Like any other priest, one of the duties I most savor is to hear confessions.
We hear a lot of confessions at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and I take my turn as a confessor, usually after my 7 a.m. Mass on an assigned day of the week.
During Lent, we hear more confessions than usual. At the start of many confessions, the penitent will say, “My last confession was last year during Lent,” or, “My last confession was before Christmas, during Advent.” Not bad at all, as Lent and Advent are the two outstanding penitential seasons of the Church’s year, when we admit our sins, tell the Lord we’re sorry, and seek His mercy and grace not to sin again.
(In fact, each Lent and Advent we schedule a Reconciliation Monday, when confessors are available in every church in the archdiocese, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. This Lent’s is the Monday of Holy Week, April 15.)
Sad to say, many Catholics have drifted away from the Sacrament of Penance. Many are the reasons, some of them understandable, none of them convincing. Lent is a fitting time to come back.
A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with one of our candidates who will enter into full union with the Church at the Easter Vigil. He told me how eager he was to make his first confession, and how he very much looked forward to assuring that he would approach it monthly. God bless him! He’s got the right idea.
I tell you who has no trouble going to confession: the sick, who realize they need healing of the soul from the infection of sin as well as a cure for their body; prisoners, who are well aware of their crimes (sins) in life that landed them in the slammer; and our men and women in uniform as they head off for a dangerous assignment.
When we’re strong, healthy, lucky, safe, successful, and prosperous, we usually ignore our sins; but when weak, sick, down-on-our-luck, in danger, struggling, or in debt, we are more likely to get in line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“When I was drinking I stayed away from confession,” a recovering alcoholic whispered to me through the grill. “Now that I’m sober, I realize how fragile it all is, and seek the Lord’s help and forgiveness more regularly.”
Of all places, I met a fellow outside a diner right after Ash Wednesday, who told me how he was spiritually dead, had drifted away, had committed a bunch of sins—and he told them to me—felt isolated from God, and was desperate to come back to Jesus and His Church.
“I only wish I had the guts to make a good confession,” he told me.
“You just did,” I replied. “Let me give you absolution.”
“Come back to me with all your heart,” the Lord invited us as we commenced Lent. Sure, there are quite a few ways to do that. One of the best is through a good confession.
Next weekend we reverently welcome the relic of the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.
Father Vianney was the pastor, the Curé, of the backwater village of Ars in southwestern France. His good example, gentle preaching, and radiant holiness converted the village, and, before long, as his biographer noted, “All of France was in line to be on their knees to the Curé of Ars in his confessional.”
“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” taunt our evangelical neighbors.
“Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I have,” we respond. “I just accepted His invitation to mercy, as I confessed my sins, acknowledged that He had saved me from them on His cross, and asked that a drop of His blood would wash me clean and restore me to friendship with Him, the Lord of my life.”
So many folks tell me, “My spiritual life is a mess. I’m empty and adrift. How can I get back?”
“How long ago was your last confession?” I inquire.
Well, Lent is the time to do something about it! I’ll see you in line.
A blessed forty days.