Summary of today’s show: The Sacrament of Confession liberates us from sin and is where God’s desire to heal our relationship with Him meets our desire to be healed. Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor talk with Fr. Wayne Belschner about confession and they discuss the Pastoral Letter and manual for confession written by Archbishop Robert Carlson when he was bishop of Saginaw, Michigan (available at thelightisonforyou.org).
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Fr. Wayne Belschner, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in East Boston
Links from today’s show:
- “The Liberating Power of This Sacrament”, Bishop Robert J. Carlson
- “Jesus Christ, The Divine Physician: Pastoral Letter on Penance”, Bishop Robert J. Carlson
- The Light Is On For You
Today’s topics: The Sacrament of Confession & The Light Is On For You
1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Chris back to the show after being away. On his spring break from the seminary, he went on pilgrimage to Povence, France, especially to Avignon, where a number of popes lived in the Middle Ages.
Fr. Chris explained how the popes ended up in Avignon between 1309-1376 in the reigns of 7 popes.They were all French and we haven’t had a French pope since, Fr. Chris said. He also noted that it was St. Catherine of Siena who finally convinced the pope to return to Rome. Scot said after Pope Gregory IX moved back to Rome, there were also three other bishops who claimed to be pope and are called anti-popes.
They welcomed Fr. Wayne Belschner to the show and asked him to give him his expert information. He said eventually when there were three popes, there was a council that deposed all three and elected one new one. Fr. Wayne recounted all the intrigue and murder and violence involved in the end of the Avignon papacy.
Fr. Chris changed subjects to celebrating Life Teen Mass at St. Mary in Hanover and how great it was. He discussed his admiration for Fr. Chris Hickey, the pastor there.
2nd segment: Fr. Wayne talked about The Light Is On For You and how wonderful it is going. He said in the past Saturday afternoon before the anticipatory Mass is not the most opportune time for the penitents or for the priests. In his parish, they offer Mass during Holy Hours and before daily Mass. He’s hearing from other priests that The Light IS On For You is going very well.
They discussed the progress of pastoral planning in East Boston. Fr. Wayne said they had a meeting of the parishes in the vicariate on Sunday. The people attending were shocked when they were told that in the 1960s and 70s, 70% of Catholics in Boston went to Mass and today only 15.8% go to Mass. As a church historian, Fr. Wayne said it’s amazing. It wasn’t just the upheaval of the 60s that caused it. Certainly parish closings can be a cause as well as the abuse crisis.
Scot looks at it from the viewpoint of whether general religious practice across the US is down from that period of time. Fr. Chris said we have to be aware that there is a constant stream of secularization in society. We’re no longer cognizant of what’s in our faith and what’s important.
Fr. Chris said we also have to be aware of our religious education programs. He had a priest tell him to look in a textbook and find one thing worth dying for.
Fr. Wayne said at that meeting on Sunday, a young lady got up and pointed out that the people coming to all the programs like Arise and Why Catholic are those who go to church every Sunday and even they don’t know their faith.
Scot said his theory is that there was a sense that many families outsourced religious upbringing of their kids an hour per week and the central role of the parent in forming faith was lost. He said he sees a lot of parents drop of their kids at religious education but never bring them to Mass. Twenty hours per year isn’t enough. Fr. Chris said even just going to Mass isn’t enough. Boiled down to the essence, that about 8 hours per year of religious instruction. Measure that against the hours of television and other influences kids receive.
On the power of the Sacrament of Confession, Scot said Pope Benedict said during his trip to the US:
“The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God’s merciful words of pardon and peace, needs to be re-discovered and re-appropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the church in America, and throughout the world, depends on the renewal of the practice of penance and the growth in holiness which the sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.”
Fr. Wayne said he waits every week to hear that most important phrase: “I absolve you of your sins” because of its power.
Scot said it’s not just that our sins are forgiveness, but we also receive grace to be at peace. Fr. Chris said in the opening prayer at Mass this past week, it said our consciences bring us down, but God’s mercy brings us up. He recalled his doctor telling him to carry 10 pounds of bricks in a backpack a day and then taking them to imagine what losing 10 pounds would be like. This is the same sense of liberation from sin.
Fr. Wayne said when you go to your confessor, you let down the boulder down first and then drop the pebbles. When you go to confession, confess the big sins first and once those are gone, you feel the weight lifted and then confessing the venial sins is easy. Scot said his experience of confessing the smaller sins first shows how hard it is to finally confess the big one.
Fr. Chris said he sometimes encounters people who say they haven’t been in years and don’t know what to confess. He tells them to think of what weighs on them most heavily and what separates them most from God’s love and love of neighbor. Fr. Wayne said those who are away from the sacrament, they put a lot of weight on what they don’t know how to do. He said people can just tell the priest they need help and they will love to do so.
Scot moved on to the Pastoral Letter by then-Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw (now in St. Louis).
One of the major purposes of the letter is the attempt to move us away from a guilt-centered notion of sin and the sacrament: sin means that we feel guilty, that God is angry, and the sacrament of Penance is about softening our guilt and God’s an ger. I want to move us toward a different notion of sin: sin means that something is deeply wounded in us, that we have weakened or ruptured our relationship with God, and the sacrament of Penance is where God’s desire to heal our relationship meets our desire to be healed.
Scot said we need to focus on God’s desire for us to be healed, rather than our just punishment. Fr. Wayne said Jesus’ ministry was one of healing the person from the inside out. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a moving forward. Where are we moving too? Fr. Chris said Pope BEnedict said the sacraments provide for us what we can’t provide for ourselves.
