept for being such a horrible person, Father Tom helped me to realize that I have done much good, right along with those sins. He told me “God is love and if your life is filled with loving and being loved then you have found God inside you.You have been forgiven but now you must forgive yourself”. I was expecting to be admonished and told to do some extreme penance like scrubbing the altar with a toothbrush. It was a beautiful confession, exactly what I needed. Father Tom knew anything more would have made it another 43 years before I’d go again. That’s why I love those Jesuits. Instead of driving me away, I was embraced and made to see, for all my sins, I had done many more good things in my life. I felt like I had sprouted the beginnings of wings and I was light enough to fly.

St. Ignatius is credited with founding the religious order of Jesuits in 1534. He professed vows of poverty and chastity and obedience to the teachings of Jesus. Because of St. Ignatius’ military background, the Jesuits are willing to accept orders anywhere in the world and live in extreme conditions when required. They really are the soldiers of the church.

I took those 4 pages of sins and ran them through the triple shredder and then I buried them in my compost pile. I figure they can still do some good on earth and so can I.

About Father Tom Allender Catholic Ministry
Father Tom Allender Catholic Ministry has been a dynamic vocation that Father Tom Allender S.J.and Donald C. Fisher have worked very hard at for over 30 years to reach people who “need God’s love the most when they deserve it the least”.

Life’s Journey is to become our own best friend

Father Tom Allender Catholic Ministry

DRAPER — “The purpose of our parish mission, ‘Life’s Journey,’ is to help others believe God loves us and in the process we become our own best friend,” said Jesuit Father Thomas Allender. “When we accept and become comfortable with ourselves, we are then able to embrace and accept others.”

Fr. Allender and Donald Fisher presented a three-day parish mission at St. John the Baptist Parish, Draper Feb. 13-15. They have worked together for 23 years conducting parish missions and speaking to groups across the United States. Fr. Allender, who lives in San Francisco, was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) two years ago. He shares his own personal experiences.

Fisher has five children and was a paramedic with the Phoenix fire department before traveling with Fr. Allender. He shares his story of being addicted to pain medication, and how God’s love helped heal his life.

Fr. Allender and Fisher authored the best-selling book, “God Loves an Unmade Bed,” in which they share how God is always present, especially in the midst of the messes and struggles of life. They present ways to reconnect and stay connected with ourselves and our God, and thus, spirituality becomes the source of loving one another as God loves us.

“This mission is about the healing power of God’s love,” said Fr. Allender. “Our children need our love the most when they deserve it the least. God loves us the most when we deserve it the least. God gives us unconditional love.

“You are really never going to know God’s forgiveness until you mess up,” said Fr. Allender. “You are never going to know God’s strength until you experience your own powerlessness. God chooses the weak and he makes them strong in his love. Our ministry is to evangelize the heart. The longest journey in the world is from the head to the heart.”

Fr. Allender said somehow our society today has come to the conclusion that material things are going to make us happy.

“Somehow the children’s’ soccer games have replaced the family meal, and their activities have become more important than the family,” he said. “We are changing from being family centered to being children centered. We are raising a generation of children who are growing up thinking the world is centered on them.

“I was asked to speak at a school in Cleveland, Ohio. When I listened to the children talk, I realized their language is angry,” said Fr. Allender. “In our culture today, it is easier to be a parent than it is a spouse.”

“I think it is so important for single parents to know they are not alone. God loves them in a special way and they have an inner power to build a family. Life is much more than survival, but life is difficult.”

Fr. Allender said the basis of your religious or spiritual experience has to be a personal experience with God. If you ground your faith in a God who is in the sky somewhere, God is as distant from you as you are from the sky. If you ground your faith in God’s love inside you, God is as close to you as you are to yourself.

“All my life I have tried to be a good person,” said Fr. Allender. “It comes from grace. Most of us are good at beating ourselves up. The problem is perfectionism, which is the greatest spiritual disease. We have to give ourselves credit for our efforts and not our results. If you can find God’s love in your darkness, you will see your life as a spiritual journey. But if you do not find God’s love in your darkness, you will see your life as a series of events which will eventually make you bitter. People who do not feel loved are depressed.”

Fr. Allender said there is nothing we can do that is so terrible God’s love will not forgive us, and there is nothing so tragic God’s love will not be there to give us the strength we need to survive a situation.

“We realize the thing that makes each one of us so special is not our personality or what we own or do, it is God’s love within us,” said Fr. Allender. “I grew up afraid of God. We are not supposed to be a guilt community, we are supposed to be a faith community. Faith is a decision. When you grow up with conditional love, you grow up with fear and guilt. Once we let God love us, we can be ourselves and stop being the person we think our parents want us to be.

“Guilt is about the past, you can never make it better by thinking about it,” said Fr. Allender. “Guilt is healthy, it means you have a conscience. But, you have to own your guilt and trust it to God’s mercy. Then you have to forgive yourself as God forgives you. It is in our own sinfulness that we discover how much God loves us and how much God forgives us.”

Fr. Allender said the most important thing he did was let go of the anger inside him, which allowed him to get in touch with the love inside him. He believes everyone has an anger problem.

“I was taught when I was young that anger was a sin,” he said. “I was punished when I got angry so I learned to stuff my anger inside me. You have an anger problem if, when you get angry, you make a bad situation worse. Anger is not a sin, it is human to get angry. Anger is an emotion very few of us are comfortable with, and fewer know how to express in a healthy manner.

“Whenever you get angry, no matter how justified you are, anger is always your issue,” said Fr. Allender. “You are not going to feel better until you get rid of your anger. When we learn to release our anger in healthy ways, it becomes a tool in our spiritual journey.

“Each one of us has to go through our crosses to get to the resurrection,” he said. “God’s love is the only thing that makes sense.”

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About Father Tom Allender Catholic Ministry
Father Tom Allender Catholic Ministry has been a dynamic vocation that Father Tom Allender S.J.and Donald C. Fisher have worked very hard at for over 30 years to reach people who “need God’s love the most when they deserve it the least”.