OCONOMOWOC – “Rediscovery of the Sacrament of Reconciliation” was the central theme for the “Lord Have Mercy” conference at St. Jerome Parish, April 10. The event, which drew 844 participants and sold out a month in advance, included appearances by Australian author and inspirational Catholic speaker Matthew Kelly, and Dr. Scott Hahn, a contemporary author, theologian and Catholic apologist.
Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate, the conference opened with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, during which he spoke about the power of the sacrament of reconciliation, available to participants throughout the day.
“Whenever we engage the Lord through the sacraments, we are engaging in that mystery – his suffering, his death, his Resurrection – and it’s hope for all of us,” he explained during his homily.
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“If we understand sin, we understand it keeps us away from God. It literally acts as a barrier in our relationship with God, truly being what we are called to be,” he said. “When we diminish and rationalize sin, what we do is accept everything which is less than what God calls us to be, and we become pretty complacent and tolerant of sin in our own life and in everything that surrounds us.
“… Sin needs to be rooted out, confronted, and person to person, needs to be reconciled,” Archbishop Listecki added.
Kelly echoed a similar message during his presentation, “Personal Encounter with Jesus and His Mercy,” saying Catholics need to learn how to explain their faith to others in the world.
“There’s genius in Catholicism,” he said. “We have to find a way to really tell people in ways that are bold and intelligent and inspiring and articulating and engaging, from where they are. That’s what Jesus did … he met people where they were, and led them to where God was calling them to be.
“Well, the truth is, every single one of us, and every single one of you, we all do things that stop us from becoming the best version of ourselves,” he said. “It stunts us spiritually, emotionally, intellectuality; it stunts our health, and we carry this stuff around with us.”
By admitting the presence of sin in their lives and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, Catholics can learn how to engage people to God, according to Kelly.
“We know that Jesus wants to speak personally to people’s pain. Jesus never preached to anyone before he fed them, healed them, comforted them. He always dealt with their human pain because then and only then would they get the message. What is today’s human pain? Can’t pay the bills, marriage is falling apart, hate the job, don’t like the career? These are the human pains that we need to learn to speak to,” Kelly added.
Hahn understands the reluctance to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, but believes in the power of God’s mercy.
“For many Catholics – for all of us – it seems like the more you need (confession) the less you want it,” Hahn said. “Because it really is so humbling to recognize the need for the medicine of Divine Mercy, and it’s always been that way; it’s never been easy to understand the ways of God.”
As a young person, Hahn wasn’t brought up Catholic, and spent much of his time not on shopping sprees but “shoplifting sprees.” After attending a weekend retreat during high school, he turned to God and became a Presbyterian. He attended Grove City College in Pennsylvania, followed by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston in the early 1980s, where he became familiar with Catholicism while studying to be a Presbyterian minister.
After years of soul searching as a minister, he was baptized as a Catholic at St. Bernard in Wauwatosa in 1986.
Because of his experiences as a restless young man, Hahn said he understands the magnitude of God’s forgiveness. During his first confession, he said he really came to understand the sacrament.
“As I began to consult with (the priest), and he began to kind of encourage me, he began to prepare me – unbeknownst to me – to see the sacrament of confession not as a police interrogation, but much more in terms of receiving medicine from a divine physician,” he explained. “The medicine of mercy.”
“And so, he began to explain how it is, that this is not just the vows of the clergymen, but that these are words from God that Christ has given. Words that are more powerful, he said, then when God said, ‘Let there be light.’” Hahn asked the priest to explain what he meant by that.
“When God created the world in Genesis he brought finite creatures into being, but when, he said, ‘I absolve you,’ (God) restores life that is divine, eternal, infinite. That’s a greater work in saving us, than it was in creating us.”
“I want to draw a conclusion now, because let’s face it, we as Catholics are divinely spoiled by graces and mercies that exceed anything we can ever wrap our minds around. But if the world could offer something like this for our actual health, for our physical bodies, I mean, what could we compare this amazing medicine of mercy to?” Hahn asked.
“For every single member of the family, and it won’t cost anybody anything, and it comes with a divine guarantee: every ailment we admit will be healed. What would we do to our doctors if that sort of thing could be administered?” he asked, alluding to the health care debate in Washington, D.C.
“We know what we would do for free, comprehensive health care for every member of the family, from the cradle to the grave, with a guarantee,” Hahn said. “The fact is, we will never have that in a truly wholesome way for our natural health, but we already do have that when it comes to eternal life. The supernatural grace, the divine life, which is snuffed out whenever we commit a mortal sin knowingly.
“God’s mercy is a medicine that can do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and what our loved ones can’t do for us, and what we can’t do for them. If we get a hold of this sacrament, especially in preparation for the feast of the Divine Mercy, and in the aftermath, our lives, our marriages, our families, our neighborhoods, our parishes, our towns, our states, our countries, would not ever be the same. At the bottom line we’ve got to recognize that God wants to do this for us, even more than we ever could have wanted from him.”