This is the fourth week of a Lenten series. Today, Father Scalia continues our focus on confession.
By: Rev. Paul Scalia
There are few things more distinctly Catholic – and Lenten – than the Sacrament of Confession. Hollywood loves to use its trappings: the mysterious screen, the dim light, the whispered words, the inviolable seal. But the reality of the Sacrament is better than any movie’s depiction. We know it as more familiar and less mysterious: The Light Is ON initiative, the penance services, the long lines at the confessional during Holy Week. These are all standard Lenten things – so standard that we might lose sight of the meaning of Confession. It helps to step back and look at certain aspects of the Sacrament…and what they mean for us.
Confession is Human.
Although a divine institution, Confession answers a deep human need: the conscience’s need to confess. As Lady Macbeth’s Out damned spot! and Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart indicate, we have always sensed that sin calls out to be confessed. And if we do not confess, we introduce deeper and deeper division into ourselves. When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long (Ps 32:3). We know interiorly that we have done wrong and we sense that peace will not be ours until and unless we unload this burden of guilt. The ability to acknowledge our guilt before another helps us to set ourselves right with reality.
Confession is Divine.
The Sacrament comes from Christ Himself: Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained (Jn 20:23). The human dimension is our confession of sin; the divine is the work of God’s grace in our souls through the ministry of the priest. This requires of us a profound trust in the working of the Sacrament. We need to lean into it. Confession is not therapy; it does not matter whether the priest gives wonderful counsel or any counsel at all (although it can be a great help). Confession is Christ Himself touching our souls, working within them for our salvation.
It seems a little thing, but your Amen when the priest absolves you In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit truly opens your soul to that grace working within you – grace to free you from sins past and strengthen you against sins future. Speak it as a true act of faith. The more faithfully that Amen is spoken, the more your soul is opened to the Sacrament’s effects.
Confession is Personal.
People can pray for you…but they cannot confess for you. Confession forces us to look within ourselves and examine how we stand before God. What an extraordinary thing Mother Church requires of us – that we turn and face our sinfulness and look candidly at that personal relationship with Christ. Here more than anywhere else we are aware of how personal the faith is. Confession keeps our faith from being vague or hypothetical. It makes it concrete and specific: I have sinned against Him…and He has freed me from these sins.
This personal dimension has two further salutary effects. First, it leads to great self-knowledge. The more we repent, the more we know our true selves, in light of Christ. And the more we invest ourselves in this Sacrament, the more we grow out of the shallowness of our culture and become persons of greater depth.
Confession is Available.
We should confess frequently – monthly. Most Catholics use Confession as a safety net, there to catch them when they are falling. It should be used as a ladder, there to help us ascend to greater heights. Confession is not just medicinal; it is also formational. By way of frequent confession we come to deeper self-knowledge, hone our conscience, identify our vices, and slowly but surely work on them. More importantly, by our frequent confession His grace digs into us more deeply, bringing us a deeper grace and a deeper freedom from sin.
The priests in our Diocese are exceptionally generous in offering times for Confession. So…take advantage of this…and not only during Lent. Confession should be a regular (monthly) practice – to help us ascend the heights to which He calls us.