by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
To begin this week’s column, I would like to share with you a couple of testimonies that were received from Leaven subscribers about their experience of the sacrament of reconciliation.
“I had fallen away from the church for a prolonged period of time,” said one. “I went through the motions, attending Mass on a regular basis, but my pursuit of faith had, in essence, come to a standstill. I decided that it was time for me to turn that around. And what better way to do that but to go to confession?
“I decided to attend confession, but it had been such a long time that I was actually embarrassed to go, so I decided to go to reconciliation at another parish than my own.
“When I got into the confessional, I hardly knew what to say. I don’t even remember who my confessor was. I began, ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been . . . I’m not sure . . . 20-some years since my last confession, maybe more. I don’t remember.’ The next words that I heard were a pleasure to my mind, heart and soul. The priest said, ‘Welcome back.’ Right then and there, I understood the total forgiving nature of both our God and our Catholic religion. I confessed the sins I could remember and left the confessional in an absolute state of bliss, knowing that forgiveness is truly what the sacrament of reconciliation is all about.”
This past Wednesday, we began our Springtime for the Soul initiative, with priests throughout the archdiocese available for the sacrament of reconciliation from 6 to 7 p.m. If perhaps, as in the above testimony, you prefer to go to confession at a parish other than the one in which you are a member, the Wednesdays of Lent are a perfect opportunity. I am certain whatever confessor you approach for the sacrament will receive you with a similar warmth and understanding, welcoming you back to the church. Would you not like to experience the “absolute state of bliss” that comes from encountering God’s mercy through this sacrament?
Another member of the archdiocese shared how receiving the sacrament of reconciliation was a transforming experience:
“My life was changed forever by an experience through this great sacrament. I confessed having a vasectomy five years prior to this confession [I am writing about]. I went in to confess, not ever considering my faith and what God thought when I made the decision to have a vasectomy. After confessing this sin, my confessor said, ‘When you walk out of here, you will be forgiven, but it sounds like it would be a great gift to your wife, and I know it would be a great gift to God, to have it reversed.’ My jaw must have dropped, because my confessor quickly replied with ‘but pray about it.’ I e-mailed a Catholic Web site and a couple days later received the message that ‘the church does not require a reversal but it is considered a heroic event.’
“At this time in my faith journey, I wanted to do something ‘heroic’ for God. And I knew I was being called to have it reversed. I told my wife of my desire to have this reversal and her eyes teared up and she said, ‘I never wanted you to do it in the first place.’ I remembered my confessor’s words: ‘It would be a great gift to your wife and a great gift to God.’ After the surgery I felt JOY for the first time in my life. I truly felt that God was pleased. Five months later we were pregnant with identical twin girls. We have since had one more child after our twins. We are committed to practicing NFP (natural family planning) and open to #7 if that is the plan.
“I have since gone back and asked my confessor if he always tells men to get a reversal when this sin is confessed. He said, ‘I only say what the Spirit tells me to do.’ I know that God spoke to me in the confessional that day and that he used this great sacrament to change my heart.”
Wow! What a powerful testimony of the power of the sacrament of reconciliation!
My greatest desire for each member of the archdiocese is a yearning for holiness, a desire for a deeper friendship with Jesus. The sacrament of reconciliation is one of the great tools that our Lord has given to us to help us grow in holiness and intimacy with him.
In our closest human friendships, we feel comfortable sharing our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, because we are confident that our friend will not abandon us. When someone has confided to us some particular difficulty or problem, do we not feel honored and humbled by their trust in us?
When we approach Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation, we are making a beautiful act of faith in his unconditional love for us. The greatest qualities we bring to our relationship with Jesus are honesty, humility and trust.
These are precisely the virtues that characterize a sincere reception of the sacrament of penance. We know, when anyone approached Jesus in the Gospels in this manner, he always responded with great tenderness and mercy. In fact, we recognize these same virtues in those who became the closest disciples of Jesus — for example, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Paul.
When we receive the sacrament of reconciliation with authentic contrition, it is a life-changing experience. We are not the same persons each time we leave the confessional. Our friendship with Jesus has been deepened. Our gratitude for his mercy has increased. From this heightened sense of thankfulness comes an energy to avoid our past sins, but even more to be more forgiving and more generous in our love for others.
There is nothing more important we can do to make this a truly fruitful Lent than to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. What are you waiting for? The Lord is waiting for you!