Father Rob Kinnally, pastor of St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, still remembers his first Confession almost 50 years ago. He was seven years old and went to Father Foley, who had been at Christ the King Church in Yonkers for “what seemed like forever.” The world was a different place. The Beatles were singing “All You Need Is Love,” and America was embroiled in the Vietnam War.
“I remember being nervous, but not afraid at all,” he recalls, although he did obsess somewhat over the number of times he teased his sister and how many times he didn’t do a chore his parents asked him to perform.
During those early years when he went to Confession with his parents and his sister, the lines were long and they knew everyone there. As a priest, he still receives the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, when he meets with his spiritual director each month and when the opportunity presents itself. It’s something he recommends for all Catholics during Lent, particularly those who have been away from the sacrament.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has designated March 26 as “Reconciliation Monday” throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport. Three parishes within each of the nine Deaneries—a total of 27 parishes—will offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation from 3 to 9 pm so Catholics can experience God’s mercy as Holy Week begins.
“The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation provides a profound opportunity to be freed from our personal sins and to experience the healing love of Christ for you and me,” said Bishop Caggiano, who will also hear confessions on that day. “In terms of spiritual healing, we must never forget that this precious gift is always available, simply for the asking.”
“What keeps people away is fear and embarrassment,” Father Kinnally said. “We always have to reassure them this is a sacred moment. No one should ever be embarrassed. We’ve heard it all before. We’re here to impart God’s mercy. We’re not judges.”
Even if someone tells him it has been 25 years since their last Confession, his response is always “Welcome back.” He encourages people to receive the sacrament frequently because “it’s the only place where we can feel Jesus’ love and mercy in a very tangible way and receive forgiveness and grace.”
Some people, he said, don’t think they have to receive the sacrament because their attitude is “God knows what I did and every night I say I’m sorry.” That, however, is not sufficient. We need to engage in the sacrament with a priest, who represents Christ.
Father Kinnally said, “The term ‘reconciliation’ is perfect because when we sin, we separate ourselves from God. We get off track, and the sacrament provides us with a very direct experience of God’s mercy. God not only forgives but forgets, and our sin is completely wiped away. The sacrament restores us to a right relationship with God and it repairs our relationship with the rest of the community.”
Father Brian Gannon, pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, said that because of social networking, the constant use of cell phones and computers, relationships are depersonalized in our culture, and young people in particular need a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the person of the priest in Confession.
“Kids today need Confession more than ever, not because they’re worse sinners than anyone else but because the spiritual vacuum in our culture makes it all the more imperative that we fill that vacuum with Jesus Christ,” he said. “The supernatural hates a vacuum, and if it is not filled by Jesus, it will be filled by something else. Once kids come to the sacrament, they’re drawn to it. They’re looking for affirmation and for love.”
Father Gannon, who served as chaplain at Notre Dame High School for three years, also emphasizes the need for family members to go to Confession together.
“The more that children and teenagers see Mom and Dad walk through that confessional door, the more they will understand its importance,” he said. “Who needs Confession more? The 8-year-old or the 38-year-old? When the whole family comes to Confession, enormous amounts of grace enter that family.”
How often should they receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Canon law says at least once a year, he said, although St. John Paul II and Mother Teresa went once a week. But as a practical matter, families should make an effort to go once a month.
“Mom and Dad,” he said, “the greatest gift you can give your children is to bring them to Confession and have them see you go to Confession.”
Father Thomas Thorne, pastor of Church of the Assumption in Westport, said his attitude toward the sacrament changed drastically while he was in minor seminary in Ontario, Canada. He recalls that in second grade he went to his first Confession at St. Peter Church in Danbury and thought that, even at that age, he had to touch on every commandment in his list of sins.
However, 13 years later, his confessor Father Tony told him, “You’re in your 20s and you have to start celebrating the sacrament as a 20-year-old and not as a 10-year-old.” He challenged him to celebrate the sacrament in a mature way that was more joyful and less fearful.
Father Thorne said that above the door of every reconciliation room should be a quote by spiritual writer Father Richard Rohr, OFM: “This room exists not because you are bad but because God is good.”
“We repent not because God stopped loving us, but because we have been deficient in our love for God,” Father Thorne said.
When he encounters someone who has been away from the sacrament a long time, he says, “I offer a warm welcome and remind them God’s love is unconditional and that our motivation isn’t to get God to love us again—it is to help us improve and be more loving of God and others and change what is selfish and sinful in ourselves.”
Father Thorne has been hearing confessions for 42 years, and when people come to him who are fearful, shy or embarrassed, he takes advantage of the opportunity to make them feel loved and forgiven.
“Confession should no longer be memorized, rubric and prefabricated, but a heart-to-heart encounter with God,” he said.
“I grew up thinking God was out to catch me, but today young people are growing up with the belief that God is always ready to forgive them,” he said.
As a priest, he says, “My mission in life isn’t to make people feel guilty; it is to make them feel loved.” And over the years, different confessors have taught him how to be a good listener, non-judgmental, patient and encouraging.