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9-CONFESSIONAL

A present that will keep on giving

— A visit to Confession can provide your friends and family with a brand new you as a gift this Christmas says DAVID KERR

Still do not know yet what to give your family for Christmas? Why not surprise them with a new, improved version of you? One that is more happy, peaceful and easier to live beside. With only two shopping weeks to go, this unique gift is guaranteed to be on offer in every town across Scotland between now and the big day. What is more, it is absolutely free. And the brand name of this miracle make-over? Confession.

In Confession we finally choose to face up to the reality of our lives. No more denying uncomfortable truths. No more self-justifying the unjustifiable. It then unburdens us of all that guilt and regret. It forgives those sins. It gives us renewed strength to face the future. It re-unites who we are with who we want to be.

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

There can be few more beautiful phrases in the English language. The priest absolves in persona Christi—in the person of Christ. It is the same Jesus who forgave the Samaritan woman by the well who now forgives you. And then? A fresh start. New hope. Renewed optimism. It really is miraculous.

 

Such is the significance of Confession that at the recent Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation in Rome, Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York asserted that ‘the primary sacrament of the New Evangelisation is the Sacrament of Penance.’

“It brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus who calls us to conversion of heart and inspires us to answer His invitation to repentance,” he said to warm applause from his fellow bishops.

Speaking in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the straight talking US prelate lamented the fact that while the council ‘called for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance,’ what emerged ‘sadly, in many places, was the disappearance of the sacrament.’

Instead, he recalled, the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 saw a series of demands for the ‘reform of structures, systems, institutions and people other than ourselves.’

But the answer to the question ‘what is wrong with the world?’ proved was not external factors such as ‘politics, the economy, secularism, pollution or global warming,’ he noted.

“No, as GK Chesterton wrote, the answer to the question what is wrong with the world is two words: ‘I am.’”

So what is to be done? Well it seems an increasing number of parishes are answering that question: by scheduling Confessions prior to Sunday Mass. This seems to make a great degree of sense. After all, that is when the majority of us are most likely to be at church.

The firm evidence is that the open door of the confessional seems to be inviting dramatically increased numbers of Catholics to make a return to the Sacrament of Penance during this Year of Faith.

The reality is that, for most people, the common place Confession times of Saturday morning, midweek or even ‘on request’ means that Christ’s consoling call to sacramental forgiveness often goes unheard. Out of sight and out of mind.

 

One of the many lovely aspects about life in Rome is the widespread availability of the Sacrament of Penance. Enter St Peter’s Basilica any day of the week and there, to the right of the High Altar, you will always find the Sacrament of Penance available. The flow of penitents is constant with Confession available in every language from Maltese to Mandarin.

Thankfully, the same is true in many Scottish cities. In Glasgow, for example, we are blessed to have a generous provision of the Sacrament of Penance made available in our city centre parishes such as St Andrew’s Cathedral on Clyde Street, St Aloysius in Garnethill and St Mungo’s in Townhead.

So let us put Confession at the top of our Christmas shopping lists as we hit the town these December weekends. Haven’t been for years? Don’t worry. Just go. Can’t remember what to say? The priest will help. Scared you’ll shock the poor cleric? You won’t. It salves the soul in a way that ‘retail therapy’ never will. Believe me. Happy Christmas

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