This season of Lent brings many things to mind. Many of us grew up with the idea of “giving something up” for Lent. We still look at fasting (along with prayer and almsgiving) as one of the cornerstones of the season, but of course all of those observances are in the context of our love for God. This Lent, I would like to dedicate this column to one of the highlights of our Lenten observance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or as many of us grew up calling it, “Confession.” Each week during Lent, I am going to offer some reflections on how to make this sacrament somewhat less intimidating and more satisfying. Rather than presenting a theological treatise, I will simply give some reflections on my personal experience with the sacrament.
The first question I’d like to deal with is how often we should receive the sacrament. For this question, there is no “one size fits all” answer, for that will be a rather personal decision. I can, however, offer some guidelines. Let’s start with the minimum. The Church tells us we are obliged to confess any serious sins at least once a year. That part about “serious” sins may lead us to ask if, perhaps, we can skip a year if all we have is venial sin. That question can help us understand that God’s forgiveness comes in many ways – for instance, the Eucharist has the power to forgive venial sins. Still, I am convinced that we are shortchanging ourselves if we ask how often we “have to” go to Confession. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1458) says, “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended” as being a help to the formation of our consciences and a way of receiving the grace to live our faith.
The more we use the sacrament, the more comfortable we become with it. Moreover, we find ourselves becoming dependent upon the grace of God. I personally like to receive the sacrament about once a month. If something comes up, though, and it gets to be about six weeks or so, then I find myself feeling rather “sluggish.” Confession gives me a fresh start and helps me trust in God more completely for the occasions that come up every day. Once I get to Confession, it is like getting a fresh start on everything I do. Reconciliation helps me realize that I do not have to carry the burden of each decision myself.
So my suggestion for this Lent is to look forward to receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and not to wait until Advent for the next opportunity.
As we begin this Lenten look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, please pray for the young boys and girls in our parish who are making their First Penance this week. May they always grow closer to God through this wonderful sacrament.