Really, this couldn’t be some fluke.
A couple miles north of the United States Capitol, where our nation’s elected Congress is debating universal healthcare coverage, sits another stunning, domed edifice — the Basilica of the National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception, where the North American Congress on Mercy convened Saturday, Nov. 14.
While the politicians down the road at the epicenter of our democracy debate the dispensation of healthcare for the body, 700-plus people gathered at our nation’s epicenter of Catholicism to immerse themselves in the only sensible cure for the soul.
It was no debate at all. The curative is contained within the Sacraments of the universal Church. And, as the Mercy Congress keynoter Dr. Scott Hahn pointed out in his talk, titled “Lord, Have Mercy,” the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the means by which we can bring hope and healing to our own lives and to the whole world.
“Penance. Confession. Whatever you want to call it,” said Dr. Hahn. “I call it the medicine of mercy.”
Indeed, St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun whose revelations in the 1930s have sparked the modern Divine Mercy movement, would have no qualms with that prognosis. Jesus explains to her that by means of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our lives can be restored to the divinity that God intended for us at the beginning of Creation.
Christ tells St. Faustina that when we go to confession, “the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy” (Diary of St. Faustina, 1602).
‘A Debt is Paid’
Dr. Hahn, an internationally known author, speaker, and Catholic convert, spoke of how years ago when he was studying Scripture to become a Baptist minister “everything kept coming up Catholic.” He said Scripture — both the Old and New Testaments — speaks of the need to confess our sins and pay restitution through penance.
The first time he went to confession — the first time he heard those words that he was absolved from his sins — he came out knowing “Christ paid a debt He didn’t owe me because I owed a debt I couldn’t pay. I had never experienced the liberating power of His mercy like I did that day.”
Through confession, we do not reveal any secret that “God Himself doesn’t already know,” Dr. Hahn said. Rather, God is letting us in on His secret, “and that is the power of His mercy, which is a medicine that can heal you.”
Indeed, it can heal us in a way we cannot do on our own.
What ails humanity is not debatable. Our misery is due to our sins, and our sins are what separate us from God, and in that separation, true lasting joy is unattainable.
Through sin, “we have, in effect, run away from home,” Dr. Hahn said. “We have done what the Prodigal Son did. We’ve disinherited ourselves.”
He added, “When the priest says I absolve you, God is restoring infinite life to the soul of the Prodigal Son in us.”
‘A Sure Cure’
Dr. Hahn urged Congress attendees to go to confession on a regular basis. And don’t be frustrated.
He shared how one time he told his priest how he could have just photocopied the list of sins he committed from the previous week’s confession. The sins were the mark of repeated struggles, week after week.
“So what are you telling me? Are you looking for new sins?” his priest asked.
“No, Father,” Dr. Hahn replied. “I’m looking to get rid of old sins.”
“Well, if you stop coming in and confessing, I can guarantee you’ll have new sins!”
“That man’s insight drove right to my heart,” Dr. Hahn told the Congress attendees. “I knew it was right.”
Confession is meant to be humbling, he said. Being humbled leads to humility, and humility is a virtue that “takes out the source of all sin, which is pride.”
“This isn’t a quick fix,” Dr. Hahn said. “It’s a sure cure, but it’s long-term therapy. You’re in rehab, and you’re in it for the life long. We need long-term therapy. That’s what we have in the Sacraments, and that’s what we have in all the saints, and especially what we find in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the masterpiece of Divine Mercy.”
Dr. Hahn also urged Congress attendees to be assured that Christ Himself is present in the confessional. Indeed, Christ told St. Faustina, “Make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is, for Me, only a screen. Never analyze what sort of a priest it is that I am making use of; open your soul in confession as you would to Me, and I will fill it with My light” (Diary, 1725).
“The Lord is not outdone in generosity,” Dr. Hahn said. If you are led to accept responsibility and make restitution, “do not give in to fear. Give in to faith,” he said.
He added, “When you tell Him what’s bothering you, he’ll give you the medicine that will cure you. So why go to confession and withhold any known mortal sin? That’s stupid. That’s self-destructive, especially when you know you have a divine guarantee of omnipotent mercy that will work long term, not only in your life but in the lives of your loved ones, too. This is what it means to be Catholic. Plain and simple. And this is what it means for us to come to a better understanding of mercy. Mercy is simply the most important truth of our faith.”
And it’s also the most misunderstood, he noted.
The common misconception, Dr. Hahn said, is that mercy is equivalent to “divine leniency.” That is, that God let’s us get away with sin without any consequences.
Sure, God is patient with us. Sure, He extends His forebearance. And sure, He looks upon us with great mercy because He sees us in our misery. But Jesus’ suffering on the cross does not absolve us from suffering.
“Jesus not only bears the cross, He also bestows a cross,” Dr. Hahn said. “He doesn’t bear the cross as a substitute so we don’t have to suffer and die, so that we don’t have to obey.”
Rather, the cross is an invitation for us to participate, through the Holy Spirit, in God’s original plan for us. That plan requires us to obey His commandments.
“God is not raising brats, but saints,” he said. “The Church is a hospital, not a place for people who refuse to grow up.”
For a world that’s suffering, the cure has not been lost, but merely mislaid. May this message echo from dome to dome, from sea to shining sea.