On the Second Sunday of Easter we hear the same gospel reading – the one that recounts the story of Doubting Thomas. Our attention is so intensely focused on Thomas that we can be easily oblivious to certain significant words that Jesus says in the same reading. Here is what Jesus says to the apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit! Whose sins you forgive, they will be forgiven; whose sins you retain, they will be retained.” With these simple words the Risen Lord gave his Church the power to forgive sins. These words resonate with others found in the other three gospels. For instance, in chapter 16 of Matthew’s gospel the Lord gives the power to loose and to bind to Peter upon whom the Church is built.
Taking my cue from the words of the Master, I would like to dedicate this column to a sacrament that has fallen out of use in many places. I am speaking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession as we used to say in the old days. Church’s rules have not changed. Every Catholic is expected to go to confession at least once a year if they have mortal sins on their soul.
At the request of some, I would like to offer simple suggestions as to how we may make a good confession.
First, pray. Spend some time in quiet prayer invoking the Holy Spirit. Ask God to shed His light on you so that you can see yourself as He sees you. Pray that you can experience God’s mercy and compassion expressed through the loving heart of Jesus. Remind yourself how Jesus dealt with sinners. Ask God to take away all fear and shame.
Second, examine your conscience. Think of the time that has lapsed since your last confession. Go over your life and your relationships with God, others and yourself. It should be rather easy to recognize the grave sins. It is also important to identify the sins that we commit with greater frequency. The sacrament is not about discovering every little sin that we have committed. It is more about the direction our spiritual life is going. We need to get rid of our tendency to over-analyze to the point that we become scrupulous. We should always keep the mercy of God in the forefront of our consciousness.
Third, repent. As we think of our sins, we should repent. In the Scriptures the word used for repentance is “metanoia” which means “change of heart.” Repentance is all about the heart. We need to feel sorrow for our sins. We should avoid feeling guilty. Guilt comes from pride that says, “I should be better than this. How could I have committed this sin?” Guilt is focused all on ourselves. On the other hand, sorrow is focused on the Lord and His love for us. Sorrow springs from humility which acknowledges, “How could I have responded this way to the God Who has loved me this much?” Guilt paralyzes. Sorrow makes us run towards God. Judas embodies guilt which led him to despair. Peter embodies sorrow that transformed him into a great apostle. At this point we can use some prayers to express our genuine sorrow.
Fourth, resolve. After feeling sorry for our sins, we need to resolve to change our lives and our hearts. I cannot keep hurting someone after telling them I am sorry. I cannot keep committing the same sins over and over again. We need to find some practical ways to overcome our sinful tendencies. Instead of focusing on many things, we must choose one or two areas of our lives that we want to improve. We need to decide on some concrete steps to get better. For instance, if a mother constantly loses her patience, she must ask herself: “When do I tend to lose my patience more? With whom? Have I taken the necessary steps to take care of myself?” For instance, if a mother does not get enough sleep or rest, she could lose it at the end of the day.
Fifth, do not lose hope. Often people tell me that it is not helpful to go to confession because they keep committing the same sins. We all have certain basic sinful tendencies that we must fight all our lives. By going to regular confession we keep up the fight and we take small baby steps towards holiness. Regular confession also reminds us that we are sinners and keeps us humble. We should always remember that the sacrament is not about our sins but about God’s boundless mercy.
After completing these steps we are ready to walk into the confessional and receive the sacrament. St Ambrose says that in the Church, “there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance.” After receiving the water of baptism, most of us need copious tears of repentance. The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us the most beneficial opportunity to shed those tears.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...