The Rituals of Mercy
Pope Francis likens the Church to a field hospital in a battle field. The Catholic Church is not an exclusive country club for saints, rather it’s an emergency room for sinners with Jesus as the chief surgeon, blood and organ donor. His chief instruments are not a scalpel and forceps, but the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. One is focused on spiritual sickness (or sin) and the other more on physical ailments.
Reconciliation is so much more than an experience of unburdening the soul; any good barman, counsellor or hairdresser can listen to a confession! Rather, it is a powerful, grace-filled encounter with the mercy of Jesus, who is present in the person of the priest.
Our award-winning Sacrament Essentials: Reconciliation issue of CathFamily is full of tips, FAQs, and insights on this oft-neglected sacrament. View it here.
Stories of Mercy
Two people share their life-changing experiences of receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Linda L. Lochtefeld’s Story
I grew up as a Protestant, active in my church until I went to college. I never paid much attention to other faiths until I met my husband-to-be.
Joe was a Catholic from a very Catholic community. I began attending church with Joe and tried to learn about his faith. When we got engaged, I decided to join the Church—mainly because it was important to Joe and his family.
I believe I joined the Church with my head and not my heart, which is why things began to fall apart shortly after our wedding. Within a year after our son, Lee, was born, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Suffering had begun. I was very confused. I got angry at everything and everybody: my husband, the doctors, and God.
All I saw everywhere, including the Church, was suffering and I couldn’t handle it. I felt that God had abandoned all of us. I quit going to church. My actions and attitudes became full of sin. I emotionally began leaving my marriage and unknowingly went into a deep depression.
In 1997, a few years after my mother’s death, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I hit bottom. I had never been more terrified in my life. Worst of all, I had no faith. When I checked into the hospital for surgery, I was asked what church I attended, what my faith was. I had no answer.
I felt abandoned by God, but He was there watching over me, along with my husband, who never left my side. After surgery, I turned on the TV trying to calm down, and that’s when I found the channel with the camera on the crucifix in the chapel at the hospital. I left that channel on all night. Every time I woke up there was a soft glow from the TV filling the room—and there was Jesus on the cross
I stared at Him and began to see His suffering in a different light. For the first time I started to see within my heart the beauty and love of our crucified Saviour on the Cross. My life began to change. My mother-in-law gave me a tape of the rosary that Joe and I played and prayed together whenever the fear set in.
During this time, I experienced one of the greatest healings of all, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I had only gone to confession once, when I first joined the Church 15 years previously but I couldn’t stop feeling guilty for the many, many sins of my past.
Finally, I made an appointment to see our priest, Fr Daniel, to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in his office. Before my confession, I wrote down everything I could think of then, even though I dreaded facing Father with my embarrassing sins.
I felt this push from the Holy Spirit, and I couldn’t stop. I poured out my past amidst tears and tissues. Father counselled me, and then he stood up, laid hands on me and prayed over me. He told me that in the name of Jesus, my sins were forgiven. I felt numb as I left his office.
In the days ahead, I became aware that a change was happening. Every time I would begin to think about the past, my thoughts immediately would turn to something else. Later, I would realize that I had not spent any time thinking about my guilt or my sins. Thoughts and feelings that I couldn’t seem to control before were being cleansed completely from my mind. My past was being lifted once and for all!
Originally published in 101 Stories of the Power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation by Patricia Proctor. Reprinted with permission. Patricia is a former member of the Poor Clare Sisters, a cloistered community in Spokane, Washington. Click here to purchase the book.
Sam Guzeman’s Story
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of my favorite sacraments, and I try to go as often as I can. But this wasn’t always the case. I am a convert, and I still remember the awkwardness of my first confession. I dreaded it for weeks, about as much as you would if you had to tell your parents you totalled their brand new car.
The worst part was, the good priest who confirmed me insisted that I confess face to face. There would be no semi-anonymous screens or soundproof rooms. I wasn’t going to get the easy way out.
Frankly, it was humiliating, and I remember staring at the floor most of the time. But after the humiliation came the best part—hearing the words of absolution. It was incredibly powerful, and it made God’s mercy concrete and real in a new way.
As a protestant, I never really knew if I was forgiven. Had I been really sorry enough? Had I prayed long enough and hard enough? Of course, I was told just to believe and have faith that I was, but being the scrupulous sort (I still struggle with this), I would find myself questioning my motives and my own sincerity. More often than not, I would repeat the same prayers for forgiveness over and over, just for good measure.
Then there was the guilt of keeping my sins secret from the world. I could act holy and righteous, but no one really knew who I was below the surface. I felt like a hypocrite, laden with secret sins.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation changes all that. I can’t keep my sins secret, at least not for very long. And I don’t have to doubt if I am forgiven, I can concretely hear that I am, as many times as I need to.
Three Reasons To Go To the Confessional
Many people are embarrassed or afraid to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They avoid it as long as possible, and make excuses for not going. If that’s you, here are three reasons you should go as soon as possible.
- A new beginning – No matter what you’ve done (think of the worst thing you could possibly do) you can find mercy and healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When you walk out of the confessional, you are as sin free as you will ever be. Why would you not want that gift?
- Even if you haven’t committed any serious sins, going to confession is like taking a bath. While they don’t kill us spiritually, venial sins wound our soul and make it dirty, so to speak. Don’t let your soul become smelly and dusty with venial sins. Go to confession.
- Concrete forgiveness – Our Lord does not keep us guessing about whether or not we are forgiven. When the priest utters the words of absolution, your soul is instantly and completely healed. Sacramentally, Jesus is present in the confessional in the person of the priest. If he were here on earth, wouldn’t you ask him for forgiveness? If you want to experience the Divine Mercy in a real way, this is the way to do it.
- You receive graces – There is a mistaken notion that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is just getting rid of our sins. But that’s not true. We not only have our sins taken away and cast into the bottom of the sea, we also receive graces from Christ that we desperately need to live a holy life. The more you go to the sacrament, the more graces you receive.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
People, friends, please go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While you may not always feel like it, this sacrament is a great gift. Don’t let fear, guilt, or embarrassment dissuade you.
Jesus is waiting in the confessional for you and his heart longs to grant you his mercy in abundance. What are you waiting for? Go!
This article was originally published at The Catholic Gentleman blog. http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2013/08/go-to-confession/
Reprinted with permission.
About Sam Guzeman
Sam is the creator and editor of The Catholic Gentleman, a blog for Catholic men. He is the Communications Director for Pro-Life Wisconsin and lives with his wife and two young boys in the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin.
Examination of Conscience Made Easier
Whether we’ve been to Reconciliation once in the last month or not for years, it’s helpful to have a guide to help us remember the kinds of things we need to confess. For examinations of consciences tailored for children, young adults, adults, and couples, click here.