“I absolve you of your sins; go in peace!” These are among the most consoling words that the human ear can hear and that the heart can experience. Yes, these are the words expressed by the priest, who represents Jesus the Physician and Healer at the conclusion of the Sacrament of Mercy, that we commonly title the Sacrament of Confession.
To know in the depths of your heart that you have been forgiven of all of your sins and that your guilt evaporates into thin air can be one of the most ennobling and uplifting experiences that a human person can relish!
Therefore, in this Year of Mercy (December 8, 2015-Nov. 20, 2016) let us take advantage of the extraordinary treasure-house of grace that God has in store for us as well as the whole world. God’s arms are open to love, forgive and embrace, as we read in the Parable of the Prodigal Son or maybe we could say The Parable of the Merciful Father; however, we must freely accept and receive this cordial invitation. “Come to me all of you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give your rest (Mt. 11:28-30)… Jesus says!
This short essay has as its essential thrust for you to become an Apostle of God’s mercy, to be an Apostle of the Sacrament of Confession; this means in concrete, what are some of the tools or means that I can utilize to bring back the wandering sheep, the Prodigal sons and daughters, the confused, depressed and disoriented back to the loving arms of the Father through a good Sacramental Confession.
We will offer ten simple, concrete, and valuable suggestions to help these many wandering souls to experience the infinite mercy that the loving Savior has for each and every one of them.
1. Our Personal Example. The saying is so true: “You cannot give what you do not have.” For you to preach something to others, you first have to put it into practice yourself. That means that if you want to bring some wandering soul back to the Sacrament of God’s mercy, then you yourself should be in the habit of making good and frequent and well-prepared confessions yourself. Let your light shine on others!
2. The Parable of the Prodigal Son. In your own words, paraphrase and explain one of the greatest stories and teachings of the greatest Teacher, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In your explanation to this fearful, confused and possibly doubting soul focus on the love, compassion, mercy, goodness, kindness, patience of the person of the Father who really represents and symbolizes God the Father. Then invite this wandering soul to read and meditate the Parable of the Prodigal Son himself; this can be found in the Gospel of Luke 15:11-32.
3. An Examination of Conscience. Most likely the wandering sheep that has not frequented the sacrament of Confession for possible years, maybe even decades, does not have a well-formed conscience. Most likely his conscience is malformed or deformed, or suppressed or lax, or simply in a state of dormition. Therefore, a well-written and explained text on the Ten Commandments can be of priceless value. Take the initiative on your part to actually buy the Examination of Conscience booklet and give it to him as a free gift. Encourage him to read it and trust in the infinite mercy of Jesus in this Year of Mercy.
4. Written Form. Furthermore, it is of great utility is to encourage the wandering sheep to prepare himself/herself for a confession after many years by writing out the sins, especially the mortal sins the number and kinds—as the catechism specifies. This is exceedingly helpful because we all have memory loss especially when we might be a bit nervous. Afterwards, however, this paper should be destroyed and trashed!
5. Highlight the Extraordinary Graces that are Received. In encouraging the Prodigal Son/Daughter, focus primarily on the positive. Pope Francis highlights that the Confessional should not be a torture chamber. By the positive we mean: highlight the extraordinary graces and blessings that flow from a good Sacramental Confession. Among the graces are:
- a) Restoration to Friendship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- b) One experiences a peace that the world can never give, peace, of heart, mind, soul and body.
- c) Sin saddens us and the release from sin produces great joy in the soul.
- d) Our inner harmony. Sin causes a division in the person; Confession and reconciliation with God produces the abundant fruits of harmony.
- e) A more pure conscience. Living with a guilty or dirty conscience can indeed be hell on earth; a good confession gives us a pure conscience. What a great relief! For that reason Shakespeare asserts: “Conscience does make cowards of all of us.”
- f) Sanctifying grace. A good confession restores sanctifying grace to the soul which means that once again we have Jesus as our Best Friend!
- g) Living in sin we live in perpetual insecurity and a paralyzing fear. With a good Confession God becomes our rock, our fortress our bastion. “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”(Psalm 23)
- h) Reception of Holy Communion. One of the greatest graces that flow from a good confession is the return to the Sacramental life in which once again we can receive the greatest of all Gifts: Jesus, the Bread of Life in Holy Communion. (Jn. 6:22-71—The Bread of Life discourse)
6. Confession: Where, When, How? These bolts and nuts of making a good confession can be key to bringing the wandering sheep back to the fold. Tell him where the confession is, when it’s scheduled and, how the confession is to be done—the actual protocol or technique that is done in the confession.
7. Accompany Them to the Church for Confession. One more step would be to simply bring this prodigal son/daughter to the Church, and then to the Confessional where the priest is actually hearing confessions. Be with your friend! Then outline the protocol: Enter, sign of the cross; then the words: “Bless me father for I have sinned, my last confession was 10 years ago; these are my sins!” Most likely, after so many years this wandering but returning sheep of the flock does not know the Act of Contrition.
For your part, give him and Act of Contrition that he can have and take whenever he goes, maybe even a laminated card. All of these practical and personal helps can be of extraordinary value and utility in helping this lost sheep to experience the infinite mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Then while he is in the confessional prayer for him as well as the priest-confessor.
8. A General Confession and Ignatian Spirituality. Eventually, it is highly recommended that a General Confession of all the sins of one’s life be made. After his conversion, in the Sanctuary of Montserrat, Saint Ignatius of Loyola made a general confession of all of the sins of his life. From that moment on, God inundated Ignatius with a deluge of graces. Once we have totally purified the interior vessel of our soul then God can take us and use us to carry out extraordinary apostolic works for Him. Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure of heart, they will see God.”(Mt. 5:8)
9. Read the Lives of Saintly Confessors. A very salutary practice is that of reading the lives of the saints; they serve as powerful intercessors for us before the throne of God as well as brilliant stars in the firmament of heaven for us to emulate. Highly to be recommended are the following: Saint John Marie Vianney (known as the Cure of Ars), Saint John Bosco, the patron of the young who was a zealous confessor, Saint Padre Pio, who spent many Hours in the confessional reconciling souls to God, and Saint Alphonsus Liguori, patron of confessors and moral theologians and the founder of the Redemptorists. By promoting the reading of these saintly and zealous confessors, this ignites in our hearts, minds and souls a desire to approach the Sacrament of Confession with greater trust and confidence and with greater frequency!
10. Pray: Place on the Altar. In your initiative to be an ardent and zealous Apostle of the Confession, never underestimate the power of prayer, which indeed can move the highest mountains if we have the faith of the mustard seed. By far the greatest prayer under the heavens, that unites both heaven and earth and even Purgatory, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Place the individuals that you plan to bring back to the Sacrament of Confession on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; then receive and offer your Holy Communion that the Precious Blood of Jesus will touch his/her heart and move this lost sheep with the desire to return to God’s merciful and loving embrace through the Sacrament of Confession. Then, once this wandering sheep has returned to the fold by making the sacramental confession, then place him/her on the altar that he/she will persevere in pursuing the frequent practice of receiving God’s mercy through Confession.
May Our Lady, who we invoke with the title: “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy” attain for us the grace to be a true and ardent apostle of God’s mercy by pursuing and bringing back the lost sheep to the loving embrace of Jesus the Good Shepherd so that they may hear those beautiful, inspiring and consoling words:
“And I absolve you of your sins: in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. My child, your sins are forgiven, go in peace.”
image: Return of the Prodigal Son by Simon de Vos, circa 1641.