Sunday, 22 February 2009

Pastoral letters

Bishop O'Donoghue appears to be in possession of the Ecclesial vertebra just at the moment. I half-wished at Mass this morning that Bishop Kieran's pastoral letter could have been broadcast next Sunday so that I could offer it up as a Lenten penance. The subject was Confession and seemed to be making some efforts to draw a line under his unfortunate remarks on the subject, but it just sounded as though he was painting himself into a corner.

One point I fail to understand is why people like Bishop Kieran assume that sticking to a formula necessarily makes confession mechanical. What he fails to appreciate is that a majority of Catholics of my generation were never taught how to go to confession and the 'isn't the shopping list confession pointless' mantra is therefore a bit of a straw man. I clearly remember being taught during preparation for my First Confession, that 'bless me, father, for I have sinned' was what they used to say in the 'old days' and we could say what we wanted. The only thing we were taught was a children's Act of Contrition and in the trendy 80s and 90s free-for-all, there were occasions when the act of contrition, penance and on at least one occasion, the words of absolution, were omitted, rendering the confession invalid. It never seemed to occur to the adults that a formula was reassuring not oppressive. Without it, confession could quite easily become a confusing, awkward and often pointless exercise.

If I am to be completely honest, I would say that I was an adult before I truly understood how to go to confession and I am sorry that our catechists of twenty years ago did not think it important to introduce us to the power and beauty of this sacrament. Perhaps that explains why so many members of my generation had lapsed by the time they reached adulthood.

Another point made by Bishop Kieran was that rather than simply giving a list of sins, we should talk to the priest about what damages our relationship with God. Sorry, I am not a theologian, but if we talk about what harms our relationship with God, wouldn't we be talking about - erm - sin?

We live in a society that has lost any sense of what it means to apologise and admit fault, partly because of a perceived need to save face (consider how often you hear spokesmen using words like 'inappropriate' or 'regrettable' but rarely 'wrong') and partly because litigation has left people with a fear of admitting liability. It is little surprise then that society has lost any sense of the need to forgive, because we can only understand the very concept of forgiveness if we are capable of seeking it and that means being honest about needing to. That is why we need regular confession - confession, not a cosy chat, not a counselling session. That is why we need confession.

3 comments:

Jane Teresa said...

Thanks, Fiorella, for a thoughtful post. Nobody ever taught me how to go to Confession, either, which is shocking because the Sacrament is such a wonderful gift of God to the Church.

It sounds like +Kieran was digging himself a hole.

Up in Leeds our Bishop's letter was not at all bad: it included a mention of "mortification" and the trio of "prayer, fasting and almsgiving". Though I shall have to write to the Bishop about our priest, who omitted (the insubordination of it!) the Bishop's reference to Cafod's "family fast day".

berenike said...

There is a marvellous wonderful fabulous book on confession by a German Benedictine, published in the 20s, (re?)printed in recent years by Scepter.

Frequent Confession, Benedict Baur

"If you only read one book about confession, make it this one", sort of thing. It was recommended to me by a friend who runs a Catholic bookshop - it is clear without being shallow or simplistic, practical and user-friendly and still covers all the speculative and dogmatic theology behind the sacrament.

Ottaviani said...

I second berenike's suggestion. A very good book - makes an excellent book for Lenten reading.

I always have to giggle to myself when Fr. Trendy tells men, "You're too hard on yourself! God loves you just as you are!" Saints Philip Neri and Vincents Ferrer went to confession everyday - their lives were marked by numerous miracles partly as a result. Were they "hard" on themselves for going to confession frequently?

I should add that a good priest will always be aware of over-scrupulosity in the penitent. Pray for more holy priests.