Priests invite all to experience God’s love, mercy in sacrament of reconciliation

Father Don Roszkowski contemplates a picture of the Prodigal Son in the confessional at St. Mary Church in El Paso. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

It doesn’t matter what you call it.

It doesn’t matter how you celebrate it.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been.

What does matter is that the sacrament of reconciliation is a sacrament of healing that offers God’s love and mercy over and over and over again, according to priests around the Diocese of Peoria.

“In God’s mind this is simply a repeat of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, of the father welcoming his son back and saying, ‘Let’s rebuild our relationship.’” — Abbot Philip Davey, OSB, St. Bede Abbey, Peru.

“It is crucial to remember that each of us is a beloved child of God and God has created us to grow in love and holiness, to prepare to share eternal life with God,” said Abbot Philip Davey, OSB, of St. Bede Abbey in Peru.

“Therefore in God’s mind this is simply a repeat of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, of the father welcoming his son back and saying, ‘Let’s rebuild our relationship,’” he said.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, said he regularly hears confessions at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria and treasures the ability to do that.

“It’s been an important part of my life — and not just administering the sacrament, but going myself,” he told The Catholic Post. “It’s part of my core spirituality to name my sins and be open to a wise word and receive absolution.”

Like many priests, he said, “You cannot be a good confessor unless you are a serious penitent.”

The sacrament of reconciliation can be offered anywhere. Here priests listen to penitents along the Illinois River in downtown Peoria prior to the 2015 Men's March. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The sacrament of reconciliation can be offered anywhere. Here priests listen to penitents along the Illinois River in downtown Peoria prior to the 2015 Men’s March. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“It helps me to be a better confessor because I know what it means to be forgiven,” explained Father Don Roszkowski, pastor of St. Mary Parish in El Paso. “The more I’m experiencing the mercy of God in this encounter, the more I can share that encounter with others.”

He added that there’s no greater joy for a priestly heart than to see someone healed and happy in a way they haven’t been before.

Many people fear that the priest will think less of them, but nothing could be farther from the truth, according to Msgr. Stanley Deptula, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship and pastor of the four parishes in the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community.

“I can honestly say I have only loved my penitents more after they’ve gone to confession,” he shared, especially those who come to the sacrament after being away for many years.

“My heart loves them. I rejoice with them,” Msgr. Deptula said. “I don’t think less of them. I think more of them because they’ve come home. They’ve come back to the Father’s love and I am humbled to in some small way be a part of that.”

Click here for a list of penance services around the Diocese of Peoria as Holy Week nears.

“DON’T BE AFRAID”

Confession. Penance. Reconciliation. People tend to use the terms interchangeably when referring to the sacrament and there’s nothing wrong with that, the priests said.

“‘Confess’ has a number of meanings, all of which are wonderful,” Bishop Jenky said, noting first that the sacrament renews our confession of faith in baptism.

“It’s been an important part of my life — and not just administering the sacrament, but going myself. It’s part of my core spirituality to name my sins and be open to a wise word and receive absolution.” — Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC

But the sacrament is primarily an act of worship, he said, “where we let Jesus be Jesus by bringing our sins to him. And we’re more confessing our faith in him than we’re confessing our sins.”

“Don’t be afraid. Here’s your chance,” Msgr. Deptula said of the “sacred conversation” that takes place in the confessional. “Don’t hold back. Jesus does not hold back in his love. Give him everything because you know what? He gives you everything.”

The penance given is meant to remind the faithful that Jesus already paid the price for our sins, he continued.

“By saying three Hail Marys I don’t win my salvation,” Msgr. Deptula explained. “It is my small way of participating in the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the salvation Jesus has already won for me. Jesus is the perfect penance for sinners.”

What makes that penance complete is the firm purpose of amendment that each person promises before the priest offers absolution, he said.

People shouldn’t fear that the priest will remember their sins, according to Father Roszkowski, who also hears confessions at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington.

“The good Lord has blessed me with spiritual amnesia,” he said. “I simply don’t remember who said what, when and how.”

Bishop Jenky agreed.

“The sacrament is such a privileged moment,” he told The Post. “Perhaps the Holy Spirit protects that.”

“DON’T GIVE UP”

Father Mark DeSutter, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline, said reconciliation and evangelization go hand in hand.

As part of the "Light of Mercy" initiative, parishes are offering assistance to those who may have been away from the sacrament for a time. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

As part of the “Light of Mercy” initiative, parishes are offering assistance to those who may have been away from the sacrament for a time. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“If you know someone who is estranged from church, invite them to come. Invite them to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation and come back to the faith,” he said, noting that he can’t go around to everyone but everyone has friends, family members or neighbors who might need a word of encouragement.

Father DeSutter said he’s encountering people who have been away from the sacrament of reconciliation for some time. Many of them are mentioning something they’ve heard Pope Francis say or decided to return because of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“I reassure them that Jesus was constantly reaching out to people who were sinners and offering them mercy. I also emphasize that just because they’re here at this moment it doesn’t mean their whole life has turned around,” he said. “God is infinitely patient and will give you as much time as you need.”

And when they need to start again, their priests and church community will be waiting for them, Father DeSutter said.

“We’re all sinners. We all have ups and downs in our faith life. Don’t feel like you’re alone,” he said. “Don’t give up. Keep talking to God. Keep the relationship going.”

 

ADVICE ON PREPARING FOR THE SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION

BE OPEN: “How we see things makes a difference,” Father Roszkowski said. “If I see this as a burden, if I see this as something I have to do, if I see this as not a good thing or I get this vision of ‘I don’t need this,’ well the natural response is, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ I invite people to have a new vision.

PRAY FOR GUIDANCE: Bishop Jenky suggested people ask the Holy Spirit to give them the gift of illumination. “It’s not like the IRS. It’s not like when the cop pulls you over on the highway. You do a good faith effort to name your sins and know it is primarily to Jesus you are confessing your sins and the priest is his minister.”

REFLECT: Msgr. Deptula said a daily examination of conscience can help people “get the fruit out of confession. It is the way we live out of our confession — that firm purpose of amendment enacted through a daily examination of conscience.”

BE HONEST: In any relationship it’s important to be truthful and honest, Abbot Philip said. What a person says in confession isn’t a surprise to God and most priests have been hearing confessions for long enough that it won’t be a surprise for them either.

GET A REGULAR CONFESSOR: Like a primary care physician gets to know a patient, a regular confessor gets to know soul, Bishop Jenky said. “He can help you. It’s not a counseling session, but sometimes a priest can say a comforting word or a word of healing.”

JUST DO IT: Nothing is better preparation than to go to confession regularly, Msgr. Deptula said. “Make it a regular part of your life — once a month, once every two months. Just come.”

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