14 Misconceptions About the Sacrament of Reconciliation

The Miraculous Mercy of God Pictures, Images and Photos

In my life time, the Sacrament of Reconciliation has gone from one of the most frequently celebrated to one of the least. There were usually long lines every week and not before Christmas and Easter.  Part of the reason for this has to do with misconceptions people have about this sacrament. Here is a by-no-means-complete list of misconceptions.

01.  Most people come to the sacrament with the idea that it is God who will change rather than themselves.  The idea is that God seemingly withholds forgiveness until the sinner has sought and deserved it.  But the fact is that reconciliation requires no change in God, but rather a change in us:  God’s healing.

02.  It is commonly misunderstood that the initiative rests with the penitent, but in the gospels it is the other way around.  Jesus offers forgiveness, urges it upon his hearers, and always makes the approach.  In February, someone came for the first time in 60 years!   The reason was God’s grace at work in the penitent’s life.

03.  Third, the image many also have is that a penitent is summoned to submit himself, to humiliate himself before God and the priest.  But the role of the priest is precisely not to sit in judgment, but to reach out and help the healing process.  The priest is meant to be more of a spiritual physician rather than a court judge.

04.  There has been in the past the generally approved custom of frequent confession.  But this has encouraged a trivializing of both sin and this sacrament.  What frequent confession lead to was a “grocery list” of sins.  One penitent who confessed for the first time in 25+ years, provided me with “exact” numbers of how often he lied, missed church, swore, stole, etc.

05.  Frequent reconciliation gives us grace to overcome temptation and sin.  But that’s what the Eucharist helps us do.  It is true that by taking the time to reflect on and confess one’s sins can help us be more mindful of trying not to sin.  But a daily examination of conscience will do just nicely. Yes, the sacrament does grace us, but — in my OPINION — confessing too frequently has as nearly as many negative effects as positive.

06.  Some people think that they have to try to name every sin they have committed.  It can’t be done and it isn’t necessary.  Part of the nature of sin is to hide itself from us.  It is not possible to name every sin.  But what is possible, what God expects, and what we can do is be sorry for every sin.

07.  Some people think the priest will be shocked by their sins and hold them against them.  Of all the thousands of times I have celebrated this sacrament, I was only shocked once.  Besides most priests are acutely aware of their own sinfulness and wish with all their hearts that their sins were as straightforward.  Furthermore, God gives us the great gift of forgetting.  It is a very rare occasion that I will remember what is said to me in the sacrament.  Ironically, some people are angry that I don’t remember.  And, of course there is the seal of confession.  What is said during the celebration of the sacrament must be held in the strictest confidence.  A priest who breaks the confidentiality of the sacrament is dealt with swiftly and severely.

08.  Being behind a screen brings anonymity.  We whisper like we talk and if one has regular interaction with the priest, chances are he will know.   Part of the role of the priest is to represent Christ (make Jesus present), this is easier to do — in my OPINION — when priest and penitent are face to face.

09.  There is the misconception that all priests are good confessors.  That is no more true than saying that all priests are great preachers.  If you don’t feel a priest is a good confessor and helpful, then by all means find another.  However, beware that just because you don’t like what a confessor says, doesn’t means that what said is not true and something we needed to hear.   On the other hand, no good confessor yells at a penitent, belittles him or her, and casts him or her into the fires of hell.

10.  The only place where we celebrate forgiveness is in the sacrament of penance.  Actually, it is celebrated also in Baptism, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick.

11.  Second graders are old enough to understand sin.   Psychologists say that this is NOT the case at all.  It is no exaggeration for me to say that 99% of second graders who have confessed with me are like Jeopardy players.  They put the answer in the form of a question — “I disobeyed my parents?”  What Bishop Fulton J. Sheeen said of hearing the confessions of nuns is even more true when it comes to the confessions of children — it’s like being pelted with popcorn!

12.  The legal system is a good metaphor: the priest is judge, jury, and executioner.  Penance is punishment for penitent to pay for the price of his sin.  On the contrary, a priest is meant to be a spiritual physician and a penance is like a prescription to help one get spiritually well.

13.  This sacrament is a license to sin all you want.  Actually more Protestants than Catholics have this idea.  In either case, it is simply not true.  There must be genuine sorrow and the intention to sin no more before receiving forgiveness.

14.  Who needs a priest?  All I need to do is to tell God “I’m sorry.”  There are a variety of reasons why confession with a priest is necessary:

• We have bodies.  We need to see and hear that we are forgiven.

