While travelling to Antigo after the Sunday Mass to celebrate the 40th Jubilee of my hometown pastor, Father Jeremiah Worman (an Antigo boy himself!) and my parent's wedding anniversary, I heard an interesting interview that played on Fox News Channel via XM Radio. It featured a story of a man who created a website to explore the issue of confessing one's sins. From an emotional and psychological perspective the website creator spoke of the benefits gained from "releasing" one's feelings / guilt / emotions that are associated with human sin -- as we Catholics would say, sins of commission and sins of omission as well.
So he sets up this site wherein with complete anonymity, one can type away -- albeit briefly -- to discuss one's sorrow for having failed; in any number of ways! In his interview he mentions how freed his browsers feel -- how relieved they feel in simply letting go!
Striving for "fair and balanced" reporting (I'm smiling as I write that!), Fox News Channel then interviewed a member of the Church's hierarchy to get a Roman Catholic perspective on the newly created website. Surprisingly, the prelate mentioned how healthy this website may be for the general population, Catholics included. But he made it extraordinarily clear -- as the founder agreed -- the goodness of the intention only goes so far: absolution is not extended over cyberspace! So while it may feel good or be healthy to use this site to deal with one's transgressions, this is not meant to be a substitute for sacramental reconciliation.
I have not tracked how many hits the new website has gained, yet I am aware that confessions are on the rise at least at Old Saint Joe's. Throughout Lent and towards the end of the academic year, the 30 minutes that are allotted for the sacrament on Wednesday afternoons often extended to over an hour -- to up to two and a half hours on one occasion.
So are there more sinners in the world today? I suspect not; however, there must be some sort of goodness prevailing that people are looking for a variety of forums to deal with the consequences of sin. With the rise of spiritual direction, therapists, rehab programs and websites like the one introducing this blog, perhaps some confessionals remain empty -- people are seeking healing in other forums. However, if we truly welcome the saint and the sinner into our churches, making it clear that we are all one, that the confessor is no more saintly nor sinful than the penitent, then perhaps people will feel the freedom to approach the sacrament with the reassurance that reconciliation is not about punishment but about healing -- making whole that which was lost, broken, destroyed. If we provide a healthy pro-life, pro-forgiveness atmosphere in our churches -- from womb to tomb in good times and in bad, especially in our confessionals, I suspect people will come!
If you choose to check out the website, let's not forget the goodness that our Church provides for its faithful. Preface II for Reconciliation offers a pretty positive perspective on what happens when we seek Christ and the sacraments for spiritual healing:
"All powerful and everliving God, we thank you and praise you for your presence and action in the world. In the midst of conflict and division it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace. Your Spirit changes our hearts, enemies begin to speak to one another, those who were estranged join hands in friendship and nations seek the way of peace together. Your Spirit is at work when understanding puts and end to strife, when hatred is quenched by mercy, when vengeance gives way to forgiveness. For this we never cease to thank you and praise you!"
Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.