I have seen youth excited to go to confession. I have had a few youth come and ask me to skip social time to go to confession during youth ministry activities. But I have never, ever, seen 80 middle schoolers run to get in line to go to confess their sins to Christ. And I’ve been involved in Youth Ministry for quite a while.
On Tuesday this week one of our newest blog contributors, seminarian Paul Michael Piega talked about his personal experience with the Diocesan Middle School Retreat called Servus Dei. He discussed the service and one of his favorite memories, the reaction and action of the middle school youth after he talked to them about Prayer and Reconciliation. This moment was also one of my favorites of the retreat too, as I witnessed the desire of 80 middle schoolers to reconcile their relationships with God and refresh their souls through the powerful but often overlooked and under-utilized Sacrament of Reconciliation (also called Confession). And it got me thinking, why did these middle schoolers run to Reconciliation? What did they know and understand in that moment which keeps many of us from running to reconcile with God?
Reconciliation is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith. The Sacraments are the outward signs instituted by Christ to impart grace on our souls. The is accomplished in a various ways dependent upon the sacrament, but within the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the outward signs are the penitent (us, truly sorry for our sin), presenting ourselves to the priest and confessing (or admitting) our sins, and the action of the priest announcing absolution (or forgiveness) from sin and providing a penance (usually a way to show our forgiveness, a way to strive to avoid sin or a way to make amends for a sin committed against a person). The result is a reconciled relationship with God, others and ourselves as well as the removal of the sin from our souls.
Now, I admit, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is definitely not an easy sacrament to celebrate or and receive. But Reconciliation is a sacrament that we must seek out, because it is a sacrament that requires us to examine ourselves in a critical light and look inward, examining our faults and failings in relationship to God, others and ourselves. And it is this inward reflection that helps us to make, or celebrate, a good confession by being truly sorry for our sins. But this examination and inward reflection can be difficult, particularly in a society that does not always encourage us to accept responsibility for our own failings, but instead encourages us to push these off of ourselves and blame them on someone or something else.
Preparing to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation is also difficult in today’s society because of the growing distance we have placed between ourselves and God in our daily lives. This is reflected in the growing belief among many youth and young adults in Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD for short). MTD is a set of moral statues not exclusive to any religion and that has five central beliefs, including the idea that God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. Within the belief of MTD, God is not seen as being involved personally and intimately in our lives. A personal encounter with God would seem to be unnecessary and if it happened, would be un-nerving. Yet within the Sacrament of Reconciliation the priest is in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), meaning Jesus Christ Himself is listening to your confession through his minister, the priest. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as all the other six sacraments of the Catholic Church are completely contrary to MTD, as within all seven of the sacraments we encounter Christ intimately and on a personal level.
I remember the first time I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was seven years old and was nervous. I don’t remember what I confessed, but I remember tears streaming down my face as I cried during and after my First Reconciliation. Why? I had encountered Christ in person. But I didn’t understand what had happened or why I was crying. I didn’t realize my tears were from my personal, intimate encounter with Christ.
Fast-forward to now. I still cry during and after Reconciliation, I’m embarrassed to admit. But up until a few years ago, I didn’t really understand that in celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation my tears were a reaction from my soul. My soul was joyfully crying in its reconciled relationship with Christ.
I still struggle convincing myself to go to Reconciliation. It’s never easy to admit to myself that I’m doing something wrong and sinful, and it’s even harder to admit my sins to God. And yet I know the love God has for me and the desire God has for me to be as intimate with Him as possible in a moment-to-moment basis, and that the Sacrament of Reconciliation allows for a closer union of my soul with God.
I admire those 80 middle schoolers. I pray they continue to run to Reconciliation their entire lives, seeking that moment to reconcile their souls with Christ. And I pray that myself and everyone reading this may have the same desire for Reconciliation all of our lives as the 80 middle schoolers did in that moment.
Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin. All hope consists in confession. In confession there is a chance for mercy. Believe it firmly. Do not doubt, do not hesitate, never despair of the mercy of God. Hope and have confidence in confession. –St.Isidore of Seville