Been to confession lately?
If you answered no, you’re like the vast majority of American Catholics. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, a full 75 percent of Catholics in the United States say they go to confession less than once a year or never. Just 2 percent say they avail themselves of the sacrament once a month or more frequently.
So is practice of the sacrament as doomed as it appears? Not yet, at least if you judge by what seems a new recent surge of advocacy for the Sacrament of Reconciliation — from Church leaders to young adult tech geeks.
That last reference is to the emergence in recent weeks of at least two “apps” — applications to be used on smartphones or tablet computers — designed to help Catholics prepare for and get more out of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “Confession: A Roman Catholic App,” is for iPhones, iPads and iPods, and is the first to receive a bishop’s imprimatur (meaning it is free from doctrinal or moral error). More recently came the PenanceProject app for the Android platform, accompanied by a website and blog and “Penance Kit” aimed at “promot[ing] the grace and healing provided by God through the Sacrament of Penance to all.”
Just gimmicks, despite intense, but fleeting, media interest? Not necessarily. “Confession” was a top download from the Apple’s app store.
As Mark Shea reports this week, a hunger for mercy and forgiveness seems built into the human condition. In confession, Catholics have a leg up: the sacrament, Shea says, “is an offer too good to refuse.”
One of the nation’s most prominent churchmen, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, recently revealed that he’s made it a practice to slip out in street clothes on Saturday mornings to walk to one of the city’s many Catholic churches to make his confession, his identity unknown to the priest behind the grille.
“In I go, contrite I am, forgiven I leave, gratefully I pray, renewed I walk back home,” he said.
The archbishop urged Catholics to “get back to confession,” especially during this season of Lent, which specially focuses on conversion of heart and repentance for sin.
It is good for the soul, he said.
“People often approach me, as they do any other priest or spiritual guide, and lament, ‘My relationship with the Lord is limp and listless. I’m in a valley. I want some love, warmth, and grace,’” the archbishop said. “‘How long since your last confession?’ I’ll ask, only to see the cheeks turn red.”
Pope Benedict XVI, on the first Sunday of Lent this year, framed in almost cosmic terms the question of seeking mercy and repenting of sin.
He said the “worst and most profound slavery is that of sin,” and that God sent his Son into the world precisely to free humanity from “the rule of Satan.” “Entering into this liturgical season always means siding with Christ against sin, doing spiritual battle — as an individual and as a Church — against the evil spirit,” he said.
The reasons to avoid the mercy and grace awaiting in the confessional are many: apathy, embarrassment, pride, distraction, fear, bitterness from a past negative experience, to name just a few. Maybe for others it is having lost sight of the scars of sin in their lives, and thus even the need for healing.
Within the confessional, God offers healing and liberation. If you haven’t experienced the sacrament in a while, why not take this Lent to try again?