Lent is a good time to visit the Sacrament of Penance. Well, is there ever a bad time? No. But as I prepare for Good Friday and Easter, I try a bit harder to make more visits to this Sacrament. It’s a shame that confession has been largely forgotten in large swaths of contemporary Catholic life. As our culture becomes more relativistic, is it any surprise that personal sin and, by extension, the necessity of confession receive less attention?
Older Catholics frequently tell me that, when they were young, parishes every Saturday afternoon were packed with faithful lined up for confession, with several priests spending hours in the confessionals. In preparation for Sunday Mass, going to confession with the family was one of the normal family rituals before dinner on Saturday. (I remember hearing Archbishop Robert Carlson reminisce in a homily about how, when he was a boy, his mother would always insist that on Saturday evening, all the kids in the family do two things: go to confession and take a bath. A beautiful memory, and a great mother.) This Sacrament is a supernatural gift that comes directly from Christ Himself, so let’s pray that more souls return to it.
What’s so great about confession? Here are some thoughts:
Absolute confidentiality and anonymity: The certainty that what I’m going to confess is under lock and key forever is incredibly liberating. The seal of the confessional means that there are no internally imposed reservations, born out of fear, about being totally open and honest. Add to this the option of anonymity via the screen and residual fears melt away.
Another human voice: Especially in times of vulnerability, who doesn’t like to hear the comforting voice of another human being? It’s natural. Some who object to confession counter with the “I just confess to God in my prayers” line, but I am a soul and body who still longs to hear with my own ears the words of pardon from another human being. Actually hearing “I absolve you of your sins…” and “Go in peace.” make the reality of what has just happened so much more real and immediate. Our existence is not just about the rarefied realm of the invisible or some distant abstraction. In confession, the body too receives the good news of forgiveness. Healing comes through hearing. Confession also reminds us that, as Catholics, we are members of a body and not separated limbs living in atomistic ecclesial isolation.
Bury the guilt: Really, what feels worse than guilt? Probably nothing. It’s the sign of a heathy conscience, but it still feels awful. So what could be better (and what feels better) than having your soul cleansed, and guilt washed away? There’s nothing like it. As Pascal observed, we come up with lots of distractions to avoid facing our guilt (and the truth about ourselves) but there’s only one way to get rid of it.
Real assistance with everyday struggles: Regular confession helps to address all those stubborn day-to-day stumbles and failings. Sometimes, for me at least, the temptation is to become used to certain smaller sins and minor bad habits and give them less scrutiny. Bad idea. Frequent confession reminds me not to turn a blind eye to venial sins, but to work hard at eliminating them from my daily routine.
Avoid Hell: Enough said.
Conquer pride: Is there any sin worse than pride? No. Is there another means out there besides confession that is more helpful in breaking the back of pride? Don’t think so. In addition to the forgiveness of particular sins, confession does an excellent job of knocking me off my high horse. For that, I’m most grateful.
Intimacy with Christ’s blood: Because it deals with the healing (and even the bringing back to life) of the soul itself, absolution and reconciliation with the Father through confession is a bigger miracle than the creation of the universe! Think about that. It’s a big deal! I wonder, along with Christ’s Real Presence in the Host at Mass, is there a bigger miracle out there than the Sacrament of Penance? What’s more, you can experience it, not just once or twice, but whenever you need it. I’ll end with this beautiful reflection from The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena. These are Christ’s words, addressed to Catherine and us.
This is the Divine charity provided in the Sacrament of Holy Confession, the soul receiving the Baptism of Blood, with contrition of heart, confessing, when able to My ministers, who hold the keys of the Blood, sprinkling It, in absolution, upon the face of the soul.
Featured image: Saint John Bosco hearing confessions.