FOR some people, the Sacrament of Penance can evoke feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety.
Sometimes it can feel like we have been called into the school principal’s office. If practised properly, however, the Sacrament of Penance can free a person from burdens by drawing them closer to God.
One young man who has experienced that freedom is 21-year-old Alex Pezzimenti. Mr Pezzimenti, who worships at St Stephen’s Cathedral, said he could not think of a better way to be “saved”.
“There’s nothing more joyful than having your name re-written in the book of life and not in dust and iniquity,” he said. “It is the Lord, through His word and spirit, who seeks out in mind and heart our pride and our sin, and so leads us to confess our rebellion and be cleared of guilt.
“It puts you in the redemptive state of grace and does not deprive you again of the Holy Spirit.
“Instead it helps me to overcome all iniquity through the power of Christ.”
So, how often should one go to confession?
“As often as I sin,” Mr Pezzimenti said. “To get rid of the little venial stains and habits, as well as any big falls. Now I go every few weeks because of the grace it’s brought me.”
In the early stages, Mr Pezzimenti would declare a page of “generalised sins” to his confessor.
“God wanted Adam and Eve to acknowledge their sins but they hid,” he said.
Mr Pezzimenti recalled a time when he felt the physical presence of God after he received absolution.
“I recall physically feeling the ‘warmth of the Spirit’ in my body at the very time a priest absolved me,” he said. “I went into the confession feeling down and sorrowful and strolled out like the paralysed man whom Jesus commanded, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat and walk! (John 5:8)’.
“Absolution means so much in comparison to being an outright sinner like I was.
“Our soul is brand new and our past submerged and withered in its darkness by the very blood and Holy Spirit of God in Christ Jesus who is the light.
“We have all sinned, even against each other or unbelievers or a spouse or parent, but mostly to God.
“I feel saved. I cease feeling disgusted before Holy God, and like a failure, and like I can’t go on.”
Judicial vicar Fr Adrian Sharp said, “It is difficult to confess one’s sins, but that’s part of the penitential aspect of it”.
“Only God can forgive sins, and heal the wounds of sins,” he said.
“People who have long delayed confession and tried to do all sorts of human things to feel forgiven will be the first to say that it was only when they finally confessed and received sacramental absolution that they knew they were forgiven.”
Fr Sharp said several misconceptions about Penance still lingered in the pews.
“I think the most obvious misconception is that ‘I can confess directly to God; I don’t need to confess to a priest’,” he said. “I think this is largely just an avoidance mechanism.
“Whilst God can choose to forgive sins however He wishes, Christ has instituted the Sacrament of Penance for our benefit.
“People rob themselves of the sacramental graces that come from the Sacrament of Penance if they choose not to celebrate it, and they also miss out on the consolation of truly knowing that one’s sins are wiped away in God’s mercy.”
For those of us who seek to find rationale for Reconciliation in the scriptures, Fr Sharp suggested we turn to John 20:23.
“‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’,” he said.
“If the apostles were to forgive some sins and not others, this implies that the sins need to be confessed in order for them to do that.
“If they didn’t know what the sins were, they couldn’t forgive some and not forgive others.”