A Healing Sacrament

Book Pick: Patrick Novecosky Recommends Vinny Flynn’s 7 Secrets of Confession.

Editor’s note: Dan Burke interviewed Vinny Flynn on Register Radio Oct. 18. Listen to the interview here.


7 Secrets of Confession

By Vinny Flynn

Ignatius Press, 2013

191 pages, $13

To order: EWTNreligiouscatalogue.com

As a lifelong practicing Catholic, I know a thing or two about the seven sacraments. And as someone who works in full-time ministry, I also know that I have a lot to learn. That was the first thing that struck me when I read Vinny Flynn’s new book, 7 Secrets of Confession.

For example, I was always under the impression that confession was all about receiving forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong: We do receive forgiveness if we make an honest confession and receive absolution. But confession is primarily a sacrament of healing — similar to the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

To make his point, Flynn refers to Jesus’ healing of the paralyzed man in Mark’s Gospel. The man’s friends lower him down through a hole in the roof. Most of those gathered expected that Jesus would heal the man’s paralysis; but he “surprises everyone by first forgiving his sins and only then healing his body.” After all, he writes, Jesus came to restore us to the Father.

This book was a great education for me, on many levels, but one point Flynn raises that I had not considered is that “your sin is different than my sin.” Take the same sin: shoplifting a pack of gum, for example. If a faithful, educated Catholic steals the gum, his culpability level is very high — much higher than an uneducated immigrant who grew up in an abusive, fatherless home.

Another brilliant analogy Flynn raises is how our sin does not change God. The Lord’s love is always freely available. It is constant and unchanging. He likens it to the sun, which is always shining. It doesn’t move. The earth moves as it turns away from the sun, but the sun is constant in delivering its rays of warmth and light. God’s love is equally unchanging.

Sin, however, changes us. Flynn writes that when we sin, it’s like drawing the shades in our house or putting up an umbrella to block the sun out. Worse, it’s like going into a cave, where we are cut off from the sun’s warmth and light. Confession, he says, is like coming out of the cave so that we can experience God’s healing love.

Ultimately, Flynn writes, we are called to go beyond the grocery-list-type confession. Drawing from Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he points out that “the interior repentance that Christ is calling for in the confessional ‘is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart. … It entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life’” (1431).

Throughout the book’s 191 pages, he stresses Catholic teaching that confession is not so much about confession as it is about our relationship with Christ. It’s about Jesus’ desire to heal us and make us whole in order to restore us to the Father. He writes: “No image of confession is as powerful for me as the image of the Prodigal Son wrapped in the arms of his father. Confession is when our misery meets his mercy, and all is restored in the Father’s embrace.”

No matter which side of the confessional grille you’re on, whether as priest or penitent, Flynn’s 7 Secrets of Confession — a great follow-up to his bestselling 7 Secrets of the Eucharist — is an indispensable guide to getting the most out of the sacrament of reconciliation. Flynn’s insights into the most under-used sacrament of the Catholic Church are manifold. In fact, Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl recommends “this book to every Catholic and confessor.”

And here’s a final secret about his book: He actually reveals more than seven! He lays out seven, plus a bonus chapter, for a total of eight — and there are a multitude of secrets in between. If you desire to receive the limitless graces that Our Lord has for you in the sacrament of his mercy, this book is a must-read.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor in chief of Legatus magazine.

He writes from Naples, Florida.