Saturday, December 6, 2008

Confession: How the other half (or more) lives

A sad memo from a pastor to his parish on the Second Sunday of Advent. How many other parishes are like this? I'm guessing 12, and I pray that I am right.

Pastor’s 2 Cents: From: Fr. Jim DeBruycker

It has always been my policy to follow the penance, reconciliation, confession Rite as it is practiced in a particular parish. Some celebrated with private individual confessions, communal penance with individual confession and absolution or communal penance with general absolution, as it was celebrated here at St. Joan of Arc.

Last Lent, at the request of Archbishop Flynn, we returned to private confession. Archbishop Nienstedt sent a letter to all of the priests this Advent reminding them this is the norm of the Church and of our solemn promise of obedience to the bishop. I have never had a letter from a bishop reminding me of my promises, so I and Fr. Cassidy are taking this seriously. The Advent service will be a communal service with individual confessions following.

I, of course, have mixed feelings. Like most of the clergy, I knew general absolution was supposed to be an extraordinary event, but the people, as you well know, voted with their feet. Once general absolution was introduced at a local parish, the surrounding parishes lost attendance at their Penance celebrations until most pastors were forced to adapt or lose their parishioners. Some celebrated this with a new understanding of sin as hurting the community, with reconciliation to be celebrated in community, while others felt it was a symbol of the collapse of a sense of personal sin, guilt and responsibility. I think there is merit to both arguments.

My own experience of the sacrament was never positive. I never felt forgiveness, only humiliation at the hands of an old bully. It took me years, and a separation from the Catholic Church for a while, to understand there was a loving God and not some disconnected condemning voice of an old man. I know this is not a universal experience and some people had a loving compassionate experience. I did not , and many others did not.

One of my critiques of my Church is the discounting of the experience of the faithful. I would challenge my Church, as we once again stress this celebration of individual confession, to listen to the people. If bullying, emotional abuse or worse are reported, we respond quickly. The old Church recognized good spiritual direction and good confessors as a particular charism which not all priests shared equally.

Some of my most moving spiritual moments, as well as frustrating moments, in priesthood have taken place in the Sacrament of Penance. It can be a place of great healing or dissolution, and each priest in his heart must look at his
motives and make a commitment as great as any physician and say, first of all, “ I will do no harm.”

Cathy of Alex, a former parishioner at St Joan's, has a good comment at her blog, Recovering Dissident Catholic.

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