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The Sacrament of Penance

by Father Andrew B. Horvath, B.A., M.A.

Saint Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1: “But know this, that in the last days dangerous times will come.”  I believe we are living in those days. If we meditate on the words that follow, we shall realize how much they apply to our day. “Men,” wrote St. Paul, “will be lovers of self, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, criminal, heartless, faithless, slanderers, incontinent, merciless, unkind, treacherous, stubborn, puffed up with pride, loving pleasure more than God, having a semblance indeed of piety, but disowning its power. Avoid these.” (2 Tim., 3:2-5)

Those words, indeed, describe our age. They warn us to be alert and on our guard. Lucifer has been unleashed from hell, and is tempting people to all kinds of sins. People say they “know” God, but really they do not. They know “about” Him. The difference between the two kinds of knowing is immense. When I truly know someone, I have a personal relationship with him or her. I have listened to and been with that person at a deeper level than simply knowing what he or she does at work, and whatever it may be.

The same holds true in our relationship with God. Many good books are written, and many conferences conducted. Much knowledge about God can be gained, but God may never be really “known”.

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Jesus invites all souls to go to Heaven but many refuse His love. Sinners love the sinful pleasures, power and pride that comes from gratifying unmortified emotions, desires and bad companions. Thus, many hasten headlong to hell where the devil will torment them for all eternity. The way back is through making a good sacramental confession.

If God Is Not Really Known, How Can He Be Really Loved?

This is the tragedy with so many Christians today. Knowing God is more than a “head experience” made up of rational and controlled understanding. It encompasses the heart - our deepest self with all our joys and sorrows. Wisdom is made known to those who are open to surprise and are able to enjoy the mystery of God’s presence. But how can it dwell in a soul defiled with all kinds of sins and in a body ensnared by a chain of immorality? We read in Wisdom 1:4: “For wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins.” And in Psalm 91:7, we read: “The senseless man shall not know, nor will the fool understand ...”

Our churches are full of senseless people, who, though they attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion, are nevertheless lacking in wisdom and holiness. Saint Vincent de Paul wrote: “Ah! A great many persons live constantly in the state of damnation.” And Saint Teresa of Avila stated: “Bad confessions damn the majority of Christians.” Why? Sins of the flesh. Our Lady warned at Fatima:

More souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other kind of sin.”

Pope Pius XII said on Christmas, 1946: “Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.” John Paul II confirmed that statement when he said: “The sin of this century is the loss of the sense of sin.” Practically empty confessional boxes prove those words true.

On December 4, 1981, John Paul II, having emphasized his concern about the Sacrament of Penance, stated: “As you well know, the theory according to which the Eucharist forgives mortal sin, without the sinner’s having recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, is not reconcilable with the teaching of the Church. It is true that the Sacrifice of the Mass, from which all grace comes to the Church, obtains for the sinner the gift of conversion, without which forgiveness is not possible, but that does not at all mean that those who have committed a mortal sin can approach Eucharistic Communion without having first become reconciled with God by means of the priestly ministry”: (from an address to the Italian Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Abruzzi and Molise on their ad limina apostolorum visit).

On April 2, 1982, John Paul II, having addressed a group of French Bishops of the Eastern Ecclesiastical Region on their ad limina apostolorum visit, unequivocally stated: “It is necessary to recognize the existence of a certain crisis in the Sacrament of Penance.

"Many people no longer see in what way they have sinned, and even fewer, that they have possibly sinned seriously; above all, they do not see why they should ask forgiveness before a representative of the Church. Others give as an excuse that confessions were too tainted with routine and formalism, etc. On this point, good catechesis should lead the faithful to preserve the consciousness of their state of sinfulness and to understand the necessity and sense of a personal process of reconciliation before receiving, with the Eucharist, all its fruits of renewal and unity with Christ and His Church.”

So many no longer consider the sinfulness of their soul, yet they still receive the Eucharist regularly, without recourse to the Sacrament of Penance. This smacks of Protestantism, since Protestants do not believe in auricular confession. Today, unfortunately, it is an undeniable fact that the faithful are often told that the “Confiteor” will suffice before Holy Communion.

“The objection,” continued John Paul II to the French bishops, “is sometimes made that priests, taken up with other tasks and often few in number, are not available for this kind of ministry. Let them remember the example of the saintly Curé d’Ars and so many other pastors who, even in our own day, thanks be to God, practice what has been called ‘the asceticism of the confessional.’ For we are all at the service of the members of the people of God entrusted to our zeal and, I would say, each of them ...”

Saint John Chrysostom once said: “I do not speak rashly, but as I feel and think. I do not think that many priests are saved, but that those who perish are far more numerous.” I agree with the saint. And why? I base my belief on Ezechiel 3:18, which reads thus: “If I say to the wicked man, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct, so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death ...”

Surely, Saint Paul understood that text from Ezechiel. He was not only “not ashamed of the Gospel” (Romans 1:16), but he also courageously fulfilled his mission from Jesus Christ, because he realized that “the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those men who in wickedness hold back the truth of God” (Ibid. 1:18). Pope Saint Gregory the Great said: “Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right, because they fear losing the favor of men.” They are “mercenaries,” as the saintly pontiff called them, “who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears. The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: ‘They are dumb dogs that cannot bark’” (Pope Saint Gregory the Great). That means Lucifer is snatching millions of souls from Christ.

The majority of prelates and priests, I believe, are afraid to assert what is right and what is wrong. So, they turn their backs on the Lord through silence. “Therefore,” says Pope Saint Gregory the Great, “the Lord again says to His unfaithful people: ‘Your prophets saw false and foolish visions and did not point out your wickedness, that you might repent of your sins.’” Again, the saintly Pope has stated: “The word of God accuses them of seeing false visions, because they fear to reproach men for their faults and thereby lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Because they fear reproach, they keep silent and fail to point out the sinner’s wrongdoing.”