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February 15, 2003     430 Words

A Catholic Convert Confesses All

CINCINNATI—For many Catholics, the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be daunting. Owning up to one's sins and imperfections is hard enough; telling those infractions to a priest can be outright intimidating. But for Elizabeth Ficocelli, a convert to Catholicism, this sacrament offers endless blessings and has become an invaluable key to her faith journey.

Elizabeth Ficocelli's examination of Reconciliation and her journey of forgiveness are featured in an article in the March issue of St. Anthony Messenger, entitled "Confessions of a Catholic Convert." In it, the author uncovers the hidden beauty of this misunderstood sacrament and illustrates its riches. After February 18, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.

It took a long while for Ficocelli to appreciate the act of confession fully. She grew up as a Lutheran, for whom seeking forgiveness involved the entire congregation standing up, facing the altar and reading aloud a statement of confession. The pastor would turn to the congregation and read a response. To Ficocelli, this seemed tidy and convenient.

"I don't remember feeling heartily sorry for my sins—or heartily forgiven, for that matter—it was just a part of our Sunday worship," Ficocelli writes. Years later, as a catechumen preparing for marriage, Reconciliation was unsatisfying. Like a brief chat with a kind stranger, she admitted her sins, was quickly absolved and sent on her way.

She discovered the beauty of Reconciliation after a string of sleepless nights caring for her newborn left Ficocelli exhausted and irritable. Lashing out at her four-year-old son, she was filled with shame and regret. She sought forgiveness from her son and her husband, but she wanted God's forgiveness above all and opened herself to the sacrament.

After confessing her sins and receiving absolution, Ficocelli experienced something remarkable—like someone poured a bucket of water over her head, cleansing her of guilt and regret. "I recognized at once that God was giving me a hit over the head, an unmistakably clear sign that I was truly forgiven," she writes. From that experience, Ficocelli was able to forgive herself as well.

Since then, she sees confession as sacred—a way of unburdening the weight of her sins. Confession is no longer a tense-filled exercise in embarrassment, shame and self-loathing, but rather an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

"At last, I experience confession the way I believe God has always intended it: as a great gift."

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