Did you practice either the First Friday or the First Saturday devotion? I remember my mother telling us about them–or maybe it was the nuns. I don’t know if I actually completed one before I was twenty although I know I tried.
If I remember correctly, the First Friday devotion was started 1750 or so by St. Margaret Mary who had a vision with the following message: honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus by going to confession and receiving communion on the First Friday of the month for nine consecutive months and you’ll receive twelve promises of the Sacred Heart. The First Saturday devotion had something to do with Mary and required going to confession, going to Mass and of course receiving communion on the first Saturday of five consecutive months. I don’t know if it involved thinking about Mary’s life and whether any promises were made.
When I was growing up, the lady up the street from us–as staunch a Baptist as my mother was a Catholic–was furious when I told her niece about the devotions. “For one thing, God doesn’t appear to people,” she said, “and for another thing you don’t need to do anything for five months or nine to get God’s grace.” I was embarrassed because she thought my mom and my religion were stupid.
As an adult I too think that God will bless us for how much we love Him and love others and not because we fulfilled some formula. Sometimes–many times–that’s harder than it seems–especially the neighbor part. But as it is in most cases, this isn’t about God. It’s about us. And it speaks directly to the question: do we need confession/penance or is repenting in our hearts enough because Jesus already paid the price for our sins?
As a Catholic I believe Jesus died to save me from death (huge!) not to save me from discipline, penance, and good works. I think His suffering, death, and resurrection opened the gates of heaven to me but that it’s up to me to walk through. I believe He forgives me as soon as I feel sorrow in my heart but that I’m not necessarily a shoo-in for heaven because I was born again in the Sacrament of Baptism. I think penance and good works are more than options; I think they are essential for strengthening me against evil so I can complete my race to heaven.
That’s why I like the Firsts. Not because of the spiritual promises (but hey, those are nice) but because they require discipline on my part. They require effort and action to take time, on a consistent schedule , to be with God. Don’t I do that on Sunday morning? Not exactly. Sunday is about group worship. Don’t I do that by setting aside a time each month or week or day to read the Bible? Yes, but I do that all year. I like these devotions (and I’m being honest here; I haven’t made many of them) because they are another layer of my relationship with God–sort of like a couple who change up their weekly date night from dinner and a movie to a nine-week yoga class. They may never try it again, but they’ll see each other in a new way and grow closer because of the experience. And that’s exactly what I want with God.