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Evansville, Indiana
April 3, 1998     The Message
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April 3, 1998

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The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana / ! m © A priest and therapist talk about ......... By FATHER ROBERT L. KINAST Catholic News Service A Protestant friend of mine who is a mar- riage and family counselor is fascinated by the sacrament of penance. We often compare his professional role as a therapist and my priest- ly role as a minister of the sacrament. His ques- tions and observations have helped me come to a greater appreciation of the sacrament itself and my role as its minister. He is amazed at the readiness of penitents to talk about the worst parts of their lives with a priest whom they may not know very well. He finds, on the other hand, that he may have to spend two or three sessions establishing a sufficient trust level before his clients will speak openly to him about their marriage or family problems. His observation makes me realize how much trust Catholics have in the church, the sacra- ments and the priesthood• I am the beneficia- ry of a long tradition which has upheld the importance and the integrity of this sacrament• I do not have to establish my personal trust- worthiness to make the sacrament effective. While this relieves me of the preparatory work my friend must do with his clients, it also reminds me that people do not confess their sins to me because of me, but because of the Lord I represent. My therapist friend is curious to know how people talk to me about their sins. His clients usually give him bits and pieces of their story, putting themselves in the best light and blam- ing others for their problems. It takes him a .long time to feel that he has an accurate pic- ture of a situation and can help the person deal with it effectively. His comments make me realize that most penitents who have a serious sin to confess are willing to discuss it honestly and maturely. Rather than shifting blame or looking for excuses, they candidly admit their guilt and take responsibility for their actions. If anything, I sometimes have the impression that individuals are too hard on themselves• In my experience the honesty and maturity of penitents have been enhanced by the option of face-to-face confession. There is something about the direct encounter and personal pres- ence in this setting that helps people drop their defenses and declare honestly who they are. In response I often have found myself willing to share experiences from my personal life that might be helpful to the penitent. While not a mutual confession of sin, it is a mutual bonding in the Lord. Although my friend's clients come to him pre- sumably looking for solutions to their problems, he finds that many of them hold on to a nega- tive, almost pessimistic, outlook on their lives• He sometimes wonders if they prefer to dwell on their negative experiences because that's when they get attention from him as a therapist. He wishes he had an effective way to reinforce a more positive attitude and cele- brate their successes. His reflection makes me realize how posi- tively oriented most penitents are. They con- fess their sins, not to wallow in misery or indulge in a false sense of sinfulness, but in order to lead a better life. This positive emphasis is expressed well by referring to this sacrament as "reconciliation•" This highlights the sacrament's primary effect, which is reinforced in a positive way when it is celebrated communally. A communal celebration of reconciliation, cou- pled with the individual's private confession, is a public, joyful affirmation that the forgiveness proclaimed privately in the sacrament will con- tinue in each person's life. Whether it is cele- brated publicly or privately, however, the result of confession is a positive feeling of renewal. Finally, my therapist friend is intrigued by the practice of penance. In his work he finds it very difficult to move people from talking about their problems to doing something con- See CONFESSION page 9 i ¸ 2! "My thera F me about their sins," says Father Robert clients usually give him bits and piece putting themselves in the best light and their problems." -- CNS photo above by Gene Plaisted, below by J. Learning of penance by doing it By FATHER LAWRENCE E. MICK Catholic News Service Experience is the best teacher. That adage may be especially true when what we need to learn touches the heart as much as the mind. Learning what a treasure Christ gave us in the sacrament of penan,'e is often a matter of the heart. As a confessor I find that my heart is lifted and that I am encouraged when a penitent discovers deeper meaning in this sacramenL Then I know God has used me to help the penitent experience the love and mercy God offers to all of us. Sometimes themovement on the pen- itents' part is toward a fuller revelation of themselves during penance. People were taught • to list every sin they can remember during penance, along with the number of times each was commit- ted. This was a way of teaching that the confession should be complete, with nothing hidden or omitted. But some- times the list itself may become a way of hiding. I find it is possible for people to list all their sins and still not reveal what is really happening in their lives. Sometimes I will ask a penitent which sin needs the most attention or what he or she thinks is really at the root of a sin- ful habit. Often such a question helps a penitent to begin really to share what is happening in his or her life. That can be when true change begins to happen and when true healing begins, because we are beginning to deal with real issues at a level deeper than their symptoms alone. Sometimes the movement is physical, from behind a screen to face-to-face con- fession. Many people are hesitant to make this move, but those who try it a few times almost never go back behind the screen. This movement to come out of hiding physically often bespeaks a similar open- ness of spirit. When a person is ready to really reveal who he or she is and what is really hap- pening in his or her life, a face-to-face encounter often seems natural. This sim- ple change in setting generally facilitates a much more satisfying experience, not only for the p,mitent but for the confessor. Sometimes the movement is from a stance of dread to a sense of gratitude for God's healing love. Some penitents come to the sacrament with great hesitation, often because they find it hard to forgive themselves for what they have done and expect the same negative response from God and the confessor. When people discover that the confes- sor, whose role is to make God's forgiv- ing love tangible, does not condemn but offers understanding and love, their sense of relief frequently is obvious. This usually is a moment of healing, as the penitent realizes how deeply he or she is loved by God despite whatever sins have been confessed. Because this sacrament touches the deepest parts of our lives and hearts, it can be a powerful experience. Because both confessors and penitents are human beings, the experience is not always what it should be. Some people have memories of nega- tive or painful experienc( of the sacra- ment of penance. To allow such memo- ries to keep us from turning to this sacrament today would be a shame, however. As learned ment is a the church. A good one of the "t. sacrament.Try I,, Father of Cincinnati, OhiO, !