A gradual but creepy enthronement and
Celebration of a secular culture over a deep mystery.
Penitent: Bless me Father, for I have sinned!
Priest: My friend, go ahead and confess your sins. Do not waste my time.
Penitent: I failed to keep the Sunday obligation. I lied few times. I entertained bad thoughts. I committed fornication and I…
Priest: What! What did you just say! Must every person in this parish be devoted to fornication? It seems you all are possessed. With whom? What is her name? Where did you…
Penitent: Hmmm… Her name is Elizabeth and she is…
Priest: Elizabeth the soloist? Jesus! That religious prostitute! How many times? You are very heartless…Egbe eluigwe gbagbuo gi. You even look like a criminal. How many times have you stolen. In fact, for your penance, you have to say 82 decades of the rosary, 48 stations of the cross, pay your tithes to me from now on and…..
This is highly outrageous. When comedians like Chief Imo, Famous Deacon (aka Bush Father) and their likes attempts to further and spice up their celebrities on social media by displaying shameful and pathetic mimicry of the Sacrament of Confession for whatever reason, perhaps they do not understand that they are dancing where Angels fear to tread. It is either they are celebrating their sheer religious insensitivity and naivety towards the sacred or they are gradually flagging off their deep-seated agnostic tendencies under the guise of comedy. Hilarious and seemingly “educational” as such comic relief could be, the big picture it paints and the unconscious but uncanny ripple effects it engenders certainly frightens. On the social media, we may like the funny skits, comment on them in affirmation and possible share them on other social network platforms, but I tell you solemnly, the devil is on rampage and we are watering the ground for such rampage. Generally, the entertainment industry in Nigeria which presents a wrong picture, status and ideals about the Catholic church should be very careful in this regard. Of all the things that we could make a jest of, the sacraments of the church as deep as they are should be left out in every way.
The Disheartening impression
Recently, I started collecting stories, comments and interacting with viewers of such comic-confession video clips and the impression was just disheartening:
“I can’t laugh enough at the ignominy of whispering my wretched little sins to the wretched priest at the confessional, if I don’t laugh after that, when will I laugh?”
“I feel terrible seeing people confess their sins to a priest who judge them and prescribe punishment on them. Who is He? I know him as…”
“One couple told me that when the priest raised his hand to absolve their kid son on his first confession, the child mistook the gesture and gave Father a triumphant high five. Isn’t it amazing! – Though he’s too slow! In peace you go.”
“The first confession I made after being away for six years, the priest kindly and patiently listened to me sob out my sins. When I could not go on because I was crying so hard, he gently began to counsel me. My penance was the search for Christ’s love within me. A few days later, I found out I was pregnant with my first child—out of wedlock with my boyfriend whom I then married, and we now have five kids.”
“I am beginning to see that Catholics all over the world suffer the same tragicomedies as they take their chances in the confessional. This is terrible. A rape of contrition.”
“It seems to me that there are priests who are hard of hearing or just plain confused and give draconian penances based on sins the penitent never confessed or who holler out: You did what!,” for all the congregation to hear.”
“I have witnessed a priest who withheld my absolution. The reason was not clear to me then. But I am beginning to understand that perhaps he didn’t like the tone of my voice or possibly he thinks I cannot possibly be sorry because I keep confessing the same thing every week. In fact, he lashes out, grumbles, harangues and even mock…what do I care…to hell with him and his sacrament”
“I am so sorry for Catholics. Look at their Priests at the confessional. It is so clear that there are many priests who let their human weakness, foolishness, prejudice and personal sin overcome their training and their duty and who run the risk of chasing a sinner away from Christ for good—the very opposite of what he is there to do”.
It seems so terrible that Catholics and Christians from other denominations are gradually having an ugly impression about the sacrament of Penance most recently. The question is: how did we find ourselves here. The answer is: the bastardization of the sacrament of confession is subtly in progress. This is just the beginning of a high-brow secular culture delving deep until it drifts to the height where even the seal of confession is threatened as in the case of Fr. Timothy Mockatis and Conan Wayne in United States of America few years ago.
