July 17, 2011

Taking Another Look at Confession - part I

Over this past week the subject of Confession has caught my attention in several different ways.   On July 24th, the Congregation for Clergy released a document for priests titled "The Priest Minister of Divine Mercy: an Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors, which I took the time to read.  Although it was meant for priests, it gave great insight into the Sacrament. In the book I am currently reading,"Rediscover Catholicism" a Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose," by Matthew Kelly, I was up to the chapter titled Confession. To go even further, in an online discussion I was engaged in, the conversation centered around the Sacrament of Penance.  Was God trying to tell me something?  It's only been about two weeks since my last confession, so I don't think that was it.  Perphaps God is asking me to write about it. 

I must admit, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Penance, or Confession (what ever one cares to call it), is something that has caught my attention over the last twenty years, especially since I began studying theology.  If fact, I chose it as my ad libitum topic for my comprehensive exams at Notre Dame.  I have been fascinated by the history and development of the Sacrament and also the obvious decline in its celebration among Catholics today (although I think we are seeing a slight increase).  I also feel that it is a Sacrament that is much needed in today's world.  But I didn't always feel that way.

As a child I went to Confession every few weeks, but a bad experience with a priest in confession as an adolescent instilled a fear that stayed with me for years (and to some extent still rears its head at times).  I did still go, but over time it went from months to years between confessions. Also, I gave in to the mistaken notion that if I didn't commit a mortal sin then I didn't need to celebrate the Sacrament. That's what it might appear to say in Canon Law, but what I discovered is that my conscience formation was a bit flawed, and I also gave into a bit of relativism (OK maybe more than a bit), so that I had myself convinced that I really wasn't sinning mortally so I didn't need confession. But God was working on convincing me that this Sacrament was necessary, whether I commit mortal sins or not. When I finally came back to Confession after an absense of 9 years, I still did not feel that great about it, but made it a yearly "gotta do" kind of thing, until I started studying theology, reading about the saints, and looking into enriching my own spiritual life.

What I discovered is that this Sacrament is a beautiful encounter with Jesus, who is loving, forgiving and merciful. It is, writes Kelly, "the perfect spiritual practice to rekindle our passion for excellence in the spiriutal life."  What made ordinary people great saints?  I believe it was the realization that they were sinners and that they believed in God's mercy and accepted His Grace, becoming all that God called them be.  Look at some of our most beloved saints, Paul, Augustine, Francis, Ignatius, they all had less than perfect lives before they encountered Christ.  But, in being open to Grace, they confessed their sinful ways, abandoned their way of life, and drew close to God.

Broken Trust
by Natalie Holland
Taking that step to be open to and accepting of God's Grace requires trust. Perhaps that is another reason why I stayed away from the Sacrament for so long, having been hurt, I was unable to allow myself to trust. What I failed to realize however, was that my lack of trust was based on the fault of a human being, not on God. I let one priest, who was unable to be compassionate to an eleven year old girl, influence my relationship with Christ, who is full of compassion. I allowed one man to affect my trust in God. I wonder how many people have let a bad confession experience keep them away from our Lord's forgiveness and mercy? It took me a long time to rebuild that trust by finding good confessors and availing myself of the Sacrament regularly so that I can keep building my trust in God by experiencing His Love and Forgiveness. Have you been away from the Sacrament for awhile, for one reason or another? Why not take another look at Confession!

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