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Getting Right with God - And Everyone Else

by Linda Hilton | March 7, 2017

pope confession 400I’ve experienced many blessings and growth accompanying my husband through the deacon formation process. For me, one of the most profound changes has been my understanding of and attitude towards the sacrament of penance.

Growing up, confession seemed at best like an unwelcome chore– and I suspect I’m not alone. I wasn’t thinking about healing, grace, or the opportunity to see myself as I really am and seek reconciliation with God and with others. I was thinking about the inconvenience, the mild embarrassment, and really, if I’m sorry and I tell God, isn’t that good enough? A 2008 study found that sixty-two percent of Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year.”

Or maybe not.

What changed everything for me was a class on Sacraments and Liturgy. In that class, we discussed living in right relationship with God, others, ourselves, and the world. It’s not just about God and me. Little by little, through sins large and small, we drift away from the purity and re-birth of Baptism; we separate from the Body of Christ and do harm to it; and, we incline towards an increasing spiritual darkness, perhaps without realizing it. Without the opportunity for sorrow, confession, penance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, it is unlikely that on our own we can find a true path back to those baptismal graces. Fortunately, and grace-fully, that opportunity exists in the sacrament of penance.

So why not go to confession? I can think of a few reasons…

Customization dominates our lives; we expect everything around us to be finely attuned to our preferences. Social media, Netflix, Pandora radio, the personalization of our phones all contribute to the expectation that “it’s all about me.” Maybe I even expect that my relationship with my faith will be customized. In that mindset, it becomes painful and uncomfortable to think about doing what the Church wants me to do, to admit that what I want and what I do might not be right, and that I am like everyone else (as opposed to being so very special J). Thinking about going to confession means thinking about these things.

Then there’s the communal dimension of sin: when I do something wrong, even in secret, it ripples out in unimaginable ways. This is hard for us: as much as we care about others, the environment, and all of God’s creation, our society fosters such a strong sense of individualism — and relativism — that it’s difficult to break through and recognize the damage we have done. Sin has a communal impact. When I really started thinking about this, and how much I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, I knew I wanted to go to confession more often.

There’s a lot of chatter in social media from Catholics who aren’t comfortable taking to a priest. I think it’s helpful to remember if we approach confession as something between ourselves and another flawed human being, we’re missing the grace of the actual encounter with the Lord. Saint Pope John Paul II writes,

… the minister of penance, works “in persona Christi” …Christ …is with the priest… as a brother of man, a merciful bridge-builder, faithful and compassionate pastor dedicated to search for the lost sheep, the doctor who heals and comforts, the one teacher who teaches the truth and teaches the ways of God…

One of the most common phrases in the Bible is: Be not Afraid. It is only with God’s help that we seek the sacrament of penance. Pope Francis says it best:

Everyone says to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, (will be) there, and Jesus is better than the priests – Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession!

You just might find that getting right with God, and with others, is easier than you thought!

This blog post was contributed by Linda Hilton, Saint Katharine Drexel Parish, Alton, NH

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