Photo: A clergyman hears confession from Pope Francis during a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 28. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters).
Recently there was a video of Pope Francis being escorted by his Master of Ceremonies to a confessional in St. Peter’s where the pope would hear confessions. As the Master of Ceremonies tries to steer the pope to the confessional, Pope Francis waves him off, points to a confession box across the way and heads right there, kneels down and goes to confession. What a great witness! It speaks for itself.
As we prepare to celebrate the beautiful events of Holy Week and Easter, you are invited to come to confession. On Monday of Holy Week, April 14th, priests will be available in all the parishes in the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the Diocese of Rockville Centre. What an extraordinary opportunity this presents for all of us. The times for Confession are between 3:00 pm and 9:00 pm but you might want to check with your parish.
I very much encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. This is a sacrament where we come to meet Jesus Christ, who responds to our honest admission of sin by offering us His compassion and mercy through the words of absolution given to the Church by Christ Himself.
We all do things we wish we had not done or say things we regret. It is far healthier for us to admit we have sinned than to find some excuse or to blame others. The most freeing thing is to come honestly before Christ and allow His forgiveness to pervade our spirits and purify our hearts.
There is an individualism prevalent today that has crept into our spirituality in a limited perspective of me and God. It is not just me and God. In a spirituality of just me and God, God becomes anything I make him out to be. We need the witness of tradition and the universality of the Church to keep us honest and humble. Sin affects other people and God as well as oneself. Our actions and words have communal implications.
So why confess to a priest? The priest represents the community and brings the healing forgiveness of Christ into the given moment. He is no more worthy or unworthy than anyone else. It is actually humbling to hear confessions. It is a sacred trust to be the means by which the forgiveness of Christ is given to a penitent. The fact that priests have failed is really not a reason not to confess to a priest. We are all sinners in need of God’s healing love. The fact that people are not coming to confession is not a reason to give up this sacrament but is, rather, a call to greater effort in bringing the beauty of this encounter to peoples’ attention.
You could stay at home and tell God you are sorry, but that is not a sacrament. As a matter of fact it could be an easy out from being truly accountable. By coming before God and the community, we are taking responsibility for our actions and being united again into harmony with the community. At the same time, going to confession does not exempt us from apologizing to those we have hurt. We need a holistic approach to this sacrament.
Pope Francis’ witness as a penitent is matched by his words in Evangelii Gaudium: “44… I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best.”