A senior priest reflects on reconciliation

By Fr. Willard Van De Loo | Special to The Compass | April 4, 2017

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Editor’s note: The Compass felt Lent might be a time to explore the sacrament of reconciliation through the eyes of some of our diocesan priests. We asked several priests about their experiences of the sacrament of reconciliation: from their advice on how to prepare for confession to how they determine appropriate penances to help people heal and grow in faith. This week, Fr. Willie Van De Loo reflects on the following questions: How do you prepare to hear confessions? What do you do immediately after hearing confessions?

I’ve been hearing confessions for over 60 years. For me, it is a time of humility, grace and faith. It’s also a time of giving thanks to God that he has called me to be a minister of his mercy and of reconciliation for his people.

At the time of my ordination, the practice of the church was monthly reconciliation for all. We heard the confessions of all the Catholic school children every month. It seemed to me that, as Catholics, confession offered the fullness and totality of God’s mercy. That changed drastically in 10 years.

After Vatican II, we had to learn from the Scriptures that prayer, fasting, almsgiving and forgiveness of each other had always been a means of reconciliation. In the early church, the disciples experienced a new and major means of mercy and forgiveness in the Eucharist.

Today, we begin each Mass with the penitential rite. We pause to ask God for peace and forgiveness. Often that pause is so short, not leaving us time to reflect, that we might forget what we are doing.

The concluding prayer of the rite says: “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.” Do we believe that?

In the early church, forgiveness was found in prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the Eucharist and through public penance that meant asking pardon of each other. There was no sacrament of reconciliation — as we know it today.

But over that first 1,000 years, the Holy Spirit led the church, the people of God, to a new experience in our struggles with sin and brokenness. We discovered that attitudes of pride, anger, jealousy, gossip, revenge and lust could best be dealt with by naming them, accepting them, accepting our responsibility for them, talking about them with a confessor and then following a recommended penance to gain freedom from these sins. If I can’t name them — the sin, brokenness and slavery — I can’t tame them.

So, in the 12th century, the church began to recommend the practice of reconciliation (called confession) to a priest as a means of experiencing God’s forgiveness in the sacrament.

As I prepare to hear confessions each morning before Mass, I pause to ask Mary for her support. I can hear her say, as she did at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Turning to Jesus, I hear him speak to me about his Father’s love for all. The first thing Jesus would say is, “My father does not desire the death of anyone. He wants everyone to live. My Father went into the Garden of Eden and saw Adam and Eve hurting and in pain. He didn’t want that. He wanted them to know that he missed them on his evening walk and came to invite them out of their pain, telling them that there was more to life than their pain and isolation.”

I see Jesus sitting at the well, waiting for the Samaritan woman who resents his presence, especially when he asks her for a drink. Jesus wants her to know there is more to her life than abuse and rejection.

At times, we all feel like clay or dust. But the Father can breathe life into the dust and the potter can tenderly hold the clay and call it to new form and meaning.

So I must enter the reconciliation room, the confessional, with that spirit of Jesus and of his Father.

After I listen to the penitents express their sin and brokenness, I remind them about their life as God’s image and likeness and I give them God’s peace and forgiveness. My focus, in assigning them a penance, is: “Go, your sins are forgiven.”

As a minister of God’s peace, I pray that they will know the joy and peace of Adam and Eve as they left the garden to continue creation; know the peace and joy of the Samaritan woman as she left the empty water jar and went out calling all in the village to come and see Jesus, the giver of new life; and know the joy of the potter in the new life of the broken clay, life springing from the dust.

It is this peace and joy in the call of the Father that makes the sacrament of reconciliation so filled with meaning, life, grace and trust. This experience of forgiveness can come to all when we hear God’s call to name our sins and invite God’s gift of the Spirit to again help us see who we are: God’s image and likeness.

Finally, when I leave the confessional, I say a prayer of gratitude for God’s life-giving mercy as I just experienced it, and then I go and enter into the fullness of reconciliation in the Eucharist.

Fr. Van De Loo has been involved with Cursillo for more than 40 years. His ministry has included serving on the faculty of the now-closed diocesan Sacred Heart Seminary, as pastor at Nativity Parish in Green Bay and as diocesan vicar for priests.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]Priests share their reflections on sacrament of reconciliation

My preparation to hear confessions | By Fr. Scott Valentyn

A few steps to preparing for confession | By Fr. Callistus Elue

How I prepare for my own confession | By Fr. Dave Pleier

Assigning an appropriate penance to help grow in faith | By Fr. Richard Klingeisen

Confession helps me to feel positive about my spiritual life | By Msgr. James Feely

A senior priest reflects on reconciliation | By Fr. Willard Van De Loo[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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