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Pope Francis and Reconciliation

March 31, AD2014 7 Comments

\"Brianna

There is a visiting priest who regularly fills in when our beloved parish priest is gone. He\’s articulate, gets right to the point, and my kids love him—and the funny thing is that his homily is about the very same thing every single time he comes. No matter what the week\’s readings are, you can bet that Father R. is going to bring it all back around to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

And then immediately following Mass, he enters the confessional box and sits and hears confessions for \”as long as it takes.\” Until every single person who wants to has had his or her sins absolved.  The line is always a mile long and it is such a beautiful thing to see so many experiencing the mercy and love of Christ in such a profound, personal, and important way.

But I admit that going to confession is not my favorite thing. I don\’t feel like I\’m \”good\” at it, if it\’s even a thing to be good or bad at. It doesn\’t feel natural to me because I didn\’t grow up confessing my sins to a priest. I\’m a convert. But I do it anyway. I go. Afterwards I\’m always so glad that I did. It\’s hard to describe just how it is to people who\’ve never experienced the sacrament, why it\’s about mercy and grace and love—as opposed to shame or fear. I understand the confusion surrounding it because it was one of the things about Catholicism that (initially) made the least sense to me, and the only thing that scared me about converting.

Now though? Even though it feels unnatural and clumsy and awkward? I see that it is goodI know I need it. My three kids presently old enough to receive the sacrament have never once been afraid, intimidated, or dejected as they sat behind the screen. They go willingly. One of them waited in line for over an hour once. When I asked my daughter several months ago if she ever gets nervous (like her mother) about going to confession, she laughed and said \”Of course not! I know Father ____! Why would I be nervous?\” And she looked at me like I\’d just asked the most ridiculous question in all the land.

Part of that is because we have a wonderful parish priest who is also an excellent confessor and very good with children. Part of it is that it is simply part of my kids\’ spiritual landscape—our family goes to confession. No big deal. But the other part? Jesus instituted the sacrament Himself! God knew what He was doing when He breathed on the apostles and gave them the authority to bind and loose sins! It\’s good, and necessary, for the soul.

And so I loved that Pope Francis not only heard confessions recently at St. Peter\’s Basilica, but also went to confession. Like, right in front of a bunch of people. Of course I\’m sure he, like any holy man, avails himself of the sacrament quite regularly so the fact that he went wasn\’t overly earth-shattering or particularly inspiring. But I love how he\’s talking openly about it and encouraging others that it is about mercy. That\’s the whole point.

Pope Francis gives us a gift when he tells us not to be \”afraid\” to go to confession. It is a blessing to hear him give voice to the things I feel as I wait in line, and say that it\’s normal, but then go on to say that it is, above all else, healing and freeing. That priests are good and that Jesus is there. He tells us to \”be courageous\” and then demonstrates that courage himself, and gets the whole world talking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And somehow I think it both captivates and makes sense to the world because who doesn\’t, in their most honest moments, see the need for reconciliation? In personal relationships, in nature, in politics, in the Church? Pope Francis hit the nail on the head back in February when he said “someone can say, ‘I confess my sins only to God.’ Yes, you can say to God, ‘forgive me,’ and say your sins. But our sins are also against our brothers, against the Church. This is is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the Church and of our brothers, in the person of the priest.”

So this Lent, let\’s be courageous and pursue healing and mercy in the confessional. Let\’s believe our priests are good and that Jesus is there. Let\’s trust that the momentary feelings of nervousness, shame, or embarrassment we experience while standing in line are trivial–especially when compared to the radical grace and peace we receive upon exiting.

Because if Pope Francis can do it right in front of a crowd, you and I can certainly do it too!

Filed in: Faith, Family, Parenting

About the Author:

Brianna Heldt is a mother to seven, recent convert to the Catholic faith, and writer who blogs at Just Showing Up. In addition to her three biological daughters, she and her husband are also parents to four adopted children from Ethiopia, including two daughters with Down syndrome. When Brianna is not busy blogging or homeschooling, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading good books, thrifting, and advocating for orhpaned children with medical needs. She lives with her husband and kids in Denver, and is eagerly anticipating the birth of her eighth child, due in February.

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  • james

    “… let’s be courageous and pursue healing …”
    When Jesus forgave sin it was widely accompanied by a physical healing.
    The apostles too went out and physically cured many. This is a loosing we
    don’t often see anymore. As for binding, there are very few instances of it
    being invoked. I’m sure conservatives would have it another way. If the gift
    of reconcilliation is to gain wider understanding and acceptance it must not
    be only Catholics need apply. Imagine a hospital where the sign reads,
    Only Catholics may be treated – it’s sort of the inverse of this HHA mandate.
    Jesus healed the servant and daughter of a soldier who worked for the most
    brutal goverment of a millenium. He didn’t require an admission card.
    That being said, great post.!

  • David Peters

    Brianna, this is a wonderful article! I have not experienced confession yet but I can imagine that it must be wonderful to receive God’s mercy in this way. It is one of the wonderful aspects of Catholicism that I find so beautiful. I hope to in the future. God bless.

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  • Phil Dzialo

    With great difficulty, I need to express my belief that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is flawed…it is flawed because it evades logic and is never helpful to the victim of sin. I am acutely aware that the reconciliation is with the God, the Source of All. I am aware that the priest is the mediary between the Source and the offender. I am aware that with genuine remorse and grace coupled with a perfunctory penance God forgives the sin.
    My problem, when I say the rite is flawed, is that there is no reconciliation, apology and :making it right” with the victim of our sin. Most wrong is directed at a victim; fewer wrong are victim less and silent remorse with God does not undo the wrong. The child molester who psychologically and physically scars a child is not required as penance to meet with the victim, to acknowledge his perversion, to make amends by providing compensation and pay for counseling, to make things right and to acknowledge his wrong to civil authorities. Traditional notions of penance ignore the victim. The same scenario plays out in murder, defamation of character, theft, infidelity and on. True penance should focus on repairing the damage to the victim. Reconciliation, to be genuine must be both God and victim oriented. There can be no forgiveness without the wrong being corrected to the victim, remorse and a promise not do do it again is grossly insufficient, If one believe in a membership of the body of Christ, it appears that reconciliation with God and the victim are essential for true forgiveness,

    • james

      This is very true. Say two Hail Mary’s for stealing a candy bar is not the same
      as making ammends to the store owner in person. Say a rosary for coming
      up very short with friends or family is not compensation to the injured party.
      If you make it right with those you’ve offended God has already forgiven you
      Of course, this type of penance is extremely rare because most priests are
      aware that most penitants don’t have the courage to face their victims until
      the right time and place present themselves and that may take many years.
      On the other hand, reconciliiation gives one the grace to mature, to make a
      mental note that confession is only 1/2 the formula for total forgiveness. It
      is the 12th step of making ammends and most people who are working their
      program find it a hard and long road to reach. This step also assures us
      that we will most likely never to do it again to that particular person.
      Over time, all our sins should melt away – how many 80 year olds sin ? How
      many faux pas does one commit after learning a hard lesson ? ” Love is not having to say you are sorry” is what Ali McGraw said to Ryan O’Neil in Love
      Story. It’s roots lie in ” Father, forgive them for they kow not what they do”

  • JQ Tomanek

    I am very grateful for the priests that offer this sacrament.

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