Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Confession: "what an extraordinary reward!"

One of my weekly highlights is Bible Study which meets every Monday in the rectory basement from 7-8 pm. It is a group of between 15-20 parishioners who bring great joy and insight to the discussion of the Sunday Mass readings. We carry on with stories and laughs for a fair amount of the hour, but mainly have intense conversation about what the readings mean and how they apply to our lives. The discussion is open to go in any direction, and it usually does!

Last night, I mentioned something that had brought me real joy this past weekend. At the beginning of my homily at the three Masses I celebrated, I invited people to pick a confession card that a) reminded them to confess and b) had an act of contrition on the back. Over 100 people picked up cards after the Masses! I relayed this to the group, and then we began to talk about the fears of going to confession. One person asked what was behind the fear of confessing to a priest; ultimately, we agreed that it was pride. Then, someone asked, “who really likes going to confession every month?” An “I do” immediately came from -take a wild guess!- yours truly. “Oh well, you. Of course you do. I mean, it’s you!” After we all laughed quite a bit at that comment, I explained why I like to go to confession.

The gift of absolution is one of the greatest gifts on Earth. Yes, it’s embarrassing and humiliating to tell my sins to a priest. But, really, so what? I have to endure a few minutes of embarrassment in order to receive something that will last forever – forgiveness. Receiving absolution of my sins is worth it. Those sins are gone forever! I walk in there with this huge weight on my shoulders, only have to humble myself for a few minutes and I walk out with the weight lifted. So many times, walking out of the confessional has been for me the experience of Heaven on Earth: having been weighed down by the bondage of sin, I’m free!

In his pastoral letter (1/1/08), “Reflections on God’s Mercy and Our Forgiveness”, Archbishop Wuerl writes about the powerful effect of the gift of absolution in the sacrament of confession. “Last year I pointed out that ‘there is a comforting simplicity to confession. With sincere contrition we need only open our hearts to the priest, recount our failings and ask for forgiveness. What follows is one of those moments in the life of the Church when the awesome power of Jesus Christ is most clearly and directly felt. In the name of the Church and Jesus Christ, the priest absolves the penitent from sin. At the heart of confession is the momentous action of absolution that only a priest can grant by invoking the authority of the Church and acting in the person of Jesus Christ’… Confession does take courage, but what an extraordinary reward!”

Amen, Your Excellency!! It only takes a few minutes of courage and humility for us to receive an extraordinary and eternal reward. It’s a great investment with short-term (freedom, peace, joy) and long-term (Heaven) gains. Also, we regularly endure some pain through exercise and dieting for our bodies, why can’t we do it for our souls, too? St. Paul amplifies this point: “Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable” (1 Cor 9:24-25). Finally, we might play with a cliché by saying that confession is like “a moment on the lips, an eternity off the hips”.


At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m taking this Lenten mini-course (for those who think they can’t commit to how ever many months Bible Study is offered here, or at any parish, they are really great short term study classes during Advent & Lent). After the first discussion, The Light is On for You was brought up, and one brave soul said what so many have thought, including myself in other times, “I can confess directly to God; He knows my sins already. Confession was invented by men.” There was a time when it seemed to me that confession to be a bit voyeuristic, and I didn’t go except during Advent and Lent (and usually on the very last day possible).

When this man said this, I was thinking- if he doesn’t think he needs confession, does he think he doesn’t need the other sacraments either? I mean, if you go that route, why be baptized? You can proclaim Christ as your savior at any time? Why even go to church? You can worship God at home. It’s a slippery slope when we claim not to need/want this or that from God. Of course, I kept my mouth shut- I’m new to the group and didn’t want to say anything. But someone else offered their own insight about the sacrament being designed by Jesus himself- not by mere men. Someone else read from the Gospel of John relating the importance of the forgiveness of sins. Whenever confession is brought up- people definitely tend to perk up!

At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s hard to tell others about ourselves, regardless of the collar around their necks, b/c I think it will bond me into some way of being. The concept that they can “forget” is beyond me, and I think each time I face them; I’ll be reminded of my sin. It’s something that holds me back. I’m afraid that if someone I respect sees me in a certain light, then their opinion will be valid and have a bearing on how I view myself. Make that person my priest, well- then you, I think, can understand my fears.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger Daisy said...

