Returning to Confession after many years can be a joyful experience

'La confessione' by Giuseppe Moltini (Wikimedia)

Brandon Vogt, a young American, is one of those converts who put us Catholics to shame. Since his conversion aged 20 (and he is still not yet 30) he has spent his time evangelising for his new-found faith with zeal and commitment. He works for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Ministry, he runs, a forum for Catholics and atheists to debate cordially together, and has written seven books, including Return: How to draw your child back to the Church.

His most recent book is typical of his serious yet disarming style: Why I am a Catholic (And You Should Be Too). It is published by Ave Maria Press/Alban Books. It is divided into three sections: Catholicism is True; Catholicism is Good; and Catholicism is Beautiful. It is definitely worth giving to a young person who, as so often happens, is stretching his or her brain with advanced level physics or analysing a Shakespeare play, but has no idea that Catholic theology is also worthy of serious intellectual study.

What particularly moved me in Vogt’s book was his reflection on the first time he went to Confession. He writes, “It’s hard to express how liberating that felt. It was as if a large boulder I didn’t even know I was shouldering was lifted from my back. Sure, I had prayed many times before in private, asking God to forgive me for particular things. But there was always a haunting voice wondering, Are you really sorry for that sin? Do you really plan to change? The Catholic practice of confession put all those questions to rest for me.”

A very useful CTS booklet, Spiritual First Aid: Healing Through the Sacraments by Fr Jim McManus CSsR, expands on Vogt’s personal experience, reminding us that Confession not only frees us from the burden of guilt that we all incur, but that “it also has the power to heal the inner wounds inflicted by sin.” We begin to ask ourselves, why did I do that, rather than how often did I do that?

McManus sums it up neatly: “For our sins we need forgiveness; for the wounds of sin we need healing.” He observes that increased numbers of Catholics, like their secular friends, are having counselling – but adds that counselling can never give us absolution; that is, it can never provide us with the “authentic resolution of severe guilt” – something only God, through the agency of a priest, can do.

For Vogt, this Sacrament, too little availed of by Catholics today, is a source of continuing joy as he has watched “many people who stayed away from confession for decades return to the sacrament…Yet when they return…they leave walking on clouds and often in tears. Their lives are never the same.”

People speak of “Catholic guilt” as a fashionable pose, as if it is something to “recover” from, like alcohol addiction. My riposte to this would be, “Of course we are guilty; we are human; we sin. What’s wrong with facing that fact? So why not seek the only sure and efficacious remedy that can restore one to spiritual health?”