Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
You know, the three traditional practices for a Catholic during Lent are the most ancient: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We should make use of all three: these are the three most powerful means for growth in the spiritual life and calling into being the Kingdom of God, preparing for the new flood of his grace. I plan to use these letters during the Lenten Season to help open up these as real instruments of grace as we journey through Lent together.
Last week I spoke about the need for simplicity and clarity (choosing a “desert”) in our lives of faith, to set the stage for prayer. I will talk more about prayer next week. But this week, since we are early in the season of Lent, I want to use this opportunity to challenge you about the sacrament of Reconciliation.
I have joked in the past (half-joked, really) that I will offer half-off on penances if you come during the first half of the season. I actually had someone ask for a better deal, BOGO for their spouse who never comes to Confession! If only … Same with using Skype, I guess, and if pigs could fly. Anyway, in the past I have even given penances like 1½ Our Fathers, since it was half off three.
We encourage you to come early for several reasons. Obviously, at some point the lines run long and time runs out. Every year there are people who are angry, mostly at themselves I would think, for waiting too long. Please remember, we don’t have Confessions while Mass is going on (no two-fers) and once 3pm on Good Friday comes, no sacraments are celebrated: the King is in the tomb. The only practice is, in grave need, Communion to the sick. Grace, though welling up in the midst of the silence of his death, is not accessible until its glory breaks forth in the new life of his resurrection when we sing the Gloria at the Easter Vigil.
The other reason I encourage you to come early is to avoid rushing your experience of the sacrament. When the line is long, we really can’t talk like we might, if you wanted to talk. Nor, at that point, would you want to take someone else’s (maybe) only opportunity to even get in by taking a lot of time. There is always the alternative of making an appointment—and I encourage you to consider this option.
I would also like for you to come to Confession really prepared. Look on our homepage for the link to our examination of conscience. It is something I wrote, because so many examens you might find on line are crazy with scrupulosity or don’t seem to include enough for ordinary peoples’ reflection. Jesus warned the priests of his time to not heap up burdens for others that are too hard for them to carry. But he did instruct us to carry what we need to carry, with him, on our way to Calvary. Here is a quick sketch of how you might be prepared for confession:
• Consider what your sins are. Don’t be merciless on yourself, at the same time don’t minimize sins, or fall into a kind of relativism and say, like another Pharisee in the Gospels, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that guy, or those people.” You are not that guy. Also, there is no point in confessing all the sins of your children. This is about you. Jesus looks into our hearts, in fact, and already knows what our sins are. The process of Confession requires that we acknowledge them, and tell him we are sorry. He has to hear it, the personal relationship you have with him requires it and can bear it, because he only responds with love to a penitent heart. Don’t get all wrapped up in the process, with guilt or shame. Just say them simply without a lot of details. Honestly, we don’t need (or want) to hear details. I avoid those movies and don’t need the pictures in my head. Remember, no one present is there to judge, just to forgive.
• Come after you have built up in yourself a real desire to change. Please don’t treat Confession like a carwash. The validity of the sacrament requires a “firm purpose of amendment.” Otherwise, it is basically an empty exercise. This is the danger of coming to Confession too often. Sometimes I ask people if they might possibly sin less if they knew they might not get there for Confession every Saturday? Often they admit that this is the case. Do you think that Jesus gave us the frequent opportunity for reconciliation so that we would sin more? I don’t think so.
Above all, stay mindful that this is all about love. It isn’t the priest who says your sins are forgiven, though it might sound like his voice. It is about Jesus, who desires that you be reconciled totally— with God and with his Church, restoring the unity of the Body and the soul to grace.
God bless you.