Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sacrament of Love and the Feast of St. John Vianney

I did something this week that I have never done in my 46 years on this earth. Yesterday, I went to confession one week after I had my last confession. I hope to make a habit of weekly confession. For a while I thought, "What will I have to confess after only one week?" (Self-awareness is sometimes not my strong suit.) As I was conducting my examination of conscience, I had trouble remembering my sins from just a couple of days ago; how pathetic were my powers of recall for confessions that were 6 weeks or 6 months apart?

This happened to be a particularly moving confession. It is important for me to remember that how confession feels is not an indication necessarily of its effectiveness, but certainly when it does feel good, that certainly is motivating.

I continue to be very nervous about going to confession. When I was a boy, I used to read Charles Schulz's Peanuts before confession to try to calm my nerves. As an adult, when I get ready to confess, I sometimes think about not going. Yesterday when I went to confession, I had that feeling, but then I thought, "Satan would like nothing better than for me to walk out of here right now without going to confession." That idea helped.

After confession, I went to the Blessed Sacrament to say my penance. The words "Sacrament of Love" came to me. Pope Benedict has called the Eucharist the "Sacrament of Charity" (Sacramentum Caritatis). However, there he discusses the "intrinsic relationship" between the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation (Chapter II, sections 20-21). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also a sacrament of love, as God shows His love for us through the gift of His mercy, a wonderful complement to the gift of His sacrifice in the Eucharist. And then I thought about how all the sacraments are signs of God's love for us, giving us the grace to to love Him as we ought. Pope Benedict talks about the relationship between the Eucharist and the other sacraments (sections 16-29).

In this Year of the Priest and its patron, St. John Vianney, whose feast day is today, we pray that our priests and deacons will catechize the laity on the importance of frequent confession. We also pray that those laity who do go to confession will encourage their fellow Catholics on the need to go to confession. Two of my friends go to confession weekly, and because they spoke openly about it to me, their example inspired me to try to do the same. I was in the stands at a parish football practice with one of those friends, talking about confession while our sons were on the field; hopefully our conversation was overheard by others and got them thinking about going to confession more (or at all). "Encourage each other daily while it is still today" (Hebrews 3:13, which we say in the Liturgy of the Hours in the Invitatory prior to reciting Psalm 95).

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