Jesus answered: ‘Will you lay down your life for me?’ - John 13:38

Support the Holy Father and pray with him!

"Young people in particular, I appeal to you: bear witness to your faith through the digital world!"

-Pope Benedict XVI

Pray for Pope Benedict's prayer intentions for this month. Find out more here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

"Contemplating Confession"

I came across this when I was browsing some news during my lunch break. It's interesting since it's written by a Catholic who was reluctant and even (as she admits) cynical about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


Campus Catholic

My (Forthcoming) Confession

Gary Stern of the Journal News reported that in the wake of Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States, some seminaries have reported an unanticipated increase of inquiries to join the priesthood. The Pope’s visit was a very good thing for American Catholicism, and an important moment of reflection for at least one American Catholic.

I am contemplating confession.

It’s been more than five years since I made one and in that half decade, I’ve racked up a host of sins. Not least of which includes my ongoing cynicism about the sacrament.

My idea of a good time does not generally include a jaunt into the dimly lit box of a confessional, sitting down with the strange man inside, and telling him all of my deepest, darkest, most discomforting secrets. My failings are between me and God, I have told myself for these years. I don’t need to bring anyone else into it. Add another failing to list, and bless me father, for I was wrong.

Pope Benedict’s homily at Washington Nationals Stadium was made up of the kind of stuff that make Catholics proud. He condemned a culture of violence, materialism and hostility to family life –an amalgamation of moral issues that transcend political partisanship and form the ‘seamless garment’ on life ethics. And just as I found myself nodding in agreement, the Pope made one more plea: that American Catholics return to the sacrament of Penance. For a moment, it seemed he was talking right to me.

Suddenly I thought ‘maybe he’s right,’ and something inside me cracked. While I’ve always believed that I have much to learn from the wisdom of the ages, I could not surrender on the point of confession. The Lord may be slow to anger, but I am rich in obstinacy.

I don’t believe in mere ‘feel good religion.’ My life is made up of highs and lows, sufferings and joys, and, I know, rights and wrongs. So perhaps just trying to ‘do good,’ without acknowledging where I’ve gone wrong, is the same lame religion I despise.

I want accountability to myself, my community, my world and my God. Going to confession will move me on that path towards greater accountability. It will also grant me forgiveness, of which I am in need.

But of course, confession isn’t the only way to gain communal accountability. Our pragmatic Protestant friends get faith sharing groups and Bible studies. They crusade, they testify, they minister and they meet. There is no such trend among young Catholics. Too often, this lack of community degrades into a paranoid ‘me against the world’ religiosity, or perhaps worse, total spiritual apathy.

In an essay on penance, Patricia Hampl examines the evolution of the sacrament and notes that the way it functions today is essentially different from its character in the early, insular Christian church:
“Confession –a precise recitation of sins large and small –didn’t figure into
the sacrament. There was nothing, really to confess because the ancient
community already knew the penitent’s sins: They were common knowledge to the
congregation, not a personal flaw held in the secrecy of the heart. That was the
whole point. This was public business, with an essentially public sacrament
fashioned to handle it.”
Unless they’re forced into it –my own former governor, Eliot Spitzer, comes into mind –few people would willingly, publicly air their dirty laundry. And, as Hampl elaborates, the secrecy of today’s confessional is antithetical to the way it was practiced in the early church. But at its heart, I think it recognized that sin is not just something one person does on his own; it is also deeply social. In an age of disconnects, would public penance bring us closer to holiness and each other?

Maybe it’s futile to speculate on a change that will never happen. And, another confession –my inner gossip is just plain curious about my neighbors. Add another indiscretion to the list.

Elizabeth Tenety is a graduate student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, where she studies Reporting and Writing

From the Washington Post


Maryana (Nana) said...

Hey honestly I do not get very STRONG conclusion from the write-up. Do get some points but wondering so finally why he wrote.

Haha public penance! Though we do not have it anymore, our confession now recognises that sins are deeply social. Heard from Fr. Joe that he can choose not to give absolution if the person does not show willingness to mend his life and repair the damage .. for example if you say father I stole smth, father will ask you if you've returned it and if you don't want to return then he won't forgive you.

Anyway ask you, Dom. if I go to nearby church (haha, you-know-where, the-one-that-must-not-be-named-here), sometimes the priest say "please say the act of contrition", are we to say it out loud? sofar he gives absolution immediately, before I say the act of contrition..

Dom said...

The-one-that-must-not-be-named?" Walao!
Ya I guess if he asks us to say the act of contrition, then we should say it loud right?
Sometimes while I'm saying it the priest says the absolution. I get a bit confused then.

Haha. Another problem is that I'm used the short act of contrition at Opus Dei so I confuse other priests when I say it elsewhere :p

About the article, I don't think you would get anything theological or any strong message. This is from the Washington Post which is a secular newspaper. What I like is how this girl, who has been cynical about Confession is deciding go after hearing Pope Benedict. Some of the comments in the original article are striking: " Elizabeth, Religion has really messed you up. It makes me sad to read your posts."

But others are edifying. :)

Anyway...thank God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.