Tonight is our Parish Reconciliation Service. I guess it’s good to get together as a community to pray for forgiveness of our sins. But I’ve gotta tell you… there’s nothing better than what follows the communal service.
As painful as it is to personally confess your sins to a priest — either face to face or behind a screen in a darkened confessional — with words that pour out of your own mouth, admitting your failings and shortcomings, acknowledging them out loud (well… okay, in a whispered hush, but nonetheless audible)…
the joy that washes over you when you realize that your sins are wiped away, your soul is clean, when Jesus says
“I forgive you…”
… that joy is truly indescribable.
Recognize confession for what it is. It’s not a psychoanalysis session. It’s not supposed to be a litany of your shortcomings, said for the purpose of making you feel bad or horrible or evil. It’s not a public flogging.
Confession, or penance, or reconciliation — whatever you want to call it — is an chance to say
“I’ve failed. And I’m sorry.”
It’s an opportunity to ask Jesus Christ to forgive you. It’s a one-on-one encounter with Jesus, through His Earthly representative, much the same as Holy Communion is a one-on-one encounter with Him.
Here’s what Pope Paul VI in 1968 said about confession.
“Let us examine the way in which we confess our sins, not in order to be over scrupulous in analyzing our faults, but in order to recognize the greatness of man on his knees before God.
“… In this way, God’s mercy… will… blow over us like a beneficial breeze, alleviating our sorrows.” (Ash Wednesday message, 1968)
When you think about the Creator of the Universe living just like you live, feeling the same human emotions, the same impulses, the same thoughts, what thoughts go through your head?
Can you contemplate it? Do you?
Why don’t you?
If the Creator of the Universe, if the God who knew you before you were conceived, knows how easy it is to sin, don’t you think He can show you mercy? Don’t you think He can forgive you?
No matter what?
Hear what I have to say about the most joyous confession I ever experienced:
I hadn’t been to confession in years. I was harboring an “unforgivable sin.”
I couldn’t bring myself to face Christ — in the person of the priest. I was ashamed. I knew I could never get the words out of my mouth.
It was a period of great introspection. I searched my soul for answers that I couldn’t find. I was sad. I knew God loved me. I knew God forgave me.
But I also knew He expected me to use the Sacrament of Confession, too. To humbly and contritely acknowledge my failing.
I guess most importantly, I knew in my heart of hearts that not confessing my sins was ultimately separating me from God.
And it was my choice.
God gives us the tools and the resources. He gives us the freedom to make choices. He gives us the free will to do what’s right or wrong.
And He knows we will screw up.
We’re human. Just as He was in the person of Jesus. Just as He still is in the person of Jesus Christ present in every tabernacle in every sort of Catholic Church… in every church that carries on the ancient tradition of offertory and consecration and distribution of Holy Eucharist.
Only now His body is glorified. It’s been cleansed of its humanness.
But He knows our human shortcomings. He experienced them, too. Without sinning.
We sin. We are born with original sin. We’re not born with a divine nature. We’re born in the divine image, but we’re born with the capacity to sin.
I reflect on these things now. They were not part of my consciousness when I made this confession. At the time, my anxiety level overwhelmed me. Often.
It was at a Parish Reconciliation Service. I can’t recall whether it was Advent or Lent. All I know is I finally made it to one.
Then came time for individual confessions for those who wished to make one.
I wasn’t going to do it. I was afraid. Thanks to God, I overcame my fear and stepped into a line.
When it was my turn, I poured my heart out to the priest, my confessor. I barely made eye contact.
I finished and waited for my penance. Father absolved me of my sins. I looked at him. His eyes pierced my soul. He smiled and said something. I don’t remember what.
But I knew I was forgiven. The weight of a thousand chains was gone!
It was almost like his eyes said “You’re done! You’re free! Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? I’m so happy to forgive you. I’ve been waiting for you so long. And now, it’s over. You did it. Thank you.”
Go to confession.
Remember what Pope Paul VI said. Don’t be OCD about categorizing and listing your sins. Instead, consider how you approach your sins, how you approach Jesus through the priest, and how remorseful you are.
Don’t get me wrong. Don’t gloss over an examination of conscience! Be thorough! Just make sure you examine patterns. Your major failings. Why you do what you do. How you can avoid repeating the patterns and failings.
You’re going to sin again.
We all do.
Don’t beat yourself up. Resolve to persevere.
None of us are perfect until our heavenly Father perfects us. In heaven.
The Act of Contrition I’ve said since I made my First Confession and First Holy Communion in 1965:
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment. But most of all, because they have offended Thee, my God, who art so good and so deserving of all my love, I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
Thanks for taking some of your precious time today to read and listen to my thoughts. My commitment during Lent 2016 is to post a daily video reflection to help you and me on our walk through the season and toward Easter Sunday. I will also explore other matters of faith and also health and fitness to keep us fit for the journey. Click here for my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/davekwiecinski
I appreciate your help and encouragement. Please let me know how I can help you. This is something I’ve been called to do for some time. I’m finally embracing it. Father, forgive me for procrastinating.