Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Pastoral Letter

I thought this was rather good today.

My dear people,
In October last year the Holy Father chaired a synod in Rome to begin the Year of Faith.
The purpose of the Synod was to discuss New Evangelisation - in other words to discuss
how we can be inspired and how we can inspire others to follow Jesus Christ more closely.
On a number of occasions during the Synod great emphasis was placed on the importance
of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession). I would like to share with you some
thoughts about this wonderful gift of healing.
For us to understand this sacrament of confession and reconciliation we need to discover
something of who our heavenly Father is.  In the book of Jeremiah God speaks to each
one of us when he says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love and I am constant in
my affection for you”.  Our God is a God of mercy, a God of compassion, and a God who
constantly heals us if we open our hearts to the love that only He can offer.
As I’m sure you have experienced sometimes it can be difficult to open our hearts to the
love of God. It can be challenging to come before the Lord and be honest about the
things we have done or failed to do.  We find ourselves in this condition because of sin.
The word sin is a way of describing something that causes us to turn away from God’s
love; it is something which closes our hearts to God’s affection. As a result of our
sinfulness we become damaged: gradually we become uneasy with God, uneasy with
ourselves and uneasy with others. We can be divided people who are beside ourselves.
When we are like this we are not living life to the full, we are not the people we were
created to be.  However there is a remedy, there is a constant source of mercy which puts
us back on track.
We all know that for us to be healed by a doctor we must first describe what we are
suffering from.  In the same way, and more importantly, in order for the God of
compassion to heal us we must enter the sacrament of reconciliation and cry out with our
hearts, “Here I am Lord, this is me.  This is the kind of person I am.  I am weak, selfish,
self-centred, hurt, I am wounded, I am broken and I am in need of healing.”  In this
intimate moment with Christ we examine ourselves thoroughly so that the love of God can
penetrate the depths of our being and we allow Him to bring to the surface all those areas
that are hurting and in need of healing.  When they surface it is important for us to be
totally honest with ourselves and God.  The priest then prays one of the most beautiful
prayers we have in the Church, in which he says to us, “Through the ministry of the
Church, may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins, in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
In this intimate moment with God we encounter the healing Christ who makes us whole
and helps us to look to the future with hope. This sacrament which today can be widely
ignored is essential for the future of our Church, for the New Evangelisation and for our
own salvation. God’s mercy given to us in confession brings us peace, joy and happiness
because only as forgiven children of the Father can we enter God’s Kingdom.
This week we begin the season of Lent, and so I have asked all Deans to arrange for
confessions in as many of the churches in the deanery as possible at the same time on the
same day.  This is to ensure that there will be an opportunity for you all to participate in
the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent.  I suggested Wednesday from 6pm until 7pm
but this may not be possible in every parish.  (If this time is a problem for your particular
parish then your priest will inform you of another time slot which will remain the same
each week).
I too will be available to you for the Sacrament of Reconciliation at St Mary’s Cathedral on
Saturday 16th and Saturday 23rd February between 2.30 pm and 3.30 pm.
I would like to encourage you - and ask you to encourage one another - to celebrate this
sacrament in a very special way throughout this Year of Faith.  I can assure you this will
bring much joy and happiness into your life.  You will be closer to God as a result and you
will experience His mercy and compassion in perhaps ways that you have yet to
With my very best wishes
 Rt Rev Seamus Cunningham
Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle


Fr Dickson said...

I was also impressed by this Pastoral, as were several of my parishioners.

Anonymous said...

A great pastoral letter. Frequent good confession does bring peace and a special kind of very profound joy. I was especially glad to read about celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. I have always felt this was the right word to refer to the act of participating in this sacrament but I was not sure whether it was theologically correct to use it.

I was somewhat surprised though at this part: "The priest then prays one of the most beautiful prayers...". I did not think of absolution as a prayer. A prayer, after all, is only a request; a supplication. None of us - priest or layperson - can guarantee that what we pray for will definitely happen. Whereas I thought we could be certain of being forgiven on receiving absolution; I thought absolution was an act on the part of the priest, something that would definitely and always result in what the Church teaches it results in (the forgiveness of sins provided, of course, that all the other conditions for the sacrament were met). Any thoughts on this, Fr.?

I also thought the suggestion of the extra weekday evening one-hour slot for confessions during Lent was brilliant - people need not only the encouragement but also the opportunity to do it. It will be interesting to see how many churches implement it. Will you do it at your church, Fr.?

Penitent said...

I, too, thought it quite good - did not go far enough. Once again, a golden opportunity was missed to go the heart of the matter and really explain Catholic teaching.
Why are the clergy now fearful of speaking the unvarnished truth about the need for confession? Thankfully, Confession does forgive the sins of those who use the sacrament, but what of those who never go to Confession but troop, en masse, up to receive our Blessed Lord in holy Communion? The obligations placed on the faithful are crystal-clear: we must go to confession at least once a year. Why did the bishop not mention our Easter duty? That if we do not go to Confession at least once a year then we may not, MUST NOT, receive holy Communion; for the salvation of our souls. No person can judge anyone else, only God can do this, but we all know people who have not been to confession for years who go forward as a matter of course to receive the sacrament. And priests, and our bishop, know that this is going on but do nothing to stop it. I cannot remember the last time I heard a pastoral letter or sermon about the obligation of the Easter Duty. How many people would refrain from receiving holy Communion if they were told, kindly but firmly, in a pastoral letter from the pulpit that they will be committing a mortal sin if they do so if they have not been to confession in the previous 12 months?
A friend of mine who has not been to Mass for many years told me a few months ago that he had been to Mass and received Communion. I told him that he should not have done so, and the reason why, and he said all that had gone. His wife, who attends Mass every week, had told him that nobody bothers about such things any more.
On the same theme, the relevant part of the Epistle of St Paul in the Mass of Maundy Thursday has been removed so people are not being given this instruction as happened in past times. St Paul said that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup unworthily will be held accountable for the Lord's Body and Blood. He emphasised the point by saying we must examine ourselves first and we are eating and drinking damnation to ourselves if we eat and drink unworthily. Why have these words been removed in the new Mass?
If they were to be restored then it would be of great help to the priest in his sermon. He would simply be explaining the words of the Gospel.

irish catholic said...

On a number of occasions when I went to Confession I was told by the priest that "nothing,and I repeat nothing should stop a person going up to receive Communion". When I said to him - what about mortal sin Father! he seemed amused and said "you know it is virtually impossible for a person to commit a mortal sin"


Fr Michael Brown said...

Anonymous ( please note I ask that we don`t have anonymous comments: can you not adopt a name of some kind?) I too was struck by the description of the words of absolution as a prayer for exactly the same reason. The prayer part of the words of absoution would be `may God grant you pardon and peace` but the words of absolution defintely bring about what they say so long as the penitent is sincere.
I will have the hour for confession but we are organising it as a deanery and it is being discussed on Feb 20th.
Penitent, there is an obligation to go to confession once a year but I understood this was for mortal sins as no-one is obliged to confess venial sins although it is highly recommended.
Irish Catholic you`ve had strange advice. I`d get a second opinion!