“The Catholic religion does not bind us to confess our sins indiscriminately to everybody; it allows them to remain hidden from all other men save one, to whom she bids us reveal the innermost recesses of our heart and show ourselves as we are. There is only this one man in the world whom she orders us to undeceive, and she binds him to an inviolable secrecy, which makes this knowledge to him as if it were not. Can we imagine anything more charitable and pleasant? And yet the corruption of man is such that he finds even this law harsh; and it is one of the main reasons which has caused a great part of Europe to rebel against the Church.” — Blaise Pascal
How great is the Sacrament of Confession?
Oh. You don’t find it great? It’s hard, scary, humiliating? Why should we confess to a priest when we can confess “straight to God”?
It seems to me that Confession should be a little hard, scary, and humiliating. We only need to go to Confession when we’ve done something wrong. When we’ve taken the “easy” way out, instead of striving to live the right way. Sin, at least the particular sin that tempts us individually, always seems easy at the time. It’s the quick way to get what we want—or what we think we want, at least. Pornography is a lot easier than working at a relationship (especially these days with the internet). Abortion certainly seems easier than carrying an unexpected pregnancy to term. Lying is definitely easier than owning up to our own inadequacies, defects, and faults!
And of course it is precisely for this reason that the Church tells us that we must Confess our sins to another person, the priest. If we want God’s forgiveness, we must forgo taking the easy way out of things, and we must be brave and humble enough to tell the absolute truth about ourselves to at least one person. At bottom, Confession is about repentance—that is, turning away from the very things that got us into this sinful mess in the first place, and doing the opposite! It is about being honest, to God, to the priest, and especially to ourselves.
That is, precisely, why God has asked us to confess to a priest. Not because he’s so much holier or better, but simply because he is “other”. When I grew up as a Pentecostal, and believed that I could confess directly to God, it was easy enough to convince myself that either what I had done wasn’t really that bad, or, on the other hand, that I was actually, truly sorry for my sins, when I would easily, even flippantly, toss up a “Sorry God, please forgive me!” On the other hand, when I was deeply sorry for my sins, God often seemed distant and unhearing of my heartfelt cries to Him. In the Confessional, though, He is hearing, and through the priest can both gently prod me to be more thoroughly honest, and more thoroughly sorry, and at the same time, through the grace-filled words of Absolution, can tangibly tell me that God has indeed forgiven me, and that I am free from my sins because God has said so, and not my own vain hopes or doubts! Because the priest is another person, I can interact with and hear him when he responds to me. Because he is another Christ, because he acts in persona Christi sacramentally, I know that his words are indeed the tender, forgiving words of Jesus Himself!
Jesus promised that special, sacramental grace, when, on that Resurrection Sunday, He told none but His Apostles that He was sending them as He Himself had been sent—and breathing on them the Holy Spirit, He commissioned them to forgive people’s sins (cf. John 20:20-23).
So yes, when we go in to the Confessional, weighed down by our sins, our sorrows, and our doubts, when our pride recoils at having to admit that we actually aren’t perfect, holy people, Confession seems ominous, difficult, and horrid. But it is not Confession, but our sin, that is horrid. When we leave Confession, we in turn feel lighter than air, for we have left that burden of sin in that room with Jesus, who will take it as far away from us as the east is from the west (cf. Psalm 103:12).
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