Benedictine College sees scores of students take advantage of the sacrament
by Sara Stacey
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — Benedictine College here has an interesting problem. The confession lines are too long.
And they grow even longer during Lent.
It was not always so, however.
“When we saw Mass participation go up and perpetual adoration began, we saw students making a personal commitment to Christ in the Eucharist. That’s when we also saw a significant increase in confessions on campus,” said Father Brendan Rolling, director for mission and ministry at Benedictine College.
Three years ago, he noted, only one confessional was used before Sunday Mass. Last year, two had to be used. This year, often all four confessionals at St. Benedict’s Abbey church are busy.
“I believe our students understand that they can’t answer the church’s call for a worldwide new evangelization before answering Christ’s call for a personal conversion,” he said. “The hearts of Benedictine College students are leading them to the confessional.”
“What moves me is when students who have carried significant crosses in their lives, alone and without encouragement, turn to Christ in the sacrament of confession and discover real freedom,” said Father Brendan. “Their eyes light up, they walk taller, they easily smile. They’re more confident, they’re more trusting. They handle mistakes with greater maturity and they see the difference real freedom can make in their everyday lives.
“They realize that they’re not perfect — and they allow Christ’s love to perfect them.”
Senior Brad Geist has been going to the sacrament of reconciliation weekly for a few years.
“It always seems to give me a new strength,” he said.
His appreciation of the sacrament grew after a particularly bad day.
“I had spent all day just tearing myself down. I decided to go to confession, but I was too early, so I just sat in the chapel and stared at the crucifix,” he said. “Then it hit me what I’d been doing to myself all day.”
By the end of his confession, Geist was crying.
Geist thinks many people are afraid of the sacrament of reconciliation because “they don’t trust the priest.” There is sometimes a misunderstanding of what the seal of the confessional is, said Geist. Canon law states that priests cannot reveal what a penitent confessed, nor can a priest act differently toward a person after hearing their confession.
What’s said during confession, stays in confession.
Senior theology major Kalen Skubal researched the sacrament’s history for her senior thesis because she was curious about its evolution.
“All the other sacraments seem to have stayed the same, but with confession, the form has changed throughout the course of church history,” she said.
Skubal is grateful to the Holy Spirit and the church for the form the sacrament takes today.
Skubal said it’s easier to access in today’s form than that of the early church.
“It’s offered at least weekly, it’s easier to make amends because you can partake of the sacrament as much as needed,” she said. “[Doing] the penance is easier because it’s something you can spend minutes doing versus years of your life.
“And you can live a holier life because you have the opportunity and the desire to confess your sins knowing that they’ll be forgiven, and you aren’t treated as an outcast because of them.”
“Christ is waiting for you in the confessional,” Skubal continued. “You just have to step inside and ask to be forgiven.”
“I don’t think people really understand what mercy is. The concept is used, but it’s not really articulated,” she added. “It was never really defined for me until I started taking theology classes at Benedictine.”
“Mercy is an act of unselfish compassion toward someone that has wronged you,” Skubal said. Without Christ’s example of mercy toward us when we sin, we wouldn’t know how to treat other people when they hurt us, she explained.
Skubal’s favorite part of the sacrament of reconciliation is “the feeling of joy that you get when you walk out of the confessional and you feel like you could float in the air.”
Junior Jared Hafey is about to celebrate his first year of being a Catholic.
“I feel like I’m in the honeymoon phase of being Catholic, but shouldn’t we all be?” he asked.
“I love confession. I love that fact that no matter how bad, I get I have the opportunity to experience the mercy of God in my day-to-day life,” Hafey said.
“It’s hard going to confession — to examine your conscience. And it’s difficult to live up to your act of contrition,” he said. But absolution is “the most beautiful part because that is the greatest act of God’s mercy.”
Tom Hoopes, director of the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine, said, “I love the availability of confession at Benedictine. I even went in my cap and gown at a recent baccalaureate Mass.”
The Gregorian Institute promotes Catholic identity in public life — and Hoopes said the sacrament of reconciliation is a big part of that.
He was present in Washington, D.C., in 2008 when Pope Benedict XVI said, “The renewal of the church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance.”
“The U.S. bishops have made promoting confession a top priority,” said Hoopes , pointing to their new document, entitled “God’s Gift of Forgiveness.”
Find the Gregorian Institute’s “Seven Reasons to Return to Confession” on the website at: www.TheGregorian.org/resources, along with examinations of conscience for children and adults.