LORD, HAVE MERCY : The Healing Power of Confession by Scott Hahn
(Doubleday Books, 2003, $44.00. Available from AD Books)
The Sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation) is probably the most misunderstood of the Seven Sacraments of the Church - by Catholics and Non-Catholics alike. Why do Catholics confess to a priest? Why not confess to God in prayer? Did Catholics invent confession? If our sins are forgiven, why do we make a penance?
The Australian Bishops, in the 1998 Statement of Conclusions, noted that a "decline in the sense of sin, stemming from a deeper reality of a crisis of faith," was "having grave repercussions for the Sacrament of Penance." A declining sense of the reality of sin, contributing to a lack of appreciation for the redemptive sacrifice of Christ and the Divine Graces that flow therefrom, was not so much a closed circle of a decline in faith as it was a downward spiral that the Australian Bishops said would "undermine the whole Christian life."
Scott Hahn in his new book Lord, Have Mercy succeeds in explaining the Catholic Church's teaching on confession and the historical and biblical origins of the sacrament in an entertaining yet thorough fashion. Regular readers of Hahn's other works will recognise his unique humour in such chapter titles as: "Thinking outside the Box: Habits of highly effective penitents" or "What's wrong with the world: A sythesis." However, the subject matter is treated with respect by an obvious lover of "the box".
Hahn's book works. His is a "more extensive catechesis" on sin and the sacrament because he combines scholarly thought, history and common sense through a series of expositions that are directed to the heart. He wants his readers to know Christ more deeply through the regular use of the sacrament and writes with a pastoral love and the zeal of an evangeliser.
This book will be an important guide for the new Catholic, a source of renewal and grace for 'old hands' and a challenge to all to deepen their relationship with Our Lord through regular use of the Sacrament of Penance.
The elimination of the illegitimate use of general absolution by the Australian bishops and bishops worldwide has been an important first step in arresting the crisis of faith. The new evangelisation, so often referred to by the Holy Father, especially in his address to the Bishops of Oceania in 1999, "must arise from an inner renewal in the Church ... from contemplation of the face of Christ." To that end, every Australian parish should have at least one copy of Lord, Have Mercy.
Paul Russell is SA President of the NCC.