By Catholic News Service
IN A NUTSHELL
The Sacrament of reconciliation isn't about God condemning us for our sins, nor is it about the priest; rather, it's an invitation to be healed by God's mercy.
It can be a powerful way to grow in faith and encounter God in a profoundly merciful context.
The Sacrament of reconciliation encourages us to go and to try to sin no more.
A regular cleaning of your soul
By Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr.| Catholic News Service
As a child I always disliked going to the dentist. As an adult, I can't say I'm excited to go to the dentist, but I still make time to go. Even though it's not our favorite, we still go.
Now contrast that with going to confession, if we don't see the value in going to confession, or we don't like it, then most adults just stop going. So what has to change? Perhaps we need to all grow in our understanding of the Sacrament of reconciliation. Can going to the dentist can give us a clue?
One of the first questions people ask is, "Why do I have to go to a priest?" We are confessing our sins not so much to the priest, but rather to God. The priest acts in the person of Christ, and furthermore represents the Church, so that the penitent may be reconciled to both God and the Church.
If one has a toothache, one goes to the dentist, not a car salesmen. Why? Because the dentist is trained and prepared to cure you. God desires to heal you from your sins, and the priest has been entrusted by the Church to carry out that ministry.
I've had a lot of dentists. Some I liked more than others. That's natural, but regardless of whether I liked the dentist or not, when I needed their care, I went. One of the things that can hold us back from the Sacrament of reconciliation is our relationship with the priest.
Sometimes, if we've had a bad experience with a priest, unlike the dentist, we just stop going. If there is more than one priest in your parish or area, it's OK to prefer one over another, but it's not OK to not go at all because you don't like one. It's not about you and the priest, it's about you and your relationship with God.
When asked why people don't go to confession anymore, I respond, "Because people don't sin anymore." One of the realities of a society that follows the dictatorship of relativism and denies both sin and its consequences, is that there is no longer the "need" to go to confession.
If you haven't done anything wrong, then why do you need to go to confession? "You do you," is a sufficient moral criterion. Yet, we cry out that something is wrong if it hurts or offends someone. If no one is hurt or offended, then it must be OK for me to do.
We forget that sin always offends God, and it damages the communion of the Church. Denying the existence of sin, and the need for confession, is like saying we don't need to go to the dentist because we don't have teeth.
The connection with the dentist is nothing new, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls, St. Jerome once quipped over 1,600 years ago, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know" (No. 1456).
This is why when confessing our sins to the priest, we must tell him all of them. God wants to heal you from your sins, all of them. It's important to state the type of the sin, and how many times. Be specific, but not too detailed.
Don't just say, "bad thoughts," those could be so varied from someone struggling with depression, to lustful thoughts, to anger or something else. Mentioning the number not only keeps nothing hidden, but there's a difference between a bad habit and a one-time mistake.
Dentists recommend a regular cleaning every six months. The Church places the obligation of going to confession at least once a year, or before receiving Communion anytime we've committed a mortal sin. Even if you aren't having any pain, you still go see the dentist every six months to clean away all the slow buildup. If you are having a toothache, you go right away.
The same is true with our sins; we go anytime we've committed a mortal sin, but we can also go to be cleansed of the slow accumulation of venial sins.
Dentists encourage daily brushing and flossing. To be better prepared to make a good confession, make an examination of conscience; do so daily, not just as you're rushing from your car to the confessional. Additionally, go to confession not once a year, but once a month, to be cleansed of the sins that are building up and bearing you down.
The Sacrament of reconciliation isn't about God condemning us for our sins, nor is it about the priest; rather, it's an invitation to be healed by God's mercy. When we hold nothing back and regularly seek out the love of God that is waiting for us, it will not seem so scary at all.
You might just walk out of the confessional happy, and dare I say, smiling. Just make sure you see your dentist too, so that smile is nice and bright.
Father Brooke is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. His website is https://frgeoffrey.com and his social media handle is @PadreGeoffrey.
Don't worry, be reconciled!
By Maureen Pratt | Catholic News Service
For many baby boomers and other Catholics, the childhood experience of reconciliation was "old school" -- a daunting, opaque confession of transgressions in an anonymous, confining confessional capped off with a recital of the act of contrition.
Today, reconciliation is one of the least practiced Sacraments, but for many adults who return to it, it can be a powerful way to grow in faith and encounter God in a profoundly merciful context.
Two examples of Catholics who fell away from the Sacrament and returned to it as adults offer insight into some of the issues that might hold others back from fully benefiting from receiving the Sacrament.
Holly Clark's early experience with reconciliation was marked by the sometimes-misunderstood events around the edges of the Second Vatican Council. She said, "I grew up in the post-Vatican II vacuum. My mother remembered the priest saying, 'They're doing away with confessions.' So, after that, we didn't have a focus on confession."
By the time she entered a master's program at St. John XXIII Seminary, certain aspects of the Sacrament had changed drastically, but it certainly had not "gone away." Confession could be face to face and not spoken into an opaque grid, and the emphasis was on having a conversation with the priest, instead of reciting a laundry list of transgressions large and small.
To Clark, these changes were welcome. "I always felt silly saying, 'I did this five times, I did that five times,'" she said.
But it wasn't until an Advent penance service that fear rooted in her childhood experiences could be dispelled.
