Dear Father, My son hasn’t been to confession for many years and, along with his wife, I am praying that he will return during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Can you give me any tips that might help him go and return to the practice of the faith?
You do very well to have this important intention in mind for the Year of Mercy. If every practising Catholic proposed to help at least one person return to confession after a long time away, we would be helping many souls to experience God’s mercy. And, of course, we should all resolve to go regularly ourselves to this great sacrament of mercy.
Pope Francis spoke about some of the reasons for the sacrament in his Wednesday audience in Rome on 19 February, 2014: “The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a Sacrament of healing. When I go to confession, it is in order to be healed, to heal my soul, to heal my heart and to be healed of some wrongdoing.”
We all commit sins – all of us. Some of these sins, mortal sins, separate us completely from the love of God and cast our soul into darkness, depriving us of the light of Christ we were given at Baptism. We do not find this state a happy one. We want to be healed, to have our burden lifted, to be freed, and for this reason Christ gave us the sacrament of penance on the very evening of his Resurrection (cf. Jn 20:21-23).
When we finally decide to go to confession, especially after a long time away, we have the joy of hearing the words “I absolve you from your sins” and we know that our Father God embraces us and kisses us as did the father of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15: ). It is an incredibly uplifting and healing experience, a true resurrection.
Pope Francis went on to say that “it reminds us that we can truly be at peace only if we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in the Lord Jesus, with the Father and with the brethren. And we have all felt this in our hearts, when we have gone to confession with a soul weighed down and with a little sadness; and when we receive Jesus’ forgiveness we feel at peace, with that peace of soul which is so beautiful, and which only Jesus can give”.
Some people will say they don’t need to go to confession because they can confess their sins directly to God. The pope answers: “One might say: I confess only to God. Yes, you can say to God ‘forgive me’ and say your sins, but our sins are also committed against the brethren, and against the Church. That is why it is necessary to ask pardon of the Church, and of the brethren in the person of the priest.”
Naturally, confessing to a priest requires that we be sincere and say all the things we have done, and this can fill us with a certain shame. Pope Francis comments: “Shame is also good, it is healthy to feel a little shame, because being ashamed is salutary. In my country when a person feels no shame, we say that he is ‘shameless’; a ‘sin verguenza’.
“But shame, too, does us good, because it makes us more humble, and the priest receives this confession with love and tenderness and forgives us on God’s behalf. Also from a human point of view, in order to unburden oneself, it is good to talk with a brother and tell the priest these things which are weighing so much on my heart.
“And one feels that one is unburdening oneself before God, with the Church, with his brother. Do not be afraid of confession!
“When one is in line to go to confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of confession!”
For those who have been away from confession for a long time the pope says: “And if much time has passed, do not lose another day. Go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there, and Jesus is more benevolent than priests, Jesus receives you, he receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to confession!”
For those who think their sins are so many or so bad that they can’t be forgiven, Pope Francis said in a homily on 23 January, 2015: “There is no sin which [God] won’t pardon … If you go to confession repentant, he will forgive everything.”
The pope practises what he preaches, going to confession every 15 or 20 days with a Franciscan priest at the Vatican.
Let us follow his lead, and help others to do so, too. It will give us all a great joy.