Transforming power of mercy brings healing

Fr. Anthony Sigman, a retired priest who serves St. Mary Parish in Chandler, demonstrates the granting of absolution that occurs during the sacrament of reconciliation. The priest, acting in the person of Christ, can absolve a person of sins. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)
Fr. Anthony Sigman, a retired priest who serves St. Mary Parish in Chandler, demonstrates the granting of absolution that occurs during the sacrament of reconciliation. The priest, acting in the person of Christ, can absolve a person of sins. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

There’s a peace that comes over you when you’ve made your peace with God — a peace that the world cannot destroy. Where can you find that peace? Look no further than the vast ocean of His mercy.

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Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.”

Here’s the thing about God’s mercy: we don’t deserve it. When we sincerely repent of the wrongdoing in our life and begin to grasp that God still loves us even after all our sinning, all our betrayals, all our failures, something profound happens.

We encounter the infinite, unconditional love that comes from God alone, and we’re overcome with gratitude for the chance to try again to live as His son or daughter. Undoubtedly, we will fail, but we go forth with childlike trust, knowing that we can call on His mercy again and again.

A personal approach

God knows that we humans need to experience His forgiveness and love personally and so He gave us a beautiful way to do that. Unfortunately, it seems that few of us look for Him there.

I’m talking about the confessional. A 2008 study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that nationwide, 75 percent of Catholics never receive the sacrament of penance or do so less than once a year.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix has asked our priests to preach on the sacrament of penance during Lent, a time when Catholics are to focus on reforming their lives. In a Jan. 25 letter to the priests of our diocese, he wrote about the need to offer “sufficient opportunities for the faithful to approach the sacrament.” An hour on Saturdays isn’t enough for most parishes.

But do people understand the deep need that we have for confession? Maybe not.

“When we stop preaching on something, the people cease to believe in it,” Fr. Anthony Sigman told me in an interview.

Then again, perhaps they are too embarrassed to come forward, afraid to confess their sins face-to-face. That’s what some penitents have told
the pastor of St. Anne Parish in Gilbert, where traditional confessionals with fixed grilles were installed last October. Since then, he and his parochial vicar have been hearing confessions for about 25 hours a week.

Crucial question

A couple of people I interviewed told me they had been away from confession for decades. One woman said she now goes almost every week.

“I know when I need to go because I don’t feel good,” Jennifer Seaberg told me. “It’s almost like in a relationship with your spouse. When you fight or you do something wrong, there’s a division between you.”

As in a marriage, that division can lead to estrangement and tragically, divorce.

“I think it’s the same way with God,” Seaberg said. “He’s standing there with His arms open the whole time saying, ‘Come back! Come back!’”

While secularists advance in their quest to eliminate God from our society, violence, immorality and unhappiness grow around us, stark reminders of our alienation from God.

What would our world look like if just 50 percent of Catholics made a determined effort to make a monthly sacramental confession? Graces and healings and blessings would abound, of that I am convinced.

We are a nation that has mostly forgotten God, forgotten that He longs to set us free from all our burdens and fears. Rather than turning to Him and admitting the need to change our ways, many of us try to save ourselves. We’re destined to fail in that endeavor. We won’t make it without Him.

God is waiting for us there in the confessional, eager for us to know His peace. The question is, will we take the time to seek Him there, in the embrace of His mercy?