The first Synod convoked by Blessed John Paul II was on the topic of Reconciliation, confession and the topic of sin. His predecessor, Pope Pius XII coined this immortal phrase, “The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.”
From this Synod Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation was promulgated with the title: “Reconciliation and Penance”. In this spiritual masterpiece John Paul the Great spoke about the reality of sin, the many effects of sin, as well as the need to trust in God’s mercy and return to God through the Sacrament of Mercy, or the Sacrament of Confession.
The second Encyclical of the same Pope, John Paul II, was precisely on this same topic, “Dives Misericordia”—that is to say, “God rich in mercy”. In this monumental document in which the Holy Father offers a magisterial exposition of God’s mercy, he explains the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also can be called, “The Parable of the merciful Father”.
Both the encyclical and the Apostolic Exhortation have the same theme: sin does exist and all of us are sinners, but at the same time there is a remedy for sin and it is Jesus who comes to heal us, strengthen us and save us and, in a special way, through the Sacraments, but healing of sin specifically through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote a wonderful pastoral letter welcoming Catholics back to church through returning to Holy Mass. A later pastoral letter written by Cardinal Timothy Dolan was “From the altar to the confessional”. Interesting enough, the title was taken from the killing of two priests in Iraq in the church where two priests were serving God. One was celebrating Holy Mass and the other was ministering to the people in the Confessional. Both were murdered--- martyred—in their line of duty, nourishing their flock with the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus and the other reconciling the flock to the Father through the Sacrament of His mercy!
In this pastoral letter, the Cardinal comments with wit and humor but realism, the reality in many churches through the country the following incident. A priest is transferred to a new parish and assiduously strives to offer the Sacrament of Confession to the faithful. After months of patiently waiting for penitents, not one entered his confessional. The priest petitioned the Bishop for a transfer; the reason being: he wanted to be in a parish where he would have some contact with “sinners”.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event! In many parishes, the lines to receive Jesus in Holy Communion are interminable. However, the lines for confession are all but nonexistent! Saturday afternoon, the priest in the confessional may hear only three confessions: the scrupulous sacristan three times!
This being said, it is up to Pastors, priests, and catechists, as well as parents—the first teachers of their children—to make a concerted effort to work on the proper formation of the conscience of the parishioners as well as the children entrusted to their care and their eternal salvation!
This short exposition will be on the many fruits that can be derived from preparing oneself well to receive the Sacrament of Confession.
Remember the importance of the basic Sacramental truth: the dispositive grace/grace of disposition. In brief, the graces we receive in the sacraments are in direct proportion to our preparation. In other words, the better the preparation is prior to receiving the Sacrament, the more abundant the downpour of graces! The fault is not in the Sacrament, but rather in the recipient of the Sacrament!
Before enumerating the multiple blessings that flow from the Sacrament of Confession we should all cultivate an attitude of gratitude for our catholic faith, good priests that are available to dispense these wonderful channels of grace, and for the life that God has given to each and every one of us and our call to live it to the fullest extent possible! Jesus said that He came to give us life and to give it in abundance!
EFFECTS/FRUITS OF A WELL-DONE CONFESSION!
1. FROM LIFE TO DEATH. Confession can be compared to a “Lazarus experience!” Lazarus was dead and in the tomb for four long days. Jesus came and summoned them to remove the stone and then in a loud voice called out: “Lazarus come out!” The dead man walked out of the tomb; the bandages were removed and he was returned to his sisters! In a well- made confession, those dead in mortal sin, leave the dark and musty cave of mortal sin, leave the bandages of sin clinging to them and experience freedom—the freedom of the sons of God!
2. PASCHAL MYSTERY RELIVED. Confession is tapping in to the key event of our salvation: the Paschal Mystery. That is to say, Jesus suffered, died, was buried and on the third day, he rose from the dead. Confession, parallel to the Paschal Mystery, is a true dying to sin, a rising to new life. The graces that Jesus acquired from the Paschal event are applied to the soul of the repentant sinner!
3. SANCTIFYING GRACE RESTORED. Through the commission of mortal sin, sanctifying grace is lost--- this means, God’s Friendship has been lost. However, through sacramental confession, the soul once again is infused with the live-giving gift of sanctifying grace.
