"The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." -St. Augustine
I’ll come right out and say it: I dislike going to Confession. I really do. And so I avoid it like the plague. We all have our struggles in faith, and this is my biggest one.
“Why do I have to seek out a priest, another human, and tell him all the bad things I’ve done? Can’t I just talk to God directly? Doesn’t God hear everything in your heart?” We’ve all heard these questions—challenges, really—about the need for regular visits to the confessional. After all, God does know everything in our hearts. We can talk to him directly, and we should do so often! But we need more than just that internal dialogue with God. Our faith, after all, isn’t one lived alone.
St. Paul tells the Romans, “We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” (Romans 12:5) I may be a toe, you may be an earlobe, but we all, collectively, make up the one Body of Christ in the Church. So if that’s what we truly believe, and one of those parts gets hurt, the whole rest of the body feels that pain. If you stub your toe, the whole of your body stops everything and focuses on that pain. So, too, when we stub our spiritual toe, we create a ripple throughout the rest of the Body.
We could talk at length about the nature and effects of sin, but that’s for another discussion. The point is that each of our sins have an effect, not just on ourselves and on God, but on the whole of the Church, too. And so we have three people or groups to reconcile with when we’ve sinned: ourselves, our Creator, and the larger Body of which we are each a part. And who better to forgive our sins than a priest? He’s a spiritual father, a representative of the Church, and, most importantly, someone who acts “in persona Christi,” or “in the person of Christ.”
By virtue of his ordination, each priest has been given some pretty awesome powers. He can baptize people, he can bless places and things, he can call down the power of God onto simple bread and wine, miraculously turning it into Christ’s Body and Blood. So if he can do all those things, can’t he also exercise the power Christ gave the Apostles after his Resurrection? “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23) That’s crazy! But it’s our faith, and it comes from Christ himself. We profess this in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins…”
Now we’re all thinking, “Okay, that’s all well and good, but Confession is still too uncomfortable.” And you’re right! It is. That’s why I dislike going. I don’t like being uncomfortable. I don’t like to acknowledge the messy parts of life, including my own failings and shortcomings. I don’t like to admit that I’m wrong, especially when I keep doing the same wrong thing over and over again. But every time I finally buck up the courage (sometimes after months or years) to walk into a confessional, I’m never disappointed. The result is always the same: God has forgiven me and wiped the slate clean. And I feel so good about it!
It’s not that I’m afraid of God’s mercy. In fact, I crave it. The problem is that I’m too afraid of my own self, of my own fragile and broken humanity, to even ask for this mercy. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe I deserve it. And that’s the thing: none of us deserve it. Not one of us can ever be sorry enough, contrite enough, penitent enough, to make amends for what we’ve done and continue to do over and over again.
We can never fully make it up to God; that’s why he sent his Son. Jesus took the sins of the whole world on his shoulders, beaten and bloodied though He was, until he became sin itself: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took every sin each of us will ever commit, carried them up on the cross, and died as payment for it. He’s already paid the price for us. It’s like a spiritual gift card that never expires, but we have to use it to take advantage of the gift. That’s why Confession is so important: the mercy is guaranteed; we have but to ask for it.
Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage - an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we all be honest and courageous enough to do that. Whether you just went to Confession last week or, like me, have been putting it off for way too long, be courageous and just go. Let the Year of Mercy have some personal meaning for you, and let God forgive you for what He’s already paid for upfront.
For more resources on Confession and the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please click here.