We have been so graced with the glory of the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. The Church, in all her glory has in its God given power, the wonders of Absolution. Imagine if MasterCard called you up and asked you to simply spend 10 minutes listing purchases you made on your credit card, and in turn offered to clear your debt. God, in essence does the same thing through confession and the Church’s power of absolution. You confess your sins (mortal or venial) and you are “cleansed” of your sins.
Christ tells Peter “ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19) . Surely, the confessor must have an “interior repentance”: …at the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life (1431). God knows truly what is in your heart, so a confession of words alone is not enough, the confession must be true and from the heart. Catechism #1432 tells us that “God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him”. It is only by his grace that we even feel the guilt for our sins, and of course the grace to seek absolution. St Augustine tells more about the need for confession:
“When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance" (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16 [A.D. 395]).”
Augustine talks about the ability to have venial (or lesser) sins removed through prayer. We see these sins removed through the Mass as well. The grave or “mortal” sins must be confessed for forgiveness. St Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5: 18-20) explains, “ and all this is from god, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
The intention of this article is not to be a thesis on the justification or deep theological basis for the sacrament of reconciliation. It can only scratch the surface. There are some great resources available on the Net, as well as Catholic Bookstores. The remainder of this article will explore some practicalities and my thoughts of this great gift.
The Church tells us that “Penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction…contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (1450-1451). 1454 tells us to make a good examination of conscience (http://www.scborromeo.org/confess.htm) before going to confession. It may surprise you how you may have broken one of the Ten Commandments and not realized it. I have attached a link to a simple examination of conscience document that will enlighten you and allow you to truly dig deep into your interior and give a GREAT confession that will allow you to start changing and begin to reflect Christ in your life. The Catechism further states that “confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret… (1456). First and foremost, the sins MUST be confessed to a priest. We may find this uncomfortable (but I assure you that, at least in my case, it gets easier with experience) at first. We must also remember to confess all the sins we have committed (particularly the mortal sins, but may also include any venial sin you wish to confess as well). We are not expected to remember everything we have done (particularly for those who have not confessed in many years). We are expected; however, to do the best we can to remember whatever possible. You may remember a sin you forgot to confess and wish to confess this as well. I would not get hung up on this, as you did not remember to confess this particular sin by no fault of your own. I would recommend, however, confessing the sin at your next confession…why not? You must remember that if you have any grave or Mortal Sin on your soul that you CANNOT TAKE COMMUNION! This is grave sin and separates the offender from God.
Most Parishes offer confessions once a week (Usually before the Saturday evening Mass) and by appointment. Some have the option to use a “confessional” for private and anonymous confession or to use sit down “face to face” confession. My opinion is that “face to face” is quite therapeutic and adds a “spiritual counseling” dimension to it, but the anonymous confession allows for a much more open and honest confession (especially for people new to the sacrament). Another point to share is that many people go to other parishes if they are uncomfortable confessing to a priest they know at their own parish. Keep in mind, however, that most priests have heard it all. Nothing you are going to confess is going to make him blush. He is there in the “person of Christ” and not there to punish you, or belittle you. He is there for your SOUL. Find a way to get to confession at least once a month (or the very least once per year). You will find that the oppressive weight of sin will start to lessen and you will become less of a slave to sin and more of a servant to the Lord. God Bless.