Perhaps, no other title would suit more to an article about the sacrament of confession. Especially when we Christians fail pathetically to realize its true value. Let me start by sharing a personal experience.
It was a decade ago. I was staying in a metropolitan city far from my hometown. I was just another ‘Sunday Christian’ those days and the need to attend daily Mass had not yet come to my mind. But I was regular in attending the Mass on Sundays and I made it a point to receive the Holy Communion every time. Though I knew the parish priest personally, I used to keep a dignified distance from him, because of my impression that he was not as friendly as I expected.
Once it so happened that I skipped receiving the Holy Communion continuously for two Sundays. The priest should have noticed it as ours was a small parish. On the third Sunday the priest came to me and called me by name and said, “Come for confession”. I was shocked because it was the first time in my life that a priest invited me personally to the confessional. Good priests know that if a person skips Holy Communion for two weeks, then he would be living in sin. Such priests know that the first and foremost help needed for this person is a good confession.
The Church is blessed to have such priests in thousands. But the problem is not with priests, but with us Christians, who fail to understand that what we need in the first place is a good confession!
Let me share with you the experience of a young priest who was in charge of a church located in a small town in a country, where the number of Christians was just one sixth of the number of Muslims. One day, when the priest was relaxing in his residence nearby, a young Muslim girl came to the Church. When he saw a Muslim girl at his doors, the priest was perplexed, because it was not common for Muslims to visit Christian churches. But he was really shocked when she revealed the purpose of her visit. “ Father, I need to confess”. All his efforts to convince her about the difficulty in hearing the confession of a non-Christian failed. She was adamant and wanted the priest to hear her confession. It appeared that she came to know about the sacrament of confession, that is available with Catholic priests , from her Christian friends.
Finally, the priest relented and made her comfortable by offering a chair. Then he listened to all her sins, sorrows, and the thoughts that were passing through her mind. After a patient hearing that lasted for a reasonably long time, the priest consoled her, gave her good counseling and prayed for her. That Muslim girl who entered the church gates desperate, left with visible joy in her eyes.
Yes, there are non-Chriistians who know how valuable the sacrament of Confession is. But sadly, the number of Christians not coming to the confessional is on the rise. We will realize how precious our eyes were only when we lose them. We hoped that Christians would long for a confession after months of being denied it due to corona related restrictions. But it was a misconception. Many Christians will be happy to get the facility of ‘online confession’ just the way they made themselves comfortable with online Mass even after restrictions were lifted. Instead of confession, some might even argue for a general absolution declared by their parish priest covering all the parishioners and forgiving all their sins!
Another disturbing fact is that many priests would make the confessionals out of bounds for the faithful for the silliest of reasons. Without any prick of conscience, they put up a notice stating that confession will not be available until further notice.
Now let me introduce a priest to you. When I met him for the first time in 2020, he was suffering from diabetes and cancer. When the first lockdown was introduced in the country he was waiting for the second stage treatment for his cancer. Due to Covid related travel restrictions, he could not make it to the hospital where he had booked a slot. But he was neither desperate nor gloomy. His advanced age (77 years at that time) and failing health could not deter him from performing his priestly duties.
For the next one year he would celebrate Holy Mass in his chapel every day and would welcome anybody who came there. He was ever ready to hear confessions. By the time he could visit his doctor – it was after a year because the restrictions were stricter in his country – he was pleasantly surprised to hear what his doctor said; “ Father, there are no symptoms of cancer in your body now”.
Yes, there are priests who would never forget their Lord and Master, and the ministry that they inherited from him. They never forget the confessional. And their sole consolation and hope is that their heavenly Lord is one who also never forgets what his priests do here on earth!
We know many priests who ensured that those who are in need of confession were never denied it, come what may. Those priests kept the confessional open, that too without breaking the rules. They made use of the enabling provisions, and stretched the rules to the maximum extent to serve their parishioners. The Catholic Church is fortunate to have such priests who place the law of their Lord above everything else.
But our issue at this moment is not what the priests do, but what the faithful forget to do. We are the beneficiaries of confession, and for that matter any other sacrament. The point to ponder is how Christians fail to take the benefit of this free gift from heaven! Those who know the value of confession will never despise it or mock it. They know that confession is the symbol of the Lord’s ultimate love towards us sinners. They know that confession is the channel for grace to flow.
We have learnt precious little from a pandemic and resultant lock down. Whatever little we learned was forgotten too soon. We will realize the true value of Confession only when it becomes more dear. When the confessionals are closed before us, we will long for a confession. When it is totally denied to us, we will understand how precious it was.
