From Penance to Reconciliation

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Canada’s National Post interviewed me for an article on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Wow.. I didn’t expect that kind of coverage! I went out to the local drug store to buy a copy… ok a few copies… and it really was kind of weird. The focus of my interview with the Post’s Charles Lewis, was that the decline in the number of confessions was not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it’s partly a sign of our success in helping people move from an image of God as a vengeful accountant who keeps track of every deed to find some reason to “get us” to an image of God as a loving father who loves us deeply.

Unfortunately my reflection on the importance of the sacrament and the value of having a human experience of God’s mercy wasn’t present. However, the sense of my thought was presented by some of the others the Mr. Lewis interviewed.

There’s the awareness that the sacrament is not about what we do for God but rather a celebration of God’s mercy. Reconciliation is an act of worship of God. We also talked about the importance of that personal contact. We hear from so many voices in our lives that tell us how we don’t measure up. It’s also important to hear from a living, breathing person, how much we are loved by God who forgives us and loves us no matter what. The communal aspect of the sacrament was also another point I highlighted. The sacrament is not only a personal matter, but one for the Church as a whole. We are in this together, and it’s important to celebrate that aspect of Reconciliation by having real communal celebrations.

All in all, I am pretty happy with the core message. God loves us and as the headlines says… “It’s ok to confess again!”


  1. Congrats on helping get this sacrament on the front page of a major daily, Friar Rick! I did find Lewis’ bias somewhat disappointing though. We heard the sociological, psychological and historical aspects of the sacrament but nothing of its supernatural nature, namely, that the priest, by acting in persona Christi, can forgive sins and let God’s grace be restored to our souls.
    Nothing as well about the importance of penance. When we sin, we place ourselves outside of God’s grace and that make it much easier to sin again. This article is written as if the grace bestowed by confession doesn’t even exist-that we’ll leave the confessional just as vulnerable as when we entered and the sacrament was hitherto mechanical, hypocritical and and “unspiritual.” Nonsense. I know that the grace received by my absolutions strengthened me immeasurably. In my earlier years I suffered from some extremely ingrained temptations to certain sins which have a fraction of the hold on me today. God’s freely given gift to everyone is a way out of the downward cycle by acknowledging our sins; repenting; and to asking God’s forgiveness.

    In fact it really seemed the article is suggesting that old-fashioned sin has now been replaced by a more sophisticated, nuanced “relationship” with God in which a stroll and chat with the pastor in the rectory is sufficient. It is not. The inhabitants of this age are exactly as sinful as humans in the 3rd, 10th, 19th century. I’ll be a good Catholic here and defer to my dog eared catechism here.

  2. Michael, thanks to your comments. You have many good points. But, the way I look at it, and from my own experience is, it’s up to me to make a contrite heart to be very sorry for my sins and feel the grace of forgiveness from God (while preparing) even before I do the act to confess.

    The “hearing” of human forgiveness extended to me by my confessor enhances the grace of divine forgiveness during the confession time, though sometimes the interactionn between me and my confessor is not thorough. It is due to my belief that, since I sinned in a very human way, I also need to hear being forgiven in a very human way and that’s the reason I will go to confession.

    But, before this, there has already been a thorough process taking place within me which I experience the mercy of God during the examination of my own conscience to identify my sins. To be able to identify them and confess them is another religious experience for me to experience the love and mercy of God.
    Many thanks Friar Rick.

  3. I am glad that the National Post was able to write about confession at Easter. I was a good article and hopefully brought MORE people to confession rather than LESS. People should go to confession often because of the grace that it brings. It is a beautiful sacrament that everyone should use more often. The more you use it, the more grace you get. This is something that we are doing for God despite what Fr. Rick says – “I am sorry not only because I fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but because they offend you my God, who is all good and deserving of my love.” I have heard that you can even confess past sins in a confessional just for the sacramental grace. Also, we lose out on any plenary indulgences from not going to confession since confession is one of the conditions for a plenary indulgence.

    As Catholics we should bear responsibilities for all our actions. If we do not, than who? And being responsible for our actions means that we are the only ones who can change our actions, first of all by admitting them in confession. I find that confession changes a person for the better and not going to confession only allows our sins to creep back into our lives.

