Not too long ago I was in the lineup it had nothing to do with being picked out of a crowd at the police station for committing a crime I was in line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At the particular parish I was at, people lined up along the wall before the confessional. While in line you do sort of feel like a convicted criminal holding the prison number in front of your chest while being photographed. And in a certain sense you are a criminal you have committed a crime against God or neighbor. I have heard the adage, "Love means never having to say youre sorry." Actually I have always thought "Hell" means never having to say youre sorry.
Now like everyone else I like when the line is short. I dont have to wait too long. At the same time, I am sad when the line is short. Why? Because I think more people would benefit by availing themselves of this great Sacrament.
As a teenager my mother would announce at least a couple of times a year that "we" were going to confession. Now I didnt particularly like the "we" part. After all I was your typical rebellious teenager. But then again, how could I possibly win out against my Italian mother! So I would reluctantly go. Once in church, I would start to think about what I could have possibly done wrong over the past months. (Im sure my parents had some suggestions!) I would be embarrassed to have to tell the priest my sins even though I wasnt when committing them before God! (Someone told me when I was older not to worry the priest has heard it all before.) I remember coming out of confession feeling so good as if a weight had been lifted from me indeed it had. The burden of my sins was lifted off me by the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Why did I carry this burden so long? It seems the longer I put off going to this Sacrament the harder it was to go. Now why would that be?
In reflecting on this I believe it is similar to the exercise I do. When done regularly my muscles look forward to it. My body feels better from doing it. However, when I miss doing it for a few weeks, I dread it. The exercise hasnt changed I have. Im not in as good of shape. Its going to hurt more. So too with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Now I have more than once heard the objection, "Why do I have to tell my sins to a priest. Why cant I confess my sins straight to God?" I always remind them of Jesus words to his apostles after the Resurrection, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (Jn 20: 22, 23) Jesus decided this was the way He ordinarily wanted it done. And He would know whats best for us after all He created us! (In extraordinary circumstances where a priest is not available one can make a perfect act of contrition directly to God and the serious sins will be forgiven.)
Now I know that one is only required to go to this Sacrament when aware of having committed serious sin. But why wait? Why not do a little preventative maintenance?
This Sacrament helps me to periodically examine my actions, strive to overcome at least one shortcoming and receive Gods grace to do it. At times the priest offers some helpful advice to avoid sin or grow in virtue. By going often, I see this Sacrament as something to look forward to not something to dread.
There is so much that can be said about this great Sacrament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church under "The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation" is a must read. See it online at usccb.org/catechism/text/pt2sect2chpt2.htm#art4. I would encourage all to avail themselves of this great Sacrament. I hope to be waiting longer in the confessional line after all Ill grow in the virtue of patience!
Brother John Raymond, co-founder of The Community of The Monks of Adoration, received his M.A. in theology from Holy Apostles Seminary.