“I perform works of mercy in every soul,” said Our Lord to St. Faustina. “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to my mercy.”
Disneyland might claim to be “the happiest place on Earth,” but for my money, nothing beats a Catholic Church that is holding a Penance service just before Christmas. They are attended by those who regularly go to Confession as well as those who haven’t been to Confession in many years. Either way, there is a palpable and profound sense of joy among those who receive absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.
Sadly, however, some people will be reluctant to go to Confession this Advent. If you’re one of them, please consider the following.
I’m sure that many people are embarrassed to confess their sins, and maybe sexual sins are the most difficult to confess. I don’t want to make light of serious sins, but it’s important that you know something. Priests hear these sins over and over and over again in Confession. But, you might be wondering, what if I’ve committed these sins dozens or hundreds of times? Yep, they’ve heard that too.
Some people may be afraid that the priest has never heard sins like yours. Believe me, you haven’t committed a single sin that isn’t addressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Brilliant and creative as you might be, your sins haven’t broken new ground. There are only Ten Commandments, after all, and priests have heard plenty of infractions against all of them. During a penance service in which each priest might hear 50 confessions, chances are good that they’ve already heard—that same night—other penitents confess the same sins you’re so worried about!
If you think a priest is going to be shocked by your Confession, you’re wrong. Very likely, the priest will be overjoyed with your repentance. Many priests are elated to pronounce those beautiful words of absolution. For many men, one of their main attractions to the priesthood was the ability to be an instrument of God’s forgiveness, so be assured that there is plenty of joy on the other side of the screen. But one thing the priest will not be is shocked. Please take this the right way: your sins are boring. Everyone’s sins are boring. As a priest once told me, “It is virtue that’s exciting; sin is boring.”
But I’ve been outside the state of grace for 50 years, haven’t been to Mass in 40, and committed plenty of mortal sins. I must be the worst sinner on earth! What about that? As unlikely as it may be, let’s say you are the one person who can rightly claim to actually be the worst sinner on earth. Can Jesus forgive all your sins? Absolutely. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, “Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race.” It might also help to remember what Jesus told Saint Faustina: the greatest sinner has the most right to his Divine Mercy, not the least.
Might you still feel embarrassed? Maybe. But a few minutes of embarrassment is a small price to pay for eternal happiness. It’s also a small price to pay for the earthly happiness that follows a good Confession. Especially if you haven’t been to Confession in a long time, you might be surprised how easy it was to go.
In fact, considering its eternal ramifications, one of the things that should impress us most about the Sacrament of Penance and absolution is how quickly and easily it can occur. Speaking of the Sacrament of Penance, Jesus revealed to Faustina, “To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage, or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of my representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated.”
Regardless of the gravity of your sins, regardless of how many times you have committed them, the mercy of God lovingly awaits you in Confession. In fact, if he or she is contrite and chooses to accept the mercy of God, there is not a soul on earth who stands more than a few minutes away from sacramental absolution and the resulting sanctifying grace. And deep and powerful happiness.
And what better time to come back to God than Christmas?