The Nature of Confession


The Foo Fighters lyrics “I’ve Got Another Confession to Make” usually comes to mind for this topic but on Mondays the local country music station in Pittsburgh has a bit that allows listeners to make a confession and receive absolution from the radio host… for whatever it is worth. Anonymous people make a very public broadcast of the things they need to get off their chest. This isn’t foreign though, we all have confidants that we hold in confidence that they will not spill the beans, in return they affirm us that everything is going to be alright.

The Catholic Church both affirms the penitent that everything will be alright as well as has been given the authority to make it right. In a Catholic Theology on Tap, the speaker (whose name unfortunately slips my mind) explained that the Catholic Church understands that God’s forgiveness is not limited to the Sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation, however Christ himself affirmed that forgiveness was GUARANTEED through the sacrament. We can receive verbal affirmation by a minister of God, in the sacramental office, that we are forgiven by offering a contrite heart, through a confession, with the satisfaction of an act penance. With those three we have a guarantee unlike any other and like that the weight is lifted from the chest of a penitent.

But I don’t need a priest, I can go right to my neighbor. Or God will know I feel contrition in my heart? When we sin we not only hurt our neighbor but we hurt the Church and we hurt our relationship with our perfect God. While we are encouraged to set aright our relationship with our neighbor we also must ask forgiveness from God, not in a public way but also not in a way that I could deceive myself in private. After all I do have the internal debate after sinning that my action wasn’t really a sin. I can try to rationalize my sin away, instead of humbly asking for forgiveness. In my Hospital Chaplaincy program we are taught that sometimes the patient may intellectually know they are sick but not so much emotionally. When a chaplain asks them to discuss their own treatment as a new person in the room, suddenly the waterworks come out. They could accept the bad news that the doctor gave them as if they were talking to the patient in the bed next door but the moment it reaches their lips they see the impact of their treatment; that life is no longer guaranteed, that pain and exhaustion are ahead of them, and their next visitation and word may be the last. In the confessional, we are the sick and broken, the priest is an ordained chaplain to hear our sickness from our lips but also the physician with the necessary cure.

“It could be Lupus” – A quote from Dr. Gregory House

Some sins may manifest quicker or more often. Some sins may actually coverup other sins. When we do an examination of conscience we may forget something because our mind was clouded by another sin. Well here’s the good news, even the sins that are truly forgotten have their cure in the confessional. However, if we withhold a sin because of our own shame, we are like Adam and Eve naked hiding in the brush despite bringing ourselves to the confessional. We withhold from ourselves the remedy that has been made available to us. “It is never Lupus”

Do you like to go to a new doctor every time you feel ill? Sometimes a Doctor can spot what is a symptom and what is the illness better than we can. While you could technically go to a new confessor every time and sometimes find one that only speaks Polish or Swahili, it is better for our spiritual development to have a regular confessor that speaks our language. That doesn’t just mean English, it is okay to feel a connection to your confessor in how he speaks to your soul. As he gets to know you he will be better at offering you the words and treatment you need. However, do not mistake a priest that challenges you as not speaking to your soul.

Lastly, there may be some confusion in the language we ourselves use. Do we receive penance or absolution? Are we reconciled or confessed? What is contrition? Why not have only a last confession as Last Rites?

Last Rites, more properly termed Anointing of the Sick, is a time of absolution of sins in preparation for the heavenly reward, but do we really want to be in the bottom of the Grand Canyon for 127hrs with a rock on our arm before we follow the first rule to never hike alone? If we spend our whole lives slowly drifting from God are you likely to seek to be reconciled? This state of despair is prevented by regular confession (whether it be monthly, seasonally, but at least during the Great Fasts).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation has some distinct characteristics. First, the penitent offers contrition or sorrow for the sins committed, because it has harmed their relationship with God. They confess their contrition along with the sins and receive absolution. This absolution is the forgiveness and remission of our sin. By this we are made perfect and reconciled to the Church and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The penitent and the Confessor (CCC1448) are given a penance. Penitents are not alone in this because they have been reconciled to the Church. Penances are often easy but that is not to say that it is a trinket to be neglected. It is easy because we cannot earn the grace of God’s forgiveness but are for the spiritual good. “Penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.” CCC1460. The completion of the Penance confers the grace of the sacrament as we are configured to Christ’s perfection.

Hopefully, this encourages you to seek confession, not as a judgement of your actions, but so that we see the glory of your baptismal garment that is made new and seek an ever-closer relationship with Christ. God Bless.

By Tim Fariss, 3rd Year Seminarian at Ss. Cyril and Methods

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