Lent is a great time for Catholics to return to Confession, but it would be wrong to think that Easter is not. In fact, with a little reflection, we can find many reasons why Easter is a particularly graced time to go to Confession, even after a lackluster Lent. As a start, I propose seven reasons.
1. Confession is Christ’s Easter gift to the Church.
On the first Easter Sunday, the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples and gave them the power to forgive sins. Christ breathed on his disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22ff.). By this gesture, Christ instituted the Sacrament of Confession. Confession is His Easter gift.
2. The Risen Christ reconciled with two great saints: Peter and Paul.
The Risen Christ reconciled Peter to Himself, healing his threefold denial by a threefold confession of love (John 21:15-17). Later, the Risen Christ converted Paul (then called Saul) who was still plotting the murder of Christians (Acts 9). These examples of Peter and Paul show not only how freely Christ offers mercy after the Resurrection, but how this Easter mercy has the power to turn great sinners into great saints.
3. The preaching of both Peter and Paul united Christ’s Resurrection and man’s repentance.
After Pentecost, Peter’s first two sermons announce Christ’s Resurrection, but also our need for conversion: “Repent and be baptized!” (Acts 2:38) and “Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Paul, in recounting his preaching, highlights the same focus: he preached that all men “should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance” (Acts 26:20). Resurrection and repentance are connected in the wondrous phrase: “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). The Risen Christ offers us eternal life, and we enter into this through repentance. For the baptized, Confession is the privileged sacrament of repentance unto life.
4. Divine Mercy Sunday and Good Shepherd Sunday: mercy is increasing.
On the second and fourth Sundays of Easter, the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday and Good Shepherd Sunday, respectively. Both are reminders that the mercy of Good Friday flows with increasing might throughout Eastertide and beyond. The Divine Mercy beckons the sinner home. The Good Shepherd draws back the lost sheep. In the confessional, the Father embraces us like prodigal sons, clothing us in His grace and adorning us with unearned gifts.
5. The work of Lent continues into Easter.
The grace of Lent is often an increase of our self-knowledge. Maybe we realized that we commit a sin that we were unaware of before. Or maybe we see with greater clarity the depths of ours sins and the damage they cause. In such ways, Lent can show us where we need to grow, but such growth often demands much more than forty days. Whatever God began in us during Lent (even if we don’t sense it yet), the Divine Physician wants to continue in us throughout Eastertide. His graces of healing and strengthening await us in the confessional.
6. Penance is a virtue. Flex it.
How can you get more out of your Lenten confession? Follow it up with confession in Easter. St. Thomas Aquinas aligns the Sacrament of Penance with the virtue of penance. As a virtue, penance is like a muscle: the more we repent of our sins and frequent the Sacrament of Penance, the quicker and better we will be transformed by God’s mercy. If we wait too long for the next Confession, our virtue atrophies and we return to Confession with great difficulty. Easter is a good time to flex the muscle.
7. Easter is the turning point, but the war is not over.
The traditional icon of the Resurrection (i.e. the Anastasis icon) depicts Christ’s light breaking into a dark world. The icon shows the power of Christ’s light, but also the darkness lingering in the world. This ongoing battle between light and darkness will continue until Christ returns. For most of us, our call is mainly to conquer our vices and grow in virtue, all by the grace of God. In this battle between virtue and vice, Confession is indispensable: forgiving our sins and strengthening our union with Jesus Christ, our mighty God.
In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf makes a sort of Resurrection appearance to his comrades, returning after defeating an ancient evil in the earth’s depths. He tells them: “Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned” (LOTR III.5). These words capture an important truth. Easter is a time to be merry, for Christ meets with us again and He has truly turned the tide of history. Yet, the great storm is coming. Christ assures His elect of victory, but also assures them of a real fight: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). No Christian is exempt from Christ’s call to arms—not even the hobbit-souled. Let us fight like Gospel men. Christ our hope has arisen.
image: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons