"Go, therefore, and make disciples of a11 'ations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son; and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obew all that I have commanded you." St. Matthew, 18:19.
Bishop Curtis of Wilmington, Delaware, was one of the most illustrious American converts to the Church. In an address on how he became a Catholic he started with the blunt statement: "Confession made a Catholic of me."
When he was pastor of a prominent Anglican parish in New York City, his bishop came to officiate at some solemn ceremony. The afternoon before the solemnity Reverend Curtis requested his bishop to hear his confession. The latter put, him off. In the evening the penitent repeated his request but the bishop told him to wait until morning. Next morping the pastor again expressed his desire to go to confession. The bishop objected: "Reverend Curtis, why do you want to go to confession anyway? It is all right for the laity who desire it, but we of the clergy should be able to do without it."
Curtis was not satisfied; He felt the need of telling his sins and having them forgiven. He found his way to St. Mary's Catholic Seminary where he begged the rector to hear his confession. That good priest, gracious and smiling, explained to Curtis that his Anglican bishop was right in refusing to hear his confession, because he had no power to forgive sins. This statement startled Reverend Curtis, so the rector went on to explain that Anglican orders were no orders. They were invalid. Neither an Anglican bishop nor an Anglican priest could forgive sin.
This set Curtis thinking. He studied, he thought; he prayed; he led a Christ-like life. Soon he realized that the only sin-forgiving Church was the Catholic Church. He became a Catholic, a priest, and later an illustrious bishop.
The story of his conversion contains some important illustrations of our subject for today - the penitent, the one who goes to confession. Who may and must go to confession? Every baptized person who has committed venial or mortal sin after Baptism. The penitent must perform the acts required for a good confession, namely, contrition, telling of his sins, and satisfaction. Of these we will speak more fully in the future. Today we would like to speak of the Holy Trinity in relation to the penitent.
By Baptism the soul has become the temple of the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By sin the soul has dethroned, driven out, dishonored the Holy Three Whom we honor today.
By Confirmation the soul has been strengthened with the gifts of the Holy Trinity. By sin they are lost, and by confession they are revived and again begin to work.
By Holy Communion the soul becomes the special tabernacle not only of the second Person, Jesus Christ, but also of the Father and the Holy Spirit who are ever present with Him. By sin we drive out this Trinity. By confession we invite them to return.
And it is in the name of the same Holy Three that the priest gives absolution: "I absolve thee from thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." With the Trinity evicted, the soul is dark and cold and helpless. Sin causes the heavenly Father to keep a displeased distance; it causes the loving Son to leave the untrue heart for which He gave His all; it compels the Holy Spirit to depart from His temple, the human body.
The human heart becomes a ghost house. It is like a palace from which the King has been driven out. It is like a home from which loved ones have been evicted, where the hearth fire has burned out, where the windows are smashed and broken. Oh, how such a heart hungers for the light and warmth and cheering presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Confession, established by an all-merciful God, brings the Trinity back to the soul.
Just as the Anglican bishop in our story could not give absolution from sins because he had not received the power from Christ and the Apostles, so too the Anglican minister, Reverend Curtis, could not receive absolution until he became a Catholic, until he became a member of the society which Christ Himself established.
Everyone who has arrived at the use of reason is bound by the law of confession. People arrive at the use of reason at various times, but the rule can be laid down that children are bound to go to confession as soon as they are able to distinguish good from evil and are capable of freely choosing one or the other, and, of course, provided they have actually sinned.
The Church also commands all tne faithful to confess their sins at least once a year. This confession need not be made during the Easter time, but because Easter Communion is commanded during Easter time, it is practical to make one's Easter confession during that same period.
Strictly speaking, only those who have committed a mortal sin are obliged by this law. A bad or sacrilegious confession does not fulfill the law. If you have not yet made your annual confession, you must do so as soon as possible, even though the Easter time closes with this feast of the Holy Trinity.
Better yet would be the praiseworthy practice of going to confession, at least, monthly. This practice enable ones to grow in grace and virtue. It helps us in our path to holiness. We receive graces to help us turn our faults and vices into virtue.
Like the Reverend Curtis all sinners have the desire to tell their sins to someone who has the power to take them away, definitely and forever. Like him, all who sin realize that they have driven out the Holy Trinity. They long to have those loving Three return to their hearts.
Jesus tells His Church to go and baptize the world in the name of the Trinity. As we keep this glorious feast may we resolve anew never to offend Them, never to dishonor Them, never to make Them leave our hearts by mortal sin.
But should that be our misfortune, we will hurry to invite the Trinity back by a sincere and contrite confession. Then every confession day will be a feast of the Holy Trinity, a day when we honor, as we always should honor the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Sacraments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne,OFM (© 1947)