The 2nd Reading from the Office of Readings for Thursday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, which is an excerpt from a commentary on the Song of Songs by St. Gregory of Nyssa, got my mind rolling today and especially looking forward to the approaching season of Advent as a special time in the year for going to confession, for celebrating the Sacrament of Penance.
I remember as a young priest at the Cathedral that this was the time when all of us priests did home visits as part of the preparation of the children who would be making First Penance before Christmas. When I was a child the two sacraments celebrated as First Confession and First Holy Communion were yoked together, but in the late 1970's a school of pedagogy had elected for a separation as a means of addressing through the home visit the issues which parents often had with Confession. It wasn't a bad idea and may even have helped some parents overcome their own fears or prejudices about Confession.
In any case, let me quote from St. Gregory:
"No one is judged worthy of this noonday rest who is not a child of light and of the day. But if anyone makes himself equally distant from the shadows of daybreak and those of nightfall, that is, from the origin of evil and its conclusion, the sun of righteousness makes him lie down at noontide. Show me, then, says the bride, how I should lie down; show me the path to this noonday repose, lest my ignorance of your truth cause me to stray from your good guidance and consort with flocks which are strangers to yours. Thus speaks the bride, anxious about the beauty God has given her, and seeking to learn how her comeliness may continue for ever."
One of the genuine heartbreaks of a goodly priest in the confessional is being confronted by the annual or twice a year penitent, who wants to do the right thing but is both ignorant, certainly fearful, and perhaps defensive, far from the eagerness of St. Gregory's bride seeking rest in the bright light of Christ, the Bridegroom's Truth. This was the dilemma or tragedy of Father's home visits for First Penance back in the 1970's, seeing the reticence perhaps of both Mom and Dad, noting their fear and ignorance concerning the Sacrament of Penance. I pray regularly and a lot for the renewal of the Sacrament of Penance in the practice of the Church. This priceless pearl must be recovered and praying that the Holy Spirit inspire first steps back toward the light is a sine qua non. I also invite others to pray for this intention and have seen some of the fruits in the lives of people as a result of that invitation.
Beyond the straying sheep, let us say, there are also all of the rest of us who could profit from more light. When it comes to making a truly good confession even great and holy souls, canonized saints have profited from the direction of wise confessors. If you don't feel as though you are getting anything out of confession or if on those 2, 3, or 4 times of a year that you go the experience is less than satisfying and you know enough to blame yourself for having choked in the clinch or blanked, then maybe you need more practice and should consider going more often to confession. Once a month is really not that often, trust me!
Besides practicing by going more often, I think we need formation, we need to learn, we need to read or study. A big part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its edition for youth, Youcat, offer food for reflection. The programming of EWTN is not without aids in this regard too.
"Thus speaks the bride, anxious about the beauty God has given her, and seeking to learn how her comeliness may continue for ever."
Keeping up appearances is not living in the light. It could be that we have lost the beauty of our Baptism. We need but join the battle with our Savior and Redeemer, Who through the ministry of His Church can give us pardon and peace. Perseverance, prayerful supplication to God to come to our aid, seeking the light through spiritual reading. The need is urgent but the Bridegroom is waiting to see us in His Light. In Him alone our souls will find rest.