I love Confession. It is perhaps the greatest benefit of being Catholic. Before I became Catholic, I couldn’t comprehend why it was necessary to confess one’s sins to a priest in order to be forgiven.
Why couldn’t I just talk to God myself?
Confession is not just a stumbling block for non-Catholics; it’s a stumbling block for Catholics as well. Matthew Kelly, when talking about the “Seven Pillars of Catholic Spirituality” lists Confession as the only place to start if one wishes to strengthen their Catholic spirituality. He draws the analogy between washing one’s car and washing one’s soul. The more often one washes the car, the cleaner it stays and the more care the owner takes of it. The same holds true of “cleaning” one’s soul. And that’s the beauty of Confession: it cleans the soul and gives the penitent a fresh start.
Technically, “confession” is only one part of what is formally referred to as the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (CCC 1422-1424). Informally, this Sacrament is called by various names: the sacrament of conversion (making sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion), the sacrament of penance (it consecrates the sinner’s steps of conversion, penance and satisfaction), the sacrament of confession (disclosure of one’s sins to a priest is an essential element of the sacrament), the sacrament of forgiveness (by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the sinner “pardon and peace”) and it is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation because it reconciles the sinner to God.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation isn’t an “invention” of the modern Catholic Church because priests want to keep tabs on the many ways their parishioners are sinning. No. Christ Himself instituted the Sacrament when he said to His apostles “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven. Whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). Christ gave the power to forgive sins by proxy to the descendants of the Apostles, our current-day bishops and priests.
The confession of sins can be found in the Old Testament as well as in the New. In Leviticus 5:5, a man guilty of sin, “shall confess the sin he has committed.” In Ezra 10:1 it is written: “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God.” In Proverbs 28:13 we read, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” And in Psalms 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; then you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
And in the New Testament, “God did extraordinary things by the hands of Paul.” (Acts 19:11) In fact, many “who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.” (Acts 19:18) And, in James 5:16: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Jesus, in Matthew 16:19, trusted Peter with the keys to the Church on earth, saying: “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.” Jesus did not simply say, “talk to God on your own and your sins will be forgiven.” The Catechism (CCC 981) states this eloquently:
After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles “so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.” The apostles and their successors carry out this “ministry of reconciliation,” not only by announcing to men God’s forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ …
Also according to the Catechism:
[On confessing our sins to another person,] even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible. (CCC 1455)
Thus the benefits of confession are many. If, prior to confession, we engage in a thorough “examination of conscience” we are able to honestly see our vices and thus come to know ourselves better. Although many Catholics believe there is no need to confess venial sins the Catechism strongly recommends regular confession as it helps us to grow in saintliness and fight evil tendencies (CCC 1458):
Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.
Frequent confession, which often is confession of venial sins, helps to strengthen our will to resist evil temptations. Ideally, we keep in mind the examination of conscience. It, so to speak, stays on our agenda. My preference is to avail myself of Confession every two weeks, but at a minimum once a month. If it goes much beyond this, I get lazy. Small vices creep back into my life like weeds in a garden. Heck, I no sooner leave the confessional and get ten minutes down the road before I’ve sinned again. Are these mortal sins? No. But they are nevertheless significant. Imagine you leave just one little bit of mud on your carpet every day. The first day or two it’s barely noticeable. But by the end of a month? Pretty bad, huh?
Confession brings us peace. As a mental health counselor, I sometimes refer to what I do as “secular confession.” There is something healing about being able to speak one’s faults and shortcomings to another person and receive validation of ones’ worth despite our failures. How much more so the Sacrament of Reconciliation when it is God Himself who is forgiving, God Himself who is validating our worth. The Lord of all Creation wants to reconcile us to Him. What an awesome gift! We are given a fresh start.
For me, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the best possible way to continually conform my life to Christ’s and to ensure that I am on the right path.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.