"I don't memorize things well," she said. "I was afraid of getting yelled at for the act of contrition. I sat there as others lined up and I kept thinking, 'They'll know if I don't go.' Finally, I decided, 'I'll throw myself upon the mercy of the court.' I picked out the priest who was the most understanding. He was very kind. He didn't even ask me to say the act of contrition! He said, 'Are you sorry?' and I said, 'Yes, I'm sorry.'"
Clark, who is disabled with multiple congenital deformities, is now pastoral associate at Cranberry Catholic Collaborative, Massachusetts. She said, "I realized that part of my fear was that I was coming to an adult understanding of the Sacrament."
Deacon Michael Bellinder's parents advocated weekly reconciliation. After four years in high school at a seminary, though, he said, "I kind of fell away. In college, we had wild parties. Those were the kind of things you didn't want to have to confess week after week, so I stopped going."
Married at 22, Bellinder started to think about his faith more when he and his wife had children.
"I had a minidepression in my late 20s or early 30s," he says, "I call it 'manopause.' I went back to confession. The relief! The burden of so many years of not confessing just peeled like an onion off my shoulders."
In 1996, Bellinder was shot during a workplace break-in. He entered the deaconate in 2002. But lingering effects of the shooting, surgery, infection and another fight with depression took him away from the deaconate and reconciliation for several years.
"I felt that God had disappeared out of my life," he says. "My wife, thank God for her, forced me to go to Church. Instead of going to my home parish, we started going to the smaller chapel at the veteran's hospital."
Five years ago, a friend suggested a Cursillo retreat.
"It was one of the best ever," Bellinder said. "I spent time before the Blessed Sacrament and examined my conscience. Making my confession was the biggest step in my recovery. I totally gave my life to Christ."
"In the confessional, God meets man and man meets God in his mercy," said Bellinder. "If it's a truly sincere confession, we are brought out of the darkness of sin and into the light of Christ."
Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service. Her website is www.maureenpratt.com.
A people seeking forgiveness
By Daniel S. Mulhall | Catholic News Service
Human sinfulness and God's never-ending forgiveness are central themes of the entire Bible, Old and New Testament alike.
Beginning with the sin in the garden in Genesis 3:1-7, through God's mercy for Cain, on through the histories and prophets, and then into the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, the story remains the same: We sin, and God calls us back with forgiveness.
One of the high holy days in the Jewish year is Yom Kippur, "the Day of Atonement," described in Leviticus 16:29-30. On this day, people do penance -- atone -- for the sins they have committed against God during the past year. Before one can seek atonement with God for the sins committed against another person, one must first seek to right the wrong and be reconciled with that person.
Isaiah 58:1-12 beautifully addresses what we are called to do to make amends: We are to recognize our sinfulness and to tell it to others (58:1). Then, we are to act with justice toward those whom we have harmed:
"Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?" (58:6-7) Only then will we be vindicated; only then will we be forgiven (58:8).
Jesus picks up this theme in his teaching, especially in the presentation of the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12/Lk 6:20-45) and when he taught his disciples how to pray: "Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us (Lk 11:4, see Mt 6:1-18 and Lk 11:1-13 for the full context).
While in his teaching Jesus echoes the beliefs of his Jewish ancestors, something new enters into the equation with his death and resurrection: "The blood of his son Jesus cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7).
As the International Theological Commission stated in its 1982 statement on penance and reconciliation, "It is not that we reconcile ourselves with God; it is God who through Christ reconciles us to him."
And as 1 John 2:1-2 puts it, "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world."
While our current practice of individual confession and penance developed after biblical times, there are numerous scriptural passages that support the practice. One in particular stands out.
Following his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples. After breathing upon them he said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:22-23; see also Mt 18:18).
The Sacrament of reconciliation encourages us to go and to try to sin no more. This teaching is found also in Ephesians 4:25-32 and 1 John 1:5-10.
Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Whether it's been awhile since your last confession or you go regularly, Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr. has seven tips to make the experience more fruitful.
-- Prepare with an examination of conscience. "Just as it is with tests and interviews, so it is also true with confession," says Father Brooke. "It is best to prepare." Examinations of conscience can be found on diocesan websites or the U.S. bishops' website (www.usccb.org).
-- Arrive early. "Confessions are no different than life, 'you snooze, you lose,'" says Father Brooke. Get there early to avoid a long line, and so you don't feel rushed, he adds.
-- Be specific, but not too detailed. "The Church asks us to confess our sins in both kind and number," Father Brooke explains, but that doesn't mean providing unnecessary information.
-- Remember it's not a counseling office. If you walk out of confession saying the priest's advice was terrible and questioning the value of the Sacrament, then there's a problem, says Father Brooke. "If you need counseling, make an appointment with the priest, if you want God's healing grace, go to confession."
-- Try not to overexplain. You don't have to explain the theology behind why what you did is a sin, Father Brooke says. But if you're unsure, it's better to ask.
-- Go regularly. Father Brooke recommends going to confession once a month so that individuals "grow in self-awareness and in their relationship with God."
-- Fear not. Don't worry, Father Brooke says, "the priest doesn't desire to remember your sins." Focus on the bigger picture and "be not afraid of receiving God's merciful love."[[In-content Ad]]