Bishop's Interview: Experiencing God’s love, mercy in confession

Editor: Bishop, Lent will begin soon with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 13. How can we prepare ourselves for Lent this year?

Bishop Vásquez: Lent is a grace-filled time for all of us as Catholics to renew ourselves and to be converted and changed. The whole experience of Lent is two-fold. First of all, it is for those who are in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) process and are preparing to receive the sacraments. They have been in formation, and they have been discerning and asking God if it is his will that they become Catholic. Then for us who have already been Catholic for all of our lives or for a long period of time, Lent is a time for us to renew our Catholic commitment to Christ.

The Lenten season is founded upon three pillars, which we will hear about in Matthew’s Gospel on Ash Wednesday: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Those three foundational pillars are what structure our season of Lent. Lent is a time when we pray a little bit more, when we fast or give up certain things and when we practice works of mercy and compassion for our sisters and brothers in need. Lent is a very intense time and it is a spiritual time of renewal for the whole church.

Editor: The pope has called for us to take advantage of the sacrament of penance more in the Year of Faith and more often in general. Lent is a good time to do so, correct?

Bishop Vásquez: Yes, Lent is an opportunity to experience the sacrament of penance or as some know it confession or reconciliation. We may call it several different names, but it’s all about encountering Christ, who is loving and merciful. He is always ready to forgive us our sins.

Our Holy Father has asked us to take this sacrament more seriously during this Year of Faith. I make that same appeal to the people of the Diocese of Austin, and I invite all Catholics to participate in the sacrament more regularly. All of us love to go to Holy Communion. We find the Lord there, and when we go to confession, I think we should expect the same. Our Lord is there to meet us in the sacrament of confession –– as the priest absolves us from our sins, the Lord is saying to us, "I forgive you."

The sacrament of confession is one of the greatest experiences of Catholics. When we go to confession and perhaps we confess serious sins or sins that have been nagging at us for years or days, and we are able to admit them and then hear the words of absolution from the priest, immediately we feel a big burden has been taken off us. We feel cleansed, we feel purified, we feel reconnected with people that we might have hurt or who have hurt us, we feel connected with God and we feel the presence of God in our lives. We begin to experience life that comes from God.

Editor: What is the importance of going to confession regularly?

Bishop Vásquez: The sacrament of confession should be practiced regularly by us as Catholics because it indicates to us the areas of our lives that need to be healed and forgiven. There are areas of our lives that are broken in each one of us. For some it may be a particular attitude. For some it might be a particular habit that they haven’t changed and that they want to change. For others it may be a way of thinking or a way of judging others. Our reasons for needing the sacrament may be very different for each one of us, but the sacrament’s healing and mercy are present for all of us. The grace of this sacrament begins to heal the person who avails themselves to the grace of God. Therefore, whoever opens up their lives to that wonderful, compassionate, loving Christ will begin to experience healing.

Throughout Scripture we hear how Christ healed people who were broken. It might have been physical healing, it might have been spiritual healing, it might have been brokenness of relationships but when he was allowed to touch that brokenness in the lives of people then they were reconnected and they found and experienced wholeness. That is what the sacrament of confession is all about. Our brokenness, Christ takes and he lovingly, through his grace, reconnects, reforms us, reshapes us and helps us feel complete again. That is why it is important for us to regularly seek the sacrament of confession.

Editor: How does one make a good confession?

Bishop Vásquez: The marvelous thing about the sacrament is that no one is forced and we have to be willing to accept God’s forgiveness, which may be a struggle for many people. There are many reasons people do not want to go to confession. Some think it will take too long but in reality most confessions are not lengthy. The payback for taking just a few minutes to make a good confession is far more immense –– the experience of feeling so alive afterward is worth the time it takes. Many hesitate to go to confession because it has been a long time since they have gone. However, I want people to know that it doesn’t matter how long it has been! Christ rejoices every time a sinner turns away from sin and back to God. Others might feel their sins are unforgivable. That is not true. All sin can be forgiven if we are willing to admit it, confess it and then ask for God’s forgiveness. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven.

Confession involves a good examination of conscience. We should take time before we go to confession to pull back and look at the areas of our lives where we need God’s healing. How long has it been? What sins have I committed? We should examine our family life, our professional life, our spiritual life and find the areas where we need forgiveness and healing. We must then have the desire to really want to change. We must be sorry for our sins and have a willingness to change and to avail ourselves to Christ.

As a priest, I have met many people who say they often find themselves confessing the same sins. There are many people who experience this, but this is not a reason to stop going to confession! We still need the sacrament. God still forgives us as long as we are willing to make a sincere effort to overcome the sin. If we are sorry for what we have done, God’s grace is there for us. God never gives up on us; all we have to do is seek God’s love and mercy.

Editor: As we begin Lent, what is your prayer for us?

Bishop Vásquez: My prayer for us is that we will experience during these 40 days a renewal and a conversion in our hearts. I pray that we will see our weaknesses, our faults, our failures and sinfulness and willingly admit them to God. God will take that brokenness and transform us. I pray that we will experience God’s profound grace in our lives during Lent, so that when Easter comes we will truly experience the joy of the Resurrection.