Monday, 8 January 2007

Friendship with Christ - Frequent Confession

I just read a great article by the late Fr Ronald Lawler, a Franciscan and one of the leading American theologians of the late 20th Century. He underlines how frequent Confession is necessary for a true friendship with Christ. Frequent confession not only brings its own grace but also releases the great grace of mutual love found in Holy Communion. Frequent Holy Communion without frequent Confession has little hope of giving us a deep friendship with Christ. What sort of friendship - on a purely human level - would it be where one of the friends carried on enjoying meeting up and sharing times with the other friend, while ignoring the huge wrong that they have done to that friend? For a truly honest friendship with Christ we need to have frequent Confession. Anyway here is what Fr Lawler said:

Happily, many people are discovering again the rich peace and the great blessings of frequent Confession.

For a while, things were very bad. In many huge parishes, thousands of people went to Communion every week, while almost none went to Confession. There were serious reasons to wonder it many anxious and unhappy people were going to Communion, and even that there were too unworthy and
sacrilegious Communions.

Many more were communicating without the peace and deep friendship with Christ they really desired. For many, Communion no longer seemed to bring growth in faith and friendship with the Lord, because they ceased to have repentant hearts. They ceased to have that peaceful friendship with Christ, that we sinners can have only when we have tasted personally and deeply of his forgiving mercy.

Confession deepens personal faith. But it takes faithful energy to be faithful to go to Confession regularly. And many fell away from Confession. First, they went less often. Then much less often. Then hardly at all. Only gradually did they begin to realize that they were losing the warmth of their friendship with Christ and ceasing to be entirely honest in their relations with their God. Only gradually did they realize that they were drifting into the worldly and sensual ways of the mass media,
the broken ways of the world and losing the joy of a strong life of faith.

[...] There are many excuses for not going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We can say (even though it is not true) that the Second Vatican Council discouraged frequent Confession. We can say (though the Church and the saints and the Scriptures always taught the opposite) that mortal sin is very rare, and that people as good as I need never worry about falling into grave sin.

Since it does take effort to go to Confession, I can pretend that it is useless at least for those who now have no mortal sins to confess. The saints have always reminded us how important it is to receive this
sacrament often. The Church has always urged its priests, religious and faithful to confess their sins often. In Confession, we learn trom Christ Himself that repentance which deepens our faith and gives deep roots to our love. But we can say (why always tell ourselves the truth?) that there is no special advantage in going to Confession. Then we will be able to escape the bother of it all. But we lose much more than bother. [...]

In this sinful and broken world there is much mortal sin. People, even Catholics, do commit horrible crimes: abortion, adultery and terrible crimes with the power of money and the cruelty of drugs. But there are also mortal sins of a less spectacular kind: lustful deeds deliberately undertaken and deliberate lustful desires to which this fallen world leads one. Ordinary people sometimes do hateful and cruel deeds. They are surprised at themselves for falling into these things, especially if they stop receiving the Sacrament of Penance regularly, which gives them the power they need to keep from sin.

If we have committed mortal sin, Catholic Faith teaches that the only ordinary way to escape the tragic separation from Christ that mortal sin means is by a good Confession. Even perfect contrition does not help, if we do not accompany our sorrow by a willingness to do what Christ requires: to get promptly to Confession, and to confess and receive from Christ (through his priest) the absolving words of forgiveness... We who have the gift of Catholic Faith possess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation a great personal gift of Christ - this best way of coming back to grace. And this is the one way we have to get back to grace, as all Catholic Tradition insists rightly. There are rare exceptions: when Confession is impossible for us, God makes other ways possible. But Confession is the only ordinary way. Those who have sinned mortally after Baptism must go to Confession if they wish to come back to the Lord in the Eucharist.

Even when, happily, God's mercy keeps us from grave sin, we benefit immensely from frequent Confession. As Pope John Paul reminded us, the frequent use of Confession is in many ways the safeguard of love and peace. We must not lose the sense of sin or we will rationalize all our selfishness and wrongness of heart. But it is also true that we must not focus too much on sin or we will become bitter and harsh. What we need to do is remember our sins in the very sacrament of healing in which Christ touches us with mercy. Here He teaches us to turn sorrow into love and our own being healed into the forgiving of others.

Confession leads us to the kinds of acts that make hearts repentant: to remember honestly before the good Lord how frail we are, so that we can trust in his mercy with greater determination. Confession requires us to make serious resolutions in our hearts not to offend those we love, to forgive those who hurt us and to do those things our life needs, but the world does not incline us to do.

Confession creates personal friendship with Christ. In this sacrament He personally touches our lives. We speak to Him and He makes us realize (as we seek more faithfully to receive the sacrament well) how deeply concerned He is to bless our lives with grace and healing. When the priest speaks words of absolution, our faith knows that it is the Lord who now, personally, speaks mercy and does mighty and merciful deeds in our lives. He enables us to see through the deceptive images woven by the media
world, to begin to realize the really important things of life. He enables us to taste his power: to see that it is not impossible or saddening to keep his Commandments and to walk in his ways. [...]

For each one of us, it is important that we seek out and find a good confessor and learn again, as the Church urges us, to confess our sins with faithful frequency.

Remember, the power to walk God's ways and find his peace; the power to turn from selfishness and sin; the power to forgive those we want to love - all this power is a gift of God, not a natural endowment of our nature. And Christ, touching us in his sacraments, is the one who heals us
and gives us his mighty Spirit to give grace and joy to our lives. Nothing substitutes for thc sacraments. In them the Lord personally touches our lives and heals us. [...]

As you can see from my italics frequent confession is necessary for a true friendship with Christ. Someone asked me recently if 'friendship with Christ' were not a crypto-Protestant anti-sacramental or charismatic theme. I think Fr Lawler shows here in this excellent article, which I have reproduced almost in its entirety (the full text is here), that the sacraments are vital for a true friendship with Christ, and far from being a wishy washy idea, it is key to a real living of those sacraments.

People often ask me how often to go to Confession. I used to be timid and say maybe four times a year. But really that's not enough. If we take our friendship with Christ seriously we should be aiming at monthly Confession at least.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Three books which have greatly helped and greatly silenced this too-chattery ex-Protestant are How to Make a Good Confession by John A. Kane, Sophia Inst., Spirit of Penance Path to God by Dom Hubert Van Zeller, (Sophia) and Fasting by Fr Slovko Barbaric, OFM, Franciscan U. Press.
Thank you God for your awesome, awesome Church, your incomparable grace.