“Why do you need to go for confession when you can confess to God directly?”
This is not only a question that Catholics are asked to answer by people of other faith, it is also a question that Catholics often ask. In fact, there are many, many Catholics who are living their faith but who are nonetheless uncomfortable with going for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Some of them may have had bad experiences in their youth with confession, others probably shrink back from having to confess their sins to a priest, and yet others probably just don’t see the point of this sacrament.
The doctrinal or scriptural defense of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not what I am interested in sharing today, for this can be easily accessible from Catholic Apologetics resources. What I wish to share today is simply my own testimony about this sacrament.
Recently I have suddenly realized why God instituted this beautiful gift of the sacrament for his people. The mere act of vocalizing our temptations, sins and struggles to another human being takes great humility and courage. It is easy indeed to confess to God in the silence and privacy of our rooms and to ask for forgiveness. But to speak of our sin to a priest – a priest consecrated and anointed by Christ to act on his behalf for his sheep – that is a different hurdle altogether. There are some sins I can readily confess, and there are other sins that are just very difficult – very embarrassing to confess. But it is exactly those sins that I find hard to confess that I know I NEED to confess – because by confessing them to another, the very act of bringing these sins into the light liberates me from the chains those sins have over me.
God knows we are creatures of flesh and blood, and that we are not only physical but also psychological beings. To know that God forgives us with our intellect is still different from hearing these words spoken to us in a human voice – especially from one whom God has chosen to shepherd us. And as for ourselves, a true test of our sincerity in repentance and of dying to our ego and our sins is being able to let our longing for union with God overpower our fear of shame or embarrassment.
Does God need us to go for confession in order to forgive us? Of course not! That would make God powerless would it not? I have absolute faith that God forgives my sins even before I ask – for did not Jesus Christ die for my sins even while I was a sinner – even before I was born? That grace of forgiveness is freely given by God. But whether or not I open my heart to receiving that forgiveness is a different matter. If I am too proud to admit my weaknesses and sinfulness, I am refusing to respond to God’s invitation to reconcile with him. My Father stands there with open arms, longing for me to return home. I may shout back at him, “Yes! I know you’re there! I know you forgive me!” but why am I not running as fast as I can, and hurtling myself into his arms?
A friend described the Sacrament of Reconciliation as “resting in God’s lap”. It’s not even primarily about confessing what we have done wrong. It’s letting our Father hold us gently in his arms as we confide in him about our struggles and the ways we have fallen short of our own expectations. And our loving Father speaks to us through his priest to not only offer us absolution, but also spiritual guidance and supernatural grace to fortify us as we continue our journey of faith.
In scripture it is said:
Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another to be cured; the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully. (Jas 5:14-16)
Confessing our sins to one another in the spirit of repentance and with sincere desire for reconciliation with God truly liberates us from the emotional and psychological hold that our sins have over us. In discerning whether something is from God or not, we are often asked to test it against the Word of God and by whether or not it is followed by the fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.
I can give testimony that frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation bears not only the fruits of the Holy Spirit, but offers us rich grace to live out our Christian faith. A friend who recently attended the Conversion Experience Retreat shared with me, “I never used to believe much in confessing to a priest because I confess to God every day – I didn’t see what the big deal was about the sacrament. But now I feel like by not going for this sacrament I am depriving myself (of a great gift). Why would I want to deprive myself??”
Indeed, why would any child want to stay away from running into our loving Father’s arms and resting in his lap? Christ is telling us that for all our sins, even those we have yet to commit, he has paid the price and won us the victory. By accepting the gift of this holy sacrament, we are merely receiving what he has already offered us. Why won’t we rest in the victory that Christ has won for us?
Let us emulate King David when he was confronted for his sin of adultery by the prophet Nathan – in all honesty and grief and humility did he approach the God he loved above all. See how his trust in God’s mercy and love resounds in this beautiful Psalm 51.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love, in your great tenderness wipe away my offences;
wash me clean from my guilt, purify me from my sin.
For I am well aware of my offences, my sin is constantly in mind.
Against you, you alone, I have sinned, I have done what you see to be wrong, that you may show your saving justice when you pass sentence, and your victory may appear when you give judgement,
remember, I was born guilty, a sinner from the moment of conception.
But you delight in sincerity of heart, and in secret you teach me wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop till I am clean, wash me till I am whiter than snow.
Let me hear the sound of joy and gladness, and the bones you have crushed will dance.
Turn away your face from my sins, and wipe away all my guilt.
God, create in me a clean heart, renew within me a resolute spirit,
do not thrust me away from your presence, do not take away from me your spirit of holiness.
Give me back the joy of your salvation, sustain in me a generous spirit.
I shall teach the wicked your paths, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, God, God of my salvation, and my tongue will acclaim your saving justice.
Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will speak out your praise.
Sacrifice gives you no pleasure, burnt offering you do not desire.
Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken, contrite heart you never scorn.
In your graciousness do good to Zion, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
I pray and hope that more Catholic brothers and sisters will discover the deep peace and radiant joy of resting in God’s lap. I am running there now!