When Fr. Timothy Mockaitis heard inmate Conan Wayne Hale’s sacramental confession, he never knew it was taped. The intention was to use the content of the sacrament confession as evidence in the law court. The violation of the seal of the confession was an infringement on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the first amendment of the US constitution. Therefore, Fr. Mockaitis filed a lawsuit to prevent the disclosure of the contents based on the legal claim which concerns religious freedom and protection against illegal search and seizure. He also claims civil rights violations against privacy. This was an offence not only against the church but against the penitent himself. As a priest and confessor, he was aware that he was forbidden to grant any waiver of the confidence from the sacrament. The seal guarantees that whatever may be shared between priest and penitent will forever remain confidential. To know this truth is to grant instant trust for the penitent to speak openly and honestly about whatever his or her struggle with sin may be. The seal creates an environment in which the penitent can be disposed to receive the grace of healing from a God of mercy. Few years later, Fr. Mockaitis still maintained that despite the state authorities and the district attorney’s promise at that time that the tape would be destroyed after the trial of the inmate, the tape still exists as of then.
As weird as the above report is, it captures a pathetic decline, a universal shock, insult and new disrespect for what the people of our faith tradition holds so dear and sacred. The appreciation of the sacrament of reconciliation seems to be on a steady decline in the US and the west generally. Do we really think that we are immune to such degeneration? We are not. It would happen if we fold our hands and watched the planted seed grow.
However, I think it is contemporarily necessary once more, to state what our Faith and tradition teaches about the sacrament of Reconciliation.
The sacrament of Reconciliation (Sacrament of Penance, Sacrament of Conversion, sacrament of confession, sacrament of forgiveness, sacrament of healing) obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion (CCC n. 1422). It is very necessary to point out that this sacrament is made up of two equally essential elements. Namely: Our work – the work of the repentant sinner; and then the work of God through the Church. In a sense, it is all God’s work, in a sense, because even the works we do are the actions of a sinner “who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, n. 1448). We however, must give consent and struggle to fulfill God’s will.
On our own part, tradition identifies three actions that make up our own part: Contrition, Confession and Satisfaction. Therefore, the sacrament demands:
- That we should have sorrow for our sins.
- That we should state our sorrow clearly by naming our sins
- That we should complete the work of penance or restitution assigned to us by our priest-confessor.
Sorrow for sin: If we do not have remorse for our sin, we cannot receive this sacrament; for the essence of the sacrament is our apology to God whom we have offended. The technical word of sorrow for sin is contrition. Our contrition need not be perfect; it needs not spring from a motive of pure love. We might be motivated by fear of God’s punishment. That’s a good start and God’s grace will complete the work in us and make up for what is lacking in our sorrow. But then, we must however offer some resolution to change our lives and to avoid in the future, the sins we have confessed from our past. We should even resolve to avoid the company and places that might tempt us to sin. Traditions call this resolution “a firm purpose of amendment”.
Critics of this sacrament would think “well, as long as Catholics confess their sins to the Priest, they can go on committing sins, whenever they want”. This is not just a Catholic closet; it is true of any religion that emphasizes repentance. The repentance has to be real and so does the firm purpose of amendment.
To go on committing sin just because one would “simply” go to confession and be absolve of his sins, is ridiculous and total delusion. The truth is, unless the sinner is truly sorry – unless that sinner approaches the sacrament with contrition and confesses all known serious sin sincerely humbly, and completely – the sacrament does not confer the absolution – the sins are not forgiven. What’s more, the sinner has committed the added sin of sacrilege. Jesus himself insisted upon a change of life when He pronounced absolution. He faced the woman caught in adultery and told her He would not condemn her, but then He added,” Go, and do not sin again”(Jn.8:11) today, through his Church, he asks no less.