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Posted February 23, 2012

Bringing out the best in ourselves

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"Confessions will be heard in all parishes on Wednesday evenings during Lent."

With this announcement by Archbishop Donald Wuerl, the Archdiocese of Washington began a renewal in appreciating the sacrament of reconciliation. For people unfamiliar with the sacrament, the archdiocese is providing an updated understanding of it and a wallet-sized guideline to help them during confession.

Not long ago, lines in front of the confessional were long and packed. This was especially true during Lent and Advent. Equally true was the fact that most people feared confession.

Much has changed to make the sacrament of reconciliation cherished. Confession of sins still exists, but the emphasis is on reconciling oneself with God and self rather than emphasizing the need to be fearful and guilty.

Penitents now have the option of face-to-face confession; this emphasizes reconciliation as a communal event. The priest is not there to judge another; he too is a repentant sinner working with the penitent in exploring ways to improve his or her spiritual life.

When the U.S. bishops' conference conducted its first study of this sacrament in 1990, I fervently wished a renewal would occur then, like the one being undertaken by the Archdiocese of Washington. Why was I so desirous for this renewal? Because of the beautiful insights Pope John Paul II brought to the sacrament.

In order to conduct the study, research on everything written on the topic of reconciliation was conducted. One of the documents researched was the apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II, "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia."

In it he wrote: "Since by sinning man refuses to submit to God, his internal balance is also destroyed and it is precisely within himself that contradictions and conflicts arise. Wounded in this way, man almost inevitably causes damage to the fabric of his relationship with others and with the created world.

"This is an objective law and an objective reality, verified in so many ways in the human psyche and in the spiritual life, where it is easy to see the signs and effects of internal disorder."

The pope is showing us that we are at our best and happiest when we are internally balanced. First and foremost, he sees God as one who desires for us an inner harmony because of the beauty, goodness and inner composure this creates.

God desires our psychic health, peace of mind. This is a far cry from God depicted as a stern judge only interested in exacting a penalty for transgressing his laws.

We now have an example of the renewal we had hoped for after the bishops' study in 1990. Interestingly, it is being created in our nation's capital. I hope it will spread throughout the nation and unite the hearts of all with a loving God who wants his peace to thrive within us.