    Confession is not only our chance to “talk to another human” about our sins, it is Christ that we are apologizing to. I picture every one of my sins as a lash that Jesus received at the scourging at the pillar and for some of my more serious sins, I imagine that I was the one who put the nail into Christ’s hands and feet.

    I fear the low number of Catholics going to confession is a sad reflection of our society. Most Catholics don’t know what mortal sins are and they certainly don’t know what venial sins are anymore. Everything goes to relativism and we lose the grace from truly being sorry for our sins; knowing what is right and wrong. We don’t even know when we are apart from the grace of God and so we walk further and further away from God without knowing it. Catholics don’t even know that you should be in a state of grace to receive communion and receiving a sacrilege instead.

    As Catholics, we are truly blessed for this sacrament from God. Thank God for a good confession.

  4. Friar Rick,
    It is truly a blessing to have the sacrament of ‘reconciliation’ posted on the front cover of the Post on Holy Saturday. To the average reader who is probably not too religious or devout, it provides a basic overview, perhaps too simplistic, of what confession (reconciliation) is really about.
    The sacrament is truly meant to bring to light our faults and bring us the graces necessary to our state in life. It is there to help each and every one of us to improve our relationship with Christ. The virtue of humility is necessary to atain the full benefit of this sacrament. The image cast in the article that the sacrament, especially in the past, pre Vatican II, was ‘heavy-handed’ and something that was ‘automatically’ done by faithful, without much thought or reflection. I would disagree. True, there is something to be said about how the faith was taught in the 50’s and earlier, where the justice of God was emphasized at the expense of his mercy. However, perhaps many in the church today, since the council have gone at great lengths to emphasize His Mercy at the expense of having His justice known and understood. Today, in a typical parish, many parishoners go to the confessional in a casual manner, without beforehand preparing himself with a proper ‘examination of conscience’. This is something that needs to be addressed. Sadly, many catholics confess only once a year, or not at all.
    My concern with the article is the image the public may aquire about the true nature of the sacrament. I agree with the point made that the penitent should have something meaningful to say when he enters the booth. Sure, today it is widely known as reconciliation, but many practicing catholics still prefer to call it by the older, more traditional name – the sacrament of penance. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. The priest acts in persona of Christ, and it is important for the laymen to be given his penance by the priest, not to place a ‘negative’ image of Christ as being ‘heavy handed’, but to remind us of His infinite justice, along with His infinite mercy. Being forgiven is one thing, and it is a wonderful moment when one’s sins are forgiven, but making satisfaction for the wrong committed is the other half of the equation. Let’s make sure that we as catholics, and those outside of the fold who have an inclination to know the truth more fully are given the full knowledge of Christ’s teaching and love for each and every one of us. It is not an easy road to follow in Christ’s footsteps, but it is most rewarding when one does faithfully. I pray that only good will come from all this and those enquiring minds will find the answers they seek.
    May God Bless.

  5. Hi

    I read this article when it came out on Holy Saturday. It took me some time to make it to your blog. I found these comments for the most part very good.

    I work in a bakery and few years ago there was a summer student who was a former Catholic studying to be a Baptist minister. We talked about religion a bit. He told me that he didn’t need a priest, he could just think about his sins and address them directly to God. This would result in his sins being forgiven. He said that there was nothing wrong with telling your “minister” or good friend your sins so they could “acknowledge” that God would forgive you. This wasn’t necessary. But people do like to be validated so the human element is a nice touch.

    It amazes me that he could take literaly that God made the earth in 6 days but couldn’t understand the passage for Confession. God has the power to create something out of nothing, but somehow couldn’t make men to be a conduit to him.

    This view totally ignores scripture when Jesus said to Peter,”What you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. This is the foundation of Catholic confession. If he commanded this there must be merit to it. It brings Gods grace to us and we inturn become closer to him. When we are enriched with his grace we commit fewer mortal sins. We shouldn’t just go in to a confesional and read off a shopping list of sins. We also need to make a commitment to not commiting the same sins again.

    We should make frequent use of this Sacrament as is necessary. As the saying goes, Confession is good for the soul.

    Thank You

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