When St. Christopher parishioner Kathy Tucker was a young mother of five children living in West Tennessee, she wasn’t very active with the Church, and had not been to confession in years. She began to notice how often she was scolding her children at the dinner table and recognized a negative behavior pattern she didn’t want to continue.
“My mom listened patiently to me and said, ‘You ought to go to confession,’” Tucker said, recalling the conversation some five decades later.
“I do confess,” Tucker told her, “I go straight to God.”
“No,” her mother said. “You need to go to the sacrament.”
Tucker wrestled with that thought for a while, not really recognizing the need or the value of the sacrament, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what her mother said. So she decided to go.
After Tucker confessed her sins and was receiving absolution, “as the priest touched my head, I felt something like an electric current from my head to my toes, there’s no doubt about it,” she said.
“About two weeks later,” she recalled, “I noticed I hadn’t been scolding at the dinner table. I hadn’t even thought about it. It blew my mind. I thought, there’s something to this.”
Tucker’s dramatic experience with the sacrament of Penance might be unusual, but she wants all Catholics to know that they have the opportunity, any day of the week, to personally encounter the mercy and grace of Jesus in confession, what she calls “the most underrated and neglected sacrament in the Church today.”
As the Church enters the reflective and penitent season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26, Catholics are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The sacrament of Penance is part of the Lenten journey for many, and parishes throughout the Diocese of Nashville will host Penance services every week during Lent.
“Without confession, either God becomes just an idea or we become afraid of him,” said Father Michael Fye, pastor of St. Ann Church in Nashville, where he or associate pastor Father Hung Pham hear confessions every day of the week.
“In confession you receive God’s mercy in a real way,” he said. “The person is confessing to Jesus Christ, the priest is an instrument. It’s not about the priest.”
St. Ann is just one of the parishes in the Diocese of Nashville that has daily confession available.
While the sacrament may still be “underrated,” more people are learning the value of it and reaping the spiritual benefits.
“I’m very edified and excited by the response,” to daily confession at his parish, said Father John Hammond, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Nashville.
Father Hammond hears confessions at a variety of times during the week, starting at 6:15 a.m. before daily Mass four days a week, and on Saturday afternoons. “Having it every day sends a signal that this is important,” he said.
“Going to confession is hard for everybody,” Father Hammond said. “The idea is to make it as convenient as possible, to remove as many barriers as possible,” he added. “We want to help people receive those graces.”
“For people who have a desire to grow in their faith, the most effective and quickest way is to go to confession,” Father Fye said. “Saints are made in the confessional. They know what it is to kneel down and ask for forgiveness.”
The Catholic Church’s teaching on the sacrament of Penance, that the penitent need to be reconciled with God in the formal, ritualized experience of the sacrament, rather than simply confessing to God in private prayer, is not always fully understood.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time, it damages communion with the Church. For this reason, conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.”
Father Hammond, who is also Vicar General and Judicial Vicar of the diocese, points to several Scripture passages that serve as the roots of the sacrament, including the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, when Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection and greets them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
“Confession has changed over the years, but the basic idea is that we do it because Jesus says he wants us to,” said Father Fye.
Both priests describe the experience of reconciliation as “freeing,” and emphasize that not only do they hear confessions, but they, as sinners, make confessions as well. “To hear confessions well, you need to be a person who goes to confession well,” said Father Hammond.
“Saying things out loud deprives them of their power over you. It’s a very freeing experience,” Father Hammond said.
Tucker, of St. Christopher Church and wife of Deacon Jim Tucker, said she tries to go to confession every week. “I can feel it when I need to go,” she said.
Even though she has been a faithful confessor for many years, Tucker said she still understands the feelings of resistance and doubt that many people have about the sacrament. “Even if your faith is like a mustard seed, or smashed into a smaller particle,” don’t be afraid to go to confession, she said. “Take it from somebody who’s been there and felt the same way.”
“The Lord is the one who’s in there,” during the sacrament, Turner said. “He loves us so much and is so full of mercy.”
“I love hearing confessions, not because sin is interesting, but because redemption and the forgiveness of sins is interesting; salvation is interesting,” said Father Hammond. “It’s such a privilege and a joy to be in the middle of that.”