Often called ‘Confession’, this powerful Sacrament of forgiveness is a great gift from God that can transform our lives.
In Baptism, we are ‘born again’ into a new life with Christ and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which cleanses us from our original sin and makes us holy. So at our Baptism we are made spotlessly clean! But our human nature is weak and even after Baptism we still keep messing up and tend to do the wrong things. Jesus told his followers, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) When Jesus says repent he is asking us to turn back to Him and away from the bad things that we do, hating the sins that we have committed. It also means being determined to change our life for the better in the future. If we do repent and say sorry then God will give us the grace and the strength we need to begin again, more determined than ever to live a holy life.
The Church is the Body of Christ with Jesus as its Head and we are members of that body. When we sin, we turn away from God and we break our relationship with him and with the Christian people around us; that is the Church. On our own, without God’s grace and mercy we wouldn’t be able to restore our relationship with Him. Only God can forgive sins but he has given the Church the authority to grant forgiveness on His behalf. Jesus said to St Peter, the first Pope “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) The words bind and loose mean: whoever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whoever you restore into your communion, God will welcome back into relationship with Him. After his resurrection from the dead Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22 – 23)
The Sacrament is performed in secret between the penitent (the one seeking forgiveness) and the priest. The Sacrament has three parts for the penitent: repentance (sorrow for their sins), confession (disclosure of their sins to the priest) and reparation (a willingness to do something to make up for the wrongs they have committed). When the Church says that someone must be sorry for their sins it means that they must be sorry that they have offended God. It is not enough to be sorry because they were caught or because their actions had unexpected consequences, that is not true repentance. The Sacrament is completed when the Church, working through the priest, forgives the penitent’s sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the penance. This might consist of saying prayers, an act of charity or self-denial or something relevant that will help them to grow in love and humility. Through Confession the penitents are healed, their baptismal innocence is restored and they are reconciled with God and the Church.
THE PRIEST’S ROLE
For many people the actual confessing of their sins to the priest is the most daunting part of the Sacrament but the priest will not judge you or tell you off. We are all ashamed of the bad things that we do but it is only by naming them aloud that we fully accept our sinfulness. In the Sacrament the priest is actually standing in the place of God, who loves us and wants to help us to grow in faith and love. He is bound to keep anything that is said a secret and will be delighted that we want to turn back to God and be reconciled with the Church. In the Sacrament the priest is being the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, the Good Samaritan who bandages our wounds and the Father who waits for the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return.
The Church teaches that we can express sorrow for our small everyday sins and be converted in a number of ways like fasting, prayer and charitable acts. There is also frequent reception of the Eucharist, Bible reading and acts of worship. But we need to go to Confession regularly. The Church says that it should be at least once a year but it helps to go more often so that we can receive the great grace that God wants to pour out on us in His forgiveness. This grace will help us to grow in holiness and in the Life of the Spirit.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ” 1 John 1: 8-9