I love going to confession, too. Confession is always a wonderful experience for me because of all the reasons Fr. Greg has said it is for him. When I'm in Maryland, I go every couple of weeks. While I'm in the Caribbean, it's a little less frequent because the priest is the only one at his parish, and he only comes to celebrate Mass at the university about every two weeks. Whenever he does come to the university, I try to grab him for confession.

It was in the Caribbean that I experienced confession on the beach-- the endless, bright blue ocean and splashing waves was breathtaking. But it is simply overwhelming to know that just through confession, the God who created everything and can do anything, loves us so much to forgive all our sins against Him and restore our friendship with Him. It is obvious that confession does not need the beach background to make it any more wonderful! When we get over our pride and embarrassment about going to confession and accept God's love and forgiveness, we will wonder why we didn't do this earlier.

At 1:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

10 pm anon:

It is my understanding that a priest is a human messenger to God, our beloved Father. When I reflect before confession, I too am humbled at the task ahead of me, the task of facing my faults, of which I have many, straight in the eye and accepting responsibilty for my choices. But when I walk out of that church, my heart feels light, healthy and clean. My conscience, the heart's upstairs roomate, is right in the same place.

In regards to the fear of a priest judging you based on a confession, I'd be praying for that priest. He either needs to find another profession, or find a confessional asap, one without a line. I'd suspect he'd be in there a while. Remember, he answers to the same God we do and God knows all. God will be fair at our time of judgement.

When you mention that you can not believe priests forget our sins, you may be correct, but I'd imagine they forget quite a few.I can't imagine they can possibly remember everything they hear. And if you go to confession often enough that a priest does remember you and your sins, I would imagine you're right where you belong, trying to live a Christian life, asking for forgiveness. I would think a priest would have more respect for you because of your desire to live a life that more closely follows the footsteps of Jesus.

Lastly, on the same subject of forgetfulness, and any one feel free to help me out here - I thought the vows a priest takes does not require him to forget a confession; but rather to keep total secrecy of the confession, provide guidance, love and absolution. What a wonderful gift we have. Be not afraid.

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't ever feel that sense of peace and joy upon coming out of the confessional. And it's ironic as I was reading this entry because soon after I was saying the rosary with a group of people and out of the blue, one lady said to me, you know, I don't know why people always say they feel so wonderful after confession as I don't feel that way. I said, I don't either. Often the guilt is so overwhelming still that I really question what it is you feel so good about.

At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Confession has no emotional or psychological effect on me either. Wait -- before you jump, let me say that I know that that is not what Confession is about. A common theme on this blog is that the sacraments are not about feelings. So I cringe when I hear people say that going to Confession leaves them "feeling" free, happy, like a weight was lifted off their shoulders. Father Greg talks of "short term gains" such as freedom, peace, and joy. It may do that for some people, but for many and I think most, receiving the sacraments brings no emotional, psychological, or even spiritual benefit. They receive them out of belief that it is required by the Church and somehow brings God's grace even though it is imperceptible to them. If it brought short-term freedom, peace, and joy to everyone, there would always be a line and there would be fewer alcoholics.

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In regards to the fear of a priest judging you based on a confession, I'd be praying for that priest."

I guess it did sound like I was saying that I felt judged, but that's not really what I meant. I think I meant more than it's easy to hide our faults, even from ourselves, but when facing a priest in the confessional, especially one who is loving, caring and compassionate, they will bring you face to face with your weaknesses. I can no longer pretend, even to myself that i am without those faults and flaws.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger fran said...

Many different thoughts here...know that they are written with respect and genuine concern.

"...if someone I respect sees me in a certain light, then their opinion will be valid and have a bearing on how I view myself."

I have to ask, what/how do you think of/view of yourself? Why would you allow what someone else thinks of you, to color your view of yourself, especially if their view is ill conceived, inaccurate or just plain wrong? How do you know what they are thinking? You are most likely just like the rest of us - sinners, who are trying to do their best on this earth, failing, and trying even harder the next time around. If you are truly contrite, and with great effort making changes in yourself, there is nothing to be fearful of.

