“Confession is the passage from misery to mercy.. Let us restore to this sacrament the place it deserves in life and pastoral ministry.. We pass from being alone with our miseries … to being raised up and encouraged by the Lord who grants us a new start .. For this is the heart of Confession – not the sins we declare, but the divine love we receive, of which we are ever in need .. Only by being forgiven can we set out again with fresh confidence, after having experienced the joy of being loved by the Father to the full.”
– Pope Francis
“I absolve you”. These are surely amongst the most beautiful words we can hear as Catholics.
They are a clear and explicit echo back to the words of the Lord as He walked the earth during His lifetime, and which are recounted in the Gospel – “Your sins are forgiven” (cf.Lk.7:48). They remind us, too, that the Lord commissioned His priests to forgive sins in His Name, which they did then and which they continue to do today, ‘by the ministry of the Church’.
All of us are sinners – that is the first reminder of the Divine Mercy devotion; we all stand in need of God’s mercy. The second reminder of the devotion is that His mercy is always available to us, as often as we need it. Despite our best intentions, we often sin over and over again – the Sacrament of Reconciliation is there to bring us back to the Lord every single time. The Lord will never limit or refuse His mercy, so long as our hearts are contrite.
As well as the out-pouring of mercy which flows like a torrent in this Sacrament, there is also a great out-pouring of divine grace. This grace strengthens our resolve to avoid sin in the future, and it works towards purifying the effects of sin which linger within us – this is the inclination towards sin and evil which the Church calls ‘concupiscence’, and from which we all suffer in one way or another.
It is for this reason that the Church recommends frequent Sacramental Confession, even if she only demands it from us at least once each year. Making frequent use of the Sacrament strengthens the effects of that out-pouring of grace within us. The soul is a little like a house – both get dirty; and while an annual spring-clean will renew the house, it be be unclean most of the time. A weekly clean will leave a beautiful aroma of wax and polish, whilst never letting the dust build up in the first place. So it is with the effects of grace on the soul who confesses often. Such a soul has a clear perception of it’s sinfulness and it’s need for the mercy of God. It also means that soul is better prepared to meet the Lord should He call the soul to eternity unexpectedly.
Perhaps these were some of the thoughts Pope Francis has a few days ago, when he spoke so beautifully on the Sacrament of Confession.
As always, he leads by example – receiving the Sacrament himself before talking about it so simply and joyfully.
Perhaps, as we move into the second half of Lent, this would be a good time to ask ourselves when we last received this exceptionally beautiful Sacrament and heard the words of the Lord, speaking through His priest – “I absolve you”.