Friday, March 9, 2018

Are We, as Catholics, Missing the Mark When it Comes to Confession?

On February 16, 2014, there was an article that appeared in the Boston Globe that was entitled “Catholic Confession’s Steep Price.” The article was quick to point out and I quote “Fifty years ago, the great majority of Catholics in this country confessed their sins regularly to a priest. Confession, after all, is one of the seven Catholic sacraments. But now only 2 percent of Catholics go regularly to confession, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Georgetown University—and three-quarters of them never go, or go less than once a year. In many parishes, the sacrament is currently available only by appointment.”

Perhaps, the reason for the decline is that we either have forgotten the purpose of the Sacrament of Confession or never truly understood it.  In Matthew, Chapter 4, we read that from the time Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been imprisoned, He began to preach. Christ’s first word, like that of John the Baptist, is “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Verse 17.  Because it is the general consensus of Theological scholars that the Gospels were written in Greek, the following translation may be of help to you. The Greek word for repentance is, metanoia which means “to have a change of heart or mind.”  The Greek word for sin is “hamartia” meaning “to miss the mark.”  So, if in sinning we are missing the mark (meaning eternity in the Kingdom of heaven) then we need to make a change in our heart or mind.  In other words, we need to change what we are doing if we want to go to heaven.  There is no other way to salvation without changing our ways. So, take a few moments to think about the sins you confess.  Are you confessing the same sins confession after confession?  Are you bored with confession because nothing changes in your life? Do you go because it is the thing to do or you always go once a month?  Realizing that your behavior is not in line with the teachings of Christ and having a sincere desire to change is what should lead you to confession. God knows when we are contrite and repentant. God does not need to hear what we have done. He already knows.  He sees and hears everything we think, do, and say.  Confession is for our benefit, not God’s. We, as humans, need to say aloud and hear ourselves saying what we have done wrong. When you hurt someone, it doesn’t help to feel sorry unless you express that sorrow to the person you hurt and he/she forgives you.  There is one other person whose forgiveness you must receive.  That person is yourself.   God forgives us because of his unconditional love for us. So often, people are unable to forgive themselves for the wrongs they have done. Perhaps, that is part of the reason why they stop going to confession. They don’t feel truly forgiven.  The other part of repentance is the commitment to change, to stop sinning, to break the cycle which can be very difficult. Do we not realize that God, Himself has forgiven us? Are we not humbled and grateful for this act of love? Does this not make us want to be better Christians and change the way we choose to live our lives?  There is a wonderful passage that reads “…repentance is not only penitence and contrition, but a movement toward goodness, wholeness, forgiveness, and joy. It is not negative, but positive. It looks not down into hell, but up into heaven. Its fruits are hope, diligence, peace, joy, and self-control. It is a renewal of baptism, a baptism of tears that washes away our sins and purifies the soul, giving us a clean slate and a fresh start.” 

Our lives on earth will always be filled with temptations, troubles, and adversities. The Christian approach should be with humility, unconditional love, patience and in the peace of Christ whether it is with family, friends, coworkers, enemies, or strangers.  The question each of us needs to ask ourselves at the end of the day or better yet throughout the day and night is “Is the way I am living and behaving an Imitation of Christ?”  If the answer is “No, not really or kind of.”  This is your chance to hear and respond to the words of Jesus Christ, Himself, “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

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