Confession never gets old - Denver Catholic

Confession never gets old

Julie Filby

Continuing a Lenten series on “Rediscovering Reconciliation,” the Denver Catholic Register asked two area priests to share their perspective on the sacrament: Father Thomas Dowd, 86, a priest of 60 years, retired from active ministry and living in Wheat Ridge, who continues to celebrate weekly Masses in Coal Creek Canyon and hear confessions in parishes around the archdiocese; and Father Ryan O’Neill, 30, a newer priest of the archdiocese, ordained in 2012, who lives in Granby and serves as parochial vicar for five churches that span Grand and Jackson counties.

Though their birthdates and ordinations dates differ by more than 50 years, both indicated that they consider hearing confessions a privilege, it has made them more mindful of their own sinfulness, and it has increased their compassion for others.

Father DowdFather Thomas Dowd
“Whenever I leave the confessional, I say to myself and to the Lord … (this) is such a privilege,” Father Dowd said. “I think if only a layperson could just have the privilege of being able to hear a confession, they wouldn’t be so afraid to go.”

He has often wondered how it’s possible that he could be an instrument of forgiveness.

“Then I think: Isn’t that just like Our Lord Jesus, of course, to choose sinners in order to make saints,” he said with a laugh.

When the Lord comes in the sacrament of reconciliation, he comes to both penitent and confessor, Father Dowd said.

“He makes himself known to both of us, to give us the experience of pardon and peace,” he continued. “That’s a great consolation for me.”

Focusing attention on the penitent, he said, can be challenging.

“Sometimes I say: ‘Why is there Catholic guilt?’” then he answered his own question. “The reason the Church wants you to feel Catholic guilt is so that you might experience Catholic peace.

“That happens only when you and I are willing to admit that we are guilty, then put ourselves at the mercy of Him who’s come to take the monkey off our back.”

Sins are not the most important thing that happens in the confessional, he added.

“The most important thing that happens is the Lord Jesus saying: ‘Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.’”

Father Ryan O'NeillFather O’Neill
“Hearing confessions is one of my favorite things,” Father O’Neill said, just as he had anticipated it would be when he was in formation for the priesthood.

“I like it when I have time to go a little deeper with a person and help them not focus so much on the symptoms (the sins) but what’s actually going on in their hearts: their relationships, emotions and any wounds that might be there.”

There’s usually something deeper going on, he said, such as rejection or past abuse.

“So I really, really like to spend time talking with people about their life and encouraging them to pray about it,” he said.

Since becoming a priest, his own experience of going to confession has changed.

“I have a lot less expectation of the priest hearing my confession, to fix me or solve my problems,” he said, “Because I can’t fix people and I can’t solve people’s problems. … I feel my inadequacy, I feel my weakness.”

Only God can “fix” sins and he asks him to do so.

“In seminary, we were told we should do penance for our penitents … and I didn’t like that because I don’t like doing penance for myself!” he said. “But what’s happened has been a real softening of my heart from hearing confessions.”

He prays for his penitents and offers up sacrifices for them, even small gestures such as skipping a snack or a drink.

“I ask the Lord to bless them, make them happy and heal them,” he said.

COMING UP: Archbishop Aquila and Bishop Rodriguez welcome Colorado Springs Bishop-elect James R. Golka to Colorado

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Diocese of Colorado Springs have announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Sheridan, 76, from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Colorado Springs and has appointed Father James R. Golka, a priest of the Diocese of Grand Island as Bishop-elect of Colorado Springs. Bishop-elect Golka currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Grand Island, Nebraska.  

In a joint statement, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Bishop Jorge Rodriguez expressed the following:  

“On behalf of the Archdiocese of Denver and the entire Province, welcome to Colorado Bishop-elect Golka! We pray that God will bless you and the Diocese of Colorado Springs with all the graces you need to shepherd God’s people and help them experience the joy of knowing him. We are sure that you will find as we have that the Church in Colorado is filled with good, faithful and generous people. We look forward to working with you in our shared ministry to this great state. 

 We also wish to extend our prayers and gratitude to Bishop Michael Sheridan for his service to the Church and wish him well in his retirement.”  

News release from the Diocese of Colorado Springs:

Father James Golka of the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, named Bishop of Colorado Springs  

Pope Francis has named Father James Golka, a priest of the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, as the third Bishop of Colorado Springs. Bishop-elect Golka will be introduced by Bishop Michael Sheridan during a press conference today (April 30) at 10 a.m. in the Hanifen Room at the Catholic Pastoral Center, 228 N. Cascade Ave. The press conference will be broadcast via Facebook Live on the diocesan Facebook page (@CatholicDioceseCOS).  

“I am incredibly humbled and excited for the opportunity to join in the ministry and mission of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Colorado Springs,” said Bishop-elect Golka. “I ask for your prayers; please be assured of mine.”  

Bishop-elect Golka, 54, most recently served as Vicar General for the Diocese of Grand Island and as Rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The fourth of ten children born to Robert and Patricia Golka, he graduated from Creighton University in 1989 with degrees in philosophy and theology. In 1990, he entered St. Paul Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he earned both a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts degree in Sacramental Theology. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Grand Island on June 3, 1994, by Bishop Lawrence McNamara.  

Bishop Sheridan, who submitted his resignation to Pope Francis upon turning age 75 on March 4, 2020, said that he was very happy with the appointment.  

“Bishop-elect Golka has already shown himself to be not only a skilled administrator, but also a man of prayer,” said Bishop Sheridan. “I believe that he will serve the people of this diocese very well.”  

Bishop-elect Golka’s episcopal ordination is scheduled for late June. Details of the event will be announced shortly.