Ash Wednesday’s first reading at Holy Mass was a call to repentance, and Lent is the time when, if we rarely go to Confession, or Reconciliation as it has been called since Vatican II, we will, by the grace of God, make our way to the Confessional and receive this most underused Sacrament.
One suggestion in the following article is that catechesis on this Sacrament is woefully lacking, and in my experience this is indeed so with a member of my family, who, prior to making her first Holy Communion was absolutely terrified of what was, to her, an ordeal. Thanks be to God, she now knows better, but what should have been a grace, was, for her, a frightening experience.
The following is from CatholicAnchoronline – the web-page of the Diocese of Anchorage, Alaska.
Priests moved by ‘lost sacrament’ of confession
Say that many have misconceptions about confession
By JAMES DECRANE
Like lancing a boil or going to the dentist, the thought of going to confession stirs up powerful emotions in Catholics.
Some fear it. Others feel embarrassment. A great deal of anxiety seems to accompany most Catholics before they enter the confessional. That anxiety keeps 45 percent of Catholics away from the so-called “lost sacrament,” according to a poll conducted in 2008 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate or CARA.
Yet for Catholic priests, including many in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, hearing confessions and giving absolution is one of the most rewarding aspects of their priesthood.
According to Dominican priest Father Vincent Kelber of Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, confession is a sacrament many do not truly understand.
“People are afraid to go to confession,” he admitted. “We allow ourselves to have misconceptions about it.”
The pastor of St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church Father James Barrand thinks the misconceptions are due to in part to a lack of proper teaching.
“There is a lack of formal catechesis on the types and serious effects of sins. Priests are afraid to discuss sins for fear of offending individuals, so our people’s understanding of sin or transgressions is formulated by pop culture,” he explained.
Father Kelber agreed and stressed the urgency of educating Catholics about the importance of the sacrament — breaking down false beliefs and fears.
“If you make it available and preach it, people will use it,” he said.
The biggest misconception Anchorage priests say they hear about the sacrament is the idea that people need only go directly to God for forgiveness and skip the confessional. The error in this belief lies in the difference between forgiveness and absolution, Father Kelber explained.
HEALING THROUGH ABSOLUTION
He said that a deep transformation occurs in confession “where the Holy Spirit enters into a person for true healing.”
Father Barrand agreed and quickly pointed out the priest’s unique role in confession.
“In confession … the penitent speaks directly to Christ, forgiveness always comes directly from God,” he explained, “while the priest is the witness to this holy action and is the voice of Christ declaring the absolution.”
Absolution is the moment when the priest, through the work of Christ, absolves the penitent from his or her sin.
It is during absolution where priests say they are amazed and humbled at being able to see the effects of this healing right in the confessional.
“I can physically see in the person’s face or hear it in their voice the sense of peace after I give absolution,” Father Kelber said. “There is a comfort that comes from being able to hear the words.”
NO SIN TOO SHOCKING
Priests say one reason many shy away from the sacrament is due to embarrassment. But they add that this should not stop people from going.
Father Vincent told the Catholic Anchor that he has heard it all — from organized crime to Satanism.
“We’ve heard so much, we know what people are capable of doing. Even good people do crazy things sometimes,” he said. “But we’re not interested in how you came … we’re interested in how you leave.”
Father Tom Brundage of St. Andrew Church in Eagle River also stressed the importance of the confidentiality of the sacrament.
“This is a unique sacrament because of its private nature,” he explained. “Most sacraments are very public, but here it is the penitent, the priest and God alone in conversation.”
Father Brundage also made it clear that a priest is bound by a sacred seal to never discuss or act on anything heard in the confession.
PRIESTS CONFESS TOO
All three priests also asked that people need to remember that they need to go to confession just like everybody else.
“Every priest, nun, bishop and pope is required to go to confession, just like any of the faithful,” Father Barrand said. “We’re all in the same boat and in need of our Lord’s mercy and compassion.”
“I get nervous when I go to confession myself,” Father Kelber said. “I know what it’s like!”
Father Tom Brundage agreed.
“We’re all sinners, so join the club,” he said.
“Yes, it is sometimes uncomfortable to go to confession … who likes going to the dentist or even the doctor?” Father James Barrand said. “But the relief, the joy of the cessation of the pain afterwards, is most rewarding. When people hear our Lord [through the priest] pronounce the absolution — “I forgive you all of your sins” — they will experience elation in their souls — the peace and joy Adam must have felt in the garden after creation.”
In addition to the spiritual healing, Father Kelber pointed out the human benefits of confession as well.
“Being able to hear the words is so important,” he said. “There is a reason why after the “Our Father” [in the Mass] the priest says the line about delivering us from all anxiety.”
In fact, in addition to the deep spiritual healing, there is physiological evidence that confession is good for the human psyche.
“It is great when doctors acknowledge the importance of confession — and the overlapping of the two,” Father Kelber said. “The good psychologists and priests see the overlap between the two — they are tools that work together.”
The bottom line, according to all the priests: confession helps a person not only be a healthier individual but one on the right path to virtue and holiness.
“When we look to some of the greatest of our saints, even those of recent memory, we find men and women who strove their whole lives to achieve perfection through sanctification which they obtained by frequent confessions and Communion,” Father Barrand said.