Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Merciful Confessions

Pope Francis I, delivering the Papal Bull
There is a fascinating article by Michael Sean Winters at the NCR, link here, about the Papal Bull of Pope Francis I declaring the year of Mercy. One thing caught my eye, mainly because as a Priest on the ground I am deeply concerned with the practice of the Sacrament of Confession. I've even written a book on it, here.

He quotes the section of the Bull dealing with Priests hearing Confessions:

May confessors not ask useless questions, but like the father in the parable, interrupt the speech prepared ahead of time by the prodigal son, so that confessors will learn to accept the plea for help and mercy gushing from the heart of every penitent. In short, confessors are called to be a sign of the primacy of mercy always, everywhere, and in every situation, no matter what.

And then he asks the questions:

If every confessor really did behave in this way, would more people avail themselves of the sacrament? If every confessor really did behave in this way, would more people be committed to spreading mercy throughout their lives and their relationships? If every confessor really did rush out to greet the prodigals in their parish, would those parishioners be more deeply rooted in what really matters in the life of the Church?

I would say in fact that this is exactly what we have already had in parish after parish, with very bad results. We have had

   "Just say the most important thing that is on your conscience"
      "Just mention one sin"
         "We will have a general absolution, so say your sins in your heart"
            "That is not a sin, that is for you to decide"
   "The Church doesn't want to know what happens in you bedroom"
      "I don't want a list"
         "You should just come to confession once a year"
            "I am more concerned about the good you have done than about the hard things"
   "We don't believe in mortal sin any more"
      "No you don't need to go to confession to receive Holy Communion"

I'm afraid what has happened is that people no longer go to Confession. It is not an everyday part of their lives. That is the difference between a Confession made when someone has been away form the Sacrament for many years, and then one does rush out to them, console them, throw the love of God's mercy around them. But that is not the only moment of Confession. Confession is a part of the daily grind of the examination of ourselves before God, striving for holiness in the everyday.

If I have spend time, effort, and heart searching to examine my conscience. If I have prepared it as part of my spiritual life. If I have bothered to go to Confession If I have done all these things are more, then how dare the man behind the grill interrupt me and say "stop now, stop, say no more. The mercy of God is here!" I know it is, but I NEED to speak it, to bring it into the open and to hear the words of absolution for the sins I have confessed. I need his advice, his counsel. I need him to take my confession seriously.

When this does not happen, then the practice withers and dies in the soul of the individual. If the priest won't listen to me, then I will stop speaking. Stop patronising me. I know God's mercy is there, that is why I am here at seven o'clock at night after a long day's work.

Perhaps I am overreacting, and we are only speaking of sinners estranged for many years. In which case : Excellent.

If not... then not excellent.

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