I spoke in my previous entry about Pope Francis’ enthusiasm for the Sacrament of Confession. According to Catholic Radio, he decided to pursue his vocation to the priesthood while attending Confession.
The majority of Catholics rarely, if ever attend Confession, a sacrament about which I am very passionate. In a shared objection with non-Catholics, many disagree with confessing to another human being. Some don’t even recognize their sins to begin with or believe that what they have done or said is not a sin. For others, they may be embarrassed because they confess the same things over and over again.
Being the bigger person
I’ve heard it said that after a fight with a friend or family member that you should “be the bigger person” by admitting your role and begging forgiveness. At that point, it’s up to the other person to do likewise. How, I ask, not only would, but could the Church be any different?
Confession requires humility from two people. The first is the penitent. However, consider the priest’s need for humility. Consider the conversion of Bernard Nathanson, who performed thousands of abortions and coined the term “pro-choice”. Sure, this is a more grave matter than most others, but the principle remains the same. Confession requires priestly humility because his role is greater than his personal feelings about a given situation.
Regarding embarrassment, a priest will hear thousands of confessions during his lifetime. He’s heard every sin in the book. Also, consider that what you are confessing could very well be something that he is struggling with himself or that he has struggled with in the past.
You can’t handle the truth!
A lack of humility is due in part to a “judge not” mentality that is widely misunderstood to mean that we should permit sin. How often do you hear someone say that the Church should stay out of their personal life? This contradicts the very meaning of calling oneself a Christian. Jesus laid down His life for us and gave us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist so that we might have life. This offer causes our lives to become one with His. By doing this, out of justice to Him, we practice what the Catechism calls the virtue of religion.
It doesn’t matter if someone thinks that something isn’t or shouldn’t be sinful. The simple fact is that it is. And as established earlier, some are simply not aware that what they have done is wrong. This is why we must thoroughly examine our consciences by using reference materials or asking the priest if we are unsure.
Like a boss
A friend of mine recently observed that the role of the priest is more a matter of authority rather than ability. For this, we will turn to one of my favorite Scripture passages, The faith of the Roman Centurion…
This man understood humility and authority. The priest’s authority to forgive sins has been transmitted from the Apostles, an authority that comes from Christ Himself. He has the authority to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Why not to forgive sins? After all, the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith. It is through the Eucharist that we have Confession in the first place.
Some might say that because Jesus died and rose for our sins that Confession is unnecessary. However, if you read John’s account of the Ressurection, you read…
“…Jesus said to them again ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” – John 20:19-23
The key is that He gives this instruction after the Resurrection.
“Only say the word…”
People often say that actions speak louder than words, and indeed they do, but does this ever excuse the need for words? A man can go to work every day in order to provide for his family, sometimes having to travel far from home, but what kind of relationship would he have with his wife and children if he never said “I love you” to them?
Personally, I feel a lot better having heard a priest tell me that my sins are forgiven. There’s a great peace that comes with it. If you’ve had a fight with someone you love, doesn’t your bond feel stronger after they say that they still love you?
Confessing, but not repenting
We must take care not to abuse the sacrament, though. I remember on a retreat, one of my high school teachers said that “you’re not truly sorry until you’ve made a change”. A former member of my National Guard unit left the Catholic Church primarily because of this. His family would sell drugs, hire prostitutes, and drink to excess, then simply confess, attend Mass, and then it was back to business. He remains a dedicated Christian, but in a non-denominational church, having seen the fullness of Christian mercy defiled by hypocrisy. Some might say that he should have stayed and set an example. That’s a valid point, but when we’re baptized, our parents make a vow to be the first and best teachers of the faith. Consider what my former colleague was taught.
Note: If he has sufficient reason, a priest can refuse to absolve someone.
If a soldier gets injured in battle, he goes to the field hospital to be treated and returned to duty. He knows that he may get injured again, but should he disregard caution? If he does, he endangers himself, his fellow soldiers who rely on his boldness and skill, and his army’s mission. It should be the same way with us. We know that we are not perfect, but we should always do our best to guard ourselves in situations that might lead us to sin. Likewise, we should not willingly and knowingly expose ourselves to such situations.
“Go in peace…”
Confession should not be seen as a judgment, nor should it be abused as a mere “cleaning of the slate”. In Confession, we experience the forgiveness of Christ and are given counsel on how to live in His Grace. It’s not because the Church clings to “outdated” teachings or wants to micromanage our lives. It’s because the things of this world can only offer so much (John 15:1-10).
When asked why he became a Catholic, Bernard Nathanson replied that “…no religion matches the special role for forgiveness that is afforded by the Catholic Church”.
I’ll conclude with this video…