Scot said Bishops Carlson is like many midwesterners in being very practical. He uses three analogies for confession:
Every 3,000 miles or so, we change the oil in our car. There may not be any major problem with our engine. But slowly, over time, minor impurities have been build- ing up. If we leave those impurities unattended, they will eventually result in major (and costly) problems for our car.
Every once in a while, we move the furniture and vacuum behind our couch. If we don’t get to it one week, it’s no big deal. If we don’t get to it the next week, it’s no big deal. If we fail to move the couch and vacuum behind it for six months, it will be filthy.
The sacrament of penance is like an oil change for the soul. It’s like moving the furniture of your soul and getting to the places that escape everyday cleaning. …
Let me add one more analogy: brushing your teeth. If you forget to brush your teeth tonight, it’s no big deal. If you forget to brush your teeth tomorrow morning, it’s no big deal. If you forget to brush your teeth for three months – or 10 or 15 years – there are going to be big problems!
One person’s analogies may help or hinder another person’s understanding. So I want to encourage each of you to come up with your own analogies. What is an image that might help you to understand the sacrament of penance more deeply, and take advantage of its graces more frequently in your spiritual journey?
Fr. Chris recounted how much work it is for his sister’s four boys to get their teeth brushed. They have a sign in the bathroom that says only brush the teeth you want to keep. Our soul is going to bring us to heaven and we want to keep it clean and holy and we do that by going to confession. Fr. Wayne said he watched the show “Hoarders”. Some of these people can’t even walk in their homes because they’re so cluttered. When we neglect confession, we become hoarders. We can’t unpack what we’ve gathered. Like the hoarders, we need help to get rid of what is cluttering up inside.
Fr. Chris said regular confession is a wonderful thing. The saints have a keen insight that the more they went to confession, the more they would find ways to grow and to grow closer to the Lord. He said people often say that God hasn’t forgiven them, but God always forgives. It’s our own ability not to forgive ourselves. Scot said we can project our own lack of mercy toward ourselves for the sins we commit.
Fr. Wayne said in confession we have to be sincere and authentic and have a desire to do that penance. Once we confess our sins, there has to be a change of life as well.
Fr. Chris said sins are like cancer. They corrode the body. No one prays to get cancer in order to get chemotherapy and get healed. We don’t want to use confession in order to be able to sin again. Fr. Wayne said the more a priest goes to confession, the better confessor he becomes. Fr. Chris said we learn by example and it’s important to have examples of priests going to confession.
Likewise, we can’t tell people confession is so important and then give them a small window for confession. We have to show confession is so important that every church and chapel will be open for confession on Wednesdays in Lent and Advent, 6:30-8. Fr. Wayne said it shows that this is important and serious.
Fr. Wayne said he tries to assure the people in his parish who don’t want him to hear their confession that he won’t look at them any differently after hearing their confessions.
Scot said Bishop Carlson talks about the root causes of sins:
“What we tend to do when we go to confession is confess our sins – but not the root of the sin. So our sins are forgiven, but what caused us to sin has not been healed. We think that the sin is what the problem is. But it’s not. The problem is what’s been build- ing up in us in terms of our attitudes, our habits, our weakness, our human condition, that needs regular infusions of God’s grace. We need to look deeper, asking the Holy Spirit, ‘Come in. Probe my heart. Reveal to me what the real problems are. What are the things that lead to sin? What are the attitudes? Where do I need mercy most? Where do I need healing? What are the things in me at a deep level that need to be healed?’”
At the root is often the seven deadly sins—pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, sloth— and he says:
What am I struggling with? What are the actions? What’s underneath the actions – what attitudes or habits? What do I need to aim for? (Notice the opposites are basically fruits of the Spirit.) What do I want help becoming?
Fr. Chris said the bishop also lists the corresponding virtues: humility, generosity, charity, meekness, chastity, moderation, and zeal. The bishop is showing that the Christian life isn’t just a list of don’t, but it is a list of do’s, showing us what will make us happy. Fr. Chris said he loves the quote from Christ who says a man who can be trusted in the little things, then he can be trusted in the big things. If we’re virtuous in little acts, then when the opportunity presents itself we will be virtuous in big things.
Fr. Wayne said the sin is the exterior manifestation of what is inside us. What is driving that sin? We need to get at that root cause of the sin.
Scot said pride is listed here first. Fr. Chris said pride was the first sin, that of Adam and Eve and sin starts with pride. Fr. Wayne said it’s the deadliest of the sins. Pride is the foundation of all the other deadly sins.
Fr. Chris said lust is the most powerful of the sins, especially in today’s culture. We can combat the devil in the other sins, but we are too often powerless before lust. Fr. Wayne said when we are tempted by lust, we should pray to Mary to only have eyes for her and a heart for her Son.
Scot read from the pastoral letter:
Through the sacrament of reconciliation Jesus’ voice echoes down through the ages saying “Call them to me.” In his sacramental presence through the priest Jesus repeats his question to us: “What do you want me to do for you?” When we have unburdened our hearts we will hear him speak again, saying to us “Go in peace, your faith has made you well.”
Scort said his favorite parable is that of the prodigal son, but we should focus on the father of the son, who loves him so much. Fr. Wayne said we all have been in all of the shoes of the people in that parable: the father, the son, and the brother.
Bishop Carlson ends by telling people not to be afraid to go back to confession. Be humble. Every priest wants to help. Fr. Wayne said we can’t be afraid to go to confession.