For many Catholics, the sacrament of penance isn’t appealing. Confessing one’s sins to a priest appears to be a daunting task. And yet the Sacrament of Penance is, next to the Holy Eucharist, the most efficacious source of grace that enables man to fully appreciate his rich Catholic faith and as a result, to constantly strive for conversion. These two sacraments aren’t limited to a once in a lifetime experience like Baptism or Confirmation, or a special sacrament to mark one’s vocation (Matrimony or Holy Orders) but a regular means of putting into effect the supernatural reality of our Christian faith.
Growing up, frequent confession was something my mother encouraged me to do. She likened it to a “spiritual shower” wherein our sins are pardoned and our souls cleansed in preparation to receiving communion. Knowing that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, we must in every way we can, ensure that our hearts are clean in receiving the Lord. In much the same way we bathe everyday to keep ourselves clean, the Sacrament of Penance is a spiritual cleansing instituted by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church as a manifestation of its redemptive character.
I have noticed that many Catholics these days attend mass frequently, some even on a daily basis, and yet go to confession infrequently. I’ve met friends and colleagues who go to confession only once a year (during Lent or when attending a retreat), or whose last confession was also their first. Regular confession should complement the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, because through the former, God’s mercy is manifested in unity with Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross, which we celebrate during mass.
Love for the Eucharist should lead us to a growing appreciation for the sacrament of penance. When we are intimate with our Lord, we become more sensitive to whatever displeases Him: our sins, faults, and miseries. Consequently, we want to purify ourselves, having recourse to the grace of Forgiveness, and we want to bring other souls to the sacrament as well. We teach our friends that in confession, we need to pray for humility, and we need to be utterly sincere. Sincerity, not scrupulousness, is the virtue of confession. We must constantly remind ourselves it is Christ himself who forgives us through His ministers. With this in mind, we should carry out an incisive apostolate of confession with our family and friends.
The great humility of penance must be instilled in our hearts as Christians. We are indeed blessed to have the sacrament so close at hand. St. Augustine affirms that the wonder of the words on absolution is greater than the very creation of the world. How merciful indeed is our Lord! How grateful we must be to receive these words when we go to confession!