I do a lot of bizarre things but this ranks higher than DJ Tanner’s hair:
Every couple of weeks I solemnly walk into a small room where another person is sitting. It kinda feels like a closet, kinda looks like the smallest grandmotherly-parlor-sitting-room you’ve ever seen (complete with appropriate seating and decoration).
We sit there, me and this other person, and have a nice little conversation that consists of me telling them all the things I’ve done wrong recently. It’s a varied, and unexciting list that doesn’t change nearly as often as I change the tone of voice I use to disguise myself. (Don’t judge me. You know you’ve done it too.)
So we talk for a little bit. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes one of us cries while the other doles out the tissues like candy from a parade float. Tissue for you! Another tissue for you! Betcha can guess who the tissue receiver is. (That shouldn’t be hard. Do you even know me?)
And then we pray and I leave with a smile on my face and nothing on my soul because my SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.
Last, but not least, I have a mini, “congratulations for overcoming your fears” and “you now have a clean white soul” celebration by having a #treatyoself moment.
I am a Confession addict. I’m addicted to the grace and the freedom and the peace found in being as close to God as I can be on this earth. All it takes is a couple minutes and my sins are SMOKED.
Now, my soul may be fresh as baby’s but I wasn’t born yesterday. I know there are a lot of people who don’t agree with me and who think asking God’s forgiveness in private prayer is just as effective as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Why do we need another person, the priest, when God hears our prayers and can forgive our sins in the quiet of our homes without a third party to awkwardly listen and judge our wrong-doings? (Which, btw, the priest will never do. See Fr. Mike’s blog for more on that.)
For me, as a Catholic, it’s allllll about God forgiving me through the priest because that’s the way Jesus established it. This is what He said to the apostles, the first priests, when He instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
[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 20:21-23).
Since when did Jesus NOT know what He was doing? Since when are my ideas better than His?
Never. So who am I to say that it’s okay for me to skip the priest, His appointed servant, and the process (sacrament) that He established?
Sidenote: That’s not to say that we shouldn’t pray to God for forgiveness; we absolutely should, and we can be confident that God hears that prayer and accepts our apology. Asking forgiveness is just the first part of being reconciled back to God. Sin harms our relationship with Him and in order for that relationship to be repaired, we need to follow the structure, the sacrament, that God Himself set up.
Physical People = Physical Sacraments
There’s a reason why all of the sacraments in the Catholic Church have some kind of physical aspect to them. The bread and wine of the Eucharist, the water of Baptism, the oil of Confirmation… we are physical beings and we relate well to the things of this world. They have meaning to us. Bread and wine are food items and in the Sacrament they become food for our souls.
When we do something wrong, we need to hear we are forgiven. In Confession, we accuse ourselves out loud of the wrongs we’ve done. And in response, we hear another person tell us out loud that we are forgiven.
The priest isn’t just “another person” though. He is “in persona christi” — in the person of Christ. In the sacrament, the priest is sitting in the position of Jesus, and Jesus is working through him. It is Christ you are telling your sins to and Christ who forgives you.
Secrets Keep You Sick
There’s a popular saying in psychology: “Secrets keep you sick.” When we keep our sins a secret in the silence of our minds and the silence of our private prayers, it has a tendency to stay inside of us and keep weighing us down, spinning a web of shame to keep us captive.
God knows how our minds work. He made us.
He knew what we needed. He knows I need to hear myself say my sins. It helps me to feel sorry for them and resolve to avoid temptation. I need to hear that I am forgiven to silence the voices inside that say I am not. I need to know exactly what steps I can take to be better and what prayers I can pray to make reparation for what I’ve done.
I want peace in my life and that starts with peace in my mind. One of the most basic ways to obtain peace is to know what is true and to live and act from that truth. In the Sacrament of Confession I have to come face to face (literally) with the fact that I am a sinner. I mess up. I am not perfect. But I also come face to face with Christ’s mercy. I hear with my own two ears that I am “absolved of my sin” through the merits of the sacrifice of Jesus.
That’s what we need in order for our minds and our souls to be set free. If you don’t believe in the power of Confession, watch people’s faces as they go into the confessional and as they come out. The joy of freedom is tangible. Their peace of mind is visible.
That’s why no matter how scary it is to walk in there, I’ll still go. I will tell another person my sins because Jesus knew that’s what I would need to be set free. It’s what we all need.
I’m praying for you. I’ll pray that you can have the same courage to tell your sins to a person because that person is Christ. I’ll pray that you can experience the joy of forgiveness because you weren’t made to be crippled under a cloud of guilt and shame. You were made to be free and to trust in the truth of the power of the cross.