Watch or read the Pastoral Letter from the Bishop dated 17th March 2024.

17/03/2024

The Importance of Regular Confession

Pastoral Letter from 17th March 2024

Read the full Pastoral Letter from Bishop Philip here, watch the video or read the summary and full versions below.

SUMMARY

In a heartfelt pastoral letter, Bishop Philip of the Diocese of Portsmouth calls upon the faithful to deepen their Lenten journey through the Sacrament of Penance. As we enter the contemplative period of Passiontide, leading up to Holy Week and Easter, the Bishop emphasizes the transformative power of confession in renewing our relationship with God and with one another. He encourages us to meditate on Christ’s sacrifice and to reflect on our own lives, recognizing the ways in which we fall short and the grace that is always available to us through repentance and reconciliation.

Highlighting the inspirational life of St. Mother Teresa, Bishop Philip reminds us that individual holiness can have a profound impact on the world. He advocates for adopting Six Holy Habits, including regular confession, as a means to personal and communal renewal. This call to action is not just about personal sanctification but also about the vital role each person plays in the life and mission of the Church. By engaging with confession, we open ourselves to God’s mercy, receive guidance and strength, and take concrete steps toward becoming more loving, compassionate, and faithful disciples of Christ. This Lent, let us embrace the opportunity for a fresh start, to grow in holiness, and to contribute to the flourishing of our Church and communities.


FULL PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP

REGULAR CONFESSION

Dearest Friends,

Today is the Fifth Sunday of Lent, when the Church’s liturgical year undergoes a step-change. We now enter the period of Late-Lent or Passiontide. Indeed, next Sunday is Palm Sunday when we hear the Passion Narrative and when we begin Holy Week, commemorating the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. These last days of Lent are a time to focus on Christ’s suffering and death for us and for our salvation, a time to meditate on the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s crucifixion, a time to visit and re-visit the Stations of the Cross. A wonderful way of engaging with this, if you have not done so already this Lent, is to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance. Often in life, we can get tightly bound up by our sins and selfishness, closed to the healing power of God’s love. This is the season when Jesus wants to set us free. So let us ask Him for the grace to make a good confession, that we may be liberated from whatever it is that holds us back from more truly loving God and loving our neighbour, and from becoming the kind of person the Lord wants us to be.

Not so long ago on a parish visitation, a parishioner said to me after Mass: ‘Father, I hope you are not going to close our parish?’ I said, ‘No,’ and looking at her for a moment, I added: ‘It won’t be me that closes your parish.’ Our ten-year mission-plan You Will be My Witnesses is not about closing parishes but about renewing parishes, but that renewal starts personally with you and me. Holy people are major influencers. Take a woman called Mary Bojaxhiu. When at age 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto, no one had any idea that she would one day preside over the fastest growing religious congregation in Church history. Today, she is known as St. Mother Teresa. There are 5000 Missionaries of Charity in 133 countries. They serve the poorest of the poor. They run homes for the dying, soup kitchens for the homeless, dispensaries, schools and orphanages. All of this came about through her relationship with God and through her selfless generosity. A truly holy person can really transform things.

Our mission-plan is principally about helping each one of us to become more holy, people of deeper faith, more zealous disciples of Christ. By becoming holier ourselves, we become more missionary and, like fire, the Light of Christ will catch. This is why last year I proposed we all adopt Six Holy Habits: attending Sunday Mass, spending five minutes a day in prayer, keeping Fridays as a day of penance, paying a visit to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, joining a small group for formation, prayer and fellowship, and going to Confession once a month or so. It’s this last Habit that many find difficult: the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Bear with me. Some people think they never sin, or never do anything wrong. Yet – leaving aside serious sins - they are not averse to a bit of gossip, bearing a grudge, criticising others or constantly thinking of ‘Number One.’ Others ask: Why confess to a priest, when in my head I can ask God for forgiveness directly? Yet, as we see with the Lord and the Apostles on Easter Sunday, sacramental confession and absolution is the way God wanted it. True, we can and we should pray to God for forgiveness, as we do at the start of Mass, but it’s only in Confession that we can be certain that God has forgiven us and can receive a penance. The Sacrament is a concrete, tangible way to experience God’s mercy, for when the priest absolves us, it is Christ Himself Who heals us. How often should we go? As soon as we can, if we are aware of serious sin. Otherwise, I would recommend once a month or every two months. It’s like a regular check-up. It makes us accountable. It strengthens us against temptation. It brings advice from the priest about our spiritual life. What if we sin again in the same way? Some patterns of sin can be addictive. They take a long time to eradicate - and maybe we should be thankful we are not committing new sins.

So how do we make a good confession? After overcoming any inertia, fear or resistance, preparation is key: prayer to the Holy Spirit and a careful examination of conscience. You can find on the internet many examinations of conscience or use the helpful guide in the prayer-book Lord I am not Worthy. You need to be sorry for your sins, to ask God’s forgiveness and to pray for the grace to avoid them in the future.

Here is an Act of Contrition: “O my God, because You are so good, I am very sorry that I have sinned against You, but by the help of Your grace I will not sin again.” St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, used to spend 18 hours a day hearing confessions and people came to him from as far away as England and America. He once said: “It is a beautiful thought, my children, that we have a Sacrament which heals the wounds of our soul!”

In today’s Gospel, the Greeks who approached Philip said: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” We too would like to see Jesus, but sadly, it is our sins that cloud our vision. They weigh us down. They take away our joy and make us listless. And this is not to overlook the damage and hurt they do to others. No one can give the peace and serenity the Church gives through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is why I myself love going to Confession, and going often. So, even if you have not been for years, now is the time to come back, to give it a go, to approach the Heart of Jesus, rich in mercy and love. We prayed in the Psalm: “A pure heart create for me, O God.” This week and next, let us make this prayer a reality by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and establishing a new habit in our lives: regular Confession. It will change everything. It will help you grow in holiness. It will prosper the renewal of the Church in our Diocese.

Thank you for listening.

In Corde Iesu,
+Philip
Bishop of Portsmouth