Field Guide 3: Reconciliation, Restoration
Part 1: Reading Assignment:
“It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles” –Basil the Great (A.D. 374)
“Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to the Apostles: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? ‘Whose sins you shall forgive,’ he says, ‘they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men [Matt. 10:40; John 20:21–23]. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven” –John Chrystosom (A.D. 387)
“Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . . On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure” –The Didache (A.D. 70)
The denial of sin is one of the biggest things holding back our culture from embracing confession. If sin doesn’t exist, then what is there to confess? Or what about people who go about their lives saying “Well, I’m not perfect, but it’s not like I’m out there murdering or stealing. There are certainly people out there who are worse than me.” The problem is that our standard of judgment isn’t other people. The standard against which we are measured is Jesus Christ, God Himself.
“So be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” –Matthew 5:48
We are judged not by how much “better” we are than other people, but by how closely our lives conform to that of Christ. Confession is a mirror that is held up to us, showing us the parts which we have not yet given over to Christ.
You’ll often hear is that we don’t need to bring our sins to a priest. We can go “straight to God”. However, God specifically gave the ministry of “forgiveness of sin” to the apostles in the upper room during Pentecost.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [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
What benefit do we have from going to confession, instead of going “straight to God”?
First, we are seeking our forgiveness in the way that Christ Himself set it up. He gave men the power to forgive sins; we should take advantage of that! We also have the assurance of our forgiveness by participating in the sacrament. When the priest says the words “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, we know that we are truly forgiven! We don’t have to worry about getting a “feeling” from God that we are “all good”. We literally hear the words! We humans are creatures of both body and spirit. We must have both. The sacraments recognize this; they give us invisible, spiritual grace, but do so through physical means so that we can see God working.
Also, if you have a good confessor, they can usually help guide you and give advice on how to avoid your sins in the future and lead a life of holiness.
Finally, confession is a great practice in humility. By going before another human and telling them of our failings, we are forced to confront them. I once heard it said that if you can’t confess your sins and bring them out into the light, then they still have power over you. Confession brings our sins out into the light where they scatter like cockroaches!
Confession can be scary. It’s hard to admit your weakness to someone, especially a priest that you know personally. Trust me; they won’t hold it against you. I also guarantee that they’ve heard the same sins before from hundreds of other people. We really aren’t too creative in our sins. We all suffer from the same human weakness.
The Church asks that Catholics confess their mortal sins at least once a year. That’s definitely a good idea, but I don’t think it’s enough. I don’t know about you, but I definitely sin way more than that. If I want to receive the Eucharist (which I do), then I need to make sure I’m clean beforehand.
“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” –1 Corinthians 11:27-29
I would recommend trying to go to confession at least once a month. If you’re a big sinner like me, go more often. I try to go at least every other week. If you haven’t been in a while, don’t worry. Just tell the priest, I’m sure he’ll be glad to help you through it. Remember the words of our Lord in the Gospel of Luke:
“I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” –Luke 15:7
Please read the following (in this order):
- CCC 1422
- Revelation 21:27
- CCC 1423-1424
- Matthew 5:22-24
- Luke 15:18-24
- CCC 1425-1429
- Mark 1:15
- 1 Colossians 1:24
- CCC 1430-1439
- Matthew 9:1-8
- CCC 1440-1460
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-21
- CCC 1461-1467
- John 20:21-23
- CCC 1468-1470
- CCC 1485-1498