Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Sacrament of Penance . . . in a Nutshell (part 3)

This final segment on the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) is meant to answer some of the typical questions that are asked concerning this topic and to provide a few comments.

  • When is it necessary to go to confession prior to receiving Holy Communion? 
Whenever one is conscious of any serious (mortal) sin, confession should ordinarily occur first.  Unfortunately there are some occasions when many people do not think that this rule applies.  Let me take the topic of missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation.  When people do not go to Mass regularly (each week) without a legitimate reason (for example, serious illness, the need to care for an infant or someone who needs continuous attention, etc.), they really should go to confession prior to receiving Holy Communion.

  • How often should I go to confession?
As often as necessary, but certainly whenever there is serious sin.  Church law still requires us to make an Easter Duty which obliges Catholics (who are lawfully permitted) to receive Holy Communion at least once a year during Easter time.  This means that first we should be in the state of grace (not conscious of any serious sin).  Therefore, confession is usually part of this routine.

A good spiritual practice has always been monthly confession.

  • Does it matter whether I go behind the screen or face to face?
No.  One should go wherever he or she can be completely honest and open about his or her sinfulness and actions.  Sometimes anonymity helps in the process.
  • What happens if I deliberately withhold a sin in confession?

Sins deliberately withheld are technically not presented to the priest (who acts in persona Christi) for forgiveness in the sacrament.  

Usually it involves an embarrassing situation (a sexual sin, an abortion, etc.)--something that the penitent thinks that they could never tell anyone about.

There are also those times when a penitent tries to sneak things in through the back door:  "Father, I am sorry for all of my sins."  or "Father, I have broken every commandment."

Still on other occasions people have told me that they do not feel sorry for what they did (and therefore feel no need to confess the sin) although the Church teaches that is it wrong.

What I have often found is that people who do not make an integral confession usually wind up carrying the guilt around (perhaps denying it or suppressing it) until they get up enough courage to confess the sin(s) at some later point in time through the grace of God.

My advice when using the Sacrament of Penance:  put all the cards on the table, get everything out, hide nothing and you will experience a peace like never before!  Yes, it involves a great deal of trust and a confessor who you can talk to and to whom you can open up your soul.  If you find a good confessor, you have found a priceless gift!

Finally, a person should go to confession to talk about his or her own sinfulness.  Sometimes people want to discuss someone in their family who has problems or even that other person’s sins.  This might be something to consider in spiritual direction or counseling, but it is not really what confession is supposed to be about.  Confession is about a person looking deep within oneself and honestly admitting before God what he or she has done wrong.

The Sacrament of Penance is here for us.  It is meant to reconcile us to God and to the Church.  It is here so that we can experience the love, mercy and forgiveness of God in this world.

My hope as a pastor is that more people will begin to take advantage of this sacrament on a regular basis.  I hope that YOU will think and pray about it.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

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