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Unbound - A Priest's Confession...

As a priest with multiple commitments, I don’t have a lot of time to invest in offering formal Unbound ministry sessions - but I do have plenty of opportunity to use the Five Keys in the context of hearing confessions.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation has key 1 - “Repentance and Faith” - baked into it. The very matter of 'confession' is sin which someone has brought to repent; and faith is explicitly or implicitly stated in the Act of Contrition. But how can the other keys be brought into play?

The penitent may or may not be familiar with the idea of “renouncing” our sins (key 3), but most Catholics find it easy to grasp the concept. I say something like this: “To renounce a sin is to do more than say ’sorry’. It adds two things. Firstly, you are promising God to do everything in your power not to fall back into that sin again. Secondly, you are asking God to free you, not only from the guilt of that sin, but from all its spiritual consequences.”

So after I give absolution, I invite the penitent to start saying “In the name of Jesus, I renounce...”, and prompt them with the major sins which have been confessed. Usually, I will invite them to add to the list as they see fit, and often they will come up with two or three other meaningful renunciations which I wouldn’t have identified from just hearing their sins.

The second key, 'Forgiveness' of others, may or may not come up depending on the particular sins confessed. If the penitent has indicated unforgiveness or some kind of rage or jealousy of another person, I will first check that they understand the true meaning of forgiveness - not to excuse bad behaviour, not to magic away pain - but to choose to act with goodwill towards someone whose actions don’t deserve it. In this case, after absolution and before using renunciation, I invite the penitent to declare forgiveness of any relevant persons.

When all this is done, I will say something like this: “In the Name of Jesus, as a priest of the Church, I command all evil influence which has come upon you from the sins you have confessed to depart from you, right now.” If I know the penitent won’t be shocked by it, I might instead command “evil spirits”; but not all Catholics will be ready to hear this. Usually, by the end of the confession, a priest will have a sense of how deeply the penitent’s spiritual life runs, and what is appropriate. As in a full Unbound ministry session, I will then pause and when I see the time is right, ask “Would you like to tell me what was going on for you on the inside?” Usually, the penitent will report a clear sense of peace.

Finally, there’s nothing strange about a priest offering anyone a Father’s Blessing (key 5), so a blessing flows naturally!

I encourage my fellow priests to offer the opportunity to renounce, to express forgiveness, and to use the word of command whenever they hear the confession of any penitent whose sins run deeper than the devotional confessions of those who wish they had prayed more!

Fr Gareth Leyshon is a priest from Cardiff Archdiocese now ministering as a core member of the Sion Community for Evangelism, and assisting with the formation of Unbound local groups across England & Wales.


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