Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa

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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.

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