Summary of today’s show: The season of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ and the best way to prepare is to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess our sins and to receive the graces to live holier lives. Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor are on location at St. John Seminary where they talk with Vince Lynch, who gives his view from the pew as a Catholic who loves this sacrament and as a licensed social worker with insight into the human need for reconciliation and forgiveness.
Listen to the show:
Watch the show via live video streaming or a recording later: BostonCatholicLive.com
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor
Today’s guest(s): Vince Lynch, Director of Continuing Education at Boston College’s School of Social Work
Links from today’s show:
- The Light Is On For You
- “Sacrament of Penance”, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, The Gospel in the Digital Age
Today’s topics: Sacrament of Reconciliation
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed Fr. Chris O’Connor, his co-host, to the show, recording on location at St. John Seminary in Brighton. It’s the season of Advent, preparing for Christ’s coming in three ways, in the Incarnation of Christmas, at the end of time and the Last Judgment, and at our own individual judgment. Fr. Chris said we celebrate Advent where we prepare for that great day of Christmas. As the days grow darker and the nights grow longer, we long for the light of Christ to come. Scot said one of the good steps to take to prepare for Christmas is embracing the Sacrament of Reconciliation sometime during the season of Advent. Fr. Chris said Isaiah talks of preparing the way of the Lord and making straight his paths, in language that refers to the destruction of sin, and preparing our hearts to be ready for the Christmas season. We can hear Christ himself speak to us through the priest that our sins are forgiven and we are to go and do better. Scot recalled Msgr. James Moroney’s admonition during an episode of TGCL earlier in Lent that as St. Joseph prepared the manger for the arrival of the Christ Child, we should clean out hearts as well. We clean out the garbage and sin and bad habits. We then receive an infusion of sacramental grace to enable us to live holier lives. Fr. Chris compared it to the energy and excitement of spring cleaning. We feel the urgency and expectation as we prepare to receive our newborn Savior. Advent calls us to begin anew and fresh and with a greater zeal. Fr. Chris advised that people to go to the Sacrament of Confession sooner rather than later and don’t wait until the last minute to go or you’ll be standing in lines.
Fr. Chris said that people tell him that they don’t want to go to their parish priest for fear of embarrassment, so he tells them to find another parish nearby. They can look up parishes online at Pilot Parish Finder, which will show them the nearby parishes. He said people can also go to the many shrines and chapels throughout the archdiocese as well. We forget in this sacrament that our sins are forgiven and then God’s graces are showered upon us to do better in our lives.
Scot said some people say they’d go, but they forget how. He said there are tremendous resources for adults and children at The Light Is On For You. But even if you can’t go to the website, go to the confessional and tell the priest that you don’t know what to do. He will be thrilled that you’re there and will be happy to help you out. Fr. Chris said all the Lord is looking from us is for us to say we’re sorry, and if we don’t know the formal Act of Contrition, we should express our sorrow in our own words.
Scot said Vince Lynch will be joining them to talk about his experience and insight with the sacrament of reconciliation, both as a practicing Catholic and as a licensed social worker. Fr. Chris said Vince is a friend of the seminary, works with the seminarians and is a man of great faith himself. He’s here to give a view from the pew. The two phrases we need in all our relationships is “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”
2nd segment: Scot Landry welcomed Vince Lynch to the show. Vince said 15 years ago he made a decision to become more serious about his faith and during Holy Week he felt a strong desire to go to confession. He went to St. Anthony’s Shrine and was apprehensive and wasn’t sure where to begin. He met with a friar for face to face confession and told his sins to the priest. The priest welcomed him back and told him to thank God for the grace of this good confession, a phrase he’s heard time and again. He then heard the loveliest words this side of paradise: I absolve you of your sins. He said confession is a major treasure of the Church.
