The sacrament of Confession has made a comeback in recent years. And it is becoming more common to hear of conversion-like stories of Catholics who have rediscovered the sacrament after years - and even decades - away from it.
The hiatus from the confessional was perpetrated by a post-Vatican II positivism which diminished sin - a fact made manifest in the disappearance of the once ever-present (and ever-in-use) confessional booth in most churches.
The re-emergence of the sacrament is due much to its promotion by Pope John Paul II and his personal example of weekly confession, and to a rediscovery of it by a new generation of Catholics to whom John Paul II was a personal hero.
Today, there are many books and audio programs featuring warm stories of how people feel re-born, washed clean, renewed, like a weight had fallen from them, etc. And of course, it's all true, and it's all good.
However, there is a need for a post-confession catechesis. With so many now returning to or discovering the sacrament - often encouraged by the stories of others - there is the potential for great spiritual danger.
The "born-again" experience is powerful, a high, and with highs come lows. The truth is that the warm feelings of that first return to the confessional will be diminished when the penitent finds him or herself back in the confessional needing to confess the same sin in a week or two. With the loss of feeling will come doubt about true contrition, and, without catechesis, the potential for despair and a departure from the sacrament once again.
What the penitent needs to know is that we go to confession to confess our sins not because we feel sorry for them or because we "feel" anything, but because, first and foremost, we have offended God. Personal sorrow is a grace which we pray for and is sometimes granted, but feeling sorry is not a prerequisite for confession.
This is important because the new "hype"- the born-again like confession stories - are, as expected, filled with good feelings. And the business of maturely confessing ones sins must necessarily transcend the initial romance and get on with the business of routinely dealing with a dirty soul.
In fact, contrary to what is so often perpetrated in the new pop-Catholic culture found in books, audios, and seminars, one is probably more prone to an attack of the devil immediately after confession. What is more delicious to Satan than felling a fresh soul? What a delight to make a penitent, fresh from the confessional, fall within hours to the same sin he or she just confessed! What quicker way to despair than this?
As always, knowledge of the enemy is critical in battle, and in spiritual warfare, the battle never ends. In fact, it intensifies as a soul grows in personal holiness. This is a fact often left out in the education of the JPII generation - a generation brought into or back to the Church largely via the soaring personality of the pope and the surrounding resurgence of things Catholic.
But, as with any romance, it serves only to bring one into a relationship which must necessarily mature and get on with the real business which that relationship is designed to serve, and often without feeling, for truth is beyond feeling - which is why so few go there.
Go to confession....and come out ready for war. For there it starts.