Also, only you can give validity to another's opinion. If you don't hold that opinion, then it isn't valid to you. And, on a personal note...I spent a portion of my life worrying about and wondering what others thought of me. I stopped doing that when I realized that they were not thinking what I was thinking they were thinking anyway!! :) Let it go, and be secure in who you are.

Does it matter that a priest forgets what we tell him? I read somewhere that a priest prays that HE WILL forget what he hears in the confessional ( can you imagine ALL of the stuff they must hear?!) and he does. Make this a less important "sticking point" when you go to confession, and it will gradually become less important to you. You may even begin to enjoy confession.

"I don't ever feel that sense of peace and joy upon coming out of the confessional." "Often the guilt is so overwhelming still..."

Keep in mind you have just received a beautiful sacrament! As Fr. Greg said, it is a little piece of heaven on earth. All of your sins have been forgiven, and there is no longer anything to feel guilty about. I must admit, there have been a couple of times when I have harbored those same feelings of guilt, but it really is rather pointless. It does nothing but keep you in the past, and prevents you from moving forward and living out God's plan for you. Let the guilt go and see how freeing it can be!

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

To the 8:09 anon-

I don't know that I always feel peace and/or joy, but I experience relief. When I hold onto something I've done, it weighs on me. Recently I did something and I knew was wrong, and didn't go to confession for a few weeks, and each time I was at Mass, I kept thinking about how I needed to go to confession. The thought wouldn't leave my head on any of those occasions, and when I was able to confess it, I was so glad to have been rid of it.

Furthermore, confession isn't about how we feel (okay- maybe the peace/joy are momentary bonuses) but the reward you get from confession is eternal, and that's much cooler.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger fran said...

"If it brought short term freedom, peace, and joy..."
It does, if, ( another common theme on this blog, ) you are open to it.

At 10:03 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

Regarding our weakness and need for God’s strength…

One of my favorite passages is about the bruised reed that doesn’t break. I always thought that spoke directly to me in how I see myself as a human being. I have all these weaknesses and faults that make me bruised but definitely not broken. And thru all that, God has offered me so many opportunities to learn that he won’t give up on me. I’ve learned that some of my best qualities have come from those bruised places, qualities that have helped me empathize and give to others. But I don’t think it is until we humble ourselves to God’s mercy and ask Him to restore us that we can be strong again, because we cannot and do not go it alone. We live a lie when we think we do, for we are dependent upon Him for even our next breath. It took me a long time to really embrace this. Confession, for me, is about this- humbling myself to God’s restoration. When you think about it, it’s really empowering.

At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon at 9:20 am:

“If it brought short-term freedom, peace, and joy to everyone, there would always be a line and there would be fewer alcoholics.”

In terms of addiction;i.e., alcholism being a sin, to which confession is the cure, I would ask you, out of respect for these people, to please educate yourself a little more on the subject of addiction, before inferring that their disease is totally their own choice.

I can understand thinking an addict chooses to be an addict, that it is a self induced behavior, chosen through free will. I used to think this way. Take an hour and attend a few AA or NA meetings. I think you would be surprised to find a room with people just like you and me. After listening to the stories of some clean/sober addicts, my hat goes off to them. Those in recovery work real hard to stay sober and clean, fighting off a devil, that I firmly believe they did not stand in line and ask for. Those not in recovery, still on the streets or quietly drinking in the comfort of their own home, may not understand their problem and choose to do nothing about it out of fear, ignorance or lack of resources/knowledge of available help.

The cause(s) of addiction(s) is not totally understood, although that is the goal of research. Many addicts do not start life wanting to be an addict. I’ve never heard a young child, when asked what they want to be when they grow up say, “I want to be an alcoholic or a drug addict.” Why can one person have one glass of wine, and another drinks glass after glass? That’s a good question. Why do some people get cancer and others don’t? That’s a good question. Will confession be the one thing that stops an alcoholic from drinking, or cures cancer? That’s a good question. Miracles do happen. Why to some and not others? That’s a good question.

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“If it brought short-term freedom, peace, and joy to everyone, there would always be a line and there would be fewer alcoholics.”

