Mike Aquilina

Fess Up

Monday February 26th 2007, 3:08 am

Lent, for the Fathers and for us, should be a time of repentance, of turning away from sin and turning toward the Lord. For the Fathers (and for us), the season is best begun with a good sacramental confession. If you haven’t made it there yet, don’t let another week pass you by.

What follows is from the catechetical sermons of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (late fourth century). He’s addressing those who wished to be received into the Church on Easter Vigil.

Now [Lent] is the season of confession. Confess what you have done in word or deed, by night or day. Confess in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation receive the heavenly treasure. . . . Blot out from your mind all earthly care, for you are running for your soul. You are utterly forsaking the things of the world. Small are the things you are forsaking; great what the Lord is giving. Forsake things present, and put your trust in things to come.

Have you run so many circles of the years bustling vainly about the world, and have you not forty days to be free for prayer for your own soul’s sake? “Be still, and know that I am God,” says the Scripture (Ps 46:10). Excuse yourself from speaking many idle words. Neither backbite, nor lend a willing ear to backbiters; but rather be prompt to prayer. Show in ascetic exercise that your heart is strengthened. Cleanse your vessel, that you may receive grace more abundantly. For though remission of sins is given equally to all, the communion of the Holy Ghost is bestowed in proportion to each man’s faith. If you have labored little, you receive little; but if you have worked much, the reward is great. You are running for yourself; see to your own interest.

If you have anything against any man, forgive it. You come here to receive forgiveness of sins, and you, too, must forgive him who has sinned against you. Or how will you say to the Lord, “Forgive me my many sins,” if you have not yourself forgiven your fellowservant even his little sins.

Attend diligently the Church assemblies; not only now when diligent attendance is required of you by the clergy, but also after you have received the grace. For if, before you have received it, the practice is good, is it not also good after it is given? If before you are grafted in, it is a safe course to be watered and tended, is it not far better after the planting?

There’s more of Cyril in my books The Fathers of the Church, The Mass of the Early Christians, and Living the Mysteries. My favorite examination of the patristic record on sacramental confession is chapter 3 of Scott Hahn’s Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession.

An archbishop who’s following after the model of Cyril is Jose Gomez of San Antonio, who just issued his own rousing pastoral call to repentance and peace.