Scot asked Vince how long it had been since his last confession. He said it had been a number of years where he had been lukewarm in his faith. For a number of years he had been gently led by the Lord to come back. He had been teaching near Worcester at Annamaria College and would attend the Liturgy of the Hours each day and was gradually drawn closer to the Lord again. Fr. Chris added that he can’t tell how many times he’s heard from people that it’s been decades and that they don’t know why they’re there now. But he knows why: The Lord has been calling to the person, to prompt them, to urge them to think in a new about this sacrament and how important God’s forgiveness is to them.
Scot said many people don’t love going into the confessional and thinking about telling someone else about their sins. But people love the feeling after leaving the confessional. Vince said he felt like he was entering a new chapter of his life as he left the confessional that day. He said it felt powerful and didn’t want it to be a one-time experience. It’s now become almost second nature for him. He’s found in recent years that he enjoys experiencing confession with different priests in different circumstances and experiencing it differently each time. He’s come to see confession as a friend with spiritual and psychological benefits and no longer fears it.
Scot thinks back to a conversation with a friend in marketing about how to describe confession in a way that connects with people. He told him that it’s hitting the reset button in your relationship with God and the Church. Once you’ve hit that reset button, for instance, confessing mortal sin you can go back to communion. Vince said one of the things that’s been powerful for him in going to frequent confession. In all that time, he’s never experienced a harsh word, a criticism or a belittling. It’s truly been a healing experience.
Scot asked how frequent confession helped him in the spiritual life. Vince said as he become comfortable with his status as a sinner, someone who’s human and wounded like everyone, he can bring that woundedness to confession who brings healing. In talking to the priest, he’s talking to Jesus Christ who is present in the sacrament.
Fr. Chris asked the difference between confession and a counseling session. He said it’s that confession is a sacrament, a gift instituted by God to give grace. It’s unique in that way. What he does as a counseling involves helping people look at areas of their life, and maybe even sin, which are stumbling blocks in their life and look at strategies to help them resolve. Confession provides relief for those symptoms, but is fundamentally about reconciling our relationships with the Lord.
Scot said the act of verbalizing sins to God through the priest is taking ownership of those actions has a lot of human benefits. Vince said as we become aware of that woundedness, there’s a growing sense of humility with God and the people in our lives that allow us to relate in more comfortable ways.
Scot asked what advice Vince would give to someone who thinks their sins would scandalize the priest or embarrass themselves. Vince said in his own experience with his confession with the friar is that people should pray for the desire to return to confession. The person needs to know that the priest is not judging you in some sense, he’s not going to grade you. Frequent use of confession enables that to grow. The sacrament becomes more and more a part of you. Fr. Chris added that the best confessors are themselves regular users of the sacrament and understand their own woundedness and need for the sacrament. Fr. Chris said we often carry around huge boulders and put the pebbles down. When we go to confession, get out the big sins first and the rest comes easily.
Fr. Chris said the only thing that scandalizes him is that people don’t come to the sacrament enough. He said never remembers individual confessions. The priest isn’t concerned about the sin; he’s concerned about the soul. Scot said the Devil often distracts us by making us focus on our sins and not on God’s desire to forgive us.
Vince said the Lord wants us to approach with a contrite heart and the rest will begin to flow. Fr. Chris said of Adam and Eve, they run from the Lord when they sin, but in the story of the Prodigal Son, we see the Father who runs to the Son. The Truth and sunlight are the greatest disinfectants, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said.
3rd segment: Scot said the topic of today’s show was inspired by the remarks of Cardinal Timothy Dolan at the fall meeting of the US Bishops Conference where he spoke powerfully about confession:
But, the Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance — a repentance from within that can then transform the world without. What an irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.
We became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform of structures, systems, institutions, and people other than ourselves.That, too, is important; it can transform our society and world. But did we fail along the way to realize that in no way can the New Evangelization be reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform; that it is first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within? “The Kingdom of God is within,” as Jesus taught.
The premier answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” “what’s wrong with the church?” is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming …none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, “The answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is just two words:’I am,’”
Vince said one of the troubling things about our culture today is the loss of the awareness of sin. An awareness of sin can translate into greater empathy, greater love of God and our neighbor. Fr. Chris said we live in a world in which everything is okay, there’s no sin. Vince said in counseling they have an idea called evidence-based practice. They may see in their work with clients that they minimize their problems in life as no big deal and don’t affect their life. As a therapist, they bring to the attention of the client the evidence of how those things really impact others.