4. FRIENDSHIP WITH JESUS. Then this great gift of deep “Friendship” with Jesus is restored! Jesus called the Apostles His “friends” and He wants to call you and me His “Friend” in time and in eternity! Jesus is the Friend who is always faithful and will never fail us; if we fail Him, He is always awaiting our return, like the Father of the Prodigal Son, with His arms and heart always open to receive us!
5. INCREASE IN SANCTIFYING GRACE. The car tank on low with gas will end up stranded on the Freeway! Low on “spiritual gasoline--- namely grace, it is much easier to fall once again into mortal sin and to lose God’s Friendship. Therefore, it should be our constant effort to strive to keep growing in sanctifying grace—this comes about principally by frequent and well-received sacramental lives! Keep the tank always on “Full!”
This is the best policy and philosophy of life!
6. HUMILITY. Three of the foundational virtues on which the spiritual edifice of sanctity must be constructed are charity, purity and the virtue of humility! To examine one’s conscience, to see one’s sin—with the utmost clarity, to confess one’s sin without any justification—all of this demands the grace of God, but also great humility. However, Jesus loves those of humble heart. In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, the Pharisee praised himself for all the good he did and how holy he was; on the contrary, the Publican, failed to raise his eyes and beat his breast calling himself the sinner. Of the two, it was the humility of the Publican that won the heart of God. Confession helps us to grow in humility, a virtue that Jesus cherished so dearly that He Himself said: “Come to me, because I am meek and humble of heart…” (Mt. 11:28-30)
7. SELF-KNOWLEDGE. The philosopher stated, “The life that is not examined is a life not worth living!” A famous historian added, “He who does not know history is condemned to repeat the same errors.” Shakespeare wrote Histories, Comedies and Tragedies. We all have the comical side to our lives; we have our personal history. Still, hard though it may be to admit, we all have our tragedies. My “tragedy” and your “tragedy” is our own past life of sin! Frequent Confession can serve as a sure remedy to overcome ignorance as to our dignity as sons and daughters of God, but at the same time our need for God’s mercy as we are sinners from birth till the grave!
8. PRECIOUS BLOOD OF JESUS ON CALVARY. On Calvary, that 1st Good Friday, Jesus shed His Precious Blood for the salvation of all of humanity, but for you and me in particular. Therefore, when the Sacrament of Confession is well-prepared and well-received, the Precious Blood of Jesus descends upon the soul and is washed clean. As the prophet so clearly states: “Though your sins be like scarlet, they will be made as white as the snow.”
9. PEACE OF SOUL. Why is it that the world is rocked with wars, from East to West, from North to South? Archbishop Fulton Sheen asserts that World wars are simply the result of many small wars raging in the hearts of many individuals and these --- once accumulated—terminate in the atomic bomb! A soul living in sin is a soul not at peace, but living a restless, listless, agitated, unstable, existence! In other words, sin is hell on earth! One cannot live with a guilty conscience. Shakespeare depicts this idea in a masterful way with Lady Macbeth who could not live with the reality of murder on her conscience. Constantly, Lady Macbeth is portrayed washing her hands, trying to absolve her guilt. All the water from all the oceans in the world could not wash her guilt! Only the Blood of Jesus! For this reason Shakespeare stated: “Conscience does make cowards of all of us.” In the quiet of the room the conscience returns to haunt! Confession frees the soul of sin and peace is restored. This interior peace is worth more than all the money in the world!
10. CLEAN CONSCIENCE. Related to peace of soul, is that of a clean conscience. A bad conscience is hell on earth! For that reason many try to run away from their conscience because the pain and reality of a bad conscience is too painful. Consequently, having recourse to drink, drugs, porn, and other addictions often is directly related to a dirty conscience, a conscience that is not at peace! The Poet Francis Thompson creates the image of the “Hound of Heaven”, ardently pursuing the wandering soul and conscience, beckoning this soul to return to God and forsake his sinful lifestyle and thereby achieve peace of soul and a clean conscience.
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever. Years ago a study was done and the article came out in Reader’s Digest on suicide. The study showed that Catholics had much less numbers of suicides than Protestants and the primary reason was due to the existence and practice of the Sacrament of Confession among Catholics. Having the opportunity to unload ones’ problems to another and to have those sins forgiven, guilt resolved is an infinite source of peace and joy and health for body, mind and soul. Seeking true peace? Why not try confession!
Click here for part II of this article.