Why Go To Confession?

There’s a moment of high drama played out at the end of every criminal trial in America. After all the evidence has been presented and all the arguing has been done, the jury presents their findings to the court. The defendant stands to hear the verdict read. The courtroom is silent. And the verdict is pronounced. Will it be guilty or not guilty? How many of our favorite books and movies have hinged on that breathless moment of judgement? From Perry Mason to Atticus Finch to the real-life drama of the O.J. Simpson trial, those dramatic revelations are part of our cultural experience. Of course, if you happen to be the defendant on trial, all this high drama wouldn’t be nearly so entertaining. Imagine being in a situation where your life is on the line for something you’re accused of doing. Where you’ll spend the rest of your days depends on the verdict that’s about to be read. And there’s nothing you can do to change it. It’s out of your hands.  

I wonder if many people envision a similar scene when God judges us. A celestial courtroom with God as THE JUDGE. He looks at us and we can’t return His gaze. All the sins of our lives are the evidence against us. We tremble and quake. Despite our faith, we stand in fear of His righteous judgement. We know that God’s love for us sent Jesus to live as one of us and to die on the Cross to save us from our sins. We know that we are His prodigal children, loved and forgiven. And yet, we sometimes are afraid to approach Him for the mercy and love that He longs to give us. We imagine a courtroom scene even though we’ve been shown the embrace of our merciful Savior on the Cross.  

When we sin, we can fall into a few misunderstandings about God’s mercy. We can believe, falsely, that God isn’t offended by our sin and so we don’t need the Sacrament of Confession. Or we can believe, also falsely, that our sin is so dark and horrible that God would never forgive us, so why go to Confession at all? In the first case, we’re rejecting what Christ teaches us about Confession. (John 20: 21-23; James 5: 14-17; Matthew 16:19). And when we believe our sins to be greater than God’s mercy, we put ourselves above Him, judging Him instead to be less than all-merciful. He reminds us often in Scripture that His love and mercy will always be available to us (Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 103:2-3; I John 1:9; Acts 3:19). When we recognize our sin (which is a grace given by God) and we repent and go to Confession, His mercy is abundant, every single time.

Jesus created Confession because He knew that we need to speak our sins aloud to another human being It’s part of the healing aspect of the Sacrament. And yet, it is Christ Himself Whom we meet in the confessional and it is His Mercy which forgives our sins. Unlike in a human “courtroom,” the confessional is never a place of condemnation or shame. It is the fount of life itself. We are always found “forgiven” and, through God’s grace, our sins are forgotten. Many may believe that Confession isn’t necessary if we ask God’s forgiveness “in our hearts.” But this isn’t what the Bible teaches us about forgiveness. As a former Baptist, I can assure you that Confession is a treasure of God’s grace. If you’ve been away from Confession, this season of Lent is a wonderful time to come back. Pray that God will make you aware of your sins and then go to Confession. The priest won’t judge you, nor will he be shocked by any of your sins—he’s heard everything. You’ll experience God’s love and forgiveness in his words of absolution. I can tell you that Confession is one of the greatest gifts of Christ to His Church—don’t go another day without it.  

“Forgiveness is not something we can give ourselves. One asks forgiveness, one asks it of another person, and in Confession, we ask forgiveness from Jesus.”

                 —Pope Francis  

A Witness to Truth

I see her standing there almost every week. She’s alone except for her little brown dog, on the same corner each time, across the street from the hospital. When I turn next to where she stands, she looks at me. Not with a glance, but with a solid, almost searching look, like she really sees me and not just another driver in what must be hundreds of cars that pass her by. At first, that eye contact was a little creepy. I thought, surely she can’t look so hard at every driver—so why me? But now, after many months of seeing here there, alone and persistent, I seek out her eyes as I drive past. We look at one another. I slow down, I smile. She smiles. And then I’m past her, until the next week.

This woman on that corner of that busy sidewalk, across from the hospital, has a ministry. Her part of the Lord’s vineyard is in the full hot sun of summer and the cold, biting winds of winter. He’s called her to be a silent witness to the horrors of abortion, and she’s faithfully answered that call. She holds a simple, homemade sign that reads, “Abortion is Murder: Repent.” And each day that she stands there, she reminds people of the reality of what abortion really is. Not a choice, but a murder of an innocent life. I don’t know her name, but I know what she’s done for me.

She’s convicted me. I can say that I’m “pro-life” but seeing her standing there, week after week, month after month, in all kinds of weather, makes me know—deep in my heart—that I need to do more. When I first saw here there on the corner, that’s what was creepy. It was as if when she looked at me, she could see that I wasn’t doing enough. Her ministry, her witness, is bearing fruit in my heart. And that’s a good thing.

So what does “doing more” really mean? I can refuse to be silent when those around me discuss abortion “rights.” I can be a greater voice in defense of unborn children. Speaking up can be uncomfortable if this means being at odds with your family and friends. But I have to do this. Doing more means actively opposing euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, too. I can’t be pro-life and at the same time, support actions that cause innocent deaths. Doing more means supporting elected officials who protect and defend human life. I know many Catholics for whom this is not a deciding factor when they go to the polls to vote. For this Catholic, it certainly IS a deciding factor.