• Our sin affects other people and coming to a priest is a reminder of how we impact the Body of Christ.

• A priest can offer suggestions and encouragement.

• There are times when we aren’t aware of what our true sin is.  With-out knowing how and where we are sinning, we will continue sinning.

• We all have a need to unburden our- selves & share with another person.  This is not the ONLY way we can do it, but it is a way.

• Jesus gave the Church the gift, power  and responsibility to forgive sins.  It is part of his plan.

A Six Minute video of how to do a daily examination of conscience:

About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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35 Responses to 14 Misconceptions About the Sacrament of Reconciliation

  1. Matt Smith says:

    While frequent reception of the sacrament may no longer be “generally approved custom,” it is still certainly the teaching of the Church, promoted by the last few popes and the appropriate congregations. That hasn’t changed because the value of that transforming grace hasn’t changed. Perhaps pastors and even individual bishops don’t promote frequent confession any longer (I shouldn’t say perhaps, because I know it to be the case!), but the Church in her role as teacher still does. The only group of people the Church discourages from frequent confession are the scrupulous, who (I believe, but have no way of being sure) are few indeed. I imagine that from the 70s through the 90s, teaching on the importance of frequent confession diminished. I think maybe that the resurgence of this teaching is a sign of the “reform of the reform”.

    Paul VI
    Frequent and reverent recourse to this sacrament, even when only venial sin is in question, is of great value. Frequent confession is not mere ritual repetition, nor is it merely a psychological exercise. Rather is it a constant effort to bring to perfection the grace of our Baptism so that as we carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ who died, the life that Jesus Christ lives may be more and more manifested in us. In such confessions penitents, while indeed confessing venial sins, should be mainly concerned with becoming more deeply conformed to Christ, and more submissive to the voice of the Spirit.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church
    Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful. (CCC 1458)

    John Paul II
    It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation. Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.

    And if none of those above are recent enough, frequent confession was most recently recommended to the clergy several times in the document Sussidio per Confessori (or, The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy: An Aid For Confessors and Spiritual Directors), published by the Congregation for the Clergy on Ash Wednesday, 2011.

    Sussidio per Confessori, 17: Citing Reconciliatio et Paenitentia
    The priest’s spiritual and pastoral life, like that of his brothers and sisters, lay and religious, depends, for its quality and fervour, on the frequent and conscientious personal practice of the Sacrament of Penance.

    Sussidio per Confessori, 19: Citing Sacerdotii Nostri Primordi
    Frequent confession, even for those who are not in grave sin, has constantly been recommended by the Church as a means of progress in the Christian life

    Sussidio per Confessori, 25: Citing a speech by Pope Benedict in 2007
    Frequent and regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is therefore understandable and desirable. Christ is readily encountered in this sacrament as he is encountered in the Eucharist, in the living word, in the community, in every person and also in the poverty of our own hearts.

    Sussidio per Confessori, 50
    Frequent confession of venial sins or imperfections is a consequence of fi delity to Baptism and Confirmation, and expresses a sincere desire for perfection and return to the Father’s plan so that Christ may truly live in us through a life of greater fidelity to the Holy Spirit.

    From the examination of conscience for priests in Sussidio per Confessori
    Proclamation of the Word leads the faithful to the Sacraments. Do I regularly go to Confession? Do I frequently go to Confession in accordance with my state of life and because of the sacred things with which I am involved?

  2. Jean Hanna Davis says:

    Thank you. This very readable and understandable. Matt’s response is a more “legal” summary of teachings and formal citing, but when you said that reconciliation requires a change in us, and having an openness to God’s healing love…..well, the path to reconciliation is different for everyone. Maybe daily celebration of the sacrament is one person’s path, while monthly or even less frequent may be appropriate for another. You end your post with a video about how to do a daily examination of conscience. Whether that daily examination leads to frequent celebration of the sacrament or not, that daily examination is vital to spiritual growth. The journey is as valuable as the destination. “Each day I want to become more the person I want to become, and look at the person I am becoming…sometimes those two don’t match.”

  3. Matt Smith says:

    I don’t know that you can all these words “legal”. Maybe the citation from the Catechism, but even that’s a stretch. “By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful” just doesn’t strike me as “legal” language. They’re all but poetic, expressing the beauty of the sacrament and the way the grace transforms us all the more when we accept it frequently.

