Monday, September 22, 2014

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)

When we talk about the confessional, it seems that people immediately get scared and nervous.  The idea of telling someone the skeletons in your closet is terrifying to most people.    Why is this?  Ultimately it comes down to shame and judgement.  Shame for what we have done, and the associated embarrassment, and the fear of judgement from others.....the strange looks, the second thoughts, perhaps the severing of a relationship.  

Thankfully, God does not respond to our sin, the way people around us might.   He loves us and pours out his grace upon us.   He suffered for us on the cross and he bore the weight of all of our shortcomings.   Sharing our shortcomings with God is something he wants from us, he wants to help us and he wants to bring us through the darkness into the light. 

So why is the confessional so scary?  It shouldn't be.  It is a place where we can meet God and hear the words of forgiveness said to us.  That someone representing God and the Church is there and hears what we have done and tells us that we are forgiven no matter what.  The sin is gone, it is erased.   Someone is there to anonymously hear what we need to get out, what is bottled up, what is burdening us, and that same person to tell us it is ok to let the burden of sin go, to let Christ take it for us. 

As a protestant, I was no stranger to asking God for forgiveness.  I did it plenty in prayer, but there was something lacking, something I could not ever put my finger on, but present none the less.  It was  a burden that I continued to carry.  My sins, though asked for forgiveness for, still bore weight on me.  I knew God forgave me, but I could not fully release the burden that the sin had placed on me.  Small sins, bigger sins, no matter, there was a burden.   

I appreciated the idea of the Confessional, there was something that seemed right about it.  I was still nervous going in, but it was the most amazing experience I have ever had.   I went into the confessional, burdened and came out freed.   Hearing the words of absolution brought tears to my eyes,  I experienced first hand the Divine Mercy of Christ.  It was so real you could feel it.  I felt like I walked a few feet taller after that.   

In my journey to the Catholic Faith, I did a lot of study, read a lot of information, talked to a lot of people.  I was convinced of the Catholic Faith, intellectually.   Everything I learned, all the apologetics, all the arguments, were mere dust compared to how real the experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was.  God's mercy was felt,  His grace received, and it was clear that God works and acts through his church.  

There is something very therapeutic for the soul about going to confession.   It forces you to search yourself, acknowledge your sin, and strive to change.   It is far too easy for us to condone bad behavior in ourselves, or justify wrongdoing.   It is far to easy to bottle things up and not really deal with them.  Confession counters those problems in a real way.   

Confession reconciles us with God, by coming to him with our sin and asking forgiveness.  God works through the priest in this by assuring us of our forgiveness in the provision of absolution and by using the priest to offer us ways to reconcile the damage done by our sins in penance.  Ways to help us heal our soul from the damage that has been done to it by our sin.  

Confession also reconciles us to the Church.  It returns us from a wayward sheep back into the flock.   This was seen from the earliest times when they used to have public confessions before the whole church!  While a motivator to keep the narrow path, I imagine people began to hide their sins a bit to avoid the public confession and the private confessional developed to meet such  a pastoral need. 

For those that are uncertain of the basis of confession in the Bible,  I can post a couple verses here.

John 20:21-23

 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This shows that Jesus commissioned the Apostles to go out and hear sins and forgive them if the people were sorry, or not forgive them if they weren't . This authority was handed on as the Apostles handed on their office through the ages to the Bishops of today.

James 5:13-16

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

I really love this verse 16.  In my previous evangelical upbringing the idea of confessing sins to another person would have been very outlandish.   There was no reason for it and no one ever did it.   Certainly not to the pastors or elders outside of perhaps some sort of counseling type of situation.  I like how this section of verses describes calling the elders to you and asking them to pray for you.  That their prayer is powerful and effective and that you should confess your sins to these elders.   This is what is done in the Confessional (this section also describes "Last Rites"). 

I have been wanting to do a post on Confession for a while due to my really amazing experience with it, but I hadn't formulated enough ideas for it, or taken the time to right it all down.   Our Parish priest spoke to the RCIA class this last week on this topic and it sort of rekindled the flame.  

  Sometimes we are so critical with ourselves that we convince ourselves that God can't or won't forgive us.  This is nothing but Satan lying to us.  The God who brought forth the Universe from nothing, can most certainly forgive any pitiful sin we commit.   

I also want to point out that the Confessional is a great tool for our own sanctification, something we can all say that we strive for.  We should always want to grow in Christian holiness.  Going to the confessional regularly is a great way to do that.  It is a way for us to really examine ourselves and report our faults.  A time to grow in prayer and receiving God's Grace.   The popes have gone to confessional quite frequently.....every week or two. They do this as both an example to us, and to form their consciences and humble themselves before God.   It is important for them, and it is important for us for the same reasons. 

So what are you waiting for?  

Go and lay down your burdens today!