Showing posts with label confession. Show all posts
Showing posts with label confession. Show all posts

Pope Francis promotes Confession during Year of Mercy

A few days ago, on February 5th, a unique event occurred at St. Peter’s Basilica. As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic were processed into the Basilica where they will remain for several days to be visited by pilgrims. The presence of these two saints, both of whom are famous for their devotion to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is meant to be a powerful reminder of the incredible gift God offers us in this Sacrament. Padre Pio would often spend 10 - 15 hours a day hearing confessions. In this way, Pope Francis explained, Padre Pio spread “the perfume of the forgiveness of the Lord” and became “a caress of the living Father, who heals the wounds of sin and refreshes the heart with peace”.
For many, however, going to confession can be a difficult experience. In his recently released book length interview called “The Name of God is Mercy”, Pope Francis provides some encouragement. He explains how the eastern form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation strikes him. In this, the confessor welcomes the penitent by putting his stole over the penitent’s head and an arm around his shoulder, as if embracing the penitent. Pope Francis says that this “is a physical representation of acceptance and mercy”. Rather than feeling afraid of judgment when we approach the confessional, we should imagine our heavenly Father embracing us in the same way.

Pope Francis acknowledges that many wonder why they simply cannot ask God for forgiveness directly. Why is it necessary to confess our sins to a priest? I found his answer helpful. Pope Francis explained that “if you are not capable of talking to your brother about your mistakes, you can be sure that you can’t talk about them with God either, and therefore you end up confessing into a mirror, to yourself. We are social beings and forgiveness has a social implication; my sin wounds mankind, my brothers and sisters, society as a whole. Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus.”

Towards the end of the book, the interviewer asks Pope Francis the following question: “What are the most important things that a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy?” The Pope’s response was to the point. The believer should “open up to the mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with Faith. And he should try to be merciful with other.” As we begin Lent, let us follow the Pope’s advice.

Why waiting is good for us

We have all probably had the experience of waiting in an airport arrival room, patiently expecting the return of a loved one from a long trip. I have a clear memory from when I was a child waiting at the airport to pick up my mom who had been away for awhile. Though I did miss her while she was away, it was not until I was in the waiting room that I realized how much I missed her. I couldn't wait to see her. I realized then how important she was to me and that there was a bit of hole in my life when she was gone. Our experience of Advent should be like anticipating the return of loved one at the airport.

Waiting for Jesus to come at Christmas should make us realize that He is an utterly necessary part of our lives. Mark’s gospel begins this way: The beginning of the good news (or gospel) of Jesus Christ the Son of God. For the initial audience of this document, 1st century Jews, the words “good news” were very loaded. The phrase would have reminded them of the Jewish captivity in Babylon (597 - 539 BC), in which their people were forcibly removed from their homeland and held in slavery in Babylon. The good news - or gospel - of this historic event was when they were freed by Cyrus the Great and permitted to return to Israel. Jews understood that through Cyrus, God freed them from slavery and returned them to their home. When Mark explains that his document is about the good news of Jesus Christ, Jews realized that it was the account of how God sent Jesus to free them from a different kind of slavery, namely sin and death, and lead them back to their true and eternal homeland with God the Father. They would have longed to encounter this salvation from Jesus. They would have realized their great need for liberation. Do we feel a similar need for Jesus in our life? Do we fully appreciate how greatly the world is in need of salvation? A quick look at all the violence, hate and greed that exists should convince us of this. Do we realize that we are all slaves to various things, namely our sinful habits? If we are honest, we all struggle with things that we cannot change. Are we fully convinced that we need Jesus to save us or do we think that we can fix ourselves and this world on our own? Would it make any difference for you if Jesus was never born some 2000 years ago? The time of waiting we experience during Advent should remind us of how important Jesus is to us personally.

We need to make space in our lives in order to properly welcome something or someone truly important into our lives. I tend to do a lot of work in the google “universe”: gmail, google docs, you name it. Recently, in the process of saving an important document, I discovered to my surprise that I had filled up my complimentary 15Gb drive in “the cloud” (whatever and wherever that is!). Since there was no way I was paying for more storage, I had to delete old files in order to make space for the new one. We all have experience of getting rid of some things to make room for something more important, whether it means erasing some shows on your PVR so that you can record a game or TV show you want to watch later or clearing out some clothes from your closet to make room for something new. In the gospel, we met the figure of John the Baptist. His role was to prepare others to receive Jesus in their lives. He did this by encouraging the people to repent from the sinful actions and wrong way of thinking about God and the world. Sin blocks Jesus’ entrance into our lives. If we are self-centered, arrogant or cruel to those around us, there is no room for Jesus in our hearts. If we truly think that we need Jesus to come as our Saviour - if we want to welcome Jesus into our lives at Christmas - we must make some attempt to prepare space for Him.

Confession is an excellent way to prepare our hearts for receiving Jesus at Christmas. Going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a very powerful means to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  Going to confession is not easy. It can be scary and embarrassing. I experience the same thing when I go to confession. A few years ago when I was living in Tijuana, Mexico, I wanted to go to confession at the Cathedral there. At the time I could understand Spanish ok, but my speaking skills were pretty basic. Therefore, I asked around if one of the priests hearing confessions spoke English. I was told one did, so I went to confession to him. After confessing my sins, the priest told me that his English wasn’t actually that good afterall. He then proceeded to repeat back to me in Spanish all that I had confessed just so I could verify he understood we correctly. Now, if you think it is embarrassing confessing your sins, I can tell you its much more awkward having your sins repeated back to you! Regardless of how uncomfortable this or any confession is, two wonderful things - which are particularly important during Advent - always happen:
  1. We convert and have our sins forgiven, thereby preparing space in our hearts for Jesus.
  2. It is a wonderful, practical way of acknowledging our need for Jesus to come into our lives as our Saviour.

Making a good confession is one of the best ways we can get ready to welcome Jesus at Christmas. Plan to go to confession sometime during the Advent season, particularly if it has been awhile. Check with your local parish as most have added opportunities to go during the next few weeks. More details can be found on the Archdiocesan website. Sometime before Christmas, let us all make a good confession so that we can truly experience the joy that comes with the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.