There was a report in the newspaper a year ago about the large number of Catholics who stopped practicing the faith for various reasons. I’m sure the reasons are varied but I’m also sure the Lord is saying to them come home.
It is time to come home. There is nothing to fear, no sin so great the Lord won’t forgive you. He died for you because He loved you so much. How could He not forgive any sin you’ve repented of?
Unless you go to a newly ordained priest yours won’t be the first confession he’s heard with your sins or the first time he’s heard a confession of a person who’s been away for so long. There are a lot of now-devout Catholics who had been away from confession for decades. You’d be amazed at how many people’s last confession was in eighth grade or for Confirmation.
I know many people worry about what the priest’s reaction might be after so long. The priest may struggle to control himself but not so that he won’t yell at you, but because he’s probably so thrilled he wants to dance a jig. Priests live for this. This is probably one of the biggest reasons he became a priest, why he sacrificed so much, in order to reconcile sinners with a loving God. To give absolution and help someone return to the Church after so long must be one of the greatest experiences of a priest’s life.
I once went to a mission of Father Groeschel’s, author and teacher on EWTN. What I most remember about the mission was Father begging people to contact everyone they knew who had been away from confession for a long time and get them to come to him for Reconciliation. Father repeatedly said they wouldn’t have to worry about the Penance. He would do their penance. Father’s attitude is probably typical of the priesthood. They gave up basically everything, high paying jobs, marriage and a family in order to serve God and bring people back to God. Bringing people home to the Church after a long time makes their sacrifices worthwhile.
It doesn’t matter that you forgot how to go to confession. All you have to do is show up wanting to make a good confession and Father will guide you through it. Just tell Father, you forgot how to make a confession.
You don’t have to go to a parish where people might know you. You can ask a Catholic friend about a good priest that he or she is comfortable with. Often you friend will volunteer to go with you. I know one guy who walked his buddy into the confessional and introduced him to the priest and left. I once took someone and went to confession first to make sure it was the gentle priest I had talked about.
You can look in the Yellow Pages to find a Catholic Church in another city. You can look up Catholic shrines on the internet and call to make arrangements. I used to go to confession at St. Joseph’s Shrine in New Jersey and there were always lines. A lot of people like to go outside of their parish. I know when I taught in a parish school I always went to neighboring parishes and would see my fellow parishioners. Often parishes have special penance services during Lent and Advent when they bring priests from other parishes.
There is a special feeling after you’ve gone to confession. You’re free of all the muck. Additionally you receive grace to resist the sins you’ve committed before. The more you go to confession the more grace you receive, the more you are able to resist sins. After a while you’ll be amazed at the fact that you’ve virtually eliminated some of your greatest weaknesses with the Lord’s help. I’ve heard several talks on confession on CD and both Scott Hahn and Vinny Flynn said that not only were they happier after confession but their family members were happier. Confession made them better people to be around.
As strange as it may sound many priests go to confession as often as once a week even though for them it means traveling some distance on a regular basis. I’ve read that Pope John Paul II went to confession on a daily basis. Mother Teresa was another who practiced frequent confessions. If these people go so often we lay people definitely need to be going more often.
At Medjugorje it has been said that Mary strongly suggests confession once a month. At Fatima she proposed that we make the practice of Five First Saturdays. This practice involves going to mass and communion, saying the rosary and then meditating on the rosary for at least fifteen minutes and going to confession within eight days. If you have difficulty meditating you can read a book on the rosary for fifteen minutes. If you do these things for five first Saturdays in a row in reparation for your sins and those of the whole world you will be saved. Mary promised this at Fatima.
It doesn’t mean that you do this and go back to your old sins. My experience is that you receive graces that enable you to resist sins and keep going to confession. Personally, I get irritated with myself if I don’t get to confession at least every four weeks. It bothers me if something interferes with my plans to go to confession. More often I don’t wait. There’s a retired priest in my parish that makes himself available for confession after weekday masses every couple of weeks and I go to him then because you can get a lot of good advice when there is no one behind you on line.
It may surprise you to hear that confession is often a pleasant experience but in my experience it is. It is good to hear that God is pleased with you, to have a regular confessor notice that you’ve gotten better or to tell you stop beating yourself up. We’re all human, just keep working at it.
It is never too late for anyone to come home. God is waiting and Jesus promised the angels will celebrate in heaven. You can come home even in the hospital on your death bed but why wait? Why not get rid of the fear and guilt now? Why not be free of the junk now? Why take a chance on missing the greatest love you’ll ever know? Come home.
Lord, I want to come home. I don’t want to wait any longer. Show me where to go. Guide me and give me the courage I need. Give me the grace of true repentance. Help me. Amen