My uncle is a Norbertine priest. He sends out regular letters to family and friends describing his activities and travels. In a recent update from he spoke of his recent trip to Medugorje with a group of pilgrims. One of his comments in particular struck me. He said that he “had the priviledge” of hearing confessions on his trip. At first glance it might seem that sitting and listening to another person talk about his sins and faults might not be particularly enjoyable.
A recent comment by Sean Herriot, the host of the Morning Air program on Relevant Radio put the sacrament of confession in a different light.
I’ve enjoyed listening to the Morning Air program on Relevant Radio ever since it went on the air a few years ago. Sean Herriot – the host for the past year or so is particularly good. He is an old morning-radio guy. Started in country music radio then spent about 15 years doing morning drive for a Christian station in Detroit. He only recently made a conversion to the Catholic church after having spent 35 years in various Evangelical Protestant churches. (His conversion story is quite amazing in itself. He talks about this at his blog www.JoeConvert.com.) The sacrament of confession was one thing that drove his research into the Catholic Church and his eventual conversion. From an evangelical perspective – he wondered how the Church could be so bold as to have a man telling people their sins are forgiven. Why couldn’t’ someone just pray to Jesus directly?
Sean told the story of his first confession on the air. They have re-aired these comments as a promo. They speak to the power of this sacrament. I’ve hoped to find an audio file of his comments but have not found it yet.
As Sean tells it: “After I made my first confession the priest looked at me and said ‘I am not going to give you any penance since you have been punishing yourself for these things for so many years!’
“Then the priest said those words of absolution – and I left the confessional – knowing that my sins had been forgiven – knowing I was right with God – and knowing also that at that moment I had a clean slate. Never again could I look back on my life and say ‘Well this thing happened to me – and this screwed me up – and then that happened.’ Because I knew at that point it was all up to me.”
“From that point on it was up to me to keep the slate clean – to maintain a relationship with God that allowed me to make better choices in the future.”
In that light – I can see how it would be an exciting experience and a priviledge even to hear someone’s confession – to stand “in persona Christi” (In the place of Christ.) and participate in God’s forgiving of someone’s sins and bring them back into a ‘”state of grace.” (And as fellow domer-MBA Fr. Frank “Rocky” Hoffman says on Tuesday’s Morning Air shows – ‘there is nothing better than being in the state of grace!”)
While God (since he is – well – God) can certainly forgive sins any way he wants – he has given us this powerful sacrament as a readily accessible vehicle for forgiveness. The old Catechism calls Sacraments “outward signs of interior grace.” They work on a very real level to address both our Spiritual and Physical needs. Just as Jesus was both God and Man – we are equally body and spirit. We are not spirits somehow trapped in these “evil” bodies – but rather equally body and spirit. John Paul II provided a revolutionary insight in to this in his Theology of the Body. In this he outlines how God’s plan for us is stamped into our very bodies. These were not new teachings – but rather a clarification of what the Church has taught for 2000 years. In coming years JP2 will be remembered more I believe for TOB than even his helping to bring down the Soviet Union.
The recent Gospel reading at Pentecost speaks about the power and importance of the sacrament of penance directly. After the Resurection Christ came to his apostles through a locked door. He breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit – whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them and those you hold bound are held bound.” The first thing then that the Apostles receive then after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit then is the Sacrament of Penance.
A multitude of callers to Relevant Radio speak of how they are coming back to the Sacrament of Penance. Many of these callers – even “cradle Catholics” speak of finally, truly healing on the inside after years and years of struggle. Perhaps it takes that time and life experience to appreciate the gifts of this Sacrament. The Sacrament itself of course has been around for 2000 years – I wish I had appreciated this gift years ago.