Posted by: Paul | 06/06/2009

‘Fess Up

If you’re Catholic, there’s a good chance you aren’t going to confession much, if at all. And that has the Vatican concerned.

Sadly, this isn’t a new problem. According to Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, confession has been in a state of a “deep crisis” for decades. You can guess roughly how long — since the post-Vatican changes swept through the Church in the late 1960s. They came at a time when we were supposedly freed from all those troubling, old-fashioned ideas of right and wrong. Prior to that, you were apt to see longer lines for confession than for Holy Communion. Now it’s the other way around.

Are people sinning less? If you believe that, you probably think you can still make a killing in real estate.

Of course there’s a crisis. And while the suggestion that the Vatican publish “a kind of handbook on confession” can’t hurt, I don’t know how much it can help. Unless, that is, it’s promulgated from the pulpit. And that’s where the change needs to take place. My experience is with the U.S. church, but at many parishes (not all, fortunately) homilies on the need for confession are seldom heard. Instead, you get treacly, feel-good bromides more suited to an episode of “Oprah.”

I’m not advocating fire and brimstone (necessarily), but many Catholics don’t understand the importance of confession. It’s not meant merely as a place to get things off your chest. It’s there to impart the graces necessary for us to be reconciled to God — a relationship that, it should go without saying, we need to cultivate to the best of our ability. We can’t overcome sin through our own efforts. We need supernatural help — and that’s where confession comes in.

One sure-fire way to get more Catholics to go is to make confession more widely available. In many parishes, confession is available only for an hour on Saturday (and by appointment). That’s it. But the best time to have it is on Sundays, preferably right before Mass. You’re already there (or should be), and if the priest makes an effective appeal to your conscience, you’ll be motivated to go.

And the sooner, the better. After all, as St. Augustine tells us, “the confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”


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