Thursday, June 9, 2016

Why Confession Matters

Confession.  If confession were the kid on the playground, it would be the kid picked last for everything.  It would be the sacrament most likely to get voted off the island.  Judging by the way most Catholics, including priests, treat Confession, you would wonder if it were necessary.  Long answer short: It is!

Confession matters and is necessary.  What is confession?  A lot of people misunderstand what it is.   Many believe it is a self-deprecation session in which the sinner tears themselves down.  That isn't going to play well in a society where we teach kids self esteem at any cost and throw out participation trophies to protect their egos.  Many believe that they can just tell God they are sorry in their heart and all is good.  Granted, there is no where in the Scriptures that say this.  It does say something about how the forgiveness of sins do need to be approached. 

We find this in John 20:23.  It is the day of the resurrection.  Jesus appears to the 11 and gives them the Holy Spirit and then says 'whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sin you retain are retained'.  Let's just look at this for a second.  Notice He first breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.  What He will instruct them next is dependent upon the power of  the Holy Spirit and not on the power of man.  Why give this authority to them on the day of the resurrection itself?  Because the center of the mission of Jesus Christ is reconciliation; a restoration of relationship to God that is lost as a result of our sins.  The Cross was the final sin/peace offering; its zenith.  In the Old Testament, forgiveness was always mediated by the priest in the sin/peace offering.  That mediation would continue under the apostles and their successors.  The former mediation would bring forgiveness but not reconciliation; no one could enter heaven until the Christ event.  Because of the death and resurrection, forgiveness and reconciliation are now possible.

Why make forgiveness of sins mediated?  Why can't I just tell God I am sorry and be done with it? First, the Church doesn't require all sin to be forgiven through confession.  It does need to be forgiven though.  Remember God hard wired us.  Our psyches need to hear the words coming out of our mouths of what is held inside.  Think about it:  what does a therapist or counselors lead people to do?  They desire them to vocalize what is going on.  Once the person says it, they take ownership of it.  Once we take ownership, something positive can be done.  In the case of confession, what we speak can be forgiven.  To forgive means to no longer hold against.  When we seek forgiveness, God no longer holds what we have done against us: remember, Jesus saying "Father forgive them, they know not what they do" from the Cross.  We also need to hear through the words of absolution that we are forgiven.

Does everything need to be brought to confession?  Everything can be but it is not necessary.  Sins fall into two classes: venial and mortal.  Mortal sin requires three criteria: 1) It must be serious matter.  2) It must be done with knowledge. 3) It must be done with full use of free will.   What constitutes serious matter? The 10 Commandments are good guides for this.  We must know it is wrong and what that means.  We must have chosen positively to sin.  If a sin lacks one of the criteria, it is venial sin.  Mortal sin does require confession as mortal sin severs the relationship with God. In mortal sin, one excises the sanctifying grace given at baptism (a grace necessary for that relationship with God)and cuts ties with God.  This is called mortal because it also condemns us to everlasting torment in hell.  No relationship= no heaven.    Venial sin must be be forgiven as well, however, this can be done through asking God for forgiveness (act of contrition) and is done sacramentally at mass (Penitential Rite).  Those sins must be forgiven before the reception of the Eucharist...all of them.  To come up in severed relationship with God and still receive the sin /peace offering of the Cross is tantamount to sacrilege, as St Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 11.   To be in a state of grace (necessary for the reception of the Eucharist) means to be in an eternal relationship with God.

Confession reminds us of something that the entire Christ event does: God is much more interested in where we are going that where we have been.  He wants us to fess up to where we have been so that the crushing burden of sin is not carried.  The fact of the matter is that unconfessed sin is like an iron weight we carry around.  All it can bring is pain and resentment which leads t rebellion.  Doubt that?  To keep from confessing sin we have to use two things: fear and pride.  Pride tells us we didn't sin.  It tells us we shouldn't have to apologize.  It builds resentment in the person and a spiritual numbness which breeds separation from God.  Pride is a tool, a powerful tool, of Satan.  Fear becomes operative in that we then nurture a belief we cannot be forgiven or that forgiveness means change must happen in our lifestyle. That latter part is true.  When Jesus forgave he would say 'go and sin no more.'   Fear tells us we can't do that and shouldn't have to do that.  Fear provokes us to fashion a god that will accommodate our sins.  Fear, too, is a tool of Satan.  Satan wants you to remain unforgiven just as He is.    His hate and wrath want your destruction as a way of hurting God.  The devil doesn't mind your going to church, just as long as it has no effect on your life...just as long as their is no real relationship with God involved.

Now for a difficult question: why are so many parishes stingy with confession?  Most places any more, confession times are for minutes on a Saturday afternoon regardless of how large the parish is.  This is a problem because it does say that either most people don't sin   and the church acknowledges that or that we think confession unnecessary because we have bought into the false teachings prevalent in society.  One would think that based on the lack of preaching about it.  I know many priests will say by appointment...good luck with that!  My brother priests: when we don't teach about confession, when we don't preach about it (instead giving them feel good drivel), when we don't make clear through our own willingness to sit in a confessional, we poison the flock entrusted to us.  This doesn't mean we become a gothic 'you're going to hell about everything' type.  No, it does mean that we keep making clear God does want to forgive you...He desires to show mercy so much so that He sends His only Son.  Forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation that it brings is at the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ.  This is why the first act he does after the resurrection is to give the Apostles and their successors the authority to forgive sins in His name.  We priests are supposed to be agents of that mercy.

Confession matters because our relationship with God matters.  Sin damages and destroys the relationship Jesus Christ restored though the Cross..  It is in our best interest to confess and be reconciled.  We know the deadly sin of pride will lie to us about the necessity of confession.  We know fear will do the same.  We need not carry the crushing burdens of sin and be caught in vicious cycles of resentment to justify that which cannot be justified.  Jesus tells us "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened.."  Carting sins around crushes us.  Let us take those to a place where something positive can be done.  Forgiveness is so important that the confessor cannot speak about what is said during confession or act on knowledge gained in a confessional (the seal of the confessional)...if God indeed, in His mercy, no longer holds your sins against you...who is His representative to do so?

This column is by no means exhaustive on the topic of confession, but a push to get one to consider going. 

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