St Francis Q&A

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”.


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