by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
Now that we are in the midst of the Lenten season, parishes will be offering
several opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s
fairly common knowledge that many people have pretty much eliminated this sacrament
from their lives--perhaps not consciously, but simply pushed it aside.
Let’s face it. It’s not easy to admit our sins, and it’s
even harder to confess them to another person, even if it is a priest. I can
only assure you that every priest, including myself, must confess his sins
to his brother priest. In fact, if you do attend a parish communal penance
service, you have probably seen most of the confessors, before or afterwards,
move to another priest to confess their sins and receive absolution.
In some ways it may seem a burden. And yet, to be truthful, there is hardly
anything more adult and mature that we can do than face our own faults and
sins. Some may say, “Well, I just go directly to God.” But my question
is: Do you actually examine your conscience, sit down quietly, confess your
sins to God and ask forgiveness? Or is this merely a way of saying, “Well,
God knows I’m sorry.” As difficult as this can be, it is one opportunity
to actually ask ourselves how we have acted towards our families, spouses and
those around us. While I might call myself a Catholic, have I done what I need
to do in living my faith? Lent is a perfect time to give honest answers to
How we approach the reception of God’s mercy is important. We are God’s
children. We come to the father to ask his forgiveness through the mercy of
Jesus given by the ordained priest. It’s not just ritual. It is life.
a) Examination of conscience. This is not supposed to be a torture
session. Actually, our consciences will bring to mind any serious sins we have
committed. Even people who have been away from the confessional for many years,
even decades, realize that knowing our sins is not the hard part. It’s
actually owning up to them to another. Keep in mind that God knows the whole
past in every detail anyway. We make an honest effort to know ourselves and
our failings. But, again, it’s God’s mercy that is most important.
b) Sorrow for sin. If we are serious about going to confession, sorrow
comes almost automatically. After all, we are admitting we are sinners right
up front. That truthful admission brings sorrow. But please don’t confuse
sorrow with emotions or feelings. You may still struggle with feelings
of resentment and yet tell God you are sorry for the time you were angry
with another person. Sorrow is in the heart (not feelings) and in the will.
c) Confession of sin. Confess your sins
as simply and as honestly as you can. It is easy to link sin with
a commandment: missing Mass (third), anger (fifth), impurity (sixth,
ninth). There is no need for great details, nor is the priest interested
in detail. If you need help, don’t hesitate to
ask the priest for assistance.
d) Receive penance given. Listen to the words of the priest as he tries
to guide you and remind you of God’s love for you.
e) Act of contrition. Making an act of contrition can be very short: “O,
God, I am sorry for all my sins, now and in the past, and I will try with all
my heart not to sin again.”
f) Thanks to God. Leave the confessional
and thank God for his forgiveness and pray the prayers the priest
gave you for a penance.
Now, a very important point. When God forgives sin through the absolution of
the priest, he forgives ALL our sins, including those we cannot remember. We
need to be sincerely sorry for all our sins. Otherwise, why go to the Lord
If you later remember something you forgot, dismiss it from your mind. It
is gone forever, and the Lord wants you to trust his mercy, put the past aside
and the live each new day in his love, one day at a time. What happens when
we spend too much time on the past to make sure we got it all is that we become
self-centered. And let’s face it: We will never get it all. Confession
is much more about trust than exact numbers and detail.
Finally, people wonder how often we should receive this sacrament. It is required
only for serious or mortal sin. But the sacrament is a gift, and it is good
to present ourselves to the Lord even when we have nothing serious to confess.
As difficult as this sacrament may sometimes be, isn’t it true that we
leave with a sense of peace, a fresh start, a feeling of having faced our weaknesses
and admitted them and received forgiveness? That’s my experience.
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz’s “The
Holy Spirit: Giver of Life (Part II).”
Dear Friar Jack: Your Part II of “The Holy Spirit,
Giver of Life” has this Ash Wednesday given me great hope for us all.
It also has renewed my appreciation for the wisdom and power of the spirit
that has been breathed upon me and all of us, called to bend over our bent
world, with love, mercy, prayer. A wonderful gift that thrusts me into Lent
with renewed enthusiasm. Thank you so much for your ministry to us. Catherine
Dear Catherine: Thank you for your kind words. I am certainly
keeping you and all the readers of Friar Jack’s E-spirations in
my prayers. Friar Jack
Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.