“Do not be afraid of Confession!”
– Pope Francis
The Sacrament of Reconciliation – Confession – is one of the most beautiful Sacraments of the Church.
It is a Sacrament we can avail ourselves of time and time again, as often as we have need of it – and for most people, that will be often! It is the Sacrament which restores the soul to it’s natural beauty before the Lord, making our peace with Him when we have wandered far from Him by our sins. All we need is a humble heart and the willingness to confess our sins with a firm purpose of amendment, and then to do the penance given to us. It does not matter if we were last at Confession a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, or fifty years ago – the Sacrament is available to us.
The Church obliges us to make use of this Sacrament at least once a year, as part of our Easter duties; but the Church also recommends this Sacrament to us more often than that, and especially so at particular times of the year. Advent is such a time of the year, since it is the preparation period leading to Christmas, where we celebrate the coming of the Lord, Who took human flesh and became one of us.
At this time of year, we will often read notices of specially arranged days where the Churches and Cathedrals are open all day long, usually with a number of Priests visiting to hear Confessions. Confession can sometimes inspire a degree of trepidation in us, and this may be one of the causes of our staying away from the Sacrament – those visiting Priests, then, might be especially welcome to us. And yet despite our fear, the main experience of those going to Confession is that the Priest is, in fact, remarkably gentle and kind – his role is not to drive us away from God, but to bring us closer to Him.
Confession is not a Sacrament of fear – it is a Sacrament of Mercy. In that little confessional box, torrents of Divine Mercy are poured out upon the soul in great abundance – confirming the good within us, fortifying us with great grace for all the battles ahead, and cleansing our souls of all that takes us away from the Lord. And most confessors will have a few words to offer the penitent soul, to help and to encourage them.
In the message of Divine Mercy, the Lord speaks often about this heavenly Sacrament, which He refers to as ‘the Tribunal of Mercy’. One of the most beautiful passages in the Diary of Saint Faustina regarding Confession is this one –
“When you go to Confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and enobles it. Every time you go to Confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the Confessional, know this – that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the Priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here, the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy.” (Diary, para.1602)
The Image of Divine Mercy makes reference to the Sacrament of Reconciliation –
“The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls… These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross.”
That ‘Water which makes souls righteous’ refers to two things, both of them Sacraments – the first is Baptism and the second is Confession; these two Sacraments forgive sins and return the soul to grace. That return to grace allows the soul to take part fully in what is represented by the red ray, the one representing ‘the Blood which is the life of souls’ – Holy Communion.
Pope Francis has been at pains to encourage souls to make use of this beautiful Sacrament, reminding not to be afraid of it. He has often been pictured not only as a Confessor, but also as the recipient of the Sacrament, as in the image above. Speaking in Rome in March this year, the Holy Father said –
“Every single confession is always a new and definitive step towards a more perfect sanctification; a tender embrace, full of mercy, which helps to expand the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of love, truth and peace.. Sacramental confession is the way of sanctification for both the penitent and the confessor.”
The Holy Father recommended that as part of our thanksgiving after making a good Confession, we spend a little time gazing at the Crucifix, with our “eyes fixed on Jesus, Who has just set us free: no longer looking at our miseries, but rather at His mercy.” Because, as the Pope said very succintly –
“Confession is the passage from misery to mercy.”
In these days before Christmas, let us all make every effort to go to – or to go back to – this Sacrament. Let us humbly prepare our souls for the coming of the Lord at Christmas, by opening our hearts and our souls to receive that heavenly grace and mercy of which the Lord and the Holy Father speak.