Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Confession: A School of Mercy

Zenit is carrying an excellent article on confession. It's actually an interview with the Archbishop of San Antonio about his pastoral letter issued at the beginning of Lent 2007. You can get a link to the PDF file of the original letter over at Zenit.

The Tender Mercy of Our God
A Pastoral Letter to the People of God of San Antonio
On Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Christian Life
The Most Rev. José H. Gomez, S.T.D.

Archbishop of San Antonio
February 21, 2007 – Ash Wednesday
I want to pull out a few things from the interview:
As I point out in my pastoral letter, I believe the problem is rooted in our culture's loss of the sense of sin. Our culture is relentless in telling our people that there are no absolute truths or moral norms, and that what's true or good or evil is all relative -- that it depends on the subjective opinion of the individual. So, a lot of people are morally confused -- deceived, really. And we have to reach out to help these people to come back to the sacrament.

I have not had a chance to read the document yet, but I have often wondered how long it will take for a bishop to produce a pastoral letter on the art of watching television. I know many Catholics who can't wait for Desperate Housewives and other programs where promiscuity and open violation of the Ten Commandments is the norm. This distorts our sense of sin and Hollywood can make the worst of sins seem ok, especially to the poorly catechized generations.

The beautiful truth is that the more we go to confession, the more we grow in holiness. We experience real conversion every day. We are less absorbed in material things. We find we have the grace to see the world differently and to think and act differently. We have real friendship with Jesus.

To be honest, I think anyone who goes to confession frequently - that is at least one or more times monthly can attest to the fact that Sacramental Confession is addicting in a positive way. Once you get the hang of acknowledging your sins and a weaknesses, the freedom gained is desired more frequently. Even for those who do not fall into mortal sin, the Sacrament is worth frequent use. It is through working on venial sins - or those weaknesses and shortcomings that aren't serious, that we learn to tame the serious sins, and grow in holiness.

The first step is to find a confessor who values confession enough to encourage bringing even venial sins into the confessional. Then, you know you have a confessor who understands the pursuit of holiness in daily life. The inteview continues further down....

Q: Regarding the reception of Communion while being in a state of mortal sin, what types of pastoral steps have you taken to help the faithful understand that they must confess their sins and restore their communion with the Church before approaching the sacrament of the Eucharist?

Archbishop Gómez: Confession and Communion belong together. Before Communion we always pray the prayer of the Roman soldier: "Lord, I'm not worthy to receive you, but only say the word." Confession is that word of pardon that heals us, that cleanses us of our faults and makes our souls worthy to receive our Lord in the Eucharist.

We can't be in communion with God if there are things in our lives that aren't worthy of our baptismal calling as children of God. People know this in their hearts. I think that's why some people stop going to church -- they sense that their sins have made them unworthy of the sacrament. They're like the prodigal son who says to his father, "I've sinned against heaven and earth. I'm no longer worthy to be called your son."

Of course, our Father never stops loving us as his children. But it's still true that our sins can make us unworthy to be called to Our Lord's supper. I think people understand that -- that receiving the Eucharist under those conditions would be somehow false and wrong.

What I hope to help those in that situation see is how much our Father wants them to come back. Sometimes people stay away from confession because they're ashamed or they're afraid to tell the priest about their failings and weakness.

They've forgotten that confession isn't a conversation with a priest; it's a dialogue with God. The priest has been chosen, ordained to serve "in persona Christi," in the person of Christ -- to forgive sins in Christ's name. No one else but the priest has been given this power on earth.
With a 58 page Sacramentum Caritatis out there, I don't know when I'll get onto this fine pastoral letter by Archbishop Gonzalez, but Confession definitely comes in as a Sacrament well worth discussing here on this blog.