My mother is an extraordinary woman who tried to teach her children that cleanliness is next to godliness.
She vacuumed with diligence and explained that a bathroom is crawling with unseen micro-organisms that can only be tamed with lethal doses of bleach and elbow grease.
As a child, I was a less-than-willing pupil at Mom's School of Cleaning and often attempted to cut corners. I would vacuum without moving furniture and only offer a pathetic swat with a towel to the germs lurking in our bathroom, thinking no one would notice.
Before I could go outside, Mom would investigate and always seemed to know exactly where I had cut corners. Now that I'm an adult, I see how obvious it is when a home has been poorly cleaned. Dust will shift in unswept corners, and a bathroom's odor will quickly betray its neglect.
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Recently, there's been a lot of attention given to the iPhone application "Confession: A Roman Catholic App" that aids Catholics in preparing for the Sacrament of Confession, which was established by Christ when he told his disciples, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:23)
Knowing that as human beings, we desperately need to hear that we're forgiven, Christ uses the priest hearing our confession to tell us the same words offered in the New Testament (Luke 7:48-50) and we hear, "Your sins are forgiven, go in peace."
It feels great!
The iPhone app does not actually forgive our sins but gives us a means to better prepare for Confession. All Catholics are encouraged to make an "examination of conscience" before they go to Confession. This involves going through each of the Ten Commandments and asking yourself how you've failed to follow them.
For example, when thinking of "Thou shalt not kill," it's not enough to ask, "Have I killed anyone?" No, an examination of conscience will further probe, "Have I killed anyone's reputation through gossip? Have I physically harmed anyone? Put anyone in danger through my actions?" and so forth.
It's taking an inventory of our lives so that we can ask for forgiveness and then work to avoid sin in the future.
My mother taught me that no matter how much I said my room was clean, it wasn't unless all the nooks and crannies were examined and scrubbed and vacuumed.
Our souls are the same way.
We can tell ourselves that we're doing all right, but we really need to examine all the nooks and crannies of our lives in the light of the Ten Commandments and example of Christ.
The iPhone Confession app is not there to offer forgiveness, but like any examination of conscience -- whether or not you are Catholic -- it will help us see where we have failed and need the forgiveness of Christ.
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz.Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.