ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

Sacrament of reconciliation is at the heart of discipleship

“If you want to overcome your sins and grow in the spiritual life,” Edward Sri writes in “Into His Likeness,” “go to the Sacraments.” Not surprisingly, he recommends the two most common and important ones, Eucharist and reconciliation.

About the latter, he writes: “The Sacrament of Reconciliation brings us right into the heart of our discipleship.” He then goes on to rehearse a familiar ex­planation of the meaning and value of reconciliation, or what Catholics still commonly call “confession.”

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This section in Sri’s book reminded me that we don’t actually hear much discussion about reconciliation these days. It seems to be an issue that Catholics have decided is more or less settled.  It’s a good thing to do, and good Catholics should do it often.

You don’t hear these days about a pastor here or there who is experimenting with the format of the sacrament in an effort to make it more meaningful or at least more appealing. You rarely if ever hear a discussion of how the sacrament originated as penance (which is still its formal name) and evolved over time into what we have today, only slightly adjusted by the resourcement of the Second Vatican Council. And no one seems to wonder what a priest’s life would be like if Catholics actually went to confession as often as we’re told we should.

My impression is that many Catholics take the sacrament for what it’s worth, and its worth varies considerably from person to person and age to age.

Younger Catholics who still practice their faith often seem also to have rediscovered the value of the sacrament, and you occasionally hear a moving testimony to its efficacious role in a young adult’s life, even though this is a small percentage of all young adult Catholics.

Some older Catholics seem to have decided that it’s neither helpful nor necessary for their spiritual well-being and avoid the sacrament as much as they can.  Others celebrate the sacrament frequently — a few scrupulously — and find it essential to their salvation.

A fairly large number of adults, I think, celebrate the sacrament occasionally, usually during Advent and Lent, often in its post-Vatican II “communal penance” format, and find it helpful to one degree or another, even though the moral issues adults struggle with these days don’t always lend themselves to enunciation by type and number and can’t really be discussed in five minutes or less.

Among elderly Catholics, I am surprised by the number who come to our information meetings on reconciliation struggling between what they feel they should do and the fact that they no longer find it necessary.

Perhaps reconciliation (or confession) is like one of those issues in a marriage which a couple concludes cannot finally be resolved and decides to stop fighting about; it doesn’t go away, but we just stop talking about it in the absence of a better solution.

The truth is, I would be grateful if the majority of people who read this column would say my impressions are mistaken and Catholics overall have rediscovered the true meaning and value of the sacrament of reconciliation as it is practiced today.

If this were true, it would be one less elephant in the Catholic living room.

What do you think?

Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how meaningful the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) is to you. How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • In what ways have you found the sacrament of reconciliation helpful to you? In what ways have you found it challenging? What do you think is the main reason(s) adult Catholics don’t celebrate this sacrament more often? What would encourage them to do so? How can we help our children, grandchildren and students better appreciate the value and meaning of the sacrament of reconciliation?
  • The thing about the sacrament of reconciliation is …

 Learn More

Read “Hate Confession? Here’s Why It’s Worth Trying Again”:

Find an examination of conscience based on the Ignatian Examen here:

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Add your comments to this week’s discussion at

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic -parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Faith Formation Division and The Witness. It is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.