Experiencing the nearness of God through the Sacrament of Mercy

By Jeff Hedglen

North Texas Catholic

10/21/2016

When Pope Francis called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I thought this was such a genius move by the pastor of the Church. What a blessing to have a whole year to focus the world on the mercy of God and to shine a light on all the corners of the world where the mercy of God is most needed.

I wrote columns about it, gave talks about it, taught the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to college students, and even put a few of them into action. Little did I know, one of the corners of the world that would be deeply touched was my own heart.
The profound way I encountered the mercy of God this year was not through a newfangled way, in fact it happened through one of the seven most basic aspects of the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Most of my life I had been an Advent, Lent, and retreat confession-goer. But just as the Year of Mercy was starting, the Lord stirred my heart to start going to the sacrament more regularly. This led me to a deeper examination of conscience. In the days of sporadic reconciliation, my time in the confessional felt more like I was in the emergency room taking care of the most serious offenses. But now that I was going every three to four weeks I began looking at all those Catholic apps and praying through the examinations of conscience that are included. 

It is amazing what I discovered once the “glaring faults” were not glaring so brightly. I was able to see deeper into my soul and turn my focus to some other opportunities of growth in my journey to holiness.

A woman goes to confession in darkness at the start of the Easter Vigil led by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

One of the many surprises I encountered in the confessional was the varied types of penance I received. The one that struck me the most, and still impacts me today, happened early on when I finally got the nerve to confess something that had been on my heart for years. I held onto this for so long and getting the words out was excruciating. I was kind of dreading my penance. But what the priest asked me to do cut to the core of what this sacrament is all about. He said, “For your penance, the next time you go to Mass say a prayer of thanksgiving for the mercy and forgiveness of God.” I still tear up when I think about this beautiful penance. 

But there was another huge change in my life that I attribute to my more frequent visits to the confessional. It came during the “consultation” part of the sacrament, when I shared with the priest that I was really struggling with and continually returning to a particular sin. He asked if I pray the Rosary daily. I begrudgingly admitted that I did not and he asked that I give this some thought.

I decided to give it a try and, though I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised by the impact this has had on my life of faith and my connection to Jesus. I guess growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s we did not pray the Rosary all that much and so I never really incorporated this into my spiritual practice. But I can honestly say that, though I often miss a day (or more), when I am consistently praying and meditating on the mysteries of the life of Jesus, I am more at peace and I have greater strength to resist temptation when it comes. 

More than anything, I think embracing this devotion has drawn me closer to the words of the Mother of Jesus that she first spoke at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Possibly the greatest lesson I have learned in this jubilee year is that mercy is not so much about my need for it, rather it is about the Father’s superabundant supply, and all I need to do is turn my heart toward the unrelenting flow.

Jeff Hedglen is director of Young Adult Ministry and Campus Ministry for the Diocese of Fort Worth.

When Pope Francis called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I thought this was such a genius move by the pastor of the Church. What a blessing to have a whole year to focus the world on the mercy of God and to shine a light on all the corners of the world where the mercy of God is most needed.

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