By Debbie Shelley
The Catholic Commentator
Weeds compete with flowers, grasses and plants for water, sunlight and nutrients and weaken non-weed plants, leaving them prone to insects and disease. In the same way, sin damages the soul and leaves it prone to the destructive forces of evil, according to priests in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
Lent, “The Springtime of the Soul,” is a time for Catholics to receive the sacrament of penance and reconciliation and root out sins and restore their relationship with God, according to Father Cayet Mangiaracina OP, parochial vicar at Holy Ghost Church in Hammond.
“They may have cut off their relationship with God. They may have given up on praying, going to church, maybe they’re envious or jealous. In some ways they may not have been able to forgive someone and they have turned away from God. They can take a look at what has turned them away from God,” said Father Mangiaracina.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, conversion is the first step in reconciling with God.
“St. Peter’s conversion after he had denied his master three times bears witness to this. Jesus’ look of infinite mercy drew tears of repentance from Peter and, after the Lord’s resurrection, a threefold affirmation of love for him.” (1429)
The catechism continues “Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.” (1430)
Many people wrestle with the question, “How do I prepare for the sacrament of reconciliation and make a good confession?”
“The way that I have found most fruitful for preparing for confession, both for myself and for others, is by bringing an examination of conscience with us to a church or chapel and spending some time talking to the Lord and asking him to show where forgiveness and healing is needed,” said Father Brent Maher, pastor of St. Ann Church in Morganza.
Some people may be ashamed of their sins and find it difficult to confess to the priest.
“One of the built-in sources of courage is the confessional screen – it is a wonderful gift for people who might be embarrassed to say things face to face or who want to remain anonymous,” said Father Maher. “Whether going behind the screen or face to face, the important thing to remember is that the priest is there to dispense God’s divine mercy. He isn’t going to tell anyone what is said in the confessional, he isn’t shocked by what is said in the confessional, he won’t be angry because of what is said in the confessional, and – at least in my experience – he probably won’t remember what is said in confession later when he sees you.”
Father Maher urged people having a difficult time confessing certain sins or asking sensitive questions to be clear and direct with the priest. “Most adults have at some point most likely had to have an uncomfortable conversation or test run with a medical doctor, but with the knowledge that clarity will help to resolve the issue. In the same way, it is best to be straightforward with the priest, who is a doctor of the soul, so that the person can receive the best advice and healing grace to help resolve issues of the soul,” said Father Maher.
Fathers Mangiaracina and Maher recommended people go to confession monthly, saying the sacrament provides healing and a new sense of direction in life.
“Sin holds us down and tries to keep us in a place of slavery to itself; confession frees us from that and permits us to ascend to new heights, to see clearly, and to respond to God with greater ease. Going to confession regularly helps a person identify in concrete ways the sins that wound their soul,” said Father Maher. “Going too long between confessions increases the likelihood of only confessing things vaguely or only what happened recently. Regular recourse to the sacrament ensures a steady climb up in the spiritual life, and also provides opportunities to receive grace and spiritual insight from the priest along the way.”
Focusing on one area between confessions helps people make steady progress in their spiritual life, said Father Mangiaracina.
He emphasized Lent is a time for people to focus on the fact that Jesus seeks out repentant sinners. Referring to the parable of the lost sheep, Father Maringiaracina points out that Jesus is the one who will leave 100 sheep in the desert to find one lost sheep.
The sacrament of reconciliation is a time during Lent when people are reminded that Jesus’ whole life on earth was about forgiving sins.
“His first words in the Gospels are calls to repentance, throughout his ministry he forgave sins, on the cross he begged the father’s forgiveness of his persecutors, and after the resurrection the first thing he did was give the apostles power to forgive sins. Jesus’ whole mission was about getting sin out of the way so that we might be able to be united to God. Confession makes that happen,” said Father Maher.