What ever happened to Confession?

Tom Bartolomeo
Reproduced with Permission

"Is Confession Dead?" is the title of a recent article I read which summarizes accurately the general disfavor of the Sacrament of Reconciliation among too many Catholics and by extension that sins are just mistakes we hopefully can work our way out of.[1] I recall, for example, when I was a businessman before becoming a priest, interviewing an employee who stole money from the business, and "I had the goods on him". He sat on the edge of his chair not out of guilt but contemplating the recrimination he would face which I explained. When I told him that I would only fire him and not press charges with the police for the sake of his mother whom I knew his whole demeanor changed. He was then relaxed, did not say he was sorry but said instead, "I wasn't the kind of boss others said I was" and then left my office. His "sin" was being caught. We have as well in our time so many practitioners in the art of deflection - popular public figures, politicians, entertainers, atheletes and well-known business people - whose 'mishaps' are anything but sinful before God and man. As a Catholic priest-confessor I can say that the article accurately describes the practice of "going to Confession" today which, apparently, one too many priests take "matter-of-factually".

From the ambo (pulpit) to the confessional box (Sacrament of Penance) the great Sacrament of Reconciliation of God and man has fallen into disuse for a number of reasons mostly a confusion and doubt of what comprises "mortal sin" and the clear understanding of the three conditions for mortal sin, one, the sin must be grave, a serious failing that the penitent must be aware of and distinguishing the difference between sin and temptation, two, that the sin is understood to be gravely sinful, and, three, the most important consideration, the penitent must freely and willfully commit the sin. Ignorance of the sin's gravity or lack of commitment to sin do not count as in dreams or the "meanderings of the mind or imagination" but -- and this is important - the penitent's willful neglect not knowing what defines serious or venial sin is the penitent's moral obligation which neglect may comprise sin but which can be remedied by study or simply asking a confessor.

The greater issue, however, is the dubious sense of sin many Catholics adhere to some of which may be attributable to the confessor's silence in the confessional and the notion that the confessor simply absolves the penitent of his or her sins when council in the confessional may be called for. Often these may be sexual sins wherein Catholics, as so many believe today, justify their conduct by worldly standards which are promoted by government, television and internet entertainment and commercials. Perhaps, the most egregious failing are people who 'self-absolve' themselves of sins -- particularly the sins of contraception and abortion which in and of themselves are factually serious mortal sins. It is clear to me that the infrequency of "going to Confession" underlies the unwillingness, misgivings and uneasiness of many Catholics to confess their sins and receive His peace: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." (John 14:27 ).

Priests need to frequently preach on the subject, truthfully, with clarity and always mercifully. Without speaking to sin in our homilies is an affront to our loving God and our brothers and sisters in the Lord. True peace and the vigor of a clear conscience is left at the unopened confessional door where so much grace resides for fending off sin and finding peace of mind for the humble penitent. In my childhood my parents as many Catholic parents did then would frequently go to confession with their children and often in my case send me out the door many a Saturday afternoon, "Now, you go to confession."

How much Jesus bemoans our misguided ways, weeps over the destruction of our Jerusalems: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Luke 13:34)