All Conversations in My Heart
Monday, July 10, 2006
  Why use the Confessional
Why Should I Confess My Sins to a Priest?

Sin, in a literal translation of the Greek noun, means "missing the mark." Not being where we should be. Off base is the phrase we use today. Where we should be, but are not because of sin, is in communion with God. So, for practical purposes, sin is separation from God. And, by definition, separation from God is death, because life can only exist where God is present. One can find in Ezekiel Chapter 18; 4 God says all souls are mine; the soul that sins dies (Douai Rheims). Even a soul without life is His and He can do as He pleases with her (the soul).

Confession is the time when we try to reverse the effects of sin in our lives. We are, since sin came into the world with the very first person created by God. We are "consumers," filling ourselves with everything. We overindulge ourselves with food, possessions, material wealth, sexual adventures, various and sundry substances (drugs and alcohol, etc.) All are simply "ways" to satisfy our urges. We do tend to overindulge and spoil ourselves. Christ tells us that the poor are blessed and those as above, rich with the world’s treasures, are sorely tempted and often do not wish to surrender away those riches, the riches of the young man who could not surrender Himself to follow Jesus. We, and I include myself, are often contaminated by gluttony, avarice and other passions which lead to the death of the Soul. We are neither happy nor blessed but fallen. We must have ‘care’ for constantly we are at war with the world, unfortunately many have surrendered for the sake of their personal comfort.


Prayer, both personal and corporate, is also important during our daily life. The new hunger that will grow within us as we seek God, after a good confession, should be transformed by our prayer into a hunger not for food, but for God Himself, who is the Bread of Life and the Fountain of Holiness. Prayer without fasting is like the man who had the unclean spirit and cleaned it out, but left his heart empty, so seven spirits, even MORE unclean than the first, repossessed him. But the most personal and difficult aspect of our effort is the journey to the Sacrament of Confession. Confession of our sins is basic and necessary. But Confession in the Apostolic Tradition has always been face-to-face, a hard but humbling journey! Is it possible that besides pride, a lack of fortitude keeps us from approaching our priest for forgiveness? This might be so for when we are lacking sanctity we also lack many of the virtues and that is a Church dogmatic teaching found in Her teachings on the Holy Spirit.

Many people outside our faith wonder why we do not simply confess our sins in private “to God” The answer is very simple God already ‘knows’ about our sins. Confession is a sacramental gift from God that allows us not only to confess our sins, but to receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness and the spiritual guidance that we need to help us overcome these sins. What is more Confession is a gift instituted by Christ Himself and I ask what right or privilege do we have to pridefully dismiss such a gift. To do so is to tell Christ His Gifts, the Sacraments instituted by Him during His life are futile and not needed. To do so is to deny His Church as a lawful institution and then it is only a short journey to write our own dogmas and beliefs, putting aside all Her teachings as unnecessary for Salvation. We say, by example and denial, Christ was not needed and with this we include the Church, herself. We will find ourselves saying, “Who needs an organized Church?” You see from here it is only a short step to the heresy of Reformation when we claim to confess our sins directly to God. We will find ourselves saying, “After all He already has knowledge of our sins, He died for us, knowing our sins, therefore they are already forgiven”.

I am also reminded that in the Church today, with the echoing of protestant formulae, some think that an interior conversion is enough to return to God’s good graces after sinning, that all they need to do is tell God that they are deeply sorry for having offended him. But these conversations deny it was Jesus Himself who said, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (Jn 20, 23).
It is imperative that we are honest with ourselves and admit since no one is good judge in his own cause, the power to pardon or not has been committed by Christ to his ministers to be exercised in the tribunal of penance. If they are to grant or deny pardon, priest must know the sins and interior disposition of penitents. Therefore the sacrament of Confession is the forum by which a priest examines our disposition towards true penitence.

What do I truly believe, know for certain about the sacrament? What is my opinion of the importance of confession in my life? I truly believe the conversation that takes part when I am before a priest at the Sacrament of Confession; due to Christ’s promises, is a very real conversation between Christ and me. It is an absolutely exceptional event in my or anyone’s life. Confession for me is the redemptive act of Christ repeated for my benefit seventy times seven, a personal benefit I can receive no where else.

Confession is a three-step process. First, we must recognize our sins. We call this an examination of conscience, which the Church recommends we do daily. As we get "holier," we see better and better how truly awful our life is, how truly estranged we are from God. Second, we must truly be sorry for the sins, and one of the true tests of our sorrow is the ability to confess those sins to another human being. We can be so prideful that we refuse to confess our sins because we are worried about what someone else might think about us, or horror of horrors we say by our actions, “Just why should I confess my sins to a mere man?” Also we insult priests, by looking for an excuse for our behavior, and accuse them of gossiping about our penitential admissions in the confessional.

