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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jul 07, 2024)

Thirteenth Sunday

On Friday, Fr. Patrick called me around 9:20. “Father, I am just leaving a Mass in Bloomington, and should be arriving around 9:40 for confessions. Do you want to cover until then?” 

I gave it a moment’s thought. It’s a holiday weekend, I said to myself. Might not be anyone coming for confession anyway! “Oh, they can just just start late,” I told him, “Probably won’t be many penitents today!” 

As I entered the church for 10am Mass, I glanced towards the east confessionals as I walked up to the sacristy. A tightly packed line of people stood along the east wall, waiting for their turn with Fr. Patrick. I should have known! A first Friday. A day off work for many. A day following a day of revelry (for some, perhaps) and time with extended family. Perfect day for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

We are blessed at St. Mark’s to have a culture of confession. According to the 2020 Disciple Maker Index, our parish had the third highest frequency of confession of all the parishes in the U.S. that took the survey. Many penitents come every month or fortnight, some even more frequently. 

But confession is not just catching on (again) at St. Mark’s. Everywhere that priests decide to dedicate more time to making this source of grace and conversion readily available, it flowers. In most places, however, Catholics in the U.S. are still recovering from the shock to the sacrament that came after Vatican II, when many Catholics were told (with no basis in the Council itself) that the sacrament was no longer necessary (!). The illicit offering of general absolution and the idea that no one really committed mortal sin, detached two or three generations of Catholics from the sacramental reception of God’s mercy. 

Those affected by that mentality, or raised at parishes where confession was only for Lent and maybe Advent, might wonder: why go to confession so often? It seems self-defeating: if confession “works,” which is to say, if it helps you overcome sin, shouldn’t it become less necessary the more one receives it? 

That’s exactly right! And all the more reason to keep receiving the sacrament. 

Granted, for some, frequent reception of reconciliation is necessary for the life of the soul: these are those who are stuck in habits of mortal sin and have not yet been able to break definitively with them. They return every week, perhaps, in need of a spiritual resurrection, after having fallen yet again into grave sin and lost the life of grace. 

Happily, for many others, frequent confession is not “necessary” in that sense. But it is extremely helpful. And “necessary,” therefore, in the relative sense: to maintain and advance in that purity of heart without which no one shall see God. Frequent confession keeps us humble, for it forces us to recognize sin, however slight, time and again. For that same reason, frequent confession is preventative: having repented of the small sins, we do not allow them to grow or accumulate to the point of triggering the spiritual catastrophe of mortal sin. Likewise, frequent confession is illuminating: through the regular scrutiny of our thoughts and actions and the movements of our soul, we not only grow in self-knowledge but come to identify with ever-greater clarity the habits that are at the root of our discrete sins. Finally, because it is a sacrament, frequent confession, made with contrition and devotion (holy sorrow and the firm purpose not to offend God again) is a source of growth in charity through an increase in sanctifying grace. In light of all these benefits, those who are serious about growth in the spiritual life would, generally speaking, be foolish not to take frequent advantage. 

Some tips for frequent confession. 1) Have a focus. One is not obliged to confess all venial sins, and practically speaking it is not always possible or helpful. Prayerfully discern what is your predominant vice (pride, lust, sensuality, impatience, etc.) and focus your confession on your failings in that area. 2) Start with the sin that is most shameful. Don’t sugarcoat your confession or downplay your guilt; rather, let the Holy Spirit be your advocate and you take the role of the prosecutor, being brutally honest (without exaggerating or getting into needless circumstances). 3) The tendency is to focus more on the identification of sin than our repentance from it. Confession is not transactional; it is relational. It is not an exercise in protecting ourselves from a vengeful God but a privileged returning to the loving Heart of Our Savior, who bathes us once more in His Precious Blood. Exercise your heart in loving contrition for your infidelities, form an adamantine resolution to “sin no more” (thinking honestly about what changes that will entail), and cast yourself with limitless trust on the merciful Heart of the Savior who came for sinners. Amen! 

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