Go to Confession!

Archbishop Dolan: 'Experience the joy of forgiveness!' Penance is the topic of many bishops' Lenten messages.

Parishioners wait in line for confession at St. Hyacinth Basilica in Chicago.
Parishioners wait in line for confession at St. Hyacinth Basilica in Chicago. (photo: 2009 CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The new archbishop of Los Angeles, in his first written message to Catholics since taking over stewardship of the nation’s largest diocese, urged Catholics to go to confession during Lent.

“I encourage you to make a good confession before Easter, even if it has been a long time,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez in a Lenten message released March 8, the day before Ash Wednesday.

“In the early Church, they called confession the ‘second conversion in tears.’ St. Peter wept in sorrow after denying Jesus, and in his mercy Christ spoke to him the tender words of his pardon and peace. In the sacrament, we too can hear these words of compassion for our sins.” Archbishop Gomez said.

The archbishop, who succeeded Cardinal Roger Mahony March 1, said the parable of the prodigal son was “one of my favorite Scriptures. ... I love this story for its drama and emotion, and because it rings true.”

Archbishop Gomez added, “It is God who rejoices in the parable: ‘My son was dead and is alive again.’ When he gives his son a new robe, it signifies the white garment we are clothed with in baptism. When he orders a feast of thanksgiving, it signifies the Eucharist. My sisters and brothers, the pilgrimage of the prodigal son is the story of our lives!

“This Lent, let us seek to deepen our awareness of our baptismal identity.”

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops, urged Catholics to return to the confessional in a St. Patrick’s Day message.

“My fervent prayer for the Catholics of the Archdiocese of New York is that they will hear in the next weeks the beautiful, profound words of absolution pronounced in the confessional,” Archbishop Dolan said March 17.

“We have to be frank, though. Those words are not heard as often as they should be in the Church in New York,” he added. “We can’t imagine Catholic life without the words of consecration: ‘This is my body! This is my blood!’ Likewise, Catholic life cannot be lived properly without the sacrament of penance. We need the forgiveness of our sins. We need the grace of this sacrament to grow in virtue.”

Archbishop Dolan related that one priest told him that “after six months in his new parish, he announced to the people that he was asking the bishop for a transfer. ‘You don’t need me. I’ve sat in the confessional for half a year, and nobody has come. You must all be saints. I want to serve sinners.’”

“I exhort the entire Archdiocese of New York: Experience the joy of forgiveness!” Archbishop Dolan said. “Experience liberation from sin! Keep those confessionals busy! Keep your priests busy about the great work of dispensing the Lord’s mercy! Keep the sacrament of penance at the heart of Catholic life!”

“Lent is perhaps the only religious season yet to find a secular parallel,” said Bishop Paul Sirba of Duluth, Minn., in a Lenten message published in the March issue of The Northern Cross diocesan newspaper. “Why? Why don’t we see stores trying to sell little bottles of ashes or come up with slogans and jingles based on ‘Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return’?”

“In truth, it is a little more difficult to package our mortality, repentance, conversion and penance for our sins in the context of a celebratory consumer season,” Bishop Sirba said. “Yet on Ash Wednesday, even though it is not a holy day of obligation, more Catholics return to church to receive those ashes on the forehead perhaps than on any other day except Christmas and Easter. Refreshing, isn’t it?”

Lent, he added, “speaks to a truth about God in relation to man that we can spend a lifetime trying to understand — that God loves us even in our sinfulness.”

“To fully appreciate God’s mercy, we are invited to contemplate our sinfulness and do something about it. ‘Repent and believe the good news!’” the bishop said. “If we regard sin as a scratch, then redemption is just a Band-Aid. But if it is a mortal wound, then redemption is the ultimate unexpected rescue.”

Bishop Sirba said, “Every Catholic of the age of reason should take advantage of the sacrament of penance this Lent. It is the sacrament of God’s mercy.”

During a lunch-hour Mass on Ash Wednesday, March 9, at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Providence, R.I., Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, told his congregation made up largely of Catholic-school students that, while they have become experts in the use of modern technology — using iPods, Facebook, the Internet and e-mail — they should not let these forms of communication take over their lives and create an addiction.

“Lent is an important time of communication, of renewed communication, with God,” Bishop Tobin said, urging those gathered to spend time in silent prayer or to perform works of charity. “It would give us time to get closer to God.”

Contributing to this story was Brian J. Lowney in Providence.