Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mutual Joy from the Sacrament of Reconciliation

In the Peace Weekly, a columnist writing about his experience in pastoral work recalls when he was a young assistant.  He had finished his Sunday evening Mass and was on his way to the rectory when he was met by a grandfather and grandmother. They told him they left the Church many years ago, and now, an extended family of 30, they wanted to go to confession.

The priest asked how long they had been away (average is about 25 years). They had left the Church 50 years ago. The priest was not in the mood to hear confessions; the prospect of hearing 30 confessions at the end of a long day was not a pleasant thought. However, realizing what he was called to do, he went to the  confessional.

The family, one by one, went to confession and the grandfather was the last to confess. He made a general confession, mentioning all the sins he could remember from the time he was baptized; it included all his hurts and complaints over a life time.

There was little that the priest had to say in admonition, hearing what the grandfather had to say and his contrition.  He was happy, knowing that the grandfather was to begin a new life, and found joy to be part of it. When the priest  left the confessional the grandfather was sitting in the last bench of the empty church; they both hugged each other and started to cry. The grandfather thanked him for hearing what he had to say.

The priest looked at his watch; it was 5:00 am, just one half hour before his morning Mass. He went into the rectory to wash up a bit, and returned to say Mass.  All 30 of the family were there to attend and go to communion.

Although he had been hearing confessions for 8 hours, he was surprised by how little he was conscious of the time that had gone by. If they had told him he would be in the confessional for 8 hours, he wonders what would have been his response.  Yes, he was tired from the many hours in the confessional but at the same time the joy he felt by helping the family to return to the Church was a great consolation.

The numbers going to confession in recent times has dropped.What happens in one part of the Catholic World appears shortly in another part. There is no easy answer to the situation.  Many  do not have time to reflect on their lives. Experience tells many who spend time in the confessional that it is the spiritually advanced that have a greater grasp of their sinfulness:one of the paradoxes of life--the closer one gets to the light the more one sees. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a better word to use than Confession. It is God that seeks with love,to reconcile us with ourselves, others and Himself. Not understanding that what we do has reprecussions on all of creation may  help to understand the distancing from the Sacrament. 

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