Father, it’s been 20 years.” “Father, it’s been 35 years.” “Father, it’s been a real long time since I’ve been here.” There aren’t words adequate to the task of describing how it feels to be a confessor when someone steps into the reconciliation chapel and awkwardly begins to explain that it has been a very long time since she or he experienced the sacrament of reconciliation. I feel deeply honored. I am slightly scared. I am moved by the other person’s courage – the courage it took to simply step through the door. I am humbled to be able to share God’s compassionate forgiveness with a child who has wandered away but who, for whatever mysterious reason, has chosen to return. I have a better sense of what it must have been like for the prodigal father.
I have to admit that some of the most intensely beautiful and God-filled moments in my priestly life have occurred in the context of this most misunderstood sacrament. Each time I prepare to celebrate reconciliation, I realize I am treading on holy ground – the ground of individual and community life, the ground of lives lived in the presence of God. Yet time and again, I have been given the special privilege of witnessing God’s unrelenting love soften the hearts and minds of so many who, in fear and trepidation, made that choice to walk through the door and enter into the reconciling presence of God.
If it’s been a while since you last experienced reconciliation, I encourage you to come back to the sacrament. During Lent this year, the priests in the parishes of our diocese will be working hard to provide more opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation. Perhaps the last time you didn’t have a positive experience, especially if the confessor seemed brusque or distracted. I’m sorry if that was the case. Don’t let the human foibles of one such as me keep you from experiencing God’s tender mercy. We priests can be painfully human at times.
Don’t worry if it’s been a while and you’re unsure about what to do or say when you come to receive reconciliation. Simply let the priest-confessor know that and then allow him to guide you through the sacrament. No one will think any less of a person for being open and honest. Please don’t let fear or misunderstanding keep you from reconciliation.
The sacrament of reconciliation is not easy I suppose, in part, because it’s often hard to ask forgiveness and sometimes even more difficult to believe we have been forgiven. The season of Lent offers us the opportunity to explore these deep mysteries of our faith as we seek God’s mercy, making our celebration of the Resurrection and new life at Easter all the more beautiful. And so our journey in FAITH continues.
Father Dwight Ezop is editor of FAITH Magazine and pastor of the Catholic Community of St. Jude. E-mail: editor@FAITHmag.com.