Rediscovering Frequent Confession
Rev. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap.
Happily, many people are discovering again the rich peace and the great blessings of frequent Confession.
For a while, things were very bad. In many huge parishes, thousands of people went to Communion every week, while almost none went to Confession. There were serious reasons to wonder if many anxious and unhappy people were going to Communion, and even that there were too unworthy and sacrilegious Communions.
Many more were communicating without the peace and deep friendship with Christ they really desired. For many, Communion no longer seemed to bring growth in faith and friendship with the Lord, because they ceased to have repentant hearts. They ceased to have that peaceful friendship with Christ, that we sinners can have only when we have tasted personally and deeply of his forgiving mercy.
A BURDENSOME JOY
Confession never was a cheap or an easy blessing. In the days when fathers and mothers and families went regularly to Confession, it did involve trials. Confession brought great peace, but it meant a certain hard work. It takes much effort to look honestly into my heart for the less happy truths about myself, and to struggle to make promises to turn away from
the baser things to which my weakness and the sadness of the world drive me.
It took some energy and courage to go off to Confession on a Saturday afternoon or evening; to tell the priest my sins, and to stir up my faith to make myself realize: it is really to Christ that I am talking. Realization of the great truths of faith does not come lightly. For
example, faith teaches that Christ is most near to me, and that He cares about everything in my heart and in my inner life. He has personal interest in me, and my life is important enough to my Lord that I really should struggle to make it be what God wants in the face of so many pressures. But only those who are willing to give time to be with Him in
the Sacrament of Confession experience and realize the greatness of that mercy.
DRIFTING FROM CHRIST
Confession deepens personal faith. But it takes faithful energy to be faithful to go to Confession regularly. And many fell away from Confession. First, they went less often. Then much less often. Then hardly at all. Only gradually did they begin to realize that they were losing the warmth of their friendship with Christ and ceasing to be entirely honest in their relations with their God. Only gradually did they realize that they were drifting into the worldly and sensual ways of the mass media, the broken ways of the world and losing the joy of a strong life of faith.
MANY EXCUSES AVAILABLE
There are many excuses for not going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We can say (even though it is not true) that the Second Vatican Council discouraged frequent Confession. We can say (though the Church and the saints and the Scriptures always taught the opposite) that mortal sin is very rare, and that people as good as I need never worry about falling into grave sin.
Since it does take effort to go to Confession, I can pretend that it is useless at least for those who now have no mortal sins to confess. The saints have always reminded us how important it is to receive this sacrament often. The Church has always urged its priests, religious and faithful to confess their sins often. In Confession, we learn from Christ Himself that repentance which deepens our faith and gives deep roots to our love. But we can say (why always tell ourselves the truth?) that there is no special advantage in going to Confession. Then we will be able to escape the bother of it all. But we lose much more than bother.
If we cease leaning on Christ's gift of the Sacrament of Penance we tend to lose our firmness in faith, and our happiness in Christian life. The law of the Church urges frequent Confession. The recent World Synod of Bishops begged us to come back to this sacrament. The Holy Father constantly, out of the living tradition of all the saints and all the
experience of lived faith, urges all the people of God to seize again for themselves, the blessed treasure of frequent Confession.
In this sinful and broken world there is much mortal sin. People, even Catholics, do commit horrible crimes: abortion, adultery and terrible crimes with the power of money and the cruelty of drugs. But there are also mortal sins of a less spectacular kind: lustful deeds deliberately undertaken and deliberate lustful desires to which this fallen world leads
one. Ordinary people sometimes do hateful and cruel deeds. They are surprised at themselves for falling into these things, especially if they stop receiving the Sacrament of Penance regularly, which gives them the power they need to keep from sin.
If we have committed mortal sin, Catholic Faith teaches that the only ordinary way to escape the tragic separation from Christ that mortal sin means is by a good Confession. Even perfect contrition does not help, if we do not accompany our sorrow by a willingness to do what Christ requires: to get promptly to Confession, and to confess and receive from
Christ (through his priest) the absolving words of forgiveness. This is a point that the World Synod of Bishops and the Holy Father teach explicitly. We who have the gift of Catholic Faith possess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation a great personal gift of Christ—this best way of coming back to grace. And this is the one way we have to get back to grace, as all Catholic Tradition insists rightly. There are rare exceptions: when Confession is impossible for us, God makes other ways possible. But Confession is the only ordinary way. Those who have sinned mortally after Baptism must go to Confession if they wish to come back to the Lord in the Eucharist.
THE BLESSINGS OF FREQUENT CONFESSION
Even when, happily, God's mercy keeps us from grave sin, we benefit immensely from frequent Confession.
As Pope John Paul reminded us, the frequent use of Confession is in many ways the safeguard of love and peace. We must not lose the sense of sin or we will rationalize all our selfishness and wrongness of heart. But it is also true that we must not focus too much on sin or we will become bitter and harsh. What we need to do is remember our sins in the very sacrament of healing in which Christ touches us with mercy. Here He teaches us to turn sorrow into love and our own being healed into the forgiving of others.
Confession leads us to the kinds of acts that make hearts repentant: to remember honestly before the good Lord how frail we are, so that we can trust in his mercy with greater determination. Confession requires us to make serious resolutions in our hearts not to offend those we love, to forgive those who hurt us and to do those things our life needs, but the world does not incline us to do.
Confession creates personal friendship with Christ. In this sacrament He personally touches our lives. We speak to Him and He makes us realize (as we seek more faithfully to receive the sacrament well) how deeply concerned He is to bless our lives with grace and healing. When the priest speaks words of absolution, our faith knows that it is the Lord who now, personally, speaks mercy and does mighty and merciful deeds in our lives. He enables us to see through the deceptive images woven by the media world, to begin to realize the really important things of life. He enables us to taste his power: to see that it is not impossible or saddening to keep his Commandments and to walk in his ways.
The return to the Sacrament of Penance does not mean a return to a shallow routine: to Confessions without thoughtful reflection or to sacraments received without realizing how near the Lord is to every corner of our lives.
For each one of us, it is important that we seek out and find a good confessor and learn again, as the Church urges us, to confess our sins with faithful frequency.
WALKING GOD'S WAYS
Remember, the power to walk God's ways and find his peace; the power to turn from selfishness and sin; the power to forgive those we want to love—all this power is a gift of God, not a natural endowment of our nature. And Christ, touching us in his sacraments, is the one who heals us and gives us his mighty Spirit to give grace and joy to our lives. Nothing substitutes for the sacraments. In them the Lord personally touches our lives and heals us.
The Sacrament of Penance is the sacrament of peace and of freedom. Those who receive it regularly, with faith and with reverent trust in God's saving power, experience this deeply. If we have drifted away from frequent Confession, nothing will replace coming again to the Lord in this healing sacrament. This, each one must taste and experience personally.
Printed with ecclesiastical permission
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