Confession is a gift that keeps on giving. Go early, go often and bring the kids.
At the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College, we believe it is time for Catholics to imaginatively and vigorously promote confession.
But don’t take our word for it.
“The renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance,” Pope Benedict told us at Nationals Stadium in Washington.
Pope John Paul II spent his last years on earth pleading with Catholics to return to confession, including in an urgent motu proprio document about confession and in his encyclical on the Eucharist.
He called the crisis in the Church the crisis of confession and wrote to priests:
“I feel a pressing need to urge you, as I did last year, to rediscover for yourselves and help others to rediscover the beauty of the sacrament of reconciliation.”
Why all of this angst over confession? Because when we skip confession, we lose the sense of sin. The loss of the sense of sin is at the root of so many evils in our time, from child abuse to financial dishonesty, from abortion to atheism.
So, how to promote confession? Here are some talking points. Seven reasons to return to confession, both natural and supernatural.
- Sin aggravates you.
A therapist tells the story about a patient who had been in a terrible cycle of depression and self-disgust ever since high school. Nothing seemed to help. One day, the therapist met the patient in front of a Catholic church. They ducked inside when it began raining, and witnessed people going to confession.
“Should I go too?” asked the patient, who had received the sacrament as a child. “No!” said the counselor. The patient went anyway, and emerged from the confessional with her first smile in years, and kept improving in the weeks to come. The therapist studied more about confession, eventually became Catholic and now counsels regular confession for all her Catholic patients.
Sin leads to depression because it isn’t just an arbitrary violation of rules: It’s a violation of the purpose built into our being by God. Confession lifts the guilt and anxiety caused by sin and heals you.
- Sin makes you aggravating.
In the movie 3:10 to Yuma, the villain Ben Wade says, “I don’t mess around with doing anything good, Dan. Do one good deed for somebody—I imagine it’s habit forming.” He is right. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” As the Catechism puts it: “Sin creates a proclivity to sin.” People don’t just lie; they become liars. We don’t just steal; we become thieves. Making a clean break from sin redefines you, allows you to start new habits of virtue.
“God is determined to deliver his children from slavery to lead them to freedom,” said Pope Benedict XVI. “And the worst and most profound slavery is that of sin.”
- We need to say it.
If you break a favorite item belonging to a friend, you would never be satisfied just feeling regret. You would feel compelled to explain what you did, express your sorrow, and do whatever is necessary to set things right.
It is the same when we break something in our relationship with God. We need to say we’re sorry, and try to fix it.
Pope Benedict XVI points out that we should feel the need to confess even if we aren’t guilty of serious sin.
“We clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again,” he said. “Something similar can be said about the soul.”
- Confessing helps you know yourself.
We get ourselves all wrong. Our self-opinion is like a series of funhouse mirrors. Sometimes we see a strong and wonderful awe-inspiring version of ourselves. Sometimes we see a grotesque and twisted hateful version of ourselves.
Confession forces us to look at our lives objectively, separate the real sins from the bad feelings and see ourselves as we really are.
As Pope Benedict XVI put it: “Confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons.”
- Confession helps children.
Children need to go to confession, too. Some writers have stressed the negative aspects of childhood confession—being lined up in their Catholic schools and “forced to think of things to feel guilty about.”
It needn’t be like that.
Catholic Digest editor Danielle Bean once explained about how her brothers and sisters would tear up their confession lists after confession and drop them down the gutter by the church. “What a liberation!” she wrote “Returning my sins to the dark underworld from whence they had come felt wholly appropriate. ‘Hit my sister six times’ and ‘talked back to my mother four times’ were no longer my burden to bear.”
Confession can give children a place to unburden themselves without fear, and a place to get kindly adult advice when they are worried about speaking to their parents. A good examination of conscience (like this one) can guide children toward appropriate things to confess. Many families make confession an outing, followed up with ice cream.
- Confessing mortal sin is required.
As the Catechism puts it, mortal sin, unconfessed “causes exclusion from Christ’s Kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices forever, with no turning back.”
Over and over again in the 21st century, the Church has reminded us that Catholics guilty of committing a mortal sin can’t go to communion without confession.
“One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge and deliberate consent,” says the Catechism.
