By Nathan Costin
AT his Wednesday audience just before Lent, Pope Francis told those gathered, “Everyone say to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day.”
Lent is a special time to prepare for the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
This usually means prayer, penance, and fasting as we strive to unite ourselves with Christ in his passion and death so that we can more fully live and experience his resurrection at Easter.
The best way to share more fully in the life of Jesus is to encounter him in the sacraments.
The sacraments are powerful instruments of grace that are necessary for our Christian life.
They are the very real meeting place of man and God.
I vividly remember the first time I encountered the power of the sacraments because it was the first time I experienced Jesus Christ in a personal way.
I was at World Youth Day in Sydney and a friend of mine had just gone to confession, “Why did you do that?” I asked. Instead of answering, he just encouraged me to go so I did.
I had made my first holy communion when I was eight and mum and dad had dragged me to Mass every Sunday, but I don’t think I had been to confession in nearly 10 years.
I told the priest that I didn’t really know what to do or say. He asked me some questions and we went on a little journey through my life.
I told him everything.
I wasn’t planning to, but I did. All my sins, all my shortcomings and failings, the stuff I was embarrassed about and the things I was really ashamed of.
I confessed things that I had never told anyone before, things that I had been doing and holding onto for a long time.
Some of the stuff was really hard to say.
It doesn’t come naturally for us to own up to our mistakes.
To my surprise the priest didn’t guilt me or shame me.
He was understanding, gentle, and gave me some incredible insights.
I left the confessional feeling somewhat lighter and said a heartfelt prayer for the first time in my life.
I encountered the Holy Spirit in that prayer.
It felt like He had been waiting a long time for me to finally let Him in.
The love of Christ was enormous.
I didn’t think such an encounter was possible.
But right there, through the Sacrament of Penance, I became a witness to the living God.
Jesus Christ is risen and his redemptive power is available to all of us.
Confession isn’t just a re-enactment of something from Jesus’ public ministry.
It is the real encounter of God’s mercy, the real forgiveness of sins.
Jesus has reconciled the world to His Father.
Part of His redemptive mission is the ongoing ministry of forgiveness, which he entrusted to the Apostles:
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)
God is love, and his mercy endures forever.
God’s love, mercy, and grace is the free gift of this sacrament. Don’t be afraid of the loving embrace of Christ; don’t be afraid to encounter the God who knows our hearts (Lk 16:15).
He doesn’t just want to forgive us, he wants to heal, redeem, and restore us as well. He wants to give us a “new heart” (Ez 36:26).
To get the most out of confession, it’s important to do a good examination of conscience, holding ourselves to the standard of Christ.
In his Lenten Pastoral Message, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge took us through an examination of conscience, reminding us that Lent is a time to “sift our heart in order to see more clearly what it is that holds us back from encountering Jesus and each other, what it is that blocks our way to joy.”
Joy has definitely been my experience of this sacrament – joy and healing.
I would strongly encourage you to read or watch this message on the Archdiocese of Brisbane website.
There are wonderful opportunities to go to confession in the Archdiocese:
l April 7 at St Stephen’s Cathedral there will be eight priests available for confessions.
l April 14 from from 7pm-9pm at Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley six priests will be available for confessions. Mass will begin at 7pm followed by confession and adoration.
l April 14 from 6.30pm at St Ita’s Church, Dutton Park several priests will be available for confessions.
l At your local parish at organised times.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since your last confession, you are welcome to come along.
The doors are wide open for you and we’d love to have you and your family there.
Confessing our sins is something people don’t often like to talk about, but it is a fundamental and necessary step in the Christian life.
The path to sanctification can only be done in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
His mercy waits for us; His healing grace waits for us.
Say yes to this sacrament and be reconciled with Jesus. Don’t be afraid, as Pope Francis said, “Be courageous, and go to confession”.
Nathan Costin is a Brisbane Australian Catholic University theology student.