by Fr. Keith Branson, C.PP.S., Publications Editor
I received a letter after the last The Wine Cellar issue on Reconciliation that was challenging. It talked about the sacrament of Reconciliation: the author was struggling between several unhelpful approaches to Confession ranging from the laundry list model to an ethereal view that was too big. The writer felt better after her annual visit to the doctor than after confession, and was searching for a motivation, a reconnection with wonder, even an excitement to approach this sacrament again.
Going to Confession stimulates strong feelings, a fair amount of fear and confusion, and mixed memories. I’ve heard the above concern often over the years, as well as a lot of misinformation. Some I’ve approached on this subject have declined the invitation to share, conflicted enough that they can’t talk about it. I’ve found many opinions about how often to approach the sacrament, from the recommendation of recent Popes to go twice a month to the church regulation of once a year.
Confession is an appropriate topic for us to dialogue as Precious Blood people in our Bicentennial year: Gaspar devoted a lot of time and attention to Confession, was concerned his priests would be good confessors—and it’s a natural part of any process of reconciliation. My own hope is that we can develop some middle view between obsessive negative scrutiny and the “once-a-year whether I have to or not” approach. We also need to locate an adult approach that draws from any positive experience of our childhood catechesis without locking us into a “crime and punishment” mindset. Confession is a sacrament of healing, as the absolution formula says: “Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace….”
I’d like to start a dialogue on Confession in The New Wine Press this year. I’m particularly interested in how we discern the need to seek the sacrament, how we approach it, and what expectations we have of it. Over the years, Confession has been connected to spiritual direction although it’s not exactly the same thing, however exploring the overlap would be useful as well. I already have some contributions to follow up Joe Uecker’s article in this issue, and since it’s part of our spiritual lives, everyone’s viewpoint is worth listening to.
This conversation could help in many ways: to claim an important part of our spirituality, to help focus the meaning of the sacrament in our lives, and to give the Church a chance for dialogue and insight. Confession as we know it today evolved over centuries to fill an important need. Its decline now makes me wonder if we’ve lost track of that need, and how it might be rediscovered.
Sacramental Confession is an important part of Reconciliation: Gaspar considered it an integral part of his ministry. Perhaps it’s time for us to talk about it together, so we can draw strength from each other and deepen our encounter with the loving God whose mercy and forgiveness are never in doubt.