Perhaps one of the most beautiful Sacraments of the Church is that of Reconciliation, or Confession. In it, the mercy of God is bestowed on the soul and divine grace builds upon nature.
Previously, it was expected that all Catholics would go to Confession at least once a month – and many still do, although for many others, it is perhaps less frequently than this. Certainly, the admonitions of the Saints throughout the centuries have been to recommend to souls, over and over, the benefits of frequent Confession.
One of the traps of our fallen human nature is the tendency to lose something of the sense of sin; if we do not realise that we have sinned, we have no need of forgiveness; or ‘surely God will just forgive me’. And of course He will – but He provides a very good Sacramental means to do so, which relies upon us confessing our sins, with true sorrow and with a firm purpose of amendment. And in that case – yes, God most assuredly does forgive sin.
Conversely, frequent Confession reminds us that we are sinners and in need of God’s mercy, so freely and generously given time after time after time. Only in acknowledging our sinfulness can we really perceive our need of mercy and then ask for it. In a sense, Confession can act like a moral compass, always keeping us pointing in the right direction and helping us when – like boats at sea, tossed by the waves of human nature – we veer off-course.
In the period heralding the commencement of the Jubilee of Mercy, much has been said about this Sacrament and it has been frequent subject in the words of Pope Francis. He has reminded us that Confession is “a Sacrament of mercy” and advising us to “be courageous and go to Confession” (19 February 2014). He has also reminded us of why we make a Sacramental confession – because we ask forgiveness of a Person, and that Person is Christ. When we sin, we offend Him and we also offend our community – and so while Confession is a personal Sacrament, it has a communal element. Finally, the Pope reminds us that the forgiveness we receive is a gift from the Lord –
“Forgiveness is not a result of our efforts, but is a gift. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit who showers us with mercy and grace that pours forth unceasingly from the open Heart of Christ crucified and risen.”
As the Jubilee of Mercy progresses, great attention will be paid to this Sacrament, particularly through the commissioning of the Missionaries of Mercy which will take place in a few days’ time. We can also expect to hear about the Sacrament in our own parishes. And there, in our local Churches, is the very place where we receive this wondrous Sacrament, not only in this Jubilee year, but always.
In a special way in this Jubilee of Mercy, may all of us approach this Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently, and with great courage and humility; and also with the perfect confidence in the limitless mercy which pours forth from the compassionate Heart of Jesus, through His ministers, the Priests. May we also remember to pray for our Confessors, through whom this grace comes to us.