Doing more means using social media to support and defend the dignity of human life. What I post on Facebook and tweet on Twitter reflects what’s important to me and mirrors my faith and my belief about the gift of life. What I write here does the same thing. What could be more important than standing up for the defenseless? Maybe I’ll get unfriended by some on Facebook or unfollowed by folks on Twitter—it’s a very small price to pay.

Doing more means praying more and giving more financial support to those agencies and ministries who provide prenatal and delivery care to moms who need it. I can reach out to women and men who have suffered abortion and make them welcome in my parish. I can participate in pro-life work in my diocese including the “Forty Days for Life” events and rosary prayer chains. Doing more, in the end, means being less concerned about what others think and being more committed to the truth of my Church and my Savior. I can be a greater voice for the unborn child and for those whose voices are weak and hard to hear due to age or frailty, imprisonment or fear. The lady on the corner with her homemade sign is doing her part in building the Kingdom of God. Is God calling me to stand with her? I don’t know yet. Maybe. Maybe not. But she’s done her part by planting that seed. I trust in the Holy Spirit to help it grow in me and I pray for the courage to do HIs will.

“Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.”
—–Ronald Reagan

Young Hearts

A young man that I know is considering becoming a Catholic priest.  He’s a junior at a fine college, studying electrical engineering.  He’s been offered graduate scholarships to some of this country’s most prestigious universities.  He’s handsome, athletic, and has a great sense of humor.  In short, he’s one of those guys you could easily imagine happily married with kids, making a six-figure salary and living in a gated community on a golf course.  But he believes that God has called him to another kind of life, a radically different life.  He believes that Jesus Christ has called him to the priesthood.  While his friends are dating and planning for life and work after college, this young man spends his weekends visiting seminaries and volunteering at a local soup kitchen. 


Two thousand years ago, a group of men also heard the call of God to His greater purpose.  Simple men, flawed and imperfect men, whose “yes” to God changed the world.  They left their lives, their jobs and their families and, owning almost nothing, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving and hostile world.  For living out their call, they were imprisoned and tortured.  All but one of them was killed for their belief in Christ.  Their lives were laid down for the Savior they loved and Who had loved and died for them.  Looking at this young man I know, I can see some of that same commitment and faith which empowered the Apostles to become more than the fishermen or tax collectors they had been before their calling.  Does that make this young man unusual in today’s world?  I don’t think so. 


Young people want to change the world.  They want to give themselves over to a great cause that will give meaning and purpose to their lives.  So why are so few young people being called to religious life today?  Why do we have a shortage of priests in America?  In my own opinion, it’s because we Catholics aren’t teaching our children the Gospel of Christ.  To begin with, we don’t know our own faith well enough to discuss it with our children.  We can’t expect a couple of hours of religious education classes each week to ground our kids in the faith the Apostles died for.  We have to know and to live out our faith each day as examples to them.  When they come to us with questions about Jesus or His Church, we need to give them the right answers, or at least know where to find the right answers.  Talking about Christ and our faith should be a natural part of family life, as natural as talking about school or sports.  And yet how many of us have talked with our kids about Christ during the last week?


While family life is the garden that grows vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the larger Church also has to live up to her responsibility as the depository of our faith.  Sunday homilies need to challenge us more.  We need to leave Mass inspired by the truth of Christ and convicted of the changes we need to make in our lives in order to live out the truth of His Gospel.  We need more Jesus and less Oprah, more courage to live as Christ and less fear that what we say or do as Christians might offend someone.  Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to hear, but truth is what saves us and transfigures us into the God we adore.  The Church needs to focus less on appearing “relevant” to a modern congregation and courageously proclaim Christ crucified.  If we preach the Gospel, we’ll have vocations to the priesthood.  If we live out that Gospel, we won’t be able to build enough seminaries to hold all the men called to serve Christ and His Church.  We need fearless leadership within the Catholic Church in this country, to stand up for the Gospel, to challenge the Church to preach Jesus Christ to the modern world.  As Catholics, we should pray that God will send us this leadership, these shepherds who can guide us out of the doldrums of the past generation.  Throughout the history of our Church, God has raised up Saints among us whenever His Bride is in need of reformation.  May our prayer for the Church our children will inherit be:  “Lord, send us your Saints!”


“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”    —Proverbs 29:18

A Summer Afternoon

When the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, there’s something inside many of us that begs us to relax, to put our feet up…and do absolutely nothing. Maybe it’s the heat or maybe it’s just that every moment of our busy days makes us long for some relief from it, for just a few minutes of down time. Whatever the cause of it, we need to pay attention to that call of our built-in laziness.

What??? Lazy is never a good thing, right? Well, maybe and maybe not. I’m not suggesting that we shirk all our responsibilities forever but just that we “unschedule” ourselves on a regular basis. We need to create some time where no one is expecting us to be anywhere or do anything for a bit. The only expectation is that we’ll open our hearts and minds to whatever the Lord may want to lead us. We’re going to waste some time with Jesus.

