It’s that time of year—Lent and Confessions. Someone once said one should go to Confession when one gets a haircut. Let’s think about Confession, skipping the part about haircuts. Really, the Sacrament of Confession has to do with more than just enumerating one’s sins while looking for forgiveness. It’s more about the mercy of God. It’s better named the Sacrament of Reconciliation, that is, reconciliation with God, with others and with ourselves.
“Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:17)
So this Sacrament is about a merciful God reconciling all through the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus and giving us his Holy Spirit so we can have pardon and peace.
“I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.
I will put my spirit within you.” Ezekiel 36:26-27
So why go to a priest and not to God directly? Why go to a dentist, doctor, mechanic, teacher or coach or others to get help? Best to go directly to God! In the Sacrament of Reconciliation priests are spiritual trash collectors. One of the duties a priest is trained for is to be a waste management engineer. By the grace of God, most do a good job helping us dump our spiritual junk.
How often should I go to Confession? As often as needed. How often do I need to do the laundry? How many miles before an oil change? The Church’s experience suggests at least once a year. Given the complexities of life and the tendencies of our human condition once a year seems insufficient.
Sometimes going to the doctor doesn’t help especially if out of fear or embarrassment one does not share truthfully and fully the symptoms of the ailment. God does what God does but priest-confessors need to know the story. Just the story; not the details.
One consequence of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the promise of the Lord to accompany the penitent with help to overcome the areas of sin confessed. Along with other spiritual healings, troublesome memories can often be managed, controlled or irradiated through the reception of this Sacrament.
True reconciliation demands the will to make amends to anyone (God, others, self) who has been offended. The penitent must repair the damage done as far as possible with the firm resolution not to repeat the same sins over again, with God’s help. One can never profit from wrong doing. This is not a free pass to do whatever because there is always an easy, private option for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Absolution follows. What’s my “penance”? What’s this “penance” business all about anyway? The “penance” should be related to the sins confessed. Usually an “Our Father” or “three Hail Marys” won’t do. If one exploded, calling everyone vulgar names, how about going back and making it right with those offended for a “penance”? Many times the penitent can help the priest to fit the “penance” to the sin. “Penances” are to be helps to experience the mercy of God and make things right with others, including one’s self.
There is a Penance Service at Holy Redeemer on Tuesday, March 6th at 7:00pm.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Jack Keefe, CSC