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One Small Step Into the Confessional, One giant Leap of Faith

Yesterday’s WashingtonPpost ran an article about Bishop Wuerl’s very public campaign to draw the faithful back to the Sacrament of Confession. As would be expected from the Post, it really did not capture the essence of the sacrament. The author kept equating going to Confession with psychotherapy and self-help groups. The article closed with this testimonial from a DC Catholic:

Damiana Astudillo, 33, a researcher who lives in Mount Pleasant, said she hasn't been to confession in a decade because she is turned off by what she sees as paternalism among church leaders.

"The Catholic Church is unwilling to adapt to the modern world. They're still hung up on the dogma of ancient times, and life is very complex today," she said yesterday on L Street NW. "I've grown to believe a priest is a man, and he doesn't have the power to forgive. Confession and a prayer? That doesn't work for me anymore."

Doesn’t this just scream for increased adult catechesis? Now some have taken this to mean that there is no point in getting more folks into the confessional if they don’t understand what they are doing. I disagree. Confession is a Sacrament. It is a visible sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace. Even if the penitent approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation with imperfect understanding, graces will flow. Maybe the grace received will soften a heart or open the eyes of faith enough that an increased understanding of the Church and our Faith will be possible. Maybe some need the grace received from Confession to be receptive to catechesis.

Pope Benedict is pushing Confession as well.

Vatican, Feb. 19, 2007 ( - At a February 19 meeting with confessors, Pope Benedict XVI remarked on how the “limitless renovating power of divine love” is realized in the sacrament of Penance.

The Holy Father was speaking to the father-confessors of the Roman basilica and the officials of the Apostolic Penitentiary, led by Cardinal James Stafford. He told them that the priest, as confessor, is an “active instrument of divine mercy.”

The task of the confessor, the Pope said, is to help the penitent “recognize the gravity of sin,” and resolve to avoid sin in the future, while provide “the comfort and consolation of Christ.”

“How many penitents find in confession the peace and joy they were seeking for so long!” the Pope said. He encouraged priests to help the faithful use the sacrament properly. To do so, he said, confessors must learn as much as possible about the background of their people, the problems they face, and the spiritual problems they encounter.

Above all, the Pope continued, “We cannot preach forgiveness and reconciliation to others if we do not experience these things personally.” He encouraged confessors to make frequent use of the sacrament themselves, so that they too have a fuller appreciation for the forgiveness offered by Christ through his priestly ministers.

The sacrament of Penance, the Pontiff concluded, “is a specific ecclesial service to which we must give priority."

Those of us who are spending time in the Catholic blogosphere have to remember that the vast majority of Catholics in the pews are not so immersed in Catholic thinking and teaching. Give them the opportunity to crawl before they walk or run. Maybe the step back into the confessional is just the baby step they need to begin moving forward in faith.


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