    This, on the other hand, is legal in both tone and content:

    Can. 988 §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience.

    §2. It is recommended to the Christian faithful that they also confess venial sins.

  4. Isolde says:

    I love it when I hear the phrase “tears of compunction.” St. Benedict was one of many church fathers who used it. Reading off your sins, right down to the number, as if it is as commonplace as a grocery list shows that even those who go to Confession regularly have a lot of room for understanding and appreciating the beauty and internal change associated with this sacrament.

    The ones most likely to attend Confession regularly today are probably disproportionately skewed toward the population also most likely to rigidly obey the letter of the law, even inclined to scrupulosity. Those people are often ignored in catechesis and conversion, especially those published online, because at least they’re going. We all have room for improvement, which is precisely what that sacrament is about. I hope this note dispelling the myths of Confession which you see manifest in different populations helps many more people to understand and experience the amazing grace God works through His Church! Thank you for answering the call to serve!

  5. Jeff Stevens says:

    Father, I did appreciate your comments that the initiative starts with Christ, and we are simply responding. God is pure act, he initiates all good things and we can only respond. An important reminder. Thank you.

    While I can understand the concerns about going to confession too frequently, I tend to think that problem is far less common than the neglect or fear of the sacrament. While we do want to avoid scrupulosity, from my very limited perspective, the problem of people not going to confession when they should is much more common and much more severe than people going to confession too much.

  6. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing on God that I think I have ever read.

  7. Brian says:

    I am trying to figure out how approaching the Divine Mercy can have negative effects.

  8. Pingback: WEDNESDAY EVENING EXTRA | ThePulp.it

  9. C E Miller says:

    About that scrupulous thing, Matt. You might try looking in the mirror. No offense, but what I think the good Father is trying to say here is in the spirit of the “law” rather than the letter. There is nothing akin to actual experience in the confessional to temper the the definition of the word “frequent”. The grocery list analogy is appropriate in the sense that it becomes a substitute for a sincere examination of conscience; a checklist in place of a contemplation. The canonical citation is certainly clear ( Can 988 etc) as to obligation, but not frequency. While the teachings of the Holy Father(s) are efficacious for our spiritual well being and the Sussidio per Confessori does stress regular and frequent use of the sacrament, regular and frequent are not given further parameters e.g. daily, weekly etc. However, the Precepts of the Church are more precise in that “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.” I see nowhere in Fr. Wharton’s post that he suggests otherwise. Are we good and faithful servants by doing only what is required of us? No, we are to do more. How much more depends on how the Holy Spirit moves us. If frequency and regular are elsewhere defined as relates to the confession of sins, I am open to correction and an apology is forthcoming.

  10. sponsachristi says:

    I challenge Catholics to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly. You’ll be amazed how quickly your life is transformed; bad habits and inclinations disappear without even trying; one loses interest in lots of worldly things and activities; one becomes more detached and more accepting of God’s will, and becomes more peaceful and joyful. All this is the fruit of the weekly grace of the Sacrament. I was a daily communicant for many years with little noticeable improvement in my life. But within a very short time of starting weekly Confession, my life improved by leaps and bounds. I don’t enjoy weekly Confession, but I go because I need the grace and dare not go without. I call it my weekly fix ;-) Why deprive yourself of the grace? There’s no need for a laundry list of sins. Just mention one or two that comes to mind. That’s enough to obtain the grace. The Lord will do the rest. Over time as one improves, it gets harder to think of a sin. But don’t despair. :-)) Just ask Our Lady for help, and she’ll remind you of a sin so that you can obtain the grace. It never fails. And do try open face to face Confession. It’s a great exercise in humility.

  11. Barbara Lilly says:

    I am personally thankful for having a priest in our area, some are now without. This was a well written article. I feel that Matt Smith’s answer needs inprovement. I am not one to argue religion but book quotes and speaking about Canon Law is not what people and children need to hear and learn. Matt, you need to make sure the children in Faith Formation know that Penance is a gift, God gave us this precious sacrament to bestow His grace on us through the priest as means of forgiving us and assuring us of His love for us.

    Individuals are all different, Cradle Catholics or Converts doesn’t matter. Everyone has needs to examine their concience, and as we have been taught for years, go to confession at least once a year. Personally I like to go to confession more often because of the warm feeling I get in my heart for knowing I am receiving God’s grace and know the Holy Spirit is with me.

