Putting God’s Forgiveness in perspective, it’s never too late to say I’m sorry!
First, the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation is not a church edict that a Vatican Council decided to enact. It was seen more than once when Jesus openly forgave sins as the most endearing part of his mission. After all, the Incarnation was the very vehicle the Father used to seek and find through Jesus sinners who were the lost sheep of Israel.
A second factor is General Absolution is only used in cases like wartime or valid circumstances where serious diseases could keep people away from the confessionals. Otherwise, the sacrament should still be promulgated in the normal system the church has established.
What might be the one criterion that keeps sinners away from the confessional is if they were put down for a particular sin. Most priests are understanding and if needed will advise a penitent to seek further counseling for an ongoing infraction that keeps them away from the sacrament. Of course, I cannot speak for priests in the confessional but know from experience that it only takes one priest who has a small tolerance for certain infractions. If it hadn’t been for my own faith I may have avoided using the sacrament again.
I often wonder what special grace Fr. John Mary Vianney had when he was sent to the small town of Ars, His ability or we should say his compassion for sinners drew people from many towns and villages converting thousands and bringing the Love of Christ through this sacrament to those who may never would have found God’s forgiveness.
The term many catholics use today I can ask God for forgiveness myself. It’s like I don’t need one man to forgive me my sins. God can do that alone. Unfortunately this attitude misses the point and comparison to Jesus forgiving sinners publicly.
For the most part, we sin publicly and should publicly seek the Lord through his mercy. Of course we don’t confess for everyone to hear but the motion of going to the confessional is public enough.
Perhaps it is the scourge that others may think about us when we are humble enough to ask for forgiveness, or it might be the thought that I don’t know if I can refrain from this malady once I am given Absolution by the priest.
Peter asked the Lord; “If my brother asks for forgiveness how often must I forgive him? Seven times? “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18: 21 - 22). This no doubt is the criterion John Vianney used when becoming the “Cure of Ars.”
The act of confessing our sins has changed over the centuries, but the essence of the sacrament has not. It is not a matter of openly announcing our sins for everyone to hear, but the fact that we speak humbly and if possible on our knees “to God and when we are truly sorry we will receive God’s forgiveness. Remember, It is God’s mercy we seek when entering the space assigned for confession, and this comes without judgment.
One last point on forgiveness is the perspective of God’s mercy; There are three sacraments where forgiveness is found. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of Anointing of the sick, and the Holy Euchraist. In the rite of Consecration when the priest says “This is my Body” and elevates the sacred species then when he says “This is my Blood” and elevates the chalice he is recounting the sacrifice on Calvary and the Crucifixion becomes the total forgiveness for all the world’s Sin. This by the way is the most perfect reason for Holy Orders; to forgive sin.
Ralph B. Hathaway