From My Side of the Confessional: A Priest’s Perspective

This is the first in a series of testimonies about our Lenten confession campaign, The Light Is ON.

By: Rev. Tom Ferguson

The door closes and the Penitent kneels behind the screen … silent.

I make the Sign of the Cross and hear “Amen,” and then more silence.

“How long has it been since your last Confession?” I ask.

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The Penitent responds haltingly, “It’s been a long time … at least ten years, maybe more.  I can’t remember exactly.”

“What would you like to ask God to forgive today?”

With relatively little difficulty the Penitent names three of four venial sins, sinful habits, character defects.

Then another pause.

“What I really would like to confess is …”

And then it’s named … what is by any standard a grave sin … sometimes committed habitually … usually for the last time a number of years ago.

But things have changed.  In the eyes of all this Penitent has “settled down,” regained the respect of others, and the “old self” is someone many current friends and acquaintances would never recognize.

But one thing – actually maybe two– remain to be accomplished in this person’s life.

The first is to accept the love and mercy of God … and this begins when I assure the Penitent: “You’ve made a good Confession.  God forgives you because God loves you, and God knows that you’re sorry for your sins.  With God’s help, are you doing your best to avoid committing these sins again?”

“Oh yes, Father … I’m grateful I’m not that person any more … God has been good to me … Much better than I deserve!”

“For your penance, say the Our Father, three times, and as you repeat those prayers, pause and ponder what a gift it is to call God ‘Our Father.’  We are His beloved sons and daughters.  He forgives us as often as we say we’re sorry.  He wants you to know His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, His peace and His joy in your heart today.  Can you do this?”

“Yes, Father … Thank you!”

By the grace of God, a second accomplishment is achieved:

This Penitent was lost, but now is found … Was blind to a dignity that was once obscured by sin, but now can see, as if in a mirror, the image of one redeemed and loved by the Lord.

The celebration continues with the Penitent praying the Act of Contrition using the brochure held by many others in the line this night.

The words of absolution are heard and received by a grateful and humble soul.

And as the Penitent leaves the confessional room, a weight has been lifted, a spirit is lighter and a tear wells up from a heart overwhelmed by His love.

Like so many of my brother priests, for  whom this is a regular experience each Lent, I say a prayer of thanksgiving, grateful that God has given me one more opportunity to be not  only an instrument but also a witness of His grace.

Once again this Lent, The Light is On for You … and the glory of God is being revealed when so many are responding to the invitation to experience His love in the sacrament of Penance.

For the gift of His mercy … may God be praised!

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