Thirdly and finally, once our pride is defeated and the sin confessed, it is imperative, we make, to mean, to live and fulfill, a firm purpose of amendment, to overcome sin and live a truly sinless life. Of course, the effort is in the struggle, since we cannot actually avoid the distractions, the occasions, the temptations and the misfortunes of sin without supernatural help.

But why should we confess to the priest?

1. Sin is, as we have said, separation. First of all, sin separates us from God. Sin keeps us from being who God intends us to be by doing His will now, instead of at our first judgment. The communion with God, given on the first day of creation, is fractured by sin, and eternal life can only be granted when that fracture is healed, even if it is healed again and again.

2. Sin separates us from the Church. When the consecrated bread, the Body of Christ is raised off the paten just before Communion, the priest says "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, happy are those who are called to His supper”. What did the King do to the one who had no wedding garment? No one can claim they are "sinless" when they receive the Holy Eucharist, but when we progress in our "daily sins" or accumulate so many of them that our soul is burdened; we must confess them to restore our relationship with the Church. Our communion with the Church is fractured by sin, and healing can only take place when we bring our sin to the Head of the Church - who is Christ, represented by the priest who is the sacramental, mystical presence of Christ in the Church. He is our ‘other’ Messiah who brings us Salvation through the Sacrament of Confession. To restore our unity with the Church, we confess to him.

3. Sin also separates us from each other. Nowhere is the lack of communion between us and God that happens because of sin, shown better than in how estranged we are from each other. Sin destroys my relationship with the brothers and sisters of the church, the parish community and Christ Himself says that we can only know and love God when we know and love each other. It can be written so many of our sins are selfish, never denying ourselves, they are the disobeying of the second great commandment of Christ, ‘Love others as I have loved you’. You must consider if we lack Charity through sin, “Is our communion ‘Holy. Is the sacrament for us valid?”

4. Those who make the claim they confess directly to God may consider they might lack humility or fortitude and should honestly search to find if they are even interested in forgiveness and as such cannot know if their sins are forgiven. The promise was given, “Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven”. It is hard to lower oneself to say, “I have sinned, especially one does not have the habit of examining one’s spiritual ego. The fact that one has to make an effort to make a confession before a priest is a good exercise. The embarrassment caused can restrain one later, especially when added to the self accusatory pain experienced. Above all we should realize to make the act perfect we must realize the pain we have caused Christ and the sorrow we may have given to another. Realizing these thoughts we can be assured through the sacramental Life of the Church, Love has conquered all and is victorious once more.

We must always pay attention to the Magisterium of the Church and we find in the Tridentine Council explicit instructions on what we should do to prepare for Holy Communion (Session 13).

“On the preparation to be given that one may worthily receive the Sacred Eucharist”.
“It is unbeseeming for anyone to approach to any of the sacred functions (sacraments, Mysteries), unless one approaches holily; assuredly, the more the holiness and divinity of this Blessed Sacrament are understood by Christians, the more diligently ought they to give heed that they approach to receive it, but with great reverence and holiness, especially as we read in the Apostle (Paul 1st. Cor.) those words full of terror; He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to Himself (my thoughts turn to Judas and his kiss). Wherefore those who communicate ought to call to mind the precept of the Apostle; “Let those prove themselves”. Now ecclesiastical usage declares the necessary proof to be, that no one conscious to themselves of mortal sin, how contrite so-ever they might seem to themselves, ought to approach the sacred Eucharist without previous sacramental confession. This the Holy Synod hath degreed is to be invariably observed by all Christians”.
There is also taught, if we suddenly remember a mortal or grave sin as we communicate or near thereto in time we must immediately go to confession and the sacrilege is as though it never happened. (Precepts of the Church)

Finally we must confess our sins and repent of them to restore our relationship with the "others", that is our Church and our parish community. In the early Church that was very simply done you stood up in the midst of the church community and confessed your sin, thereby healing that relationship with others. When problems with that system arose through scandal, the priest began to stand in the place of the community. So we also confess our sins to the priest because he is a man, created and fallible just like everyone else, standing in the place of everyone else.
When these three "healings" take place, between God and I, between the Church and I, between everyone else and I, then true healing begins, with the long struggle to overcome our sins. We can know we have attempted as Christ commanded, "to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect." That is the Deiform man described by the Early Church teachers and known in the Catechism as deified by grace, the Grace that sanctifies and makes us children of God and members of the Communion of Saints.

On a more personal note, so many of us worry about our material life and existence as we grow older,we take out life insurance. We worry materially but not spiritually and rarely make a sacramental visit to the priest. This worry for our material welfare should be tempered by faith knowing that God also intervenes for our needs. How will He intervene? He does when He sees us behave faithfully and seek righteousness. He defends those who defend Him and He rewards those who give Him love and repentance. This love is the glass of water for which he pleaded on the Cross, “I thirst”

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