Efforts to Stimulate Interest in Reconciliation
By Father John Flynn, L.C.
ROME, OCT. 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Confession is undergoing a revival of sorts after a long period of neglect. There has been a spate of recent press articles on the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation, as it is often termed.
On Sept. 21 the Wall Street Journal reported that more than 5,000 people turned up at a Reconciliation Weekend held in March in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida.
A column dated March this year by Bishop Thomas Wenski, posted on the Orlando Diocese’s Web page, spoke about the need for confession. The loss of the sense of sin was termed “the spiritual crisis of our age,” he said.
Last year, the bishop noted, he wrote to the priests of his diocese, asking them to make more time to hear confessions. This year he explained that a number of parishes were going to organize a special Reconciliation Weekend, just prior to Holy Week.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal article explained that interest in confession is rising among some Protestant denominations. This summer, a North American branch of the Lutherans passed a resolution at a meeting supporting the rite of confession, after more than a century of neglect.
Some of the Protestant versions of confession being popularized are, however, notably different from the Catholic sacrament. The Wall Street Journal mentioned practices such as individuals coming clean in videos that are even posted on sites such as YouTube, for all to see.
Other initiatives include a confession Web site, set up by an evangelical congregation in Cooper City, Florida, which according to the Wall Street Journal has postings from 7,700 people who list their faults.
The rising interest in confession marks a turnaround, the article observed. A 2005 survey reported that only 26% of Catholics in the United States went to confession at least once a year, down from 74% in the early ’80s.
The revival in confession, particularly of the public kind, can take all sorts of forms, as is evidenced in a Reuters article from Sept. 27. The agency reported on a new Web site set up by a major publisher of romantic fiction, Harlequin Enterprises. People will be able to confess, anonymously, their sins online, with others being able to read their postings.
More news on varieties of confession came in a major feature article, published Aug. 31 by the Los Angeles Times. The paper gave details about a number of Web sites where confessions can be made. One of the sites even allows other persons to comment on and give advice to those who confess.
Turning on the light
The Catholic Church is also trying to promote interest in confession. This year some dioceses launched campaigns to encourage use of the sacrament in the period prior to Easter. In Washington, D.C., for example, all the 140 churches of the archdiocese opened for confession every Wednesday evening.
The effort was part of a campaign titled “The Light Is On for You.” Included in the campaign were radio and billboard ads, and a Web page set up with a variety of material encouraging participation in the sacrament. In addition, 100,000 printed guides in Spanish and English were distributed.
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl also penned a pastoral letter, “God’s Mercy and the Sacrament of Penance,” as part of the campaign.
“Despite our best intentions, each of us has experienced personal failure,” he noted in the introduction to the letter. We are aware, explained Archbishop Wuerl, “that a part of us is determined to do good while at the same time an element within us continually turns away from the good we know we can do.”
God does not leave us alone in this situation of our human weakness and the ever-present reality of sin, the letter added. “Jesus gives us newness of life in grace that begins to restore our relationship with God which will lead to full communion with God in glory.”
This power to forgive sins was extended by Jesus to the Church and is administered through the sacrament of confession.
“It remains one of the great marvels of God’s love that God would make forgiveness so readily available to each of us,” Archbishop Wuerl commented.
“The sacrament of reconciliation is the story of God’s love that never turns away from us,” he said. “Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God waits, watches and hopes for our return every time we walk away.”
Not all are convinced, however, that these efforts to stimulate confession will succeed. Time magazine, which gained notoriety for its Sept. 3 cover issue that sought to cast doubts on Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s faith, posted an article dated Sept. 27 on its Time.com Web page titled “The Unrepentant.”
Noting the decades-long decline in us by Catholics of the sacrament, the article attempted to argue that reaction against the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” has “led to a wider re-evaluation of what constitutes sin — and whether confession is really necessary.”
The article also doubted that recent efforts in the American dioceses to promote confession had obtained any real success and concluded that future efforts are similarly doomed.
Another recent initiative to revive interest in confession comes in the form of a book titled “The Gift of Confession, (Connor Court Publishing). Father Michael de Stoop, a priest in the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, aimed to portray confession in a positive way, emphasizing the many benefits the sacrament offers believers.
Many people, he noted in the book’s introduction, are unaware of the theological background that can help us to understand and appreciate confession. In addition to freeing us from sin, the sacrament also restores and increases our opportunities to share in God’s divine life, Father de Stoop explained.
Thus, confession frees us from sin, and also restores our freedom to live a life of virtue by restoring within us the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The grace we receive strengthens our will to resist sin, thereby enabling us to progress in holiness.
By making us more aware of the evil of sin and the need to avoid it, regular participation in confession, the book observes, also helps us to build our character and develop good habits. Coming closer to God by means of the sacrament of reconciliation will also make it easier for us to pray.
Benedict XVI reflected on the importance of confession, in words directed to the youth of Rome, gathered March 29 in St Peter’s Basilica to prepare for the local diocesan celebration of World Youth Day on April 1.
God’s love for us, expressed by the death of Christ on the cross, has obtained for us the gift of the Holy Spirit through which our sins are forgiven and peace granted, the Pope commented.
“Christ draws us to him to unite himself with each one of us so that, in our turn, we may learn to love our brothers and sisters with this same love, as he has loved us,” the Pontiff added.
Once we are filled with this love, Benedict XVI recommended to the young people, we are called upon to make an impact in the world by means of an authentic Christian witness. Valuable words of encouragement to encourage participation in a sacrament neglected for too long.