This is an important issue — many Catholics rarely, if ever, receive the sacrament of reconciliation. As with attending Mass, people often simply get out of the habit of going rather than consciously rejecting the practice. When confessions are offered on a regular basis and the pastor reminds the faithful of the importance of the sacrament, they go more frequently.
It is important to remember, however, that the only sins that need to be confessed are mortal sins: Those sins that are so grave, when one commits them in full freedom and knowledge, they result in damnation. If a person truly loves God and is honestly seeking to do His will, he or she is less likely to fully and freely choose to commit a grave sin. It may be that he or she commits a grave act but lacks freedom or knowledge due to force of habit or ignorance. In those cases, personal guilt is diminished.
One of the problems that sometimes happens, however, is that people don’t take venial (lesser) sins as seriously as they should. All sin is serious, even if all sins are not mortal. A little gossip may not be a mortal sin, but it can create an environment where more serious gossip occurs and reputations are destroyed. Rude driving could be considered a venial sin, but it can lead to roadways where others drive recklessly and people are killed. What’s more, venial sins hurt our relationship with God and predispose us to commit more grave sins. Why would we not take them seriously?
It would be poor for a husband to say to his wife: “I will never cheat on you or abuse you, but I don’t care about the smaller things that harm our relationship. They may hurt your feelings, but as long as they don’t result in divorce, I won’t worry about them.” Not only is that husband a bad spouse, with such an attitude it is only a matter of time before he crosses the line into seriously damaging the marriage.
For that reason, it is important to receive the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis. While apart from serious sin, the Church only requires an annual confession (normally during Lent), we should go more frequently. Think about it: If we only received Holy Communion annually, we would miss out on all of those fantastic encounters with our eucharistic Lord. In
the sacrament of reconciliation, we encounter the healing,
forgiving Lord. Why would we want to limit that encounter to once a year?
Father Scott Jones is pastor of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in St. Louis.