Revisiting the Sacrament of Reconciliation By – Fr Joseph Stephen CSsR

In Singapore, we are very blessed to have Penitential Services organised in all parishes and Catholic schools. Rev Fr Joseph Stephen, CSsR, parish priest of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Ipoh, Malaysia laments on the dwindling numbers of children and youth who present themselves for confessions during Lent.

Lent is here again and among the Lenten practices like fasting, alms giving, works of mercy, Stations of the Cross and daily Mass, Catholics are encouraged to go for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The priests have come together to plan for penitential services in different parishes. This ministry will take up many nights. We run from one parish to another inviting people for the Sacrament. Some come, some don’t. It raises a question — why aren’t people coming for this Sacrament? Is there something wrong with the way it is taught or presented? Is there a Protestant influence whereby people say they can confess directly to God? Why go through a priest?

As I look back, I notice a certain trend among people. Firstly, we can hardly see youth coming for confession. This is my personal experience. There will just be a sprinkling of them. Do they have a special time in their parish for confession? I am not sure, although in our parish, we are trying to do that. Secondly, we can hardly see children who have received Holy Communion coming for confession. In many parishes, children who went for confession before holy communion, will only come again just before Confirmation.

The sad reality is that there are many people who do not go for confession. In many churches, it is difficult to find priests in the confession box before Mass because they are busy, with many Masses to cover or there is only one priest in the parish — tough going these days.

Is the Church doing enough to teach people about the need for reconciliation? Do we preach about it often enough? Do we give talks? Do we create special time for children and youth to come for confession? Maybe they are waiting for different priests to come to the parish so that they can go and celebrate this Sacrament of Reconciliation. And there is a problem. Sometimes there is a struggle with the question of venial sin and mortal sin (mortal is deadly sin). People feel they have committed venial sin (often understood as small sin). So, there is mortal sin, deadly, that breaks our relationship with God, community and self. Then we have venial sin (venia), which denotes an act of a less serious matter, which wounds our relationship with God.

I am not going to list down all the mortal sins. It is sufficient to know there is mortal sin and venial sin.

The Church teaches that all sins are wrong. Some action of ours have affected our relationship with God, with our community. There are sins that are not mortal (1 Jn 5:16-17) and there are sins that are mortal that lead to spiritual death. There are sins that do not lead us to spiritual death and there are sins that leads us to spiritual death. For these reasons, theologians, the spiritual masters, have divided them into mortal and venial sins.

There is a thinking among many of us that I have committed venial sin, a sin that does not break my communion with God or community so I do not need to go for confession.

The new rite of Sacrament of Penance promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 2, 1973 among other things says this – “frequent and careful celebration of this sacrament is also useful as a remedy for venial sins.”

We know from experience that small mistakes cool down friendship. How many times have we not spoken to a fellow priest because of a small misunderstanding or due to some hurting remark made? How many times have couples given the cold treatment to their spouse over some misunderstanding? In some religious communities, though we stay in the same house, we do not greet each other or talk to each other because of some difference in opinions or some small mistakes.

Theologians will also tell or teach us that any number of venial sins do not make one mortal sin. However venial sin can dispose us to mortal sin in the following ways:

— By weakening our disposition of the will to obey God. One who is not faithful in small things will not be faithful in big things.

— When we live in venial sin, we forfeit the deep relationship with God by making our will more inclined towards evil. l We need to pay attention that venial sin will hamper our growth to holiness.

— Finally, sins are great obstacles to virtue. Sin inflicts the following wounds ? ignorance which hampers use of reason, malice which makes the will less disposed to good, weakness which makes it more difficult to do good. Venial sin can make holiness and growth to holiness very difficult.

Lent is a great time for us to reflect and ponder about our relationship with God and neighbours. Through our time dedicated to prayer and silence, we have the time to think about our life’s journey, our wrong-doing, big and small, and we can prepare ourselves for this sacrament of mercy.

Parents can bring their children along for the sacrament of reconciliation although they may not have committed any mortal sin or deadly sin, they may have committed some wrong that will hamper their growth in virtues.

The Church celebrates the mercy of God. It is not about judging each other but welcoming the Sacrament – Go in peace and sin no more. Our guest columnist this week is Fr Joseph Stephen, CSsR, parish priest of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Ipoh.

Sources from Herald Malaysia Online.