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Confession – encountering God’s grace

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

In my first assignment at Saint Leo the Great, I recall the first Lenten Communal Penance service.  The evening began with priests gathered at table for an early supper.  In addition to the pastor and the other Parochial Vicar, we were joined by several other neighboring priests who would be helping with confessions that evening.  While dining, I fondly recall one of the senior priests asking the other veterans, “how many ‘big fish’ do you think we’ll get tonight?”  Being the new kid, I hadn’t heard the expression, “big fish,” before.  As I listened, it quickly became clear that this expression was in reference to the women and men who may have been away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation for years – even decades – and who might appear that evening.  As the conversation continued, it became clear that these were cherished encounters that veteran priests have come to welcome.

Nearly twenty-five years later, I find myself asking the same question on these occasions Communal Penance services and even our Night of Confessions.  “Big Fish” are a beautiful part of our community.  “Welcome home,” I find myself saying to those who, for a variety of reasons, decided now is the time to return to this encounter of grace.  This past Wednesday’s Night of Confession was no exception!

If I feel that the occasion permits, I inquire with the penitent, “why tonight?” “What prompted you to come?”  Again, a variety of reasons but common themes prevail:  “a new beginning.” “finally got the courage to come,” “I’m lost and need direction in my life,” etc.  The sacramental moment, indeed, is a turning point in their lives but it also once for the Confessor who is honored to share this encounter.  

During this period of Eucharistic Revival, I invite every parishioner to deepen his or her connection between the experience of absolution through Reconciliation and the reception of Holy Communion.  This rich interplay between the two sacramental encounters recalls how truly close the Lord is to us and how both sacraments bring healing and peace.  To habitually receive the Eucharist without the medicinal benefit of Confession is like taking a prescription drug without the doctor’s accompaniment and counsel.  The drug itself may not be as fruitful without the necessary therapy, surgery, or cleaning of the wound. 

Whether you’re one of those “Big Fish” or a regular participant of Confession, I speak on behalf of my brother priests around the world, “we are waiting to share this sacred encounter of grace with you!”  

In God’s tender compassion and mercy,

Fr. Gurnick