    People now days feel that if they have not committed a mortal sin they need not go to confession. My, what they are missing in preparing for the future. Every morning when you say your prayers think about what you have done, what you have not done and ask for forgiveness and try to lead a better life. Children need to learn this as they prepare for adult life.

    Thank you Fr. Paul for this blog and continue to see we have the means of Reconciliation. God Bless!

  12. Matt Smith says:

    Wow, Barbara. I’m sorry that I seem to have upset you! I’m not sure what you disagree with, except perhaps that I’m citing things? You don’t say anything contrary to what my citations say- in fact, you seem to completely agree with them.

    I’m not “monolithic Matt,” approaching everything exactly the same way regardless of the circumstance – it might make you happy to know that I’ve never once cited Sussidio per Confessori in Sunday morning Faith Formation. Only once in a blog where it happened to be relevant. :) I did cite Thomas Aquinas once. It was a disaster. Even the adults were bored with me.

    Since few seem to have gotten it, the canon law citation was a joke. Jean mentioned a “legal” summary, so I posted an actual law. I probably should have posted an entirely unrelated law. Maybe something about Church property or jaywalking. That probably would have made the jovial nature of the post more clear.

    Anyway, canon law doesn’t say anything about frequent confession because frequent confession isn’t part of canon law. The practice of frequent or devotional confession is instead part of the spiritual practice of the Latin Church, and the teaching on its benefits may (emphasis on may – see the last paragraph if you’re interested) be part of the ordinary magisterium.

    I do disagree with one of your statements, Barbara. I think that “book quotes” are incredibly helpful for learning. If someone says something better than I ever could, why would I reinvent the wheel? This blog is full of quotations from other people- authors, popes, poets, saints, singers, and mystics. All of them have something to say that they may just say better than any of us could. Why ignore that?

    To Charles Miller – I can’t address all of your points because I’m not sure where they’re coming from, but I can answer one. None of these documents define frequent. We do have the example of some of the popes, but I doubt that examples enter into the ordinary magisterium. Blessed John Paul II made use of the sacrament weekly. Blessed John XXIII did as well. Using the analogy of cleaning a house, Pope Benedict XVI recently implied that weekly is appropriate (though I do wonder if he actually meant weekly; here’s the article so you can judge for yourself: http://www.zenit.org/article-14322?l=english ). I would agree with you that the definition of frequent is likely at least somewhat dependent on the penitent. I don’t know that we could call twice a year frequent, but monthly? Quarterly?

    I do apologize that, in citing the documents of the Catholic Church, I seem to have offended a few Catholics. I generally try to avoid giving my own opinion, unless it’s clearly marked. Note that it was clearly marked when I said “I believe, but have no way of being sure” the scrupulous to be few, indeed, or when I said “I think maybe” or “I imagine”. Or even just below, where I preface a paragraph with “my speculation”.

    Skip this final paragraph if you’re not interested in my speculation!

    I hesitate to say that the teachings on the benefit of frequent confession are part of the ordinary magisterium, but they are at least part of the personal teaching of the popes for some time now. I simply hesitate to say they are because I honestly don’t know – these teachings probably are part of the ordinary magisterium. See especially Pius XII’s Mediator Dei and Mystici Corporis Christi, but also Pius VI’s Auctorem Fidei, St. Pius X’s Sacra Tridentina Synodus, John XXIII’s (yes, John XXIII) Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, and Paul VI’s Paenitemini.

  13. Reblogged this on Pillar of Fire: Lux Lucet in Tenebris and commented:
    If you’re Catholic and you haven’t been to Reconciliation in a while, here’s food for thought.
    If you have been to Reconciliation recently, here’s food for thought :-)
    One of my favorite quotes is: “The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints!” :-)

  14. MarylandBill says:

    I have to say I found this blog post somewhat disturbing. I am not saying that Father Wharton doesn’t offer a lot of useful advice and ideas here, but in his discussion of too frequent confession, somewhere the concept of mortal sin got lost. If I commit a mortal sin every week, then I need to make a weekly confession. Also, what is “too frequent”? In the absence of mortal sin, is every week, every two weeks or every month appropriate? Or if we should manage to go a full year without a mortal sin, is an annual confession enough?

    I am also not sure it is in the nature of mortal sin to hide is it? I mean I agree venial sins can sneak up on us and be used to weaken our resolve against mortal sins, but by definition, when I commit a mortal sin, don’t I also have to know it is a sin as I am committing it?