Scot said he likes how the cardinal says the sacrament evangelizes the evangelizers. Reflecting on the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, you can truly appreciate how you are loved by God. When we are aware of that, it becomes easier to love others and ourselves and to carry out what we know we should do. Vince said fear of the Lord is not based on punishment, but that we love the Lord so much we fear falling short. Scot said the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive” are very freeing. Vince said after hearing those words, the anger and upset begins to melt away.
I am! Admitting that leads to conversion of heart and repentance, the marrow of the Gospel-invitation. I remember the insightful words of a holy priest well known to many of us from his long apostolate to priests and seminarians in Rome, Monsignor Charles Elmer, wondering aloud from time to time if, following the close of the Council, we had sadly become a Church that forgot how to kneel. If we want the New Evangelization to work, it starts on our knees.
Remember a few years back, when Cardinal Cahal Daly led us in our June retreat? Speaking somberly of the Church in his home country, he observed, “The Church in Ireland is in the dirt on her knees.” Then he paused, and concluded, “Maybe that’s where the Church is at her best.”
We kneel in the Sacrament of Penance because we are profoundly sorry for our faults and our sins, serious obstacles to the New Evangelization. But then we stand forgiven, resolute to return to the work entrusted to us – as evangelizers of the Gospel of Mercy.
Vince said it speaks to the humility mentioned earlier. If one can embrace this call and humble oneself to acknowledge one’s shortcomings. But to experience that and do it in a way that you can feel forgiven and then rise and carry on with our efforts to evangelize. Fr. Chris said of the story of the woman caught in adultery, you see in that public scene where Christ writes in the sand and the crowd drifts away. The woman is on the ground and Christ is right there with her to lift her up. Christ does that in confession, lifting us up from all that mires us down.
Scot said Christ came into the world to reconcile all of us to the Father. This was the purpose of His Incarnation, his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. But we need to participate in this, we need to respond. Vince said God loves us so much He sent His Son.
As I began my talk this morning, my brothers, so I would like to end it, with Blessed John XXIII.
It was the Sunday angelus of October 28, 1962.The message the Holy Father delivered on that bright Roman afternoon never even mentions the phrase New Evangelization.But it strikes right at the heart of the mission entrusted to each of us as shepherds.
“I feel something touching my spirit that leads to serenity,” Good Pope John remarked. “The word of the Gospel is not silent.It resonates from one end of the world to the other, and finds the way of the heart. Dangers and sorrows, human prudence and wisdom, everything needs to dissolve into a song of love, into a renewed invitation, pleading all to desire and wish for the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ. A kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
How could we not see it alive in those holy men and women of every time and place, the heroic evangelizers of our faith, including most recently St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Marianne Cope?
We have beheld it in the Church’s unrelenting corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in the heroic witness of persecuted Christians, in the Church’s defense of unborn human life, the care of our elders and the terminally ill, advocacy for the unemployed, those in poverty, our immigrant brothers and sisters, victims of terror and violence throughout our world, of all faiths and creeds, and in our defense of religious freedom, marriage and family.
And, I have suggested today, that as we “come and go” in response to the invitation of Jesus, we begin with the Sacrament of Penance.This is the sacrament of the New Evangelization, for as Pope Benedict reminds us, “We cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire to conversion.” (Homily for the Opening of the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops).
With this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it now: “With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?”
To which I reply, “You better believe it!” First things first!
Vince said the words touched him deeply because he reflects on how perhaps he hasn’t been doing such a good job of bringing the Good News out to others about his experience of the Sacrament of Penance. Scot said the New Evangelization begins with conversion of ourselves first so we can be effective witnesses. Fr. Chris said the Church understands who we are. We receive most of the sacraments only once, but the Church understands that there’s sin, repentance, conversion, repeat. Greater than the fall into sin is the Cross of Christ.