One of my mother's great phrases is, "A child with many names is much loved."
Whether Catholics call it Confession, Penance or Reconciliation, this great font of grace and healing is certainly much-loved by Pope Francis, who also refers to it as the Sacrament of the New Evangelization.
Faithful young people have caught on to Holy Father Francis's appreciation of this gift of divine mercy. They seem not to have the hang-ups that keep so many older Catholics away from this unique place of encounter with Jesus Christ, the Face of the Father's Mercy. If you are in the camp of the hesitant, the reluctant, the infrequent, or the resistant--or if you know anyone who is--here are five reasons why it's time to reconsider this ultimate resource of the spiritual life:
- Jesus knows that God alone can forgive sins. Jesus also knows that the Father sent him into the world on the ultimate Reconciliation mission, which is why He went around forgiving people's sins and granting his disciples the authority to do so in His Name. Why did the Lord have to suffer and die on a cross if all we needed to do was tell God we were sorry for our sins?
- Jesus knows that naming our sins out loud is the first step to healing and wholeness. His grace is more than sufficient for any sin imaginable, but our openness to admitting that we need it is the necessary condition for the possibility of being forgiven. Why does the Enemy always slither into our lives silently, trying to get us to keep secret what should be brought into the Light?
- Jesus knows that his ministers are themselves not perfect. In fact, He knows that no one is perfect (save his holy Mother, but that's another topic), and this is the very reason he instituted the Sacrament! Moreover, Jesus also knows that this is why He has promised never to leave us alone. Why did the Risen Lord first say, "Peace be with you" and "Receive the Holy Spirit" before saying "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them" (Jn 20:21-22), if not to help his Church understand that the ministers forgive sins and bring peace to penitents through the power of the Spirit?
- Jesus knows our deepest identities better than we do. He knows that we are destined to be beloved sons and daughters of an Eternal Father. We are not defined by our desires or by our deviations from the path of Life; we are not defined by our temperaments or by our temper tantrums. Why would God create us for relationship with Him, if there would be no way back once that relationship was broken?
- Jesus knows that only God's grace can free us from slavery to all of our disordered little loves. He says to us, "Go, and from now on do not sin any more" (Jn 8:11), and means it. Why would God create us for an eternal destiny beyond our reach--union with Him; holiness; sainthood--without giving us the means to achieve so great a goal?
I have come to love the Sacrament of Reconciliation, even though I must bend my warped will and humble my proud persona to make the journey each month. Ever since I heard words that only Someone Else would know to say come from the mouth of a simple priest, I have looked at the Sacrament of Reconciliation with fresh ears: As long as I'm being honest and forthcoming, Confession has become less about what I say and so much more about what words from the Word come to me.
Sometimes these sacramental encounters with Christ come in the form of a unique and fitting Penance. Other times they are insights shared by the Confessor. But every time, they include an experience of gratitude for hearing aloud the words of Absolution.
Whether it's the Mercy or the Peace or the Healing or the Wholeness or the Restoration or the Fresh Start, aren't there too many reasons for going to Confession to name?! Let's keep on showing this Sacrament much love--and helping others to reclaim it--for Heaven's sake!