To those who doubt in their hearts about the possibility of such a scenario, let me tell you very clearly. That day is very close to us. In those days we will run in search of a priest who is generous enough to hear our confession. Remember what the Lord said through Prophet Amos; ‘They shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. In that day the beautiful young women and the young men shall faint for thirst’ (Amos 8:12-13).
Let us be vigilant today lest this fate befall us too. Utilize the facility to confess when it is still available. The Scripture reminds us to seek the Lord when He is still near and accessible. Ours is not a God who would hide himself afar, and who could not be found when sought with all our heart.
We should never say in our heart that God will not forgive our sins as they are grave and many. Jesus once revealed to St Faustina; I perform works of mercy in every soul. The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy (Diary 723). So never hesitate to go for confession irrespective of the gravity of our sins.
Here we need to clarify something. There are many people who doubt whether all their sins, though confessed properly, are truly forgiven. Even after a good confession they carry the guilt in their conscience. Faustina describes the experience of a particular nun who was reeling under the wrong notion that her sins were not forgiven, even after repeated confessions, every time confessing the same sins. Her intellect somehow managed to convince her that God had not forgiven her fully. She started feeling an inner voice telling that her confessions were in vain and that her guilt stood as it was. Her request to Faustina was to pray to Jesus for her. Faustina hesitantly agreed to her request and prayed for this intention. The reply from Jesus was straight and simple. ‘Tell her that more than her sins, it is her lack of faith that hurt me’. God is faithful in His promises. His words stand for all eternity. When He said that our sins are forgiven, it means that God forgave all our trespasses.
There are others who skip confession under the pretext that the priest is also a human being like us with all the attached weaknesses and shortcomings. As such, what is the point in confessing our sins to him? How can a man forgive the sins of another man?
We need to understand one thing very clearly. It is not the priest who forgives us. He is simply exercising the power delegated by the Lord to him. The Scripture is unambiguous in that Jesus Christ handed over the power to forgive sins to his disciples. It is another thing that, like Jesus’ other teachings, this also will enter the hearts of those with grace only.
Many priests and preachers testify in one voice that the first step towards healing and deliverance is a good confession. No person can experience the joy of Lord’s healing, deliverance and salvation without first going through the process of reconciliation.
One person who knows the true value of confession is the devil. This is why he employs all the weapons in his quiver against this sacrament. If somebody asks me for proof of the efficacy of confession, I would gladly tell them that if the devil hates confession to such an extent, should we need any more proof? It is our experience that Satan never obstructs those kinds of futile spiritual exercises, which many of us often resort to. Not only that, the devil will even encourage us to go forward with such useless spiritual exercises.
Now a word to those who would postpone their confession, even when opportunities are available. Please, please never postpone your confession. ‘Do not delay to turn back to the Lord, and do not postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will come upon you, and at the time of punishment you will perish’ (Sir 5:7). We do not know whether we would be granted another dawn. Even if God permits us to have another day in our life, there is no guarantee that a priest would be waiting for us in the confessional. As the Apostle says, ‘the present form of this world is passing away’ (1 Cori 7:31) before our own eyes, and it is but wise not to postpone anything good, least of all something as important as confession.
What is going to happen tomorrow is beyond our thought and imagination. It is time to leave our past to the mercy of the Lord and prepare for a good confession as if for a confession in preparation for death. Now we have the opportunity. Now nobody prevents us from doing it. Nor does anybody prevent a priest from hearing our confession. As time passes, things will become more and more difficult for Christians to practise their faith. Now you can fasten your own belt and go wherever you wish. But the time is near when you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go’ (Jn 21:18). It will be too late when we realize our folly.
When Jesus warned us about an impending night where nobody could do any work, he was not mentioning about the lockdown and closure of businesses. The Lord has given us sufficient warning about the days of darkness when it would be impossible to carry out the works of the Lord. Please understand that you are reading this, standing at the threshold of those fateful days.
But now the merciful God extends His hands to us and invites us; ‘‘Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool’ (Isa 1:18). Like any meaningful offer, this offer also has an expiry date attached to it. Unfortunately, God has not revealed it to us! We are blessed if we could heed to the call of our Lord before it is getting late and dark.
Let us pray:
Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner. Give me true repentance about my sins. I confess that I have offended you greatly with my sins. I am sorry for having offended you this way. I resolve not to offend you any more by sin. I also resolve to go for the sacrament of confession at the earliest available opportunity. Forgive my sins and shower your grace upon me. Amen.