Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Confession is Good for the Soul

I'm not sure who said that, but whoever it was must have been speaking from experience. Because only someone who has been to Confession would know that this is true.

I was talking with a friend recently about the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or what old-fashioned Catholics might refer to as Confession. This friend of mine is not a Catholic, and so has never personally experienced this Sacrament up close. However, she told me that even if she were a practicing Catholic, she would not go to Confession. I disagreed, because I told her that if she were a practicing Catholic, that she would recognize the spiritual benefit of celebrating this Sacrament.

Technically speaking, it isn't *necessary* to go to Confession unless you have committed a mortal sin, which is a sin grave enough to completely cut off the life of God's grace within. However, for most Catholics, it is understood that the bare minimum requirement is to go to Reconciliation twice a year, once before Christmas, and once before Easter. Many parishes encourage the faithful to instill this habit by offering penance services with individual Confessions during Advent and during Lent.

Back to the conversation with my friend. She claims that she wouldn't need to confess to a priest because she can talk directly to God. This is the most common justification for not celebrating this Sacrament. It isn't only non-Catholics who use this argument. Many Catholics also justify their lack of participation in this Sacrament in the same way. While it is true that anyone at any time can and should talk to God, it is not a replacement for the very personal encounter we experience during the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

As I thought about her argument later, I thought of an analogy. Many times we tend to justify things to make them seem excusable. For instance, when a person gains five pounds, they can easily tell themselves that they will "work it off". It is easy to justify it by saying "it's the holidays, I'll lose it next month" or whatever it is a person says to themselves when they want to put off doing something. However, five pounds can turn into ten, then fifteen and pretty soon the clothes aren't fitting right, or at all. We can tell ourselves that we will get on that treadmill tomorrow. We try easy things like diet pills or hypnosis. The easy way is easy because it doesn't work. You can't wish it away, deep down you know the only way to lose that weight is with some hard work.

Well, it is the same with Confession. It is hard work preparing yourself to receive this Sacrament. It requires an examination of conscience, wherein you look deep inside your heart for all the ways in which you are failing in the Christian walk. It is very difficult to be honest with ourselves and admit to ourselves much less another person all the things that weigh on our hearts. It is so much easier to just think we can talk to God and bypass this Sacrament altogether.

My analogy of the need for a priest to hear our Confession is much like going to a gym. When we take the time and money to go to a gym, we are serious about our goal by placing ourselves in the company of other people who are also trying to better themselves. We are motivated by their example and encouraged by their presence. Just the atmosphere of the gym helps us to believe that our goal is attainable. We can do this. This is the similar to the function of the priest in Confession, who spiritually motivates and encourages us. The priest is like a personal trainer, who can help us individually and personally with whatever it is that we struggle the most with. He can't do that if he doesn't know what is wrong to begin with. We must recognize and articulate our problems in order for someone to help us. When we take the time to go to the Church and talk to the priest, we are serious about our spiritual goal, which ultimately is Heaven.

"Sure," my friend says, "but I could tell my problems to anyone and have the same benefit." Well, not really. Because no one but a priest has the authority to absolve sins, which is the primary purpose for going to Confession. This is based in Scripture. The Bible tells us that Jesus appeared to His disciples after the Resurrection and, breathing on them, said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit! Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven, whosoever sins you retain are retained!' This authority is given to all Catholic priests through their Ordination when they receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

After we have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation properly, with intent of purpose and repentance, we are able to go in peace. We leave the confessional with the ability to "take up our mat and walk", and most importantly, we know that we are forgiven our sins. We are able to leave the weight of sin behind. Most people even say as much after experiencing the grace of this Sacrament. They leave with a spring in their step and feel as if a great weight has been lifted from their shoulders. There is a reason for this. The sins which were formerly binding them, having been loosed, they are now free. It is Lazarus emerging from the tomb. Remember the saying, "The Truth shall set you free." This is the essence of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a physical and a spiritual freedom.

So yes, Confession is good for the soul. Confession to a priest who is able to absolve sins.

My friend doesn't know what she's missing.

1 comment:

Moody said...

Good explanation and analogy. In my religion to attend the temple you must go through an interview and it's kind of the same thing, you have to confess and repent. A person has to do this every 2 years to keep their Temple Recommend current. Keeping it to yourself and praying about it is one thing, confessing out loud to another is quite another and I agree, it really brings it all home and makes it much more of a serious commitment.