The feeling of complete freedom with the expiation from our sins once we realize God has reached across the confessional, through the hands of a priest, and pronounces the words of absolution upon us. It can be a moment of exhilaration knowing that this Sacrament still is just as real now as it was when as children we grew up learning our Catechism and the Sacraments of the Church.
Reading a book titled, “Walking with Jesus” by Pope Francis, is a revolutionary work wherein he touches on many aspects of Jesus’ life and placing all of our Lord’s efforts along the road, showing what it is to become a true disciple to Christ. The jest of one chapter leaned on the priests and their position as confessors and using mercy as the impetus of the Sacrament.
Chapter 31, “The Time of Mercy” from an address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, touched on that very element of Jesus’ Ministry. How often have any of us felt the touch of Christ through the intercession of a priest? It is always there and for the most part our priests are waiting in the confessionals to exercise that great element of their ordination, to extend the hands of Christ on the willing recipient who is hungry for the Lord’s Forgiveness.
Something has happened between the time when so many completed the trek of receiving the Sacraments of Initiation to where we find ourselves today. Can you remember when going to Confession was a long line, or several, and you waited until the door was ready for you to enter? It seemed as though everyone was a sinner and were eager to confess their sins before going to Holy Communion the next day (Sunday Mass). Where have the lines disappeared to? No more sins? Not enough time with today’s busy schedules and Reconciliation becomes an afterthought, or none at all.
We may be reaching a time in the Church where this Sacrament may not be available to many because of clergy diminishment in different parts of the country. The hope that what many take for granted does not become a thing of the past. So many denominations wonder why we as Catholics take this idea of confessing to a priest so important. “We just ask God to forgive us and go our way.” But, they are among the many who don’t understand why they may not receive the Eucharist in a Catholic Church. Both are part of the Catechesis of our Church and the impact they have on what a Sacramental Church is about. The Sacrament of Forgiveness (Reconciliation) was instituted by Jesus and passed on through Apostolic Succession. The Holy Eucharist was given to us at the Last Supper and the authority to continue this was passed on to Peter, then to all the Bishops throughout history. Somewhere along the way, beginning with the Reformation, Schisms became common-place and now there are too many different denominations to even try to count.
What we as Roman Catholics posses through Sacraments is far above what so many other churches fail to understand or attempt to fall in line with, as Christ intended. To say we have the one true church is not a pronouncement without sustenance. The Catholic Church has been a solid rock for 20 centuries and has never wavered in her direction to follow Christ’s words, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’ (Mt. 28: 20). Do we still believe that?
Ralph B. Hathaway, December 2018