Confession ‘is about dispensing mercy’

Father Greg Hammes, pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka, listens to the confession of a young penitent in this photo illustration. Priests in the archdiocese talk about the healing power of confession. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER/PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY TODD HABIGER

by Olivia Martin

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The archdiocese is giving away a free gift every week during Lent.

To claim your free gift, all you have to do is follow simple instructions:

Visit a Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas on a Wednesday evening.

There is a room with a light above the door; go in.

Tell the priest inside the room your sins and the gift will be yours.

The gift of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Hold on . . .

That sounds like confession, and confession sounds like a bit of a risk.

What if I know the priest? What if he remembers my sins? What if he scolds me or judges me? These and similar questions often hold Catholics back from seeking God’s grace through the sacrament of reconciliation.

But at its foundation, confession is meant as a moment of healing.

“Before I was ordained, there were priests sitting in the confessional able to hear my confession because they had said ‘yes’ to Our Lord’s invitation,” said Father Michael Guastello, associate pastor at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

“As a priest, now I am sitting in the confessional,” he said, “hoping to help others experience the same love, forgiveness and reconciliation that I experienced.”

“There’s a sense of gratitude and humility in being able to be an instrument of God’s grace,” said Father Jonathan Dizon, associate pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Church in Topeka.

In his own ministry, Father Adam Wilczak, pastor of Holy Angels in Garnett, finds the Scriptures encouraging.

“In the Scriptures, God always chooses the most insignificant,” he said, and pointed to the tribe of Israel, King David and St. Teresa of Calcutta as examples of God’s preference for the underdog.

“For me . . . it’s been a great identifier through the sacrament of confession — as with all aspects of priesthood — that God chooses a fellow sinner to dispense his grace,” he said.

“A part of that beauty is the fact that it’s much easier for the priest to walk with the person,” he added.

During Lent, confession is available in every parish of the archdiocese on Wednesday night from 6-7 p.m., in addition to each parish’s regularly scheduled confession times.

“I think that it is a beautiful initiative and I am so glad we have it in the archdiocese,” said Father Guastello.

Lent is a new beginning. It is a time that Catholics begin to prepare for Christ’s passion, death and resurrection — and confession is an essential part of that preparation.

The sacrament is “really about dispensing mercy rather than keeping tabs on everyone’s sins,” said Father Dizon. It is not a place for scolds or reprimands.

“I think it’s important for people to know that the priest is not there to judge you,” said Father Guastello.

Within the sacrament, the priest desires healing for the penitent — both as a brother and as a father.

“I’m walking with you; it’s not me condemning you,” explained Father Wilczak. “Actually, I go to confession, too, regularly. I’m working on these things.

“I offer different prayers [for penitents] or occasionally will fast, especially if someone has come and had a big struggle.”

Confession is often as humbling an experience for the priest as it is for the penitent.

“There’s just a sense of gratitude and humility in being able to be an instrument of God’s grace,” said Father Dizon.

For Father Wilczak, his appreciation for the sacrament has only increased since being ordained.

“Being able to reconcile and offer healing and then see and hear the healing take place in the look you see on people’s faces or what you can hear in their voice — the peace that comes after the initial anxiety or worries” is one of the beauties of his vocation, said Father Wilczak.

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