Growing up, I remember Mother Angelica on EWTN commenting to callers who had been away from the sacrament of reconciliation or were afraid to go that they would feel so good afterward, that they should go out and buy a pizza. Such a comment came from a heart that had approached the sacrament and found peace in the deep mercy of God.
Such an experience reflects what the Church teaches. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our faith tells us when a person enters the sacrament with a contrite heart and correct disposition that a certain peace and consolation from God should come upon us (CCC 1468). When this doesn’t happen, we need to discern about why this movement was not present as we celebrated the sacrament.
Our hearts are wounded by sin. When we go to the sacrament of reconciliation, we ask God to drain the wound so that our heart may heal. When we conceal a sin or fail to take an appropriate amount of time to prepare for the sacrament, the “Divine Physician” can’t drain away the wound as fully so that we may receive His love. If I am not receiving peace after confession, this is the first place to look. Did I take an appropriate amount of time to examine my conscience before receiving the sacrament? Am I resisting confessing any sins because I may be embarrassed by them or worried about what the priest might think of me?
If this area seems to check out, another area is to look at is my disposition toward the sacrament. As I approach the sacrament, do I carry in my heart a true desire to change? Am I seeing confession as a routine, that each time I go in and confess the same things? Do I believe that even after confessing the same thing for some time that God can help me to embrace the Gospel more deeply even here?
When I feel that God has not forgiven me, it may also be because I am blocking the truth that He has forgiven me. While I may intellectually understand that God forgives me in this sacrament, I may not yet fully believe this in my heart. Even after receiving the sacrament, I may hold myself guilty and responsible, believing that I’m not worthy of His forgiveness or that I need to earn it by this exercise. Here is a place where we need to forgive ourselves. We need to bring these feelings and lies to the Lord in prayer so that His loving mercy can reign in our heart. In short, we need to replace our truth with His truth.
Receiving God’s mercy is never meant to be ordinary, but a refreshing, powerful experience bringing us closer to Him.
This column appeared in a previous edition of the Review.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in St. Louis.