On this St. Patrick’s Day, Archbishop Dolan has released a pastoral letter about Confession.
The 11-page letter makes a case for the centrality of the Sacrament of Penance in Catholic life. It’s very much written in Dolan’s direct, somewhat informal, passionate style.
He asks that St. Patrick, the patron saint of the Archdiocese of NY, intercede by promoting a return to the Confessional. “To pronounce the sacramental absolution by which our sins are forgiven is one of primary reasons the Church and the priesthood exist,” he writes.
He laments that the words of absolution “are not heard as often as they should be
in the Church in New York.”
He offers a bit of (recent) historical perspective: “Not everything was perfect decades ago when most Catholics routinely went to confession – perhaps too routinely. But whatever problems existed in the 1950s are now a half-century in the past, and subsequent generations have grown up without any knowledge of whatever excesses may have existed. They have indeed grown up without what belongs to them as part of the patrimony as Catholics – the liberating, joyful experience of God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance.”
Dolan addresses the priests of NY: “My brother priests, we should never lose our amazement and our gratitude at this gift. The Spirit called down upon us at our ordination is the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation. We need that same Holy Spirit, for the work of forgiving sins is a work as astonishing as the creation of the world – a work we can only do because the Lord Jesus explicitly entrusted it to us.”
He also cites the sexual-abuse scandals as having “taught us again” about the realities of sin. About the sins of Catholics, he writes: “We have failed to speak about them, and the now, as we have experienced so painfully, to our shame and embarrassment, we face the “attacks of the world that speak of our sins”. The attacks are real, and so too are our sins! The Christian should not wait for others to
speak of his sin; we should confess it simply, repent sincerely, and be forgiven quickly!”
Dolan spends some time on our “confessional culture,” which details sin and scandal and then watches celebrities offer public confessions and apologies. He writes: “The “confessional culture” around us shouts itself hoarse for it can confess, but there is no absolution. Sin confessed but unredeemed either leads to despair or is trivialized.”
In the end, Dolan suggests that some may find his letter to be too long.
“If so, take it as a sign of my eagerness to use all the persuasive power God has granted me in the service of a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance,” he writes.