To the editor:
A column I read in the Herald-Star on May 24 has prompted me to write a letter of gratitude. The columnist wrote, and I quote from the paper before me, "It's time to spend some time alone with God, not pastors and priests." When we Catholics go to confession, we are alone with God in the person of our priest. The columnist was speaking about confession. Confession is Jesus' Easter gift to the church. When he appeared to the apostles after his crucifixion, the first thing he said to them was: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." (That is, the apostles and their successors.) And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained." (Jn. 20:21-23)
Sins can be forgiven or retained implies that they need to be verbalized so that the priest, the successor to the apostles, may make the merciful and just discernment.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the priests in my life who have given me God's forgiveness through the words of absolution, but, most especially, the priests in the Diocese of Steubenville where our priests make such an effort to make the sacrament so easily available in the parishes and at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
When a man is ordained he becomes what we call an "alter Christi" (another Christ). We also say he is acting "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ). To give the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) as an example: When I confess my sins to any priest in the Catholic Church, it is really the person of Christ I am confessing to, and when the priest gives me absolution it is really Jesus who is giving me absolution using the voice and hands of the priest. It is God's voice I am hearing in the person of the priest.
After Vatican II some Catholics thought that the church was going to do away with this wonderful sacrament. Imagine, doing away with God's Easter gift to us. Not using that sacrament or any of them is like being given a gift and not opening it. For all we know, that wrapped box might have a billion dollars in it, but we will never benefit from it unless we open the box. The sacraments are worth more, (understatement of the century) than a billion dollars, but we will never receive their eternal graces if we don't go to church to receive them.
I pray for all Catholics each and every day that they will come to realize that they might be missing something and knock on a rectory door and find out what.
There is a saying: Learn, live, love the Catholic church and you will never leave it.