Bless me father for I have sinned

Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned

I was watching the calendar closely. Only 18 more days until I will be received into His Church! There is one, umm, “obstacle” – it has been many decades since my baptism, and I have never been to confession (a/k/a The Sacrament of Reconciliation – see Confession, getting out of deep trouble).

I was not planning on committing any mortal sins, of course, but I still didn’t want to have too long a period between my confession and February 7th just in case. For the first reception of the sacrament, it is recommended that an appointment is scheduled with a Priest. That way, no one is waiting in line behind you, and there is more time for Father to guide you through the process. Vince, our RCIA coordinator, told us it was time to schedule this now.

Not everyone does this, but I created a list. I was afraid my mind would go blank, and I would become a bumbling idiot. Along the same lines, I included acts of contrition with my list, so that I would not have to depend on memory or fumble for additional printed materials. Doing these things is completely OK.

On Wednesday I called the parish office not knowing what to expect. I thought about what I would say when the phone was answered, but I got a voice menu. I considered the options and chose #5 to connect with the office. No go, just the “general mailbox” at this time. That did not seem like the best choice. I called back and chose #2 to connect to a Priest. Maybe they have someone who handles their schedule. Nope, another choice to be made – #1 for Father {pastor}, #2 for Father {vicar}, #3 for Father…   I hit #1 and received our Pastor’s voice mail. A little flustered, I left a message. It was, I think, potentially coherent.

So far, so good. I felt a little relieved in that I didn’t have to talk to anyone at the moment or commit to a specific date. Delay is good, right? Our priests are very busy, so I expected to call back again in a day or two. That hope was quickly dashed only a couple hours later when Father Paul returned my call and offered to see me the next day. He was very gracious, and I quickly felt at ease. We were on for 2:00.

When a Catholic comes from confession, he does truly, by definition, step out into that dawn of his own beginning…   in that brief ritual God has really remade him in His own image. He may be grey and gouty, but he is only five minutes old.

G.K. Chesterton

Father had warned me he might be a little late, so I had additional time to look over my list and further examine my conscience. We proceeded to his office, a very comfortable environment, and got started. Father said a prayer and gently explained how to proceed. I felt completely at ease and was ready to jump right in.

One thing you might be wondering about is the wooden confessional as seen on TV. These are indeed still present in older churches, but these days most confessions are (so I understand) either behind a portable screen or just face-to-face as the penitent prefers. Face-to-face will be my preference.

After thinking about this for weeks I felt that, with the aid of my list, that I would not be too nervous. It was in fact easier than I anticipated. It was nothing like being called to the Principal’s office (for example) to explain your misbehavior. It was a lot more like speaking with a dear and trusted friend.

Father spent a few minutes when I was done giving me advice and a very appropriate penance. I then read an Act of Contrition. Father made a prayer of absolution, and we were done.

I didn’t look at my watch, but I think it was about 20 minutes or so, which I read is roughly typical for the first time. It turns out that Father Paul did not immediately have another appointment, so we just talked for about an hour more! We talked about our childhoods, views on various Church issues, our likes and dislikes, our vocations and so on. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other.

Confession, getting out of deep trouble

Confession Getting Out Of Deep Trouble

Confession (formally The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Sacrament of Penance) is a sacrament of healing. Through this sacrament, the sanctifying grace of God is restored after you have rejected Him through mortal sin and destroyed the grace He has given you. (See What harm is a little sin? for my brief explanation of sins.)

Reconciliation is not punishment but more of a celebration. Not because you have sinned, but because you have examined your conscience, are sincerely sorry, wish to do better in the future and are returning to God. Like the prodigal son’s father, you are forgiven and brought back into harmony with Him. In the sacrament a Priest, acting “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) absolves you of your sins restoring your relationship with the Father.

This sacrament, like all seven sacraments, is a gift given to us from Jesus.

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

On the coast of Caesarea Philippi Jesus thus gave Peter the authority to absolve sins. For more information, see also John 20:22-23, Matthew 9:2-8, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 11:2-7. You not only know your sins are forgiven when you receive this sacrament, but are told so by someone with the authority to speak for our Lord.

Not only do lay Catholics receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the clergy does too. You may be surprised to learn that includes the Pope. Many have done so frequently.

Next month, God willing, I will be received into the Catholic Church and receive Communion. Catholics may receive the Eucharist only if they are in a state of grace. At some point soon, I must therefore receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. I hope my pastor has a lot of patience, I have a long list! I will let you know how it goes…   (update, see: Bless me father for I have sinned)

Penitents must confess all their mortal sins in order for their confession to be valid. This is easier if your last confession was recent. My situation is, shall we say, more challenging. Fortunately all sins, including those you truly do not remember, are forgiven.

This in no way is an “out” for those sins you would rather not mention. If you purposely exclude any sin remembered and know it to be a mortal sin, your entire confession is invalid and you have not received absolution. You have purposefully lied to God through omission; reflect, pray and come back again when you can be fully honest. Also, knowing a sin to be mortal is determined by the teachings of the Church and not open to personal “viewpoints.” I will save exploring this for a future post.

Lastly, let’s look at the seal of the confessional. It is absolute, inviolable and permanent. That means that your entire confession is forever confidential. The confessor (Priest) may not disclose, hint, or act on what is said under any circumstance, regardless of the sins confessed, your death or any consequences to him. All Priests take this extremely seriously. If he were to break confidentiality, it would result in his excommunication. Priests (St. John of Nepomucene and Father Felipe Ciscar Puig) have been martyred for refusing to break the seal. Your confession is between you and God. A Priest is present to help you and to be an intermediary.