Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power Of Confession, by Scott Hahn
Confession has a bit of a bad name, and it happens to be a major Catholic sacrament, and so it little surprise that the author would want to talk about it as part of his collection of books celebrating Catholic practice and belief for the lay Catholic reader. Now, unlike most people, I don’t have a great deal of problem with the idea of confession , despite the fact that I see a great deal of discontinuity between Catholic practice and its biblical roots. Even so, despite the fact that I am fairly critical of the author’s quest to justify the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church and the fact that the authorities the author mentions are not always ones I consider remotely relevant or valid, there is still at least something worthwhile here. Even the weaker arguments the author presents about doing penance in one’s relationship when one has done wrong, weak because one cannot induce reconciliation and the performance of deeds in penance need not have any positive benefit whatsoever on a relationship where there is estrangement and brokenness due to sin, still have a certain charm to them in that the author is wrestling with the practical outgrowth of an attitude of repentance.
This book consists of thirteen chapters and three appendices that together take up about 200 pages, which is where most of the author’s books seem to rest in terms of their length. The author begins with a look at his own youthful career as a juvenile delinquent and what prompted him to the seriousness of confession (1) before looking at acts of contrition being at the roots of penance (2). After this the author looks at confession being a new heavenly order despite its roots in the Hebrew scriptures (3) and some comments on the fact that for confession to be valid it must be honest (4). The author looks at sin as being what’s wrong with the world (5) in the manner of Chesterton before looking at the sweetness of forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God and with others (6). The author looks at confession as a covenant, which is a bit strained of a comparison (7) while also looking at the Prodigal Son in the fashion of Nouwen (8). After discussing the way that there is no home away from home for believers, whatever that means (9), the author examines some supposed secrets of winning penance in suffering pain (10), which has some ominous roots in Catholic historical practice that the author all too quickly skips over. A discussion of some habits of highly effective (?) penitents (11), the use of confession as spiritual combat on the home front (12) and a discussion of the open door of reconciliation close the book (13) before the author gives three appendices that discuss the rite of reconciliation, prayers, and the detailed and harsh examination of conscience that takes place in the Catholic rite.
In reading this book I had a variety of complicated thoughts and feelings. On the one hand, the author’s discussion of the Confession as it takes place in the Catholic tradition has a lot to do with the sort of counseling between members and the ministry that my own religious tradition is familiar with, including the painful and awkward discussion of sin and the goal ministers have in encouraging reconciliation between members as privately and tactfully as possible, sometimes with various actions being taken as a sign of good faith. On the other hand, this book is unfamiliar in all kinds of strange ways, largely because of the impenetrable language relating to the Catholic church. The Bible commands repentance, while the Catholic Church (and this author) talk much about penance, which opens the door to that works salvation that troubled the Reformers so much. If the author refers to the deeds of penance of being the demonstration of an interior repentance, then I’m not as bothered by that, although the knowing pain to get the gain of reconciliation in confession sounds altogether too masochistic to be legitimate biblical faith. The author tries to put the most positive spin on Catholic practices, but although there is a great deal here worth discussing and pondering, ultimately the Catholicity of the book is not biblical enough to compel assent even if the subject of repentance and confession and reconciliation and the importance of having rituals and oaths relating to these matters is an important and worthwhile one.
 See, for example: