Confession and Culture

Apart from political activism (which the Church certainly encourages her members to engage in to help establish just societies and safeguard human rights), what can we as Catholics do to turn things around in our admittedly erring country?

One of the best ways to evangelize a formerly Christian country is through the practice of frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist, both of which, in addition to being sacraments, are extremely potent forms of prayer.

In fact, I believe that reverent, worthy, and frequent reception of the Eucharist – by Catholics who are in the state of grace and aware of the awesome mystery hidden under the forms of bread and wine – could bring about a change of heart in our nation.

Many Catholics are deterred from evangelizing by doubts about their knowledge, debating skills, and discomfort at the increasingly intolerant atmosphere of the public square. Receiving the sacraments frequently and worthily, however, is something each of us can do, with greater effect than we might think. After all, how did the first Christians gradually win hearts, minds, and souls in their own version of the Evil Empire? And remember that, unlike us, they had no political power whatsoever for at least several centuries.

Today, unfortunately, we too find ourselves living in a decaying civilization. We do not need to run through reams of statistics on marital breakdown, illegitimacy, abortion rates, pornography, and the like to make a case which is depressingly self-evident. Just look around and be honest with yourself and others. By all means be as active as possible in the world of politics and changing the culture, but piety in the practice of your Faith is the most powerful weapon of all.

Growth in personal holiness – which will naturally include social and apostolic outreach – is perhaps the most efficacious thing you can do toward re-evangelizing the peoples of the West.

First ,let’s look at what Scripture tells us about the Sacrament of Penance. “On the evening of the first day of the week. . . [Jesus showed himself to the apostles], breathed on them and said to them; ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:19, 22-23).

The spiritual effects of the Sacrament of Penance are reconciliation with God, by which the penitent recovers grace, remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins, peace and serenity of conscience and spiritual serenity, spiritual consolation, and very importantly, an increase in spiritual strength for the Christian Battle.

           St. Peter Julian Eymard

And it is not only mortal sins that we should bring to this sacrament. By confessing venial sins, we grow in self-knowledge and humility as well as receiving grace to help us withstand future temptations and advance in holiness.

We all know people who have fallen away from the Catholic faith. Indeed, they number in the tens of millions – the second largest “religious” group after Catholics themselves – in this country alone.

Could not one of our greatest works of mercy be to remind those in this situation that they are only one good confession away from returning to the Church of their Fathers – a religious patrimony that in most cases goes back many centuries? Imagine the great grace of bringing one soul or many back to the Shepherd who longs to recover his lost sheep. They will once again be able to receive the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. 

I have been involved in many conversions to our faith. In the majority of cases, when asked why they became Catholic, they answer, “Because I want to be pardoned for my sins and to receive Jesus in my soul in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Perhaps, then, you can introduce converts, reverts, and those who have never gotten farther than the shoreline of the ocean of God’s love to the great joy of daily Communion. This is one of the most important practices we can acquire in the pursuit of holiness and assistance in fulfilling the duties of our state in life (which for most will be responsibilities as family member, friend, and worker).

Making daily Mass the very center of our interior life and consequently our day can only help us carry out these responsibilities, since our work and relationships and the claims of those in need occupy more than one day a week. St. Peter Julian Eymard advises us to:

hear Mass daily; it will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.
And that, my brothers and sisters, are what we are all called to be!

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.