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Confession: A School of Mercy

Interview With Archbishop Gómez of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, MARCH 15, 2007 (Zenit) - The sacrament of penance and reconciliation is a "school of mercy" that teaches the values of forgiveness and unconditional love, according to the archbishop of San Antonio.

Archbishop José Gómez wrote this in a pastoral letter entitled "The Tender Mercy of Our God," released at the beginning of Lent.

The publication of the letter also coincides with the end of a Jubilee Year declared by the archbishop to commemorate the 275th anniversary of the archdiocese's San Fernando Cathedral, one of the oldest Catholic sanctuaries in the United States.

Archbishop Gómez speaks to us about why he wrote the letter on the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, and the lessons that confession can teach all who approach it.

Q: The No. 1 task for a Catholic during Lent has always been to go to confession. In your new pastoral letter on the sacrament, you seem to suggest that this practice has gone by the wayside a little bit. Could you explain why this has happened, and why it is so important to approach this sacrament?

Archbishop Gómez: The signals on confession are mixed -- there are shadows and light. On the one hand, it's no secret that many of our brothers and sisters have stopped going to confession altogether, or they haven't been in a long time. This is a sad truth.

As I point out in my pastoral letter, I believe the problem is rooted in our culture's loss of the sense of sin. Our culture is relentless in telling our people that there are no absolute truths or moral norms, and that what's true or good or evil is all relative -- that it depends on the subjective opinion of the individual. So, a lot of people are morally confused -- deceived, really. And we have to reach out to help these people to come back to the sacrament.

On the other hand, in the years since the Second Vatican Council we see that many Catholics have developed a very mature, positive, and joyful attitude toward the sacrament. They're going to confession regularly. They see regular confession as an essential part of their spiritual lives and their quest for holiness and true friendship with Jesus Christ.

Through regular confession, they know they're growing in self-knowledge and in their love and knowledge of Christ. Confession for them is a source of spiritual growth and gives them great joy.

In fact, in some of the parishes here in the archdiocese we have too many people coming on Saturday afternoon for confession. That's why in my letter I'm asking our priests to be creative in looking for new ways to offer the sacrament to their parishioners.

What I'm hoping to get across in this new letter, and in my ministry of reconciliation in San Antonio, is the power, the beauty and the joy of confession. There is no greater happiness than to know that our sins have been forgiven and that we've been reconciled with God. That's what we all long for -- wholeness, union, friendship with God. That's true happiness. And confession gives us that.

Q: You say in your letter that mortal sin can lead to our spiritual death. Do you think Catholics are as conscientiousness of and concerned for their spiritual health as they are of their physical health? How can the faithful become more aware of and maintain their spiritual well-being?

Archbishop Gómez: Again, because of the cultural climate we live in, I felt it was very important in my letter to recall the clear teaching of Jesus about the reality of sin and the consequences of sin.

I wanted to get across two things. First, that sin is real and that if we think we aren't sinners we're deceiving ourselves. And second, that God's mercy is greater than our sinfulness -- that if we come to our Father with a contrite heart, if we confess with true sorrow, he will take away our sins and give us a clean slate.

This, too, is the clear teaching of Jesus -- that our Father has a tender love for all of us; that he desires all of us to know salvation through the forgiveness of sins; and that there is great rejoicing in heaven whenever a sinner repents and comes home. Confession brings us joy and it brings joy to our Father too.

In terms of their "spiritual health," I think people realize that it's not healthy to be in a state of sin, because through sin we lose our friendship with God; and when we're separated from God, we don't feel right.

What I don't think most people fully realize is the power -- the grace, peace and strength -- that comes to us in the sacrament. Penance is a remedy, yes. It heals us of our sins; it makes it possible for us to live again in God's grace. But it does more than that. In the ...

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