|Pope John Paul II - Hearing Confession|
This weekend I attended a meeting in the Bryanston Parish. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the Alpha Course to the parishes of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg. There was a great deal of talk and emphasis, during the meeting, on “conversion”.
Surprisingly the subject of the Sacrament of Penance did not feature as having any major part in the conversion process. It was blatantly obvious that, although Alpha was being presented as a tool for Catholics to use for evangelisation, Alpha did not place much value on the role of the Sacrament of Penance. I shudder to think about their views on the other 6 sacraments.
The subject of the Sacrament of Penance only featured at the end of the meeting when a few people, among them priests, raised the subject of confession, along with their other concerns about Alpha. As preposterous as it may seem, the priest, who I believe is the chaplain for the Alpha Course in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, actually responded to these concerns by, amongst others, dismissing the need for such emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance. All I can say to him is “SHAME ON YOU!”
There are two points I would like to make regarding conversion, which is the objective of Alpha’s evangelisation program.
The first is that for Catholics, unlike for most Protestants, conversion is an on going process. It is most certainly not the “once saved always saved” message which Alpha portrays. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that, “Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."… Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion.”
After this first conversion, “Christ's call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, (is) at once holy and always in need of purification, (and) follows constantly the path of penance and renewal."” So we strive continually towards the achievement of personal holiness.
The second point I need to make is that the Sacrament of Penance is needed, in this on going journey towards personal holiness, because “the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized…” “The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.”
“When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know."”
My message to Catholics, who are considering the implementation of the Alpha course, is this. If you leave the Sacrament of Penance out of the conversion process, you do so at your peril and at the peril of those you convert. Consider what you are missing:
“For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation." Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true "spiritual resurrection," restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.”
 Ibid, 1428
 Ibid, 1426
 Ibid, 1455
 Ibid, 1456
 Ibid, 1468