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Bishop Paul Sirba: Don’t fall away from the sacrament of confession this Lent

It is hard to appreciate God’s mercy if we don’t acknowledge that we are sinners. It’s difficult to think good news is good news if we are not in need of it.

Recently, a priest from another diocese called and spoke to me about what he perceives as a falling off in the reception of the sacrament of confession. He is pastor of a large parish, several thousand families, which has a good tradition of participation in this great sacrament of healing. He doesn’t have the numbers yet, but he senses that fewer people have come to confession this Lent. Coming off the Jubilee Year of Mercy, this is distressing to him. He is wondering: Why?

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
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I have asked our pastors, at our clergy study day, about their plans to make the sacrament more available to you during the holy season of Lent. They indicated to me that they have increased their offering of confession times to accommodate your busy schedules. I have encouraged people to go to confession in my homilies, as I know our priests and deacons have done.

I haven’t heard from our priests that there is a falloff in participation of the sacrament, but I offer the encouragement to you regardless: If you have not already done so, please take advantage of this great sacrament of God’s mercy during Holy Week in preparation for your Easter celebrations!

Our Savior Jesus Christ came into the world to save us from our sins. He did not come to affirm us in our sins. He did not die on the cross because I could already say I’m “a good person and haven’t killed anybody” — as I have heard not a few people say in self-justification.

The grace to acknowledge our sins is a gift from Him. The grace to turn away from our sins and be faithful to the Gospel is a gift from Jesus. True compunction for sins and a firm purpose of amendment is a grace from Jesus. The ability to live in freedom is a free gift purchased by the blood of Jesus.

We show our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us by meeting Him in the sacrament of His mercy. The sacrament of penance is a personal encounter with Jesus. He personally listens to us tell our sins after we have examined our consciences, through the ministry of the priest. He understands our weakness. He helps to be humble. He gives us His grace of forgiveness and restores our dignity as sons and daughters of God. He entrusts to us a penance so we can make some amends for the wrongs we have done. He is infinitely merciful.

He sends us forth in blessing, washing away our sins through absolution … ”God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Saints are made in the sacrament of penance. If you desire to be the saint you were meant to be, this is the sacrament where you will taste God’s mercy, speak God’s mercy, live God’s mercy.

I hope and pray that the Catholics of the Diocese of Duluth fall in love with this sacrament and counter the trends that seem to be appearing. Lent gives way to Easter through the dying and rising of Jesus to save us from our sins. Thank you, Jesus!

Bishop Paul D. Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.