    • Paul Wharton says:

      Dear Bill,

      It is not possible to cover every angle in such a short blog.

      Of course, if one is in a state of mortal sin, one ought to confess ASAP.

      The post is directed at those Catholics who NEVER come to this sacrament. My belief is that misconceptions and lack of emphasis in the preaching from the pulpit are big factors in explaining how this sacrament went from one of the most often celebrated to one the least frequently used.

      In reference to sin “hiding” itself I mean that at times we don’t realize what our real is. For example, if in talking to a man who confesses to screaming at his wife and children, I learn that his boss at works has been on his cases, it may well be that the man’s sin really is expressing his anger at his boss by taking it out on his family. If he can’t see that, he may well continue misdirecting his anger.

  15. enness says:

    I’m glad you mentioned face-to-face, because it really can be awesome. Scary, but awesome.

    I remember a funny confession I had as a child, when they made us go after CCD once. I couldn’t think of anything very serious, but I had to say something, so I confessed to biting my nails. The priest was somewhat at a loss — “Try sitting on your hands?”

  16. Jake says:

    Hmmm… So let’s recap what Father has suggested here:
    1) frequent confession can do more harm than good
    2) a daily examination of conscience is just as good as regular confession
    3) the Eucharist forgives sins just the same as Reconciliation
    4) Reconciliation imparts no graces that are not available in other ways
    5) children (and nuns?!) should not confess
    6) anonymous confession is bad (and the priest will recognize you anyway)

    Why exactly are you surprised that people don’t go?

  17. John says:

    Father Wharton, quite simply, you blew it.

    Just teach what the Church teaches and keep your personal opinions, well, personal. Matt Smith, thank you for doing what priests should be doing – teaching the faith as it has been handed down by Popes and Councils and not innovating.

    • Paul Wharton says:

      Dear John,

      Ouch! I can’t refute any of your points except one. The truth is that some people do want my opinion because:
      1. they know I will take the time to answer them;
      2. they believe what I say all the time: I may not believe everything the Church teaches, but I ONLY TEACH what the Church BELIEVES. When something is my opinion, I make that clear unlike many priests;
      3. the purpose of the post was to get the overwhelming number of Catholics who rarely or NEVER come to the sacrament to reconsider. It was never intended to be a detailed theology of the sacrament and how it is and isn’t being practiced;
      4. Sometimes people want to know my opinion because they respect my 30 years of priesthood, a college degree in Philosophy, a Masters of Divinity, hundreds of hours of reading every year, numerous continuing educations events, and three decades in parish ministry;
      5. if you don’t think people want to hear the opinions of priests, why else do you think the most read Catholic priest bloggers are usually the most opinionated?

      At any rate, Thank you for reading andsharing your thoughts and opinions. Be sure to check out the Anthology of Prayer” file found beneath the logo.

      • John says:

        Father Wharton writes:
        “Sometimes people want to know my opinion because they respect my 30 years of priesthood, a college degree in Philosophy, a Masters of Divinity, hundreds of hours of reading every year, numerous continuing educations events, and three decades in parish ministry”

        Father, I respect your 30 years as a priest. As for the rest, I’ve met a good many people that have educated themselves into idiocy. Stating your letters and degrees is all well and fine, and I’m sure impresses many; perhaps framing them on the wall of the confessional will give you an even greater sense of pride and prestige?

        For a Catholic priest to post in a blog that frequent confession can be detrimental and that it “has encouraged a trivializing of both sin and this sacrament” is astounding. To mockingly characterize people’s attempts at reconciliation as a “grocery list” or to snarkily refer to a penitent’s attempt to quantify their transgressions (which the Church recommends) makes you sound more like an academic than a shepherd. Part of the purpose of having young children in the confessional, despite what esteemed psychologists might say, is to help them develop the habits of virtue and holiness when they are young. Encountering a young boy or girl in confession that may not have reached understanding is an opportunity to encourage and demystify the process so that they feel quite natural coming to confession when they do begin to recognize sin.

