As we move deeper into Lent, Bishop Mark Davies’ latest pastoral letter is a timely reminder for us to consider and avail ourselves of the sacrament of confession:
“I have stood only once in the Judean wilderness, described in the Gospel today: a landscape of rocks and barren earth looking almost like a different planet. Only the unusually heavy rain, which fell that day, reminded me of home – and more profoundly that you and I are now called to stand in that same place of struggle during these days of Lent. On Ash Wednesday the Season of Lent began with the invitation to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. It is never easy to face up to our own sins, to resist the illusions about ourselves, which the Devil constantly presents. This is why the Church calls us urgently to confess our sins in these forty days, which lead us towards Easter.
“We live in a society where we are used to hearing ‘public confessions’ on our television screens. We even demand such confessions of those in public life who must admit their most shameful failings. Yet when it comes to ourselves, we can find confessing our sins so humanly difficult even though the priest represents, not that often ‘unforgiving public’, but the only One who can save us from our sins. I have gone to Confession regularly throughout my life but I have never found it any easier to say those words: “Father, these are my sins.” And I hope I will never find this any easier. Otherwise I would never hear the more wonderful words: “The Lord has freed you from your sins, go in peace.”
“So that the Lord can so free us from our sins we need to honestly confess whatever seriously disrupts our relationship with Him and any mortal sin, which destroys that relationship. “Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church,” the Catechism explains, “above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin …” (CCC 1446). And to deepen our relationship with Him, which is to grow in holiness, confessing our everyday sins and failings, our venial sins, helps us to avoid sin and grow in the Christian life. As the Catechism describes, “the regular confession of our venial sins helps us to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.” (CCC 1458).
“This Sacrament is given many names in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: reconciliation, penance, forgiveness. The name I am particularly drawn towards is the ‘Sacrament of Conversion’. For conversion continues throughout our lives from our childhood to old age in this Sacrament, where Christ Himself promises that His grace and forgiveness will be found. Throughout the course of our lives and our struggles we will always find in this Sacrament that “His patience awaits us”, as St John Vianney so beautifully expressed it.
“It does, of course, go against the grain to admit where we have gone wrong. It goes against our pride and illusions, to humble ourselves by confessing our sins before a priest. The priest represents both Christ and the whole body of the Church, which has been wounded by our sins, for in this Sacrament we are healed and reconciled with Christ and His Church. And it is through such a sincere confession of our sins that all illusions about ourselves are put aside. We can see then why the Church understands confession to be the only ordinary way, “for the faithful to be reconciled with God and the Church.” (CCC 1484). Yet it is through this confession made with sorrow and a firm purpose of amendment – that is, an honest will to avoid the same sins and whatever leads us into sin – that we each come to know one of the greatest joys to be found on this earth: the joy of being forgiven and raised up once more by grace.
“It is my prayer that we can each re-discover Confession in these forty days of Lent. Indeed, I hope we more than re-discover this Sacrament. May we come to love this Sacrament left for you and for me by Christ the Lord. Thus, in our struggle with sin and temptation may we share His victory in the wilderness, the victory which Easter promises us.”
Bishop of Shrewsbury
In his revelations to Saint Faustina, as recorded in her diary, Our Lord has these words to say about His great gift to us:
“When you go to Confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flow down upon your soul and ennoble it. Every time you go to Confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden in the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls. (1602)
“Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy. There the greatest miracles take place (and) are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no (hope of) restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! You will call out in vain, but it will be too late. (1448)”
As we ponder Our Blessed Lord’s teaching and Bishop Mark’s invitation, there may still be some hurdles to overcome before we bite the bullet and head for the confessional. Most would agree that confessing one’s sins can be tough, especially if there has been a considerable time lapse since we last received absolution. Father Zuhlsdorf’s sound advice should smooth the path for us all:
Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession
We should …
- examine our consciences regularly and thoroughly;
- wait our turn in line patiently;
- come at the time confessions are scheduled, not a few minutes before they are to end;
- speak distinctly but never so loudly that we might be overheard;
- state our sins clearly and briefly without rambling;
- confess all mortal sins in number and kind;
- listen carefully to the advice the priest gives
- confess our own sins and not someone else’s
- carefully listen to and remember the penance and be sure to understand it;
- use a regular formula for confession so that it is familiar and comfortable;
- never be afraid to say something “embarrassing”… just say it;
- never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…. he is usually impressed by our courage;
- never fear that the priest will not keep our confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
- never confess “tendencies” or “struggles”… just sins;
- never leave the confessional before the priest has finished giving absolution;
- memorize an Act of Contrition;
- answer the priest’s questions briefly if he asks for a clarification;
- ask questions if we can’t understand what he means when he tells us something;
- keep in mind that sometimes priests can have bad days just like we do;
- remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.
Finally let’s remember that Our Lady, our guardian angels and the saints are always eager to assist us, and never more so than when our wounded souls are in need of healing. May they intercede for us, that we do not hesitate to approach the confessional, the fount of Divine Mercy, with trusting and contrite hearts.