Column: Don’t avoid the ‘R’ sacrament

by Father Mark Goldasich

Once upon a time a little boy by the name of Jimmy had a heck of a time pronouncing the letter “R.” To remedy this, his teacher gave him the following sentence as an exercise to practice at home: “Robert gave Richard a rap in the ribs for roasting the rabbit so rare.”

After about a week or so, Jimmy’s teacher asked if he’d mastered that special sentence she’d given him.

“You bet!” said Jimmy.

Beaming, the teacher asked him to say the sentence for her. Without hesitation, here’s what Jimmy rattled off: “Bob gave Dick a poke in the side for not cooking the bunny enough!” (Adapted from a story found in “Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes” by Robert J. Morgan.)

Well, that sly little kid went to great lengths to avoid the “R” words. Sometimes, as Catholics, we do the same thing with regard to our faith.

One of those “R” things is the sacrament of reconciliation; another is “religious reading.” Therefore, while it’s still early in this Lenten season, I’d like to invite you to tackle those “R’s” head-on by reading the three pages (7-9) in this issue devoted to better understanding this healing sacrament that so many people seem to avoid.

First, though, take a moment or two to recall your last confession: Where and when was it? Who was the confessor? Was it a communal penance service? Think of as many details as you can. Then, read Father Thomas Richstatter’s “Ten Tips for Better Confessions.” How does your experience stack up?

People much more knowledgeable that I have tried to pin down why there has been such a decline in Catholics receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. From my perspective as a pastor, I’d highlight these:

The first is that people had a “bad experience” sometime in their lives with a confessor. They were yelled at, belittled, embarrassed, whatever. I know; it’s happened to me. That’s no reason to avoid the sacrament, though. If you had a bad experience with a doctor, for example, you’d just switch doctors; you wouldn’t stop caring for your health. Or if you had a terrible class in school, you’d just switch teachers; you wouldn’t give up your education.

So, too, with this sacrament. If your bad experience was far in the past, give the sacrament another chance. If the experience was a recent one, give the confessor a second chance. If it still doesn’t work out, don’t give up on the sacrament; switch confessors.

A second reason people avoid the sacrament has to do with memorization, a silly as that sounds. Sometimes, because people have been away from the sacrament for a time, they’ve forgotten how it’s done. Not wanting to feel uncomfortable, they simply avoid confession. Or people will sheepishly admit that they no longer remember the Act of Contrition and so they don’t come to the sacrament. Please don’t worry about these things. The sacrament of reconciliation is not a memory test. If you’re unsure of something or get stuck, let the confessor know. He’s there as a helper and guide.

A third reason I suspect people don’t come to the sacrament is actually a strange one: They’re afraid it will work. In other words, there’s a fear of success. We can become quite comfortable with our sinful ways and not really desire change, even though it’s for the best. Some people, when faced with the possibility that they can be holier, actually might not want to be.

If this seems bizarre, take a look at your Lenten disciplines. In these days, we actually can find more time for prayer, the will to do good for others and the stamina to fast. These practices give us a glimpse of the people that we can be. Yet, most of us abandon these good practices once Lent ends. We have a tendency to slide back to our old routines.

Lastly, some folks are operating on information they learned when they were in grade school. Our faith is something that is living, and we’re called to grow with it. We can — and actually should — always learn more. That’s what this article by Father Thomas can help us all do.

I have one request: After reading Father Thomas’ suggestions, put them to good use by scheduling — now, while it’s fresh on your mind — a time to go to confession. Until then, maybe you can round up little Jimmy and practice the following sentence: I resolve not to resist receiving the rich rewards of our Redeemer in the sacrament of reconciliation.

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