I just heard a talk during which a question was asked: “Why don’t people go to ‘confession’ 1 anymore?”
First of all, is it true? I think it is. I remember hearing confessions for an hour straight almost every Saturday when I was first ordained. Now, it may have been the tradition of that particular parish to go to regular confession, but I noticed the number of confessions have been drastically reduced over the last 37+ years. In fact, on some Saturdays, I read a spiritual book or pray the Breviary uninterrupted. It leads me to suspect that there is little or no sin in Marlborough and in the other parishes I have been recently stationed!
Why has “confession” fallen so out of favor?
I think there are many reasons:
- Rejection of objective truth.
“We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” 2
Or, some say, “If it feels right or feels good, do it!” Combined with this rejection is “rationalization” where we sometimes fool ourselves by saying we are not all that bad or at least not as bad as others. Or, we excuse our behavior by claiming some extenuating circumstance or placing the blame on others, for example, “(S)he cut me on off, so I swore or did something else (road rage).”
- A Skeptical View.
We all know the look: arched eyebrows, a knowing smirk, kind of like Charlie Sheen, and the remark, ‘Yeah, sure.” We aren’t sure of anything, doubt everything including others’ motives. We don’t want to be played for a fool and are suspicious of any request to help or to be helped. (What’s in it for them? Me?)
- Suspicion of Authority.
“You’re not the boss of me” is the hallmark response of this attitude. We are so concerned about our individual rights and independence, all authority is at least suspect whether it’s political, ecclesial, or moral. This is closely related to the rejection of objective truth since it too is ego-driven.
“Many no longer see how they have sinned, and much less, that, in some cases they have sinned gravely; nor, do they see why they must ask pardon before a representative of the Church. Others allege that confessions were too often marred by routine and formalism.” 3
Because “it’s all relative”, and because there’s been a rejection of objective truth, and there are no longer absolute truths, there has been a loss of a sense of evil and sin. Nothing and no one are truly bad anymore except for a few situations or persons. And, even then, there is no agreement.
So, why go to a priest for confession?
We all realize that priests are human, too, with their own sins and failings. And, the priests recognize this themselves. 89% go to confession at least once a year; of that number 29% go weekly or monthly and 47% go every 3-6 months.4 In the past 10 or so years, the priests of our nation and the world have taken a beating, deservedly so, because of the actions of a few. In fact, for a while, I was ashamed to wear my “priest clothes” in public. Going to visit patients at a hospital or at a convalescent home was truly a cross to bear, enduring suspicious stares or people turning away with a look of disgust. It was, and still is, hurtful.
But, the priesthood is more than the individual priest with all the baggage any human being carries. The priest is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, whenever he hears a confession and forgives sins or, for that matter, whenever he is celebrating any sacrament. As such, he is to be compassionate as Christ, not excusing sins, but forgiving them. He should be as gentle as Christ was in treating anyone who comes and admits wrongdoing. He should be as loving as Christ in welcoming back anyone who has the humility and courage to acknowledge their need for forgiveness.
But, what about secrecy? Can a priest reveal anything to anyone for any reason what was said in confession? NO! Absolutely NOT! Priests have been threatened with or put in jail for not compromising what is called “the seal of confession”. I would like to think the seal goes both ways, i.e., the penitent doesn’t share with others the advice given to him or her in confession because the advice given is meant to be personal, and sometimes is not meant for general consumption.
Can’t God independently forgive my sins? Sure, God can and does. But, God in wisdom asks us to “signify” our sorrow and celebrate our forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How many of you think it’s enough to be truly sorry for having hurt a friend or a spouse or your child without telling them so, thinking that he or she must know you’re sorry without saying a word of contrition? How many of you would be satisfied without hearing the words from another, “You’re forgiven”?
A Sacrament is an outward sign. In Penance, the outward sign is admitting the things for which you are sorry, saying you’re sorry, and hearing the words of absolution or forgiveness. But, I think there’s more. Taking time out from watching TV, playing video games, or being with friends and family, getting off the couch or out of the chair, and driving or walking to the church are all part of the experience of “going to confession”.
Some people worry about the format of the Sacrament. Don’t! Any priest worth his salt would be willing to help you. What is most important is that you are there. Besides, we will be passing out or making available aids to help you.
On all the Mondays of Lent this year, every church in the Archdiocese will have a priest available for confessions, a.k.a., for the Sacrament of Penance, between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. How great is that! You don’t even have to go to your own parish to your own parish priest! But, as I told the Confirmation students before their celebration of Penance, don’t be afraid to come to me. I can’t possibly think less of you than I already do. (That’s a JOKE!) I am no position to judge you. In fact, I admire anyone who goes to confession!
Check out: www.Light4you.info. “We’ll leave the light on for you .” 5
1 “Confession” is a popular way of referring to the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance.
2 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Mass during the Conclave. April 18, 2005.
3 Pope John Paul II, ad limina address to the Bishops from the eastern regions of France, April, 1982.
4 The priests in the Archdiocese are having a Penance Service on February 26, 2013.
5 Tom Bodett, commercial for Motel 6.