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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Confession - Call the Ambulance, We've Got an Emergency Here

At the risk of cribbing an entire post from the Anchoress ... I've been thinking a lot today about confession and why we need to go into the box one on one, say our sins out loud, say we're sorry, make a firm commitment to sin no more and to receive absolution from the priest.  Do go over to the Anchoress' blog and read about her beautiful experience in going to confession at the basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.  As she puts it, "I couldn’t help but think that confession there, in that incredibly holy and historic place, in a confessional that provided no shield (the booths are quiet open; everyone can see you confessing) would be grace-filled, and accepted as an act of complete trust in God’s protection, guidance and mercy."

One of the reasons that confession is weighing so heavy on my mind today is that I went to a mini-retreat this morning at a local church.  The priest gave a beautiful talk on the Eucharist and the need for quiet time spent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  He also spoke of St. John Vianney and the many hours he spent hearing confessions.  At the end of his talk, one of the women in attendance asked why the bishops didn't permit general absolution.  Her line of thought went something like this: People are not receiving holy communion in a state of grace because they are not going to confession, because they are not going to confession and probably won't go to confession, wouldn't it be easier if before every Mass the priest had a mini-penance service and gave general absolution to the entire congregation.  Bingo!  The entire crowd is now in a state of grace and may receive communion worthily.

As a guest in the parish, I didn't want to create a ruckus, but I had to raise my hand and ask about how the requirement of contrition and a firm intent to sin no more were to be achieved with this type of  a mass clean up (no pun intended).  It's been nagging at me ever since.

In her post, the Anchoress points to a beautiful article by David Mills at Inside Catholic on the topic of confession.  Go over and read the entire article, but one of the things Mills points out is that confession should be a selling point for the Catholic church, not something that instills fear or anxiety.  How wonderful is our God.  He does not leave us on our own to work through our failings, but He gives us a sacrament, a direct line, and a confessor to shepherd us through and clearly and definitively give us absolution at the end.  We walk out of the confessional with the weight of the world removed from our shoulders.  There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

In the article, David Mills talks about the experience a friend of his had with evangelical Protestants who yearn to have the gift we've been given:
A friend of mine recently spoke to the theology class at an Evangelical Protestant college. Both Catholic and Protestant friends had told him that the students would grill him about theological issues, particularly justification by faith, and he spent hours preparing himself to answer their questions. They didn't mention the subject at all: What they wanted to know about was confession, and more the practice and experience than the theology. They really wanted to know what you did and why you did it, and how it felt to tell some man what could be your deepest secrets. They approached my friend as sick people approach someone who's been cured of the same disease by an established but still alternative and fringe treatment.
One can guess the reason. Many people who believe they can simply pray to God and be forgiven, whatever they've done, long for the chance to tell someone out loud, someone who will then declare God's forgiveness and give them some penance, some way of expressing their sorrow and growing closer to God at the same time.
In his list of things the Church needs to do to bring about a resurgence in confession, he talks of the need to go back to calling it"confession" :
...we need to recover the use of the word "confession," while quietly dropping "the sacrament of reconciliation." We need to hear the blunt word, because, before everything else, we want to say, "I did this and I'm really sorry." That's the appeal of confession, the chance to get it all out in the open. To emphasize the result is a bit like renaming the emergency room the "healing center." It's true, but not as helpful or as encouraging as you'd think, particularly when you really have an emergency.
We're tough enough.  We can take it.  Sin is an emergency.  Its effects need to be removed.  No messing around here.  Call the ambulance.

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