The U.S. bishops reminded Catholics about common sins that constitute grave matter in the 2006 document “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper.” Those sins include: missing Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation, abortion and euthanasia, any extramarital sexual activity, theft, pornography, slander, hatred and envy.
- Confession is a personal encounter with Christ.
In confession, it’s Christ who heals and forgives us, through the ministry of the priest. We have a personal encounter with Christ in the confessional. Just like the shepherds and Magi at the crèche, we find awe and humility. And just like the saints at the crucifixion, we find gratitude, repentance and peace.
There is no greater accomplishment in life than helping another person return to confession.
We should be willing to talk about confession like we talk about every other significant event in our lives. The offhand comment, “I won’t be able to make it until later, because I need to get to confession,” can be more convicting than a theological discourse. And since confession is a significant event in our lives, it’s an appropriate answer to the question “What are you doing this weekend?” Many of us also have funny or interesting confession stories—tell them.
Help make confession normal again. Let as many people as possible discover the beauty of this freeing sacrament.
Tom Hoopes is Vice President of College Relations and writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. His writing has appeared in First Things’ First Thoughts, National Review Online, Crisis, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside Catholic and Columbia. Before joining Benedictine College, he was Executive Editor of the National Catholic Register. He has served as press secretary for the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. He and his wife, April, were editorial co-directors of Faith & Family magazine for 5 years. They have nine children. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.
NEXT HESED HOUSE EVENT SCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY 11/6TH
Please consider donating a food item(s) or volunteering your time to serve a meal at Hesed House, a homeless shelter located in Aurora, which provides men, women and children with shelter, food and unconditional hospitality.
Hesed House is a homeless shelter located in Aurora, which provides men, women and children with shelter, food and unconditional hospitality.
The OLM program for Hesed House provides the food/supplies and VOLUNTEER WORKERS to serve a meal and provide hospitality on the first Tuesday of each month. Each evening anywhere from 100-150 ‘guests’ are appreciative of the meal and companionship provided through this ministry. Donations of food and/or volunteer time are solicited on a monthly basis.
For more information or to volunteer your time or food/supplies items
please contact Len or Linda Eickhoff at 630-904-0906 or Deacon Phil
Rehmer at 630-851-3444, extension 232.
SPRING WILL BE HERE BEFORE YOU KNOW IT…SO HOW ABOUT “SPRINGING” INTO A GEMS MEETING AND SEE WHAT WE’RE ALL ABOUT?
Our next regularly scheduled luncheon meeting with be held at Noon on April 11 in the Parish Life Center (PLC).
This luncheon will be specially catered and provided to us at no fee by a representative of Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home in Naperville who will be speaking to us about funeral service and related activity planning. If you haven’t already signed up for the April event please let Phyllis know (her email address is shown below). If you would like to bring a desert dish for this luncheon, they are always welcomed!
Please also consider participating on yet another fun activity that one of our members, Pat Feinberg hosts. The “Critics Corner Movie Club” meets on the last Friday (occasionally on the last Thursday) of each month at a local theater with a following luncheon nearby. Please contact Pat at 630-585-6437 for additional information.
Also please consider the OLM Bridge club, which meets on the first and third Tuesdays of each month in the Ministry Room at 1:00 p.m. sharp. Please contact Willie at 630-898-1999 regarding joining. Both men and
women are welcomed.
You may also be interested in the OLM card group,
which also meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month in the PLC (room #110) from 1:00-3:00 p.m. If you have any questions please email Ann at ANNC1001@AOL.COM
If you have any other GEMS related questions please send them to Phyllis Anderson via email at email@example.com
Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church (OLM) is a parish committed to the New Evangelization and making disciples. Our desire is to offer every person in our community a life-changing encounter with Jesus. OLM is seeking an experienced Catholic lay apostle passionate about working with students
(Kindergarten through 5th grade) and their parents to help foster a deep relationship with Jesus. The DRE position is a full-time paid position with benefits, reporting directly to the Pastor.
Applicants meeting the necessary qualifications please send the following to: OLM Business Manager, Bob Gancarz at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cover letter
- Two references
- Statement of faith (should be roughly two-five paragraphs long and describe your faith journey and current spiritual disciplines)
To view a full job description please visit the Human Resources page on the Diocese of Joliet’s