This is something that we can see the followers of Jesus doing with Him as they enjoyed listening and asking questions. We can imagine how HIs words would have stirred them, making them question their decisions and evaluate how they were living their lives. Some were drawn closer to Jesus and committed their lives to Him. Their faith was always rewarded. Their time with Christ became the treasure in their lives. This is what He offers each one of us. But we’ll never know that closeness if we don’t spend time with Him, listening.  

First, get your Bible and read one chapter in one of the Gospels. Any chapter of any Gospel. Pick your favorite or find one that has always challenged your understanding. Read it. Now read it again, more slowly. Focus on Jesus’ words. Now imagine yourself being there, in the moment with Jesus. Imagine Him talking directly to you, looking you in the eyes. How does His gaze make you feel? What people in your own life come into your thoughts as He’s looking at you? How are His words inviting you to live?

Make a list of all the people that you are praying for. Now add to that list all the people who have hurt you, betrayed you, lied about you, abandoned you, or have been a stumbling block for you. These people will become the treasures of your prayer life. Offering prayers on behalf of those who have hurt you is a sure source of grace. Nothing pleases our Lord more than seeing His children live out His teachings of love and forgiveness. By our prayers, we reveal our wounded hearts to Him and He never fails to heal us, forgive us, and draw us back to Him.  

Once you’ve prayed for all the folks on your list, you’re ready to spend time with God “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:18). This is how our first parents came to know God in the Garden. They opened their hearts and listened. They enjoyed each other’s company. How wonderful that time with God was and how beautiful that He offers that same sort of time to each one of us. He not only offers that experience to us, He craves it. God wants to spend time with each of us. He longs for us to invite Him in to every moment of our lives. So set aside a lazy afternoon to “waste” some time with the Lord. You’ll never regret giving those hours to Him. You’ll be revived and refreshed and hopefully you’ll want to schedule more “unscheduled” hours for prayer and reflection. 

“Faith is that profound conviction that God is with us and for us.” 


Don’t Be Fooled

It feels good at first. When you’ve been feeling bad about yourself or a bit depressed about how your life is going, it feels good to hear someone tell you that there’s a different way to live. When your hear that you’re a good person, an amazing person and that you can have anything in the world that your heart desires—well, that’s heady stuff. It’s like coming in from a freezing cold blizzard and being wrapped up in a great big warm, fuzzy blanket. It feels SO good.

And that’s a problem. It’s all about making you feel better, and nothing about making you a saint. This brand of Christianity is popular in America these days. You can find it on your tv any time day or night. It goes by different names, but it’s generally called some version of the “prosperity gospel.” It bears little resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ laid out in Holy Scripture. Most Christians profess that Jesus came to save us from our sins through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We believe that His love and mercy was poured out for us on the Cross and we look to that same Cross as the source of our hope, And we know that Jesus tells us “…whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).  

One of the tenets of this prosperity movement (and how it got its name) is that your faith will bring you worldly wealth and happiness. You are told to speak to God about your wants and to claim them as your own.This “naming and claiming” is a very modern twist on God’s benevolence. Throughout the history of Christianity, believers who did as Jesus tells us and took up their crosses, found sanctity through His example. Jesus was poor, homeless, humble, despised, tortured and brutally killed. All but one (St. John) of His Apostles were tortured and killed for their faith in Christ. Over the centuries thousands of Christians have been put to death for believing in Jesus Christ. It is happening this very day.  

The lives of these martyrs make no sense if you look through the lens of earthly prosperity preachers. Try to imagine applying “name it and claim it” as you face torture and death. You can’t do it because it isn’t part of God’s plan. If we pick up that cross and follow Him, we must expect to walk the path He walked. We must expect to suffer and to embrace suffering as a key to our sanctification . St. Paul tells us that suffering goes hand in hand with following Christ. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him, but also suffer for His sake”(Phil 1:29). Are we to believe that St. Paul got it all wrong? And not only Paul, but the other Gospel writers and Apostles as well.

This is why you’ll rarely hear the prosperity preachers talk about the Cross, the Crucifixion, suffering, sin, pain, repentance, or sacrifice. None of this fits with their vision of God, whom they have reduced to a kindly uncle with an unlimited bank account. This is a small god and not the God of Calvary, Who requires nothing less of us than everything. But in that Cross IS everything—eternal life in Christ. The Gospel isn’t about making you feel good about yourself. The Gospel is a call to lay our lives at the foot of the Cross and to enter into the life of Christ. The Gospel is meant to transform our lives in this world so that we may share God’s eternal life in the next world. That transformation, if we believe the Gospel, is going to be painful. Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is worth walking that broken road with Him. It’s what the Apostles and the Saints have done. And their reward? So much more than a big house and earthly wealth. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Don’t allow them to try and make God over in their own image, into some kind of personal shopper. Turn off the tv and read the Gospels. Discover the love of the great I AM and His plan for your life. Do not be afraid! 

“They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross.”

      ——Flannery O’Connor