Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - When Pope Francis announced the extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, which he launched on the feast of the Immaculate Conception earlier this week, he stressed a focus on being reconciled to the Lord.
“Let us not forget that God forgives and God forgives always,” Pope Francis said during his announcement at St. Peter’s Basilica last April. “Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness.”
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an excellent way to receive forgiveness from God.
“Our sinfulness is the big barrier that we put up between ourselves and God,” stated Father Douglas Dietrich, pastor of St. Mary Parish in downtown Lincoln. “This is the Church reminding us that we have to remove the barricades and let His mercy reach us.”
He stressed that a profound event takes place when Catholics avail themselves to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“There is something real that happens when a sin is confessed out loud, not merely pondered,” he said. “The barrier is lifted and grace flows.”
With that grace comes freedom from the nagging, habitual sins that are in danger of becoming too familiar to be noticed.
“Most of us struggle with one or two sins,” acknowledged Father Dietrich. “Grace is what finally helps us overcome them, and grace is given over time.”
For that reason, he said, it’s important to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation often. He suggested once a month, even if one has only venial sins to confess.
“Why settle for less when you can get more, and the Church offers more, and God is always offering more?” he asked. “Those venial sins aren’t going to be with us in heaven. We can overcome them here, and it’s easier here with God’s grace than relying on what transpires in purgatory.”
Father Dietrich reasoned that staying away from confession is truly depriving oneself of healing and grace.
“We can’t underestimate the power of the spoken word,” he said. “The spoken word is how God chooses to change bread and wine into His Body and Blood. It’s powerful.”
He also assured anyone who has misgivings about going to confession that their sins will remain between them and God.
“Even if the priest were to know who was confessing — and that would be highly unlikely —we are bound under serious penalties to not reveal any sin,” Father Dietrich stressed. “I have never known a priest to take that lightly.”
Another issue that may cause hesitation is the fear of shocking or scandalizing the priest.
“You won’t,” Father Dietrich insisted with a kind smile. “We understand how sin manifests itself. God understands, too, and He guides us.”
Father Dietrich entered the Catholic Church in 1984, started seminary studies in 1990, and was ordained in 1996. He said a person can also take comfort in knowing that the priest hearing confessions has also recently received the Sacrament himself.
“All the priests I know go very regularly and take the sacrament in our spiritual lives very seriously,” Father Dietrich said.
That, of course, doesn’t mean a priest won’t make a mistake in the confessional.
“God is using human beings to do His work and, sometimes you will have that bad experience,” Father Dietrich admitted. “But don’t let any bad experience in the past keep you from receiving absolution in the present.”
He encouraged anybody who hasn’t been to confession lately to push past fear or apprehension. Make a good examination of conscience using online resources, pamphlets available from your parish, or the Ten Commandments. Then choose a confession time and make yourself go.
“Once you are there, relax and know that God is in charge of His sacraments,” Father Dietrich recommended. “Let the peace flow to you, and the relief of knowing that you’re walking out of there in a state of grace. No matter what happens when you step out that door, you are good with God.”
He added, “The more you go, the easier it will get.”
Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln are fortunate to have regular opportunities to receive this sacrament. In higher-population areas, such as Lincoln and Hastings, confessions are heard daily before Mass. But even in rural areas of the diocese, a person can receive the sacrament virtually any time, simply by making arrangements with a priest in one’s own parish, or one nearby.
Many parishes across the diocese offer additional confession times during Advent and Lent. All year long at St. Mary Parish in Lincoln, confessions are heard immediately prior to the 12:10 p.m. Mass, which is a great service to many downtown workers who can use their lunch hours to seek God’s mercy.
Laypersons can also expect more opportunities to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation throughout the jubilee. There will be a “24 Hours for the Lord” event at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ with confessions heard around the clock (as in Lent 2015), as well as more modest versions in other parts of the diocese. Check your parish bulletin and the Southern Nebraska Register for exact times and dates throughout the year.
Father Dietrich encouraged people to get into the habit of regular confession during the jubilee.
“God’s mercy is always there. He always wants to extend it,” he stressed.