“Ask a Priest: Why Would Saintly People Go to Confession Weekly?”

Q: I have two questions. (1) Why do some people who live saintly lives feel the need to receive the sacrament of reconciliation every week? What on earth would these good people have to say in there? Are they not wasting the priest’s time? (2) I myself don’t receive the sacrament often enough, or as often as I would like to, for the following reason. Isn’t it so that if we are to be forgiven, we must first forgive others? Well, in my case, I have people that I do not, cannot forgive. These people contributed to the death of my only child, a teenager. It’s a long story, but I doubt that I’ll ever forgive them. How can I? It’s not possible for me. I love my Catholic faith, but I stay away from the sacrament. Thank you, Father. – L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear about the death of your child. It must be a heartbreaking loss.

This is a moment to recall that our faith teaches that death doesn’t have the final word. Faith teaches us that we can hope to be eternally reunited someday with our loved ones in heaven.

That eye on eternity is one thing that prompts even saintly people to go to confession frequently. They want to be prepared for death at any time.

Also, the sacrament of reconciliation is not only a means of receiving forgiveness and absolution for sins. It is a conveyor of grace that helps us to grow in the spiritual life. For more on this, you can see this post by my friend and colleague, Father John Bartunek.

We should all seek growth in the spiritual life. For we aren’t called to just avoid sin. We are called to be saints. Those saintly people you mention probably arrived at that stage in part because of their frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation.

As for your personal situation: It’s good to remember that Jesus suffered and died for all of us, even those who contributed to the death of your child. He loves them all, just as he does you and your child.

Jesus wants the best for each of us. He certainly wants us to be at peace. That is one reason he taught us in the Our Father to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Jesus in his wisdom knows that our reluctance to forgive can weigh down our hearts. Ironically, this lack of forgiveness doesn’t affect the culprits as much as it does the person who won’t forgive.

You write that it’s “not possible” for you to forgive. I invite you to reconsider that stance. If Jesus asks us to forgive, it’s because we will have the ability to do it, with his grace.

Moreover, there are risks to not forgiving.

One, it can alienate us from God’s forgiveness of our faults.

Two, it can hurt our spiritual growth. For a person to hold on to anger and deprive herself of the sacrament of reconciliation is not a recipe for happiness or holiness.

Then too there is the physical and psychological fallout from a lack of forgiveness. For it takes more energy to hold on to anger than to let it go.

Behind all this is the devil. He might have incited others to sin and to do things that led to the death of your child. But the devil isn’t satisfied with that. Now he’s after you and wants you to stay away from the sacraments. Is this a victory you want to give the devil?

Perhaps it would help to remember three things.

First, you do have the ability to forgive, since forgiveness is an act of the will. And you have free will.

Second, this act of the will doesn’t necessarily mean that your painful feelings will evaporate. They might remain for a long time. This is understandable; you have the heart of a mom, after all. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you must have warm, fuzzy feelings for those who contributed to the death of your child.

Forgiveness does mean that you can say, “Lord, this loss is painful for me. But I want to forgive those who brought me this pain. I want to forgive them because they are your beloved children, and you want them with you in heaven too. I want to forgive them as an expression of my own appreciation at being forgiven so many times.”

Third, your act of forgiveness and your return to the sacrament of confession and the Eucharist would be important steps toward letting the Gospel shape your life.

This in turn will nourish a sense of hope that you could someday be reunited with your child. In the meantime you can offer up your prayers and your reception of the sacraments for the repose of your child’s soul.

Along the way you might find other missions in life, other ways to help people. You could give the world a powerful witness by your forgiveness and your willingness to move on. Count on my prayers.

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