        Father, I know that being a priest doesn’t make you perfect (although somehow we all expect our priests to be super-human), and that you have taken on one of the most difficult callings in this world out of love for Christ, His people, and His Church. I know I’m being tough on you, but also know that I’d throw myself in front of firing squad to protect you should that day ever come. You need to set this straight and re-enforce what the Church teaches about confession. We don’t need opinions – the Lord knows we’ve had enough of that the last fifty years and it’s destroyed us. I am one of seven children that all went to Catholic schools K-12 in the 70’s and 80’s. All of us apostatized and I can tell you without reservation – knowing what I know now (I too read and study widely) – that we were pitifully ill-formed in the Faith. I attributed this malformation directly to nuns, priests, and catechists feeding us their personal views instead of hard teachings. I feel swindled of my inheritance, and my poor parents, who worked extra jobs to send seven kids to Catholic schools died broken-hearted, their children separated from the Church.

        Your words matter. What you say matters a great deal. I urge you to re-think the whole personal opinion thing.

  18. tkardinal says:

    Brothers,

    While I may have some questions and might have approached the topic differently than Father Wharton, there is nothing in his blog post which contradicts faith, morals, or the magisterium. While we lay people may have more a great deal of knowledge of the teachings of the Church, Father Wharton has (presumably) extensive experience dealing with the pastoral reality of penitents and others who have been far from the sacrament for a while.

    Let us not undermine our priests by public criticism of their proper pastoral role. If you feel the need to question Father’s blog post, I strongly suggest contacting him privately and directly. We need more priests reaching out to the faithful online with compassion and truth. Certainly that truth cannot be compromised, but Father did not do that in this case.

  19. Matt Smith says:

    Part of me hesitates to jump back in to what very quickly became a nasty thread of comments. I feel that I should because the first post implying disagreement with the author was mine.

    Let’s be frank- anyone who starts a blog expects there to be competing opinions discussing the things found on that blog. But even with that said, this isn’t the fourth century- public discourse doesn’t need to rely on psogos. While there’s no problem in publicly disagreeing with a priest, there is a major problem in failing to disagree with anyone (cleric or lay) with charity.

    I’m going to go ahead with my “legal” citations again, this time with the catechism. You can find in section 2478 the statement that “[t]o avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.” This citation has been used by many in the past to indicate that we shouldn’t judge things at all, but that’s not what it means. What it means is that our judgment risks becoming rash when we aren’t careful to try and interpret what’s being said in a favorable way.

    In this circumstance, any interpretation of what’s being said in this post probably needs to be taken in context of what was said in the following days. I point especially to the post from the following Saturday, which includes the following point in its preface: What follows are jokes meant to make us laugh, but also to get us to thinking, “Isn’t it time to come back to this under-appreciated and all-too-infrequently celebrated sacrament.”

    I can only assume that the recent comments indicate a failure to do just that. Now the catechism is a teaching text, it’s not infallible, and it sometimes gives a slightly skewed impression of Church teaching. Canon law is also meant to reflect Church teaching, giving us clear guidelines on how we should behave in various circumstances. Of course, it’s not infallible and it’s certainly imperfect. Even given the imperfections and frequent misuse of the catechism and code canon law, taking the canon I’m about to cite together with section 2478 of the Catechism, then reflecting on public discourse on the internet should give some good food for thought.

    CCC 2478: To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.

    Canon 220: No one may unlawfully harm the good reputation which a person enjoys, or violate the right of every person to protect his or her privacy.

    Now, do these two citations mean that you must agree with what was said in the post, or that you must refrain from expressing disagreement openly or publicly? Absolutely not. It does, however, imply the rule we should have for engaging one another when we disagree.

  20. John 5: 19 – 47 (all).

  21. Michael says:

    The priest who wrote this must have been away on the day that Canon Law was taught in his seminary.

    • Paul Wharton says:

      Dear Michael,

      Actually, we had more than one day, but I fail to see what bearing Canon Law has on my post that was written in the hope of convincing people who have been away from the sacrament for years or even decades. Perhaps you can remembering your days studying Canon Law that rather interesting discussion about the last canon in the Code of Canon Law. May I recommend for your edification a brief passage from the Bible — Luke 6:37-38.

      Thanks for commenting. I am glad to be able to set the record straight concerning my canon law studies.

  22. I have enjoyed reading all 27 comments here! Discussion is always healthy. It reflects a strong enough interest in the topic to participate in it. Is it any wonder folks like me keep coming back to Hearts on Fire? I thank you, Father Paul, for the excellent job you’re doing getting readers thinking and commenting.

