It’s too easy to take the Sacraments Christ gave us for granted. God pours out a gratuitous amount of grace for us to use, and we often forget, or refuse it.
As I was sorting the washing t’other day I was listening to Catholic Answers phone in for non-Catholics. I think the non-Catholic phone ins are my favourite because there are some really thoughtful questions at times. But it’s the thoughtless ones that sometimes remind us of what we have.
A ex-Catholic phoned in with that strange kind of desperation to be right that is so often the hallmark of those who have run away from Christ and His Church. He insisted that the Bible contradicted Catholic teaching all over the place. Patrick, being more than fair, held the man over the break and gave him ample opportunity to ask about one issue in Scripture that the Church contradicts. When the break was over the poor man simply had nothing, so he took a scatter gun approach throwing out lots of Catholic practices, including Confession.
That’s the one Patrick and his guest Bishop Conley took up. John 20: 21 to 23, where the risen Christ hands on to the apostles the authority to forgive and retain sins. There’s a great Biblical overview of the Sacrament here which not only shows the Biblical basis, from the very mouth of Christ, but also shows it was part of Church practice by the time the Didache was written (around 80 AD) and is therefore in the Didiache.
If there is one person who has and does understand the deepest complexities of human nature it is Christ – obviously. He is the number one psychologist. It has often been noted that as the practice of Confession has declined the pockets of therapists have filled.
The fact is when we have done something awful and we are suffering the consequences in both guilt and fallout, we need to speak out loud to someone. It is a sop to personal pride to say we can keep it between “me and Jesus”, and that’s before you even consider the fact that refusing to confess is disobeying Him anyway.
In the Sacrament of Confession God not only pours out His grace for us, but He enables us to hear the words “I absolve you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our sins are forgiven you.” That is such a wonderful moment. So many people who have come back to the Church or have Confessed hideous sins such as abortion will speak of that moment when the weight is lifted and they leave Confession a free person.
On the other side of the psychological coin is the temptation to simply ignore our sins. So what if we said horrible things, it was a bad day. So what if we were too busy to bother visiting that sick person, they are too ill to notice. And as we quietly bin the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and get on with our busy busy lives, we slip into the horrible mind-set of “thank you Lord that I am not a horrible sinner like that person over there…” and the astonishingly common mantra “I’m a good person.”
Going to Confession takes humility and honesty. That’s why so many of us find it so very difficult to do. A good priest will often turn over a few extra stones with you so the forgotten and hidden things are exposed, cleansed and forgiven.
There is a beautiful story about Blessed Pope John Paul the Great. Someone had seen an old tramp as he travelled through Rome to the Vatican. I can’t quite remember the details here but either this priest or someone recognised the tramp as having been a priest at one time.
On hearing about this the Holy Father asked that the man be found and invited to dine with him. This was done and the tramp was brought into the room where the Pope was going to eat with him. The man and pope talked and it was true he had once been a priest but had fallen on hard times. The pope took his hands and said “Please will you hear my Confession Father?”
And so the first thing this priest who had become a tramp did to begin his road back to the priesthood was hear the pope’s confession.
For those of you blessed enough to have Confession readily available to you, thank God for that, and pray for us who can’t get there very often.