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Evansville, Indiana
September 18, 1987     The Message
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September 18, 1987

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Fth Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of EvansvWe, September 18, 1957 Confession revisited By Katharine Bird NC New8 Service ne of every three peo- ple who come to Jesuit Father John Haughey for confession the sacrament of reconcilia- tion -- has been away a long time. Many come right out and say, "I'm nervous. I haven't been in awhile. You'll have to help me," said the pastor of St. Peter's Parish in Charlotte, N.C. Father Haughey's response is "to celebrate immediately and express my joy they have come." Often this turns into a prayer. "Let's rejoice that grace and faith and need and hope have brought you here." People returning to this sacra- ment after a long time have "a lot of tension and stress about them," said Father William Hoffman, pastor of St. Jude's Parish in Atlan- ta, Ga. "But it doesn't take long ff)r them to realize this is a sacrament of healing and forgiveness." During a face-to-face confession -- 50 percent of the confessions in each parish -- Father Hoffman often traces the Sign of the Cross on the returning penitent's forehead with the words, "May God forgive you and bring you peace." To help the penitent get started, both priests take their clues from what the person has said. "I usually try to let people know I understand where they're coming from, that I'm not trying to make it any more difficult than it is," said Father Hoffman. Often he asks, "How long has it been? From the last time you came to confession, what are the things you remember?" People always have two or three things "weighing on their mind," he observed. "Then I may go over the commandments and it awakens other things. They're always grateful for that." Father Haughey tries to create a context of prayer for the sacra- ment. Often he tells people, "The healing power of God wants to come to you through me. Forget about me and tell the Lord the things you're sorry for, the things offensive to him." Sometimes he finds that people "need categories" to help them. So he talks with them about mat- ters such as charity or fidelity or cheating. To describe confession, Father Hoffman sometimes uses the image of God as the divine physician. In consulting a medical physician, a person can't talk in generalities, the priest said. "You have to be specific m I hurt, right here on my thigh. I want it healed." "I encourage people to approach the sacrament" the same way, to be specific about what troubles them so God can heal them, Father Hoffman said. Asked what motivates people to return to the sacrament of recon- ciliation, Father Haughey respond- ed, "A dream busts" -- a relation- ship breaks up, a person is diagnosed with cancer, people feel a hunger for more than they have. People get "hit over the head with a two-by-four," Father Hoff- man said. "They look at their lives and see destructive behavior or find themselves lonely or lacking peace." Some come because they have met "a holy person in their daily lives and relationships," Father Haughey said. They come to con- fession saying, "I want to be like that person." Toward the end of the confes- sion, Father Hoffman likes to make a connection between forgiving others and being forgiven ourselves. In his experience, peo- ple who have been away from confession for some time usually are harboring resentments toward others, toward a former spouse, an alcoholic parent, a church representative. Tailoring his queries to the particular situation, Father Hoff- man gently asks people about possible ill feelings. He asks them whether they could forgive these people. In his experience this forgiveness helps people to unders- tand the forgiveness they seek themselves. (Ms. Bird is associate editor of Faith Today.) Breaching the covenant with (] By Father John Castelot NC News Service istory's first recorded religious persecution by a hostile power rag- ed in the second cen- tury B.C. Syria's Ant- iochus IV was attempting to stamp out the religion of the Jews, with frightening success. To bolster the Jews' faith and courage, a man wrote a book known today as the Book of Daniel. It contains one of the most moving acts of contrition ever penned (Daniel 9:3-19). In the name of the whole people the author acknowledges that if they are suffering, it is because they have not been faithful to their covenant with God. "We have sinned, been wicked and done evil .... We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name .... We are shamefac- ed even to this day: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem and all Israel...because of their treachery toward you." Yet, the same author gives a reminder that God is compassionate and forgiving. The Israelites of biblical times had a keen sense of enjoying a special relationship with God -- a covenant. They owed that relation- ship to God who rescued a gang of slave laborers' from servitude in Egypt and, incredibly, formed them into a people, a nation. They were uniquely his people and he was their God. This was the covenant: an in- timate relationship between God and Israel. Like many covenants of the day, it had stipulations to observe. The basic ones were summed up in the Ten Commandments. When an Israelite sinned, it was not just a question of breaking a law, but of offending the divine partner to the covenant. The prophet Hosea spoke of this in terms of marital infidelity: God was thegroom, the people his bride. Sinfulness was "adultery." In one classic plea for mercy, Psalm 51, we hear the psalmist say: "Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." This psalm was attributed popularly to David after his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. Whether it was David's prayer or not, it reflects his sentiments after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sins: "Then David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the LorcE' (2