From the archives: Fall Cleaning

With the very first cool breeze and the trial run of the school buses rumbling through my neighborhood the week before school begins, I take my cue to make a clean sweep. Never one for school shopping, I forego the crush at Target and celebrate the new academic year by deep cleaning our “schoolroom” and everything else within my reach. I find comfort in ordering and organizing our materials. I love to haul big bags of trash out to the curb. There is something beautiful about a fresh place to begin anew.
My children have been known to catch the bug as well. The ones who are naturally orderly love to line up freshly sharpened pencils on a newly scrubbed desk in anticipation of year full of academic adventures. And even those who are not so inclined can be persuaded to turn over a new leaf in honor of the new school year. The calendar is inscribed with the new schedule of activities. The pantry and freezer are stocked with autumn staples. All is prepared for the year ahead.
What a perfect time for confession! We can all line up in the quiet sanctuary and, one by one, sweep our souls clean of even the smallest specks of dust. Particularly for little ones, there are no big messes, no mortal sins, just small bad habits which lie like a layer of fine dust between them and the brilliance of the Lord. Sweep it away! Begin again, fresh and ready and shining for God.
It is not necessary to clean my house so thoroughly every autumn. We can and do homeschool in a messy house quite frequently. It’s not necessary to carefully pencil in the activities; I’ve flown by the seat of my pants before (though I don’t recommend it). It’s not even necessary to plan meals and stock the pantry. The grocery store is only a mile away. And, some will tell you, it’s not necessary to go to confession more than once a year, particularly if all one has to confess are venial sins.
But, if we believe in the real grace present in the sacrament, if we acknowledge that the priest can says the words of absolution and the Holy Spirit will shine away even the smallest speck of dust on our souls, why would we stay away? Why we would not take to the seat of mercy even our smallest failures? Is it fun to clean? Do I like to crawl around on my hands and knees and ferret out every last little Lego and stray crayon? Do I enjoy vacuuming under the desks and chairs and cleaning keyboards? Not really. But there is an immense sense of peace when the job is well done. And the house stays cleaner longer. It’s easier to avoid the near occasion of sin when one begins with a spotless soul.
Most people don’t like the actual act of confessing. They are not happy about spilling every shortcoming and imperfection. They don’t relish the idea of exposing the dirt. But they leave that confessional looking visibly relieved. There are fewer creases in their foreheads. Their shoulders are lifted a little higher. They have the hope a clean slate offers. They know the grace of being forgiven. They have heard those beautiful words of absolution . Clean and fresh and new again, they go forth to embrace all the goodness this new season and our great God have to offer.