Abp. Aymond: Confession is good for the soul

    On Sept. 11, most parishes around the archdiocese will be available for the sacrament of reconciliation. This is the third consecutive year you have done this on an archdiocese-wide basis. Why did you decide to that and what have the results been?
    We’ve gotten very good feedback both times we offered the archdiocesan-wide reconciliation, and I must admit, I messed up in some of the logistics this year because I was late getting back to the priests with a firm date. We always try to plan for archdiocesan-wide confessions on a weekday evening near the Feast of Exaltation of the Cross. The Presbyteral Council felt strongly that even on short notice, we should go ahead with the Sept. 11 date. If parishes can’t do it on that Wednesday, I’m asking them to choose another evening during the week of Sept. 8-13 so that parishioners can avail themselves of the sacrament. We’ve already scheduled the date for 2014 – mark your calendars for Sept. 17, 2014 – so that it won’t sneak up on me next year!
    Did the priests feel it was effective?
    They thought it was very important. It gives Catholics an opportunity to come together as a family and as a faith community to embrace the forgiving Christ in an intimate way in the sacrament. This year’s Sept. 11 date also is interesting because it coincides with the remembrance of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That’s a remembrance that calls us to a sense of reconciliation, peace and justice. I am encouraging families to go to church together that evening, pray together and then celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation individually.
    One of the hallmarks of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been his emphasis on the mercy and forgiveness of God.
    He has made that point over and over in his general audiences, his daily homilies and in his talks at World Youth Day in Brazil. I think it’s so important for him to let people know that nothing – no sin – can separate us from the love of God. Just recently the Holy Father talked about entering heaven through the “narrow gate.” It’s not that God made salvation so difficult, but it’s because so often people find it difficult to recognize how or when they have sinned and are in need of God’s mercy. Pope Francis made it clear that Jesus is the gateway to salvation, and that gate is never closed. I loved what he said: “(This gate) is always open and open to everyone, without distinction, without exclusions, without privileges.”
    In fact, we know from the powerful parable of the Prodigal Son just how much Jesus loves all of us. The father is always waiting at the top of the hill, looking for us on the horizon to return. Pope Francis says Jesus “prefers the sinner, always, in order to pardon him, to love him.”
    Is Pope Francis’ message that no one is beyond the love of God one of the reasons he has endeared himself to so many around the world?
    There is no question about that. He has spoken repeatedly about “tenerezza,” which is Italian for tenderness. That tenderness extends especially to children, seniors and the poor – anyone who is in need. He wants us not to be afraid of showing goodness or tenderness, which is a lot like St. Joseph, who showed a strength through his concern and compassion for Mary and Jesus and others.
    This was one of my favorite quotes from Pope Francis during World Youth Day: “We need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of entering the world of wounded persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love. … The truth isn’t a wet rag that you throw in someone’s face, but a warm cape that you wrap around a person, to protect and strengthen them.”
    Is the world in need of mercy?
    This is the time for mercy, and, as Pope Francis says, “The church is mother and must follow the path of mercy and find mercy for everyone.” The pope has said the best place for Catholics to experience God’s mercy is in the sacrament of confession. But the key point is, our human decision to repent is not the thing that triggers God’s mercy, because God is already waiting for his prodigal sons and daughters – his children – to return. He desires to forgive even before we ask him.
    Pope Francis also said in Brazil: “When the Prodigal Son returned home, the father didn’t say, ‘Sit down. Tell me what you did with the money.’ No, he threw a party. Maybe later, when the son was ready to talk, he spoke. The church must be like that.” He uses such rich imagery when he speaks to people. He told Vatican employees at one of his daily Masses that going to confession is not like going to “the dry cleaners” but is an encounter with “Jesus who waits for us as we are.” Confessing our sins allows us to feel sorrow for the wrong we have done, but then God’s love envelops us and we know we are forgiven. That gives us the strength and the grace to avoid sin in the future.
    I hope many people will have that experience on Sept. 11 as they go to confession. Also, what a privilege it is for the priest to act in the name of the merciful Christ and to reconcile people to the church. When I “hear confessions,” I continue to be humbled. As a sinner, God calls me to forgive others in his name and in the name of his church. Quite humbling!
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond can be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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