Recently I reviewed the book The Light is On For You: The Life-Changing Power of Confession, the latest book by Cardinal Donald Wuerl. It was an eye-opening read on the sacrament of confession. By eye-opening I’m referring to the fact that the sacrament has fallen out of use, which is a shame. There are a number of reasons for this.
In an interview with Cardinal Wuerl I pointed out the fact that confessional lines at many parishes are minimal at best. He replied:
“When I was a young priest, in the 1960s and 1970s, there was much experimentation and confusion in the Church. Teachers and clergy were encouraged to communicate an experience of God’s love, but to do it without reference to the Creed, the sacraments, or the tradition.
It didn’t work very well. Catholics grew up with the impression that their heritage was little more than warm, vaguely positive feelings about God. One of the casualties of that period was the sense of sin. Sin is an unavoidably negative reality, and it’s a universal problem, so it can make everyone uncomfortable. The traditional notion of sin did not suit the tenor of the times, and so the topic was ignored. Confession fell into disuse.
Unfortunately, sin did not. But now many people found themselves without the access to God’s mercy, which the sacrament provides.
Those years of experimentation left so many Catholics weak, spiritually and intellectually, and unable to withstand the tsunami of secularism that came in the last decades of the century. We lost many people because we had failed to teach them about right and wrong, about the common good, about the nature of the family and the objective moral order.”
I converted in 1996 so I did not experience the period he refers to but I know people that have. At a recent parish council meeting I brought this up and many who did experience this agreed. So therein lies problem #1….catechesis. This is a two-fold problem – lack of and poor teaching. Both are issues that we must resolve today.
Cardinal Wuerl continues :
“Now, I believe, our task is clear. We need to rebuild our faith from the foundations — with the most basic teachings. I have considered that work essential to my vocation since I was a young priest. It’s at the root of our program to promote Confession in the Archdiocese of Washington. We instituted it several years ago and called it “The Light Is on for You.” It was very successful and has been adopted by many other dioceses nationwide.
I consider this book to be part of the same project — restoring something fundamental to Catholic life. The fact that Confession has been lost to so many is an injustice and a disservice. But it does us no good to wring our hands over it or give in to sadness. We need to “leave the light on” for penitents and welcome them home.”
When I first converted I went through the required RCIA program. It was phenomenal but overwhelming. Those tasked with this great service to the church have a huge assignment. Covering church history and the sacraments plus the basic dogma of the faith is a lot to cover.
The education of Catholics needs to go beyond religious education and RCIA programs. We must foster the joy of learning your faith in everyone. This is not something that stops at any age. It should be a progressive habit that continues throughout one’s life.
I was once an annual confessor who went during Lent out of a sense of obligation. Upon learning more about the beauty of this sacrament, I now go monthly to my spiritual advisor. The truth that I have learned and value is that Jesus Christ is there in the confessional waiting for you like a trusted friend. You cannot hide your sin from him, he saw all of our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The point is to humble ourselves before him and admit we have done wrong. As St. Alphonsus Liguori said, “If only they realized the desire He has not to chastise them but to see them converted, to embrace them and press them to His Heart.”
I encourage everyone to take up the task and help Cardinal Wuerl spread the beauty and poer of the sacrament of confession. Start in your homes and family, spread out to your parish and Diocese. Share yor experiences with others and let them know…..the light is on for you.
Copyright 2014, Pete Socks