  23. Denise says:

    I believe the focus should be on the relationship. The salvation story is about relationships. It is part of the human condition to think that our sin only affects us, but the age old problem of sin is not only expressed in our heart, and in our imagination, but in our relationships. The Salvation Story in the Bible is full of real people, real families, and real marriages entrenched in chaos and brokenness. God started with a family, and from all of the damaged families in the Old Testament comes our salvation.
    Daily, if we reflect, we can see the alienating flaws in ourselves, and others, and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. The refusal of forgiveness and reconciliation causes us to sin, again, and again. An excellent story of reconciliation is found in Genesis in the story of Joseph’s traumatic life. Joseph offered real forgiveness to his brothers, after 20 years of reflecting on his traumatic circumstances. He could have daily fed anger, hatred, self-pity, and bitterness. But, he bore the pain in his heart, and did not cause any guilt for his brothers. The entire world was blessed when Joseph took the painful steps toward reconciliation.
    We must repent, and forgiving grace must flow from our hearts, then we must take the first step toward reconciliation with one another and Jesus. When we seek reconciliation, somebody has to go first, and it should be you! Why? Because Jesus did. He offered the free gift of forgiveness to each of us, and we certainly didn’t and don’t deserve it. All of us have problems, and relational chaos. It is not, and will not be easy, but we have Jesus’ forgiving grace, guidance, and Holy Scriptures to help us. When I become aware that there is something else going on besides how my sin affects me, I can move toward Jesus, acknowledging that we are one body in Christ, Jesus.

    • Paul Wharton says:

      The story of Joseph is not only one of the greatest stories in the Bible; it is a classic of world literature. Thanks for sharing your ideas,

    • Thank you Denise for your focus on relationship, and especially on our personal relationship with Jesus. For, as you point out, it is through our personal relationship with Jesus that we are empowered into forgiveness (and to not being judgmental, critical, or harsh in our response to others, even when we don’t agree). Firm, yes, which Is obviously what Jesus role-modeled while on earth and which, I believe he continues to role-model through the Spirit. Lovingly – definitely. With respect, especially with respect for others’ opinions and THEIR personal relationship with God – definitely. With consideration and in support of our individual brokenness – definitely. With reminders that even He in his humanness did not totally understand his Father or the Father’s actual plan for our individual role, even those of us who seem to fall within the extremes of the theological or moral spectrum. Admittedly, it IS hard to understand all os this, especially as believing Christians who strive to walk the Way. That why I am even uneasy writing these words. I wish I could think of a good parable! Thank you dear Lord for the grace, all of it.

  24. Denise says:

    Thank you Bob, for the affirmation. I questioned whether I should respond, but it seemed so clear that Fr. Paul’s message was lost in all the discussion about the doctrine. We can get so caught up in the doctrine that we forget that it is about – relationships. When you consider what Fr. Paul knows from his life of ministry about human responses and relationships, it is clear that he is concerned about the heart of each of us, just as Jesus was most concerned about our heart, and not the letter of the law.

  25. Claire T. Lampert says:

    I think that ‘letter of the law’ is how the Pharisees got in a little trouble. Making doctrine into a receivable message (in this case to the penitent) is a gift earned by many years of observing and responding to human responses and relationships. Father Paul’s many years of parish life in priestly service certainly gives him a leg up on how/when to encourage all of us to observe this most precious of sacraments. A daily examination of conscience and the subsequent righting of our spiritual ship can give each of us a mechanism by which to reread and then to follow the message of Father Paul…as he encourages, we must have the courage to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  26. Matt Smith says:

    Not that I’m saying anyone is doing this, but I’d be leery of separating doctrine from relationship. As that greatest teacher of the Western Church says, “how can you love who you don’t know?” Doctrine, or perhaps less controversially, “teaching,” is the basis for the knowledge with which we forge that relationship. We need right knowledge, teaching, or opinions (orthodoxy) in order to have right worship, relationship, or practices (orthopraxy).

    I think Clair gets that distinction right when she says that doctrine needs to be distilled into a receivable message. That message will differ depending on the audience, but it must still contain “right teachings” in order to lead to “right relationships”.

    One final thing about the “letter of the law” discussion that always comes up in talks like these. We are required to follow the (new, perfected) law. That hasn’t changed, and we have none other than Jesus himself repeating it. “Think not that I have come to abolish the law,” he says. The problem of the pharisees was pure external observance of the law without internal conversion. We need both. Following the letter of the law without changing our hearts is wrong, and the Lord makes that clear in the Sermon on the Mount- but that doesn’t abolish the law in its letters.

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