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After death comes resurrection. After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday. And this Sunday's gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) tells what happens to the apostles when they encounter the Risen Christ on that first Easter Sunday. They were hiding behind locked doors when Jesus appears, and in the midst of their fear, offers them peace. "Peace be with you," He tells them, and then after showing them His wounds, suffered for our sake, He does a marvelous thing. He breathes on them, and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).
The Son of God grants authority to forgive sins to the apostles. He tells them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Christ passes on His ministry of reconciliation to the Church (2 Cor 5:18), and the Church continues that ministry today through the sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession or Penance. These three names for the same sacrament each reflect one aspect of what happens in this encounter between the sinner and Christ. We confess our sins. We perform our penance. And we are reconciled to God. This is a marvelous and beautiful mystery that most of us fail to appreciate.
And why is that? Why do so many Catholics shy away from this healing sacrament of mercy? I get it. It's no fun to go into a cramped little room and tell someone all the bad things you have done. No one likes to admit to themselves, let alone to someone else, all of their faults and misdeeds. But consider this: God already knows all of your sins -- better than you do. By not confessing them, you are not hiding them from God. You are hiding God from yourself. By sealing those sins up within yourself, you seal out God. God wants to dwell within you, but He will not come in uninvited. You have to let Him in.
Yet the thought of going to confession after a long absence can still seem daunting. I hate doing the dishes. Well, that's an overstatement. In truth I don't mind washing dishes. What I hate is when there is a huge pile of them to be done; then it becomes a chore. If I wash the dishes immediately after each meal, it's not a hard task. But the longer I wait, the more dishes pile up, and the more daunting the task seems. I look at the sink overflowing with dirty plates and pots and pans and think, "Ugh, what a mess! I can't deal with all that right now." And so I put it off, more dishes pile up, and it only makes the job harder when I finally get around it it. I may even avoid walking through the kitchen so I don't have to look at the mess. I pretend it's not there, but my pretending doesn't make the pile of dishes go away.
When our souls get dirty through sin, they need washing, too. And, just like with the dishes, if you take care of it right away, it's no big deal. But the longer you wait, the more the sins pile up, and the more daunting confession seems. So we avoid it altogether. We don't want to confront the reality of how dirty our souls have become. But what we are avoiding is God's mercy, the very thing we need!
This is why it is such a good idea to set a regular schedule for confession -- and keep to it. The Church requires us to confess our sins at least once a year, during the Lenten season, but this is the bare minimum. Pope Francis goes to confession every two weeks. Some go weekly, which can be helpful especially if you are struggling with an addictive sin. For most Catholics going once per month or two will be sufficient. I find that any less often than this, however, and it becomes very easy to forget about and put off until another time -- and then, like the dirty dishes, the next thing you know a big pile of sins has built up and separated you from God.
If your first Reconciliation was your last Reconciliation, know you are not alone. Plenty of college students I speak to have not been to confession since they made their first Holy Communion. Sadly, many Catholic families have not made reception of this sacrament part of their spiritual lives. But you can change that. You can start the practice of regular confession now.
Begin by examining your conscience. Reflect back on your life since your last confession and try to call to mind any time you did something you knew was not right, or that you later realized was wrong. You may find it helpful to use an examination of conscience that provides questions meant to help call to mind your sins (there is a short one in the back of the worship aid and prayer booklet in the pews in our chapel, or you can find many online, including this one for college students). One great thing about keeping the time between confessions to a minimum is that examining your conscience is much easier when it's been a short time since your last confession.
And then go to Confession. Just do it. Walk in there, kneel or sit down. Make the sign of the cross and then say, "Bless me, Father, I have sinned. It has been [X amount of time] since my last confession." Then say your sins. If it's been so long that you don't remember what to do, just ask Father to lead you through it. Sometimes we may fear that the priest will be upset with us if we tell him that it has been years since we last confessed, but in fact the exact opposite is true. He will rejoice to have you back to the sacrament.
Each confession, in fact, is an occasion of rejoicing. While the act of recognizing and admitting our sins is a humbling thing, it's only the necessary prerequisite for the purpose of the sacrament, which is repenting from those sins and being reconciled to God through Christ. Our reconciliation is so important to Christ that He died in order to make it possible, and then came back from the dead to announce it!
So, tell me again... why are you putting off going to confession?
|"Confession is an act of honesty and courage - an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God." - Pope St. John Paul II|