Addiction is, in large part for many, about a need to “fill”-up.” So to any, I’d say- confession is a very good thing. As Fran said- if you’re open to it- that need to “fill-up” is easily met by the Holy Spirit. Confession is so good for one with any kind of addictive behavior, not because it’s about these good feelings (as many have said) but because it instills a pattern of accountability that is so necessary for recovery. So even if you walk out of the confessional feeling “nothing,” the short term gain for the addict is absolutely present- read the steps; confession is a perfect compliment to them.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a tension between those who "get it" and those who don't. We can talk about being open to the grace offered by the Sacraments and open to God's presence, but what about openness to emptiness? It's in you whether you go there or not. Even the most devout believer has within him or her the capacity to look and find nothing but an abyss -- not that it necessarily lasts, but it's there. Those who have never been there, who have never stumbled on it, see nonbelief as something that comes from a person's shortcoming or failure of some sort. Can't we agree that where different people are on the spectrum is simply a mystery?

At 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In terms of addiction;i.e., alcholism being a sin, to which confession is the cure,"

Being an alcoholic isn't a sin. Alcoholism is a disease. Getting drunk is a sin- just wanted to make that distinction.

At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Will confession be the one thing that stops an alcoholic from drinking, or cures cancer?"

It won't be the "one" thing- and to any who would think that- good luck! Miracles do happen, of course, but to rely upon them alone would be irresponsible.

The base of all recovery programs is honesty- with self and others. It's about embracing our weaknesses and asking for help from others and our higher power. It's about relying upon something bigger than ourselves, for addicts learn to rely upon their drug of choice. Confession is but one tool in recovery, for if one doesn't heal his relationship with God, I don't see how they can heal at all.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger fran said...

"There is a tension between those who "get it" and those who don't."

Yes, perhaps there is, but what needs to be recognized here is that, speaking for myself, those who "get it" were at one point the very people who did not! That is how they can speak in the "get it" sense. They have walked in the "trying to get it" shoes already and are making an effort to reach out to others, so that one day they will experience the same "get it" sense of joy and happiness.

"Even the most devout believer has... the capacity to look and find nothing but an abyss..."

Right you are again. The key here is to stop looking into the abyss. Don't mean to sound flippant, but "been there, done that too." If you make your focus something positive, the desire, the pull to the abyss becomes less frequent. Live more positively and then, if, emptiness or challenges in life surface again, you will be less inclined to give in to those feelings of despair.

"Can't we agree that where different people are on the spectrum is simply a mystery?"

Maybe yes, maybe no... Again, I think that those who are able to speak in a positive tone are those who have already experienced despair, hurt, whatever... They have struggled and overcome all of the "stuff" that used to keep them in that place on the spectrum, where they did not really wish to be.

For those who continue to struggle to get out of that place? There are no easy answers, but I do believe that at the start of every day, there is the God given opportunity to try again and leave that place behind. Permanently. Keep trying, praying, and looking forward. I will be praying for you too, cheering you on.

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I have to admit to some arrogance here, but my knee-jerk reaction when a solid believer tells me he/she has "been there" is to . . . well, not believe it. Rejection of religion was taught to me from my earliest memories. Now, late in life, I find myself peering curiously into the Church door and wondering what I've done, why I blindly followed all the people in my life who told me that religion is a joke and lived accordingly. It looks like the journey of a thousand miles for someone with my past. I know that the way I dismiss people's claims to having overcome unbelief is unfair - my point is just that I haven't talked to many people who slandered religion over a long life and then had a change of heart and actually turned the corner. I've confessed my arrogance and ignorance to a priest, and I meant it.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger fran said...

Although my faith journey has been quite different from yours, anon, there have been instances when I did not "get" aspects of my faith the way I do now. These realizations have been life altering, and, to me, constitute a "turning of a corner."

Regarding the "been there" components, again, maybe different, but nonetheless difficult, challenging and troubling for me personally.

If you are looking for someone to identify with, try Acts 8:1-3 and 9:1-30. Maybe you are familiar with these passages already. :)

At 10:06 PM, Blogger fran said...

Just wanted to add, that when I suggested to the "anon" that he/she could identify with St. Paul, it was in the sense that his conversion was extraordinary.


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