[A]t least for some Catholics, the sacrament of Penance remains a normal, natural part of their religious lives.
It hardly needs saying that today this isn’t everywhere true. There’s been a drastic decline in reception of this sacrament in the last 30 or 40 years. The question is, why?
You can see a hint of an answer, perhaps, in a Catholic News Service story noting the topics of some of this year’s Lenten pastoral letters in the United States: “immigration reform, an end to the death penalty and helping children in need.”
Immigration reform, ending the death penalty, and helping kids are good causes that I strongly support. Nor do I question a bishop’s right to determine what needs saying in his diocese at any given time. The question I’m raising isn’t the goodness of the causes or the rights of bishops. It’s whether, generally speaking, it makes sense to focus the meaning of Lent on issues like these.
Lent is a special occasion for penance in both its sacramental and general senses. Penance means sorrow and reparation for one’s sins. Obviously there are many good ways to express sorrow and make reparation. But immigration reform — desirable though it is –seems a bit of a stretch. Work for it, certainly, but in Lent work especially to eradicate sin from your life.
The sacrament of Penance is an important one as it helps us rectify the wrong we’ve done to God through our sins. For many reasons, it’s fallen out of favor. The Church needs to remind people of the need to reconcile with God and Lent seems to be a perfect time for that. It seems, though, that once again that the view of the Church as a social agency has won out again within the bureaucracy of the USCCB.