Column: Let the sacrament of penance help you over that hump

by Joe Bollig

Have you seen the commercial where a camel walks through an office full of cubicles asking what day it is?

Chattering and chortling, the obnoxious camel pesters one annoyed cubicle dweller after another, until finally a woman tonelessly replies: “It’s hump day.”

“Whoo Whooooo!” the camel hollers.

For some Catholics, the “hump day” in the liturgical year is Lent.

Lent — a time of fasting and abstinence. Self-denial. Mortification. Repentance. Yes, and time for the Easter Duty.

Canon law mandates that all Catholics must receive the Eucharist during the Easter season. And although Catholics are not required to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at this time, most of us would probably benefit from the experience.

Still, a lot of Catholics are reluctant to go to confession — and we have a whole list of good reasons why.

Objection 1: Can’t I just tell God I’m sorry for my sins?

Reply: Of course you can tell God you’re sorry for your sins. Do so as soon as you can. However, the church teaches that Christ lives and acts in and with his church, and he established the sacraments to bring his grace into our lives. God uses the priest as his instrument to dispense his healing and forgiveness. This is what God wants of you.

Objection 2: I’m afraid to confess to my pastor. He might judge me or think poorly of me. I’m just too embarrassed and ashamed of my sins.

Reply: Being embarrassed and ashamed of your sins is actually a good sign, because it means your conscience is hard at work. Seeking the sacrament despite your shame is something priests respect, because it is a great exercise of humility. They won’t judge — after all, they have to go to confession, too. Priests hear many confessions and couldn’t keep track of an individual’s sins even if they wanted to — and they don’t want to. And there’s the “seal of confession” to consider. Priests cannot reveal any- thing told during confession. Remember that it is God to whom you are confessing. If it helps, go to another parish. You are not required to confess to your pastor.

Objection 3: The sacrament of reconciliation doesn’t work. I just confess the same sins over and over, and I get discouraged.

Reply: Christ never promised, and the church has never taught, that Christians would never be tempted to sin. The grace of the sacrament is not a guarantee against all future sin. But it does help us grow in love and give us the grace to avoid future sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that although we must still contend with the reality of our sinfulness, we are called to resist it and seek reconciliation when we fall. If a person is faithful, they will make progress over time.

Objection 4: It’s been a long time since I’ve been to confession, and I have a long list of sins. I’m not even sure where to start.

Reply: Don’t wait any longer, Do a little reading up on the sacrament ahead of time. Make a good examination of conscience. If you’re comfortable with it, call a priest ahead of time and explain your situation. He’ll be glad to help you. He may suggest scheduling a time outside
of regular confession times, so you can have all the time you need. This is the better approach if you have a lot of difficulties and removes the pressure of holding up a line of people outside the recon- ciliation room. If this doesn’t work for you, simply tell the priest about your situation after you enter the reconcil- iation room. Many parishes place instruction cards in the room to help people who’ve forgotten the prayers or how to confess.

So yes, Lent can be “hump time” for Catholics. But that isn’t a bad thing, because once you’re over “the hump,” you can fully celebrate Easter joy.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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