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Thoughts from Neal: Is Unbound good preparation for Sacramental Confession?

by Neal Lozano on April 30, 2024

Many people experience tremendous discouragement when they continue to commit the same sins confessed within the Sacrament of Penance. They often dedicate themselves to trying harder, only to end up falling again. If the Sacrament confers grace, why aren't they experiencing transformation?

One reason, among others, is that the sins we commit are a consequence of darkness within our hearts. Failure to connect these foundational issues to our behavior leaves us vulnerable to the power of sin and draws us into habitual patterns of repeated sinful actions. 

An Unbound ministry session can help remove this disparity because it focuses on the human heart. It exposes lies, unforgiveness, and unbelief within us and invites a faith-filled response to Jesus, who offers freedom from the darkness. 

Mark’s Gospel underscores that evil intentions come from the human heart:

And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7: 20-23 NRSVCE)

Reflecting on these verses, St. John Paul II declared that the remedy for evil must begin in the heart, and this is where the Lord is leading each of us.

"The wisdom of Christ makes you capable of pushing on to discover the deepest source of evil existing in the world. And it also stimulates you to proclaim to all men…the truth you have learned from the Master’s lips…that evil comes “out of the heart of man” (Mk 7:21)…The root of evil is within man. The remedy, therefore, also starts from the heart." (John Paul II)

Focusing on external behavior is largely the way I personally have approached sacramental Confession (also termed Penance, or Reconciliation).  At times I have tried to confess deeper issues and found that I was either confusing the priest or receiving no response in acknowledgment of my heartfelt effort. Maybe I was not being honest enough. So, I have stuck with my list. 

Msgr. Charles Pope confirms this experience:

For many people, the Sacrament of Confession is experienced in a rather perfunctory way. Upon preparing to go to confession many are content to look at some matters pertaining to external behavior: “I got angry with my children….I had lustful thoughts…. I was distracted in prayer, or I didn’t pray as much as I should…. I gossiped….and so forth. While the confession of these sorts of things is good and proper it also remains true that, for confession to really heal,  it is necessary to go deeper. It is necessary to examine the deeper drives and motives of sin; to examine not only what I have done, but to ponder why.”(Pope)

From my perspective, understanding the Five Keys of Unbound is ideal preparation for a sacramental Confession for both penitent and priest. 

People who go to Confession after Unbound ministry often will share that the priest said, “This is the best Confession you ever made.” And one priest told me at the end of an Unbound retreat that the Confessions heard were terrifyingly honest. Sounds like Unbound led to deep Confessions!

Those experienced in Unbound ministry have learned to listen for words that reveal the heart and expose the works of the enemy. Things that lie below the surface are identified. Things like resentment, unforgiveness, self-hatred, self-justification, isolation, fear of rejection, anxiety, fears, self-contempt, or unresolved trauma. Many priests use what they have learned through Unbound to help the penitent connect sinful outward behaviors with inner darkness. Asking a simple question can expose deeper heart motives that led to the sin. From there, the penitent is assisted in repentance by renouncing agreements with specific lies that gave rise to sinful behavior. Many lives have been changed by such a confession, and years of bondage to sin has been broken.

Msgr. Pope expounds: 

“Jesus teaches us to go deeper, into the heart and mind, to discover what causes our sinful behavior. And this leads us to the recipe for a good confession, for a confession that moves from perfunctory penitence to compelling and transformative Confession. (Pope)

Priests cannot regularly allow for this kind of spiritual direction within the confessional, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit priests at any moment can help open a door to reveal someone’s heart and invite a response. Priests have confirmed their desire for this by asking our help in developing parish ministry teams to pray the Five Keys with parishioners.

My hope and dream is that parish culture would grow to a point where lay people pray the Five Keys for one another - where the language of repentance, renunciation, forgiveness, confidence in the power of His name, and the invitation to encounter Father’s love will be normal in the local parish. 

My dream and hope is not too big.  Recently Fr. Mike Schmitz – perhaps the most well-listened-to priest in the US and beyond – spoke about renouncing lies, sins and false beliefs in the name of Jesus as a normal part of individual repentance to prepare for and accompany the Sacrament. If this were practiced it would bring multitudes to present themselves to the Lord in the confessional properly disposed for deeper freedom. (“Nunc Coepi: Breaking Agreements” | 3rd Sunday of Easter (Fr. Mike’s Homily) #Sundayhomily) 

The message of Unbound accompanied by personal ministry draws people deeper into self-understanding and repentance – a profound preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confession in a compelling and transformative way

So the answer is: Yes. Unbound is good preparation for the Sacrament of Confession.

                                                                      _______________________________

Works Cited

John Paul II, "Address of His Holiness John Paul II to Six Thousand University Students Coming from All Over the World to Participate in an International Congress," 10 April 1979, vatican.va, Accessed May 21, 2024, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1979/april/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19790410_studenti.html

Pope, Msgr Charles. “From Perfunctory Penitence to Compelling Confession in Four Easy Steps.” SpiritualDirection.com, 27 Feb. 2024, spiritualdirection.com/2024/02/27/from-perfunctory-penitence-to-compelling-confession-in-four-easy-steps. Accessed 25 Apr. 2024.

“Nunc Coepi: Breaking Agreements” | 3rd Sunday of Easter (Fr. Mike’s Homily) #Sundayhomily. Www.youtube.com, youtu.be/82G0aAeLRJc?si=cAkvs2QWvlzMfph9. Accessed 25 Apr. 2024.

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Tags: reconciliation, confession, penance, five